Archive for July, 2010

Peru, Days 13-14: We Get in Hot Water En Route to Machu Picchu

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Aguas Calientes, that is.

Ha ha, I’m so clever! (Not.)

Aguas Calientes is also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, which basically means “town of Machu Picchu.” On Day 13 of our travels, we woke at our hotel in the Sacred Valley eager to get to the train that would take us to Machu Picchu. We had decided against hiking the Inca Trail. We’d actually decided this a year earlier while researching our trip. You can’t just decide to hike the Inca Trail on the spur of the moment, because it’s not something you can do on your own. You need to go on an organized tour, and only a certain number of people are allowed to begin the trek each day. Also, hiking the Inca Trail takes 3-5 days. That would have consumed a big chunk out of our 3 weeks. We most definitely would have been forced to chuck one of the four legs of our trip. I asked the DH during planning, and he didn’t seem to care about doing the trek. I cared. I didn’t want to do it! We were in a bad car accident 19 years ago this summer, and I’ve suffered neck and back and hip problems since. Honestly, I recovered from the car accident long ago. I didn’t have therapy of any kind for a solid year. But then I started writing consistently…and of course I aged (it’s a curse). I presently go to massage therapy every other week so I can do things like paint the deck and run with the dog and work at a computer. I couldn’t imagine hiking the Inca trail without my very own personal massage therapist!

Pre-car accident, I would have done it. However, I was younger than 30 pre-car accident, too. I like to think that pre-40 I would have wanted to hike the trail, too. But who am I kidding? I’m not an athlete! And I thought that people carried their own packs on the trail. They don’t. Peruvian porters carry the tents and food, etc. The porters set up camp and cook for you. The trekkers carry their cameras or whatever else they want in small day packs. Typicaly, in Canada, this is not one’s idea of “hiking” a trail. Or so we liked to tell ourselves whenever we overheard others congratulating themselves on making the trek. Oh, yeah, carry your own stuff instead of making some little Peruvian guy do it and THEN we’ll talk. (Yeah, I know, sour grapes, because I’m decrepit).

We met many people in Peru who had hiked the Inca Trail, including a couple in their 60s. Cusco is at about 11,000 feet elevation. However, Machu Picchu is at about 8000 feet elevation. The trek goes up and down, up and down, and then you finally emerge with (if you want) a dawn view of Machu Picchu. However, watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu can also be tricky…because there are so many clouds drifting around the sanctuary. More on that in a bit.

The train to Machu Picchu takes about 90 minutes. The train crawls! It crawls because the scenery is so spectacular. It’s hard to take good scenery pictures out a train window, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Because of the floods earlier this year, the train to Machu Picchu started further up the line than normal (they were still repairing the rails). At one time, it ran out of Cusco. In the mid-Seventies, my parents took the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. But now it’s faster to bus tourists to the train start point.

We were picked up at our hotel and driven to a shuttle bus in the new part 0f Ollantaytambo. The shuttle bus took us to the train station. From there, we caught the train.

The river that flooded early in the year, view from the train station. When our train was ready, we walked down to where you can see folks walking on the road. This was also where you could watch the porters and trekkers start out on their Inca Trail treks.

Looking out the window of our train. Repairs from flood damage were still occurring. We saw many stretches of broken tracks before we boarded the train as well.

One of the many ruins we passed during the train ride to Aguas Calientes. Honestly, there are so many, it's feels like they're in some people's back yards.

We reached Aguas Calientes without incident (no surprise floods!) and settled into our hotel, the very delightful Inkaterra Hotel. This place was like something out of Swiss Family Robinson. It was gorgeous. We had a very private room, the grounds were expansive, with a good restaurant (meals included, but not drinks), and birds and flora and fauna abounded. Honestly, we could not have afforded to stay at the Inkaterra if not for our tour, which included 5-star hotels (better price through a tour). Every other hotel we stayed in on this tour—in Lima, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley—was part of the Casa Andina Private Collection chain. That chain was…okay. The hotels themselves were very, very nice. But our rooms were the, um, bottom of the scale, shall we say, for 5-star hotels. I wouldn’t call the rooms themselves anything special. Except for at the Inkaterra. It was like a little piece of paradise to return to after a long day of walking around Machu Picchu (we did 8 hours of nearly solid walking).

Our room at the Inkaterra hotel in Aguas Calientes. I slept well that night!

We had no idea that meals were included in the hotel cost when we arrived, so that was a pleasant surprise. As I’ve mentioned, drinks aren’t included, and if you’re a big drinker, you gotta watch out. Because when you check out of the Inkaterra, they tack on a hefty “donation” for the upkeep of the birds (which, honestly, could fly away if they wanted) and flora and fauna. The “donation” is a percentage of whatever you spent on booze and wine. The “donation” is voluntary, but you don’t know that if you don’t ask. If you receive your bill and are the type to just pay it without reading the fine print, you might think there’s no way out of this rather hefty surcharge. There is. You can choose not to donate…and feel like a cheapskate. We chose not to donate, because we had been leaving very nice tips and didn’t realize tipping wasn’t expected. We donated to our waiters instead of the birds and flora and fauna. I know, we’re bad.

To be honest, we gave the hotel a little extra. But not the 25% or whatever it was they tacked onto your bar bill.

I’m sure you can find your own Trip Tip! in there somewhere. I don’t have to spell it out for you, do I? Oh, all right.

Trip Tip! Read the fine print. Ask for translation of the fine print if necessary. Go ahead and feel like a cheapskate if you’re not comfortable with the fine print. It’s okay!

After a very nice lunch, we rested and then walked into Aguas Calientes. It started to rain. It rained and rained. It rained like Oregon-coast rain. Yes, we were in the rain forest. It was pretty hard to miss. We were told that the rain was “unusual” for the time of year (3rd week of May). We did get a teensy depressed that our visit to Machu Picchu the following morning would be marred by rain. We borrowed umbrellas from the hotel and went to bed telling ourselves that at least we could check out the amazing Inca drainage systems (except we’d already checked them out at Ollantaytambo).

We had a meeting at around 7 in the evening with our guide. We told him we wanted to go to Machu Picchu early, so we could watch the sunrise. He assured us that the sun rise didn’t occur until 7 a.m., and besides, the first bus to Machu Picchu didn’t leave until 6 a.m. Truth be told, you can watch the sun rise earlier over Machu Picchu (just not in the specific location to which our guide was referring), but you had to be standing in line at the gates at something like 4 a.m. for the privilege. If you wanted to hike Huayna Picchu, the famous peak you’ll see in the photos below, you also had to line up at 4 a.m. When my parents visited Machu Picchu in the mid-Seventies, you didn’t have to get up at 4 a.m. and you didn’t have to stand in line. That’s because you were one of a handful of people there. Now, in high season (which was just coming up, luckily we missed it), there’s something like 3000 tourists a day. Peruvian Disneyland!

The road the 6:30 a.m. bus traveled to get us to the gates of Machu Picchu. You can walk the road at 4 a.m. if you're a keener. That way, you can get in the line to climb Huayna Picchu. Only two groups of people are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu each day. The first group of 200 starts the hike at 7 a.m. and the second group of 200 starts at 10:00 a.m.

By the time we arrived at the gates to Machu Picchu (where you could show your passport and get a stamp, which made it feel even more like Peruvian Disneyland, but who cares?), the two groups had already been filled. We were a bit surprised to learn this…even though I’d been told by friends and had read about it. We’d hoped to be part of the 10 a.m. group allowed to hike Huayna Picchu and felt that our guide had fed us a bit of erroneous information, because his idea of “sunrise” and OUR idea of “sunrise” (i.e. it’s dark and then the sun rises) were two different things. HIS idea of sunrise was the sun had already arisen but hadn’t risen over a specific point at Machu Picchu. At first we figured the guy just didn’t want to get up at 4 a.m. to accompany us. In retrospect, he didn’t want to walk up that road that we traveled by bus! And I can’t say that I blame him.

But guess what? It wasn’t raining! It had started raining two or three days before we arrived in Aguas Calientes. We didn’t have a hot day at Machu Picchu, but we didn’t have a rainy, either. Considering we thoroughly explored the place for 8 hours with a very short lunch break (we had the guide for 2 hours and the rest we did on our own), we had the perfect weather. And the clouds were covering the guide’s version of the “sunrise,” anyway. So there. Even if we’d hiked up to the gates at 4 a.m., there was no sun to watch rise!

The "postcard" view of Machu Picchu. The peak in the background is Huayna Picchu. Considering I was just beginning to recover from my health issues, it's probably a very good thing I didn't get to the gates early enough to line up to climb it! As it was, we had to climb tons of steps to get to this point.

Here's another of Steve, just because he's cute.

Another way to ensure you’re at Machu Picchu early is to stay at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. It’s right outside the gates. It’s VERY expensive, and, honestly, with the number of tourists hanging around outside the Lodge (at the gates) all day long, I’m not sure how pleasant your stay would be. I’ve since talked to another writer who did stay at the Sanctuary Lodge specifically so she and her husband could watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu. But! The clouds covered the sun.

I’d stay at the Inkaterra and take the bus up the winding road again in a Peruvian minute.

Tons of pictures! But this post is way too long. We’ll get back to it next week. Adios!

Peru, Days 12-13: Ollantaytambo

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Following our tour of the Pisaq ruins, we stopped for lunch, then continued to Ollantaytambo, a spectacular display of Inca fortress ruins above the modern Ollantaytambo town, which is known as a “living museum” because of all the Inca roadways and foundations that still exist there (visit the link for lots of great info). At the fortress, we learned a bit about how the Incas were able to construct their amazing walls of rock. Well, a bit of the mystery was solved, anyway. Apparently, Peruvian granite is a little different than Canadian granite. The Peruvian granite fractures naturally. Of course these fractures don’t result in factory-perfect carvings (which is what they look like), so the Incas were indeed masters at their craft. But what they’d do is insert wood wedges between the natural fractures in the rock, then cause the wood to “swell” by saturating it with water. As the wood would swell, the fractures would become more deep, etc., etc. But the help of the wood doesn’t explain the perfection of Incan archictecture displayed in some of the walls. You’ll see what I mean when we get to Machu Picchu.

In the meantime, the Ollantaytambo ruins were breathtaking. Like many ruins we visited, including Machu Picchu, the fortress was never finished. It’s hard to finish a structure like this when it takes hundreds of years and thousands of men to build and the Spaniards from long ago were intent on taking over your world. I could talk and talk and not explain how amazing it is to climb all over these ruins. So let’s just look at some pictures.

Apporaching the fortress. Just thinking of climbing all those stairs, considering my health issues (were which considerable on this day) made me exhausted. But I was there. I HAD to do it.

Of course I'm kissing an Inca-carved rock. Wouldn't you?

Looking across to the granaries built into the mountain across the way. I know, they're kind of hard to see. Look on the right. If you look in the middle, you can see what looks like a face carved into the rock.

Don't you love a zoom lens? Same hillside, same granaries (where they'd store grain), same "face" in the mountain. Those crazy Incas!

If you can't see the face now, you're blind. I'm sure there's a story behind this face, but I can't remember it and I'm too lazy to search the web. I'm not Wikipedia, you know! I have foibles!

I'm only pretending to be freaked out. Honest. I'm afraid of heights, but I had my DH with me as I walked this very narrow path to a reconstruction of a granary on the fortress side of Ollantaytambo. It was a long way down, but it wasn't a sheer cliff face like I encountered walking to the Inca Bridge at Machu Picchu.

Pointing out the magnificent Inca architecture for the DH. If I look worn out, I assure you, I was.

Ain't we cute? Our guide, Gladys, took this photo for us. Note how the Inca doorways were wider at the bottom than at the top? Apparently, that was to help protect from earthquakes. At the top, above our heads, were two rocks not one. The two big rocks helped with earthquakes as well.

Following Ollantaytambo, we were dropped off at our hotel and tried to enjoy a nice dinner in the dining room (I won’t expand on the “tried.” Let’s just the Peruvian idea of how to prepare beef tenderloin and mine are not at all the same). The DH had alpaca. I tried a mouthful. It wasn’t bad!

The following morning, at our hotel. Self-portrait. We were waiting for our driver to pick us up and deliver us to the bus that would deliver us to the train station that would deliver us to the train that would take us to Aguas Calientes. This is Day 13.

More Peruvian terrace farming. Plus, someone had thought to carve or clear out "CST" into the mountainside just for us! How thoughtful! Just kidding. We had no idea what it meant, but decided it MUST mean "Cindy and Steve Traveling."

Mourning Nashville

Monday, July 26th, 2010

According to my calendar, I should be flying to Nashville today. But I’m not. Because the RWA National Conference there was cancelled due to the flooding of the Opryland Hotel, where the conference was being held. Once I learned the conference was cancelled and then the venue later changed to Orlando, I decided not to go to Florida. Orlando is about as far away from B.C. as I can travel within North America. Because I live in a town small enough that it doesn’t have an airport, it takes at least three plane changes to reach Orlando. I know, because I’ve done it (DisneyWorld with the fam).

I should be mourning Nashville, and I am, because I really wanted to go. More for personal reasons than conference, I realized when the venue changed because of the flooding. I might have mentioned before that my parents’ love story revolves around Nashville, even though neither of them are American. Basically, my mother and her older sister were sent to Seventh Day Adventist Academy (private high school) in an area of Nashville known as Madison when my grandmother moved to Ontario for a nursing job with the younger children. My father, who’s a few years older than my mother, drove down to Nashville and enrolled in college to be near her. She snuck out at night often to see him, eventually she was caught, and, for lack of a better way to put it, she was kicked out. They drove back to Canada, got married, practiced making my older sister, and then had me. They’ve been married for 53 years now.

The school my mother attended is still in Madison. There’s no mistaking the laundry. She worked in the laundry there in the 1950s. Had I gone to Nashville, I would have tried working in a trip to the school. My mother’s stories of the night the headmistress asked her to choose between my father and the school are now family legend.

Yes, those are my parents in the photo. Aren’t they cute?

Seeing as I’m not going to Nashville, I’m going to do my darnedest to attend the RWA Conference in New York City next June. Meanwhile, while RWA members are enjoying Orlando without me, I’m embroiled in a never-ending battle to finish several outside painting jobs before September (the weather has not been conducive to painting this year—it’s either raining or it’s boiling hot) and finishing revisions on a single title. Whenever I start to mourn not attending National, I consider that if I were going the last two weeks would have been consumed with conference preparations while the first half of August would have been consumed with post-conference recovery. Considering I’m approaching a milestone anniversary in early August, yeah, it’s better that I decided not to go. I would have been exhausted during my own romantic celebration.

How about you? Are you not going to conference and wishing you were? Are you going, but haven’t left yet? Are you there and for some reason are so bored you’re reading my blog instead of networking? (Are you nuts?).

I’m sure several writers are blogging or Facebooking or Twittering about National. I’ll get my fix that way. Guaranteed.

Peru, Days 10-12: Sacred Valley and Pisaq

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Days 10 and 11 of our trip flew by in a blur of recovering from the Huancayo train and searching out cold medication for moi. We stayed one night in Lima where basically we just slept and cleaned up and then enjoyed the most amazing lasagna at an obviously touristy restaurant that had signatures all over the walls and tables. I’ll say it again, Peruvian Italian food is very, very good.

Day 11 we enjoyed a short (less than one hour) plane trip from Lima to Cusco (also spelled Cuzco). Cusco used to be the capital city of Peru. When the Spaniards conquered the Incas, they decimated Cusco and transferred the capital to Lima of the white skies. Cusco is a beautiful city. It has a wonderful Plaza de Armas, in that there are two amazing churches/cathedrals/whatever-you-call-’ems and a beautiful water fountain where everyone wanted to get their picture taken. It was overcast for our first day in Cusco, so I didn’t take many pictures. And, really, I didn’t have much of a chance. We quickly discovered that you couldn’t sit on a park bench (of which there were many) in the Plaza de Armes without getting accosted—and I mean with capital letters—by people wanting to sell you everything from sunglasses to hats to blankets to tours to massages to art. It wasn’t until we returned to Cusco following a trip up the Sacred Valley and to Machu Picchu that we discovered telling the vendor, “Non, gracias,” wasn’t enough. They just took that as an invitation to try and convince you that you MUST buy from them and them alone. At one point, my dh got frustrated and held up a hand and said strongly, “No!” It wasn’t the “No!” that sent the vendor away, it was the hand signal.

Trip tip! A police presence abounds in Cusco’s Plaza de Armes. A clever tourist (unlike us) will quickly realize that part of the police official’s job is to prevent the vendors from hassling visitors. But the police can’t tell if the tourist is getting hassled if the tourist and vendor are just talking. If the tourist holds up a hand, the vendor will skedaddle off, because then the police man or woman will SEE that the tourist means no and the vendor will get reprimanded. So, if you’re not interested in a vendor’s wares, hold up your hand in a stop sign position and say very firmly, “No!” Politeness does not work.

Yes, Cusco was our first exposure to “Peruvian Disneyland.” And it’s too bad, because, architecturally, Cusco is a beautiful city. You have to learn to take the constant hawking in stride. And remember that the North American tourist presence is partially responsible for the hawking. They hawk because we’re there. They WANT us there, because tourism is the 2nd or 3rd most important industry (agriculture and mining being the other two, but I can’t remember the order). But a lot of vendors in the most popular tourist areas of Peru have become a bit overzealous, by Canadian standards, anyway.

So we stayed overnight in Cusco, and the next morning our guide Gladys picked us up with a van and a driver. We were again on what is called an “Independent” tour, like the tour we took to Nasca. This meant that if only my husband and myself had signed up with this particular tour company for this particular tour for this particular day, then we had a guide all to ourselves.

That was a bit of a surprise. Our trip to Peru was an early celebration for our 25th anniversary, which occurs in August. When I was choosing between this “Independent” tour and a “Classic” one, my main concern was accommodation. This was the 3rd leg of our trip, and we expected Machu Picchu to be the highlight (which it was). I wanted to make sure we had good hotel rooms, with nice, fluffy beds and no end to hot water. If it was our 24th anniversary, I would have made my dh suffer. But I’ve stuck with him for 25 years. I deserved top-notch hotels!

Thus went the logic that resulted in our “Independent” tour.

Trip Tip! If you don’t want to travel around with 10-15 other people, choose an “Independent” tour. If you have a million questions for your guide and don’t want to share him/her, again, choose an “Independent” tour.  If you’re an extrovert and/or hate your spouse, choose a “Classic” type tour. Because an extrovert might expire from overexposure to a spouse on an Independent tour.

Thankfully, I am not an extrovert (although I can pretend quite nicely).

Okay, I can hear the complaints. Enough with the narrative, Cindy! We want pictures!

All right, all right! Sheesh! Give me a minute to format and upload them, will you?

We traveled by van up the Sacred Valley (El Valle Sagrado), also known as the Urubamba Valley, which is fed by many rivers, resulting in an abundance of greenery that we definitely did not see around Nasca (remember those lunar-like landscapes?). The Sacred Valley is home to many ruins on the way to Machu Picchu. The two primary ruins are Pisaq (also spelled Pisac, pronounced like “pea sack”) and Ollantaytambo (try saying that thirteen times in a row with a mouthful of Peruvian potatoes). (Oh-lawn-tay-tam-bow) (that is, a bow like the type on a Christmas present, not the bow you might do before the Queen).

View of the Sacred Valley before we arrrived at Pisaq. Our little British Columbian hearts were overjoyed at the sight of all that green! Farming and terraces everywhere. If there's not enough room for farming on the level, they terrace-farm up the mountains.

As we traveled through the Sacred Valley, we saw a lot of evidence of the devastation of the floods in January that temporarily closed Machu Picchu. Broken roadways, tent cities, etc. It was sad to see, but if we learned one thing during our 3-week trip it’s that the Peruvians are very resilient. They might get pushed down, but they get back up again. They are not afraid of hard work, that’s for sure.

We stopped at a village to see women weaving. This village is a "project" supported by tourist dollars. The people really live there, but all the men are employed as porters for Inca trail treks to Machu Picchu, and all the women, the wives of the porters, display traditional weaving techniques. Using llama and alpaca wool. So they needed llamas and alpacas. There were plenty.

He looks like he's talking!

The women in the weaving project village wore traditional dress for the tourists (unlike elsewhere in Peru, where the women wore traditional dress because they were more removed from modern influences). But everywhere, and I mean everywhere we went, we saw how women, no matter how they were dressed, carried their babies and small children on their backs. A man would be walking beside her carrying zip. She'd have a bag and a four-year-old on her back. This child is younger, but I saw a lot of small-boned women with kids who were older than toddlers on their backs.

The Peruvian roads fascinated my husband, as he's a motorcycle enthusiast. This is the view back down the Sacred Valley after we'd visited the weaving project.

By the way, Cusco is at about 11,000 feet elevation above sea level. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially when you have a head cold. I was still on the cold medication I’d bought in Lima, plus I was taking soroche tablets (to help prevent altitude sickness). The thinner air meant we tired easily, especially walking uphill or hiking.

View of the Sacred Valley from the Pisaq ruins. There's also a modern Pisaq town, and we visited the markets there following the tour of the ruins.

We walked up, up, up! When you're touring Peru, there's no end of walking and hiking, and we didn't meet anyone who had adequately prepared for the effect of the elevation. How are you going to prepare? Go to Peru and hike at high altitude for three weeks, then return to Canada, then return to Peru and see the sites? You "prepare" as you go.

Pisaq terraces. The Incas farmed on the hillsides. They built on the hillsides. They were fearless. You can't really describe how it feels to be at one of these ruins and constantly viewing evidence of Incan genius. It has to be experienced. As several of our guides said, "They were crazy." In a good, brave way. Not in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre way. Well, unless you count the human sacrifices. But we won't get into that...yet.

Pisaq was our first introduction to Inca architecture, and we loved it. It just amazed us how they built walls on top of and around natural rock. We thought these walls were amazing, but we hadn't yet been to Machu Picchu.

Another Inca wall at Pisaq. Amazing!

Next time, our next stop up the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo. Even more amazing Incan architecture. However, we went there after lunch and the big tour buses had caught up to us. Ollantaytambo was literally swarming with tourists. “Peruvian Disneyland” was in full swing!



Peru, Day 9-10: Huancayo Celebration & The Midnight Train to Lima

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Well, not exactly the midnight train, although we were on it at midnight.

If you haven’t been following my Peru posts or have forgotten where we were, you can review the last one. Or click on Peru 2010 in the Categories list in my sidebar. That’ll take you to the Archives for every post about Peru. Just keep clicking Older Posts until you get to the first one.

I last left you—and my laundry (possibly)—hanging somewhere in Huancayo in the highlands of Peru. This was the night both my dh and myself fell sick, so we weren’t too happy with the night shift clerk at our hotel. We felt like he was giving us the run-around about our laundry. It was probably just a language barrier. However, Sunday morning (Day 9), we woke feeling under the weather, so had a very light breakfast, to say the least. By this point, I could barely stand to look at Peruvian food. My throat was very sore and I had a bad head cold. Steve’s fever had broken throughout the night, but he had, shall we say, stomach issues. Yes, I’m making Peru sound like a blast! It is. But I’ve reached the conclusion that it doesn’t matter how well you try to prepare yourself healthfully (does that make sense?). When you’re traveling to a foreign county for the first time, something’s bound to get ya. My something (the bad sore throat) didn’t heal for several weeks. In fact, several weeks after returning home, when I realized I was on my third bad sore throat since Huancayo, I finally went to the doctor and got a prescription. I am now healthy as a Peruvian pony, thank you very much.

So, Sunday morning I had a conversation with the day desk clerk (female) that proved way more illuminating than anything we’d been told the night before about our blasted laundry. No, she couldn’t speak English, and I confess that I guessed a large part of what she said. But! She gave us the impression, through body language and tone of voice, that she WANTED to help us, unlike the fellow from the previous night. I deciphered, with the help of Steve’s Spanish questioning, that she considered the mix-up the hotel’s responsibility, not ours (as the customers!). Then our guide, Susannah, showed up, and helped with the translation. This was when we had it confirmed that our laundry hadn’t been done in this hotel, but had been shipped out to one and possibly two different locations. The desk clerk was able to find half our laundry at this point. But our jeans were still missing. We were promised they’d be back at 5 in the afternoon (our return train to Lima left at 6 p.m.).

Sunday wound up being a wonderful surprise. Our Japanese friends accompanied us through the Sunday markets, which were a joy because, like I’ve said before, the people in Huancayo were happy to have us there but did not constantly try to sell us stuff. They spoiled us, as we were to learn when we finally made it to Cusco (base point for traveling to Machu Picchu).

After visiting the markets, our Japanese friends declined visiting the ruins around Huancayo. Later, once Steve and I had visited Pisaq and Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, we could see why our friends didn’t feel the need to do the historical circuit in Huancayo. But I’m glad we visited the ruins around the city. They weren’t anything like or anywhere near as preserved as the ruins we saw in the Sacred Valley, etc., but, again, every local we met was extremely welcoming. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the ruins around Huancayo that really do them justice, and we were both VERY under the weather. We did see this sort of thing a lot:

I love the juxtaposition of the older woman in traditional dress (what she would wear everyday) and then the younger woman in the background, wearing jeans and sweaters. The more rural the area, the more likely you’ll find young women in traditional dress as well as members of the older generation.

I love this guy:

The older generation of Peruvians do love their hats. We were the only white people around during our time in this village, and I’m not sure what he thought of us. He’s sitting near a church entrance. I think a service was in session, because I don’t remember going in, and if you look real close you can see a figure in the church doorway that looks an awful lot like a priest. Or maybe it’s a ghost!! Maybe it’s the old fella’s doppelganger. Maybe it’s mine! The Harbinger of Sore Throats.

Steve and I didn’t know how long we could last throughout this day. We knew the 6 p.m. – 7 a.m. train trip would be rough, and we still had to pack. We didn’t want to insult our guide, who was amazing, by cutting the day too short, however, so we accompanied her to another village with another church (we visited at least 3 churches this day), and that’s when…we got a pleasant surprise.

We stumbled upon a celebration in the square outside the church. Our guide had no idea it was occurring. Celebrations are common in Peru. We came across at least 3 or 4 public gatherings between Huancayo, Cusco and Puno. Either religious celebrations, a funeral, political gatherings, or a community celebration such as today’s.

We came across these dancers who had just finished entertaining the Peruvian crowds:

One of the fellows in front with the dark masks took to us (um, me). An old lady was passing around a strong, cider-type drink to them, and he insisted we each have one.

The guy on the left was VERY friendly (not my left, the picture left). I downed my cider-type drink and then the guy on the left insisted that the group, the members of which were all very hot and tired, should repeat their dance just for us!

Only men dance this dance. The two fellows above have dark masks to symbolize the African slaves brought to work in Peru. Slowly, the slaves were accepted into the culture, and that’s basically what the dance was about.

GOL (Guy On Left) encouraged the other men to don their garb again. The headgear was made of real peacock feathers:

They all wore hard shoes to dance in. Reminded me of my grandfather’s square-dancing shoes:

And here they are dancing:

The fellows in dark masks basically cracked whips and walked around the dancers until they were “accepted” into the culture. The dance went on. It went on and on and on. We thought it would be over in five or maybe ten minutes, and maybe it was, but it felt like it just went on and on. I felt sorry for the young men dancing and dancing and dancing the same moves over and over. I asked Susannah, “When does it end?” “When the band stops playing.” (Yes, there was a brass band). Well, they must have played a good fifteen minutes. And then my friend didn’t want us to leave. Susannah had to tear us away.

Did he finally unmask? Yep! Here he is, trying to convince me in Spanish to come back in about 14 months to watch them perform in a National competition. He was a hoot!

But Susannah finally, um, got us out of there, we visited the church and then visited with some locals in a tiny shop where we went to buy water, then visited another church. It was time for lunch, and we knew we were in for another trout lunch. Steve really didn’t feel good, and I was overheating myself by this point, so we asked Susannah to take us back to the hotel. We were still on the hunt for the remainder of our laundry, and we needed to rest before finding our way to the train station.

When we arrived at the hotel, lo and behold, we had our jeans back! I was NOT looking forward to traveling the next two weeks with only the jeans on my legs. We dealt with the same female clerk from the morning. Using Susannah as an interpreter, we were assured that WE DID NOT OWE THE HOTEL ANY MONEY FOR THE LAUNDRY. Because it was “their fault,” as she put it.

So we took our wet jeans upstairs, and I hung mine in the window to dry:

I love this picture!

So…we rested and packed. We called the desk to arrange a taxi to the train station (which is only 5 minutes away, but Huancayo itself is a busy city, so we wanted a taxi). We went downstairs at the appropriate time, and the taxi was there. I asked the amount owed and paid the desk clerk…who was once more the uncommunicative fellow from the night before! I swear, all was hunky-dory until we were actually on our way out of the hotel with the taxi driver. Then the desk clerk stopped us and demanded we pay for our laundry service. After we had been assured by the female clerk that we didn’t owe anything.

We had no idea if there had been a communication mix-up or if he wanted to keep the soles (Peruvian money) for himself. The laundry guy himself came by, and we went through the whole rigmarole again. At this point, Steve pulled out his wallet prepared to pay for a portion of the laundry bill if not the whole thing. Of course, THEN, the laundry guy didn’t WANT any money, LOL.

Well, if that was our most frustrating experience in Peru, I’ll take it.

Remember the little boy, Fabian, from the train up to Huancayo? He was there again Sunday night! His seats weren’t beside ours this time, but he was so happy to see my husband. His parents had bought him a Spanish-English phrase book, which we thought was very cute.

Everybody hunkered down, and we wended our way back down to Lima, arriving at about 7 a.m. Completely and totally exhausted.

Would I do it again? Well, no. I’ve already done it. Would I wish I’d experienced the train trip to Huancayo, if I hadn’t gone on it? You bet! It was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of our trip.

I’ll say it again, the people of Huancayo, aside from the desk clerk dude, were welcoming, friendly, and amazing. Seeing the highlands instead of just visiting “Peruvian Disneyland” was incredible. Totally and completely, irrecoverably RECOMMENDED.

P.S. No, my jeans didn’t return from the laundry service embroidered. My socks and tops did, though. Throughout the remainder of our trip, I kept discovering the initials of the hotel name embroidered in my clothes.

Series Romance: The Harlequin American Reading Experience

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

By Marin Thomas

Ask the Senior Editor of Harlequin American Romance, Kathleen Scheibling, and she’ll say, “Two things that each and every American Romance has are a sense of family and community, and a sense of place. In American Romance we’re painting a picture of American life as it could be. Full of family, friends and happiness.”  

Ask any reader of the Harlequin American Romance line and they’ll say things like…fast-paced with heroines and heroes the reader can relate to. Fans of the line will tell you that no two books are the same so expect the unexpected when you pick up an American Romance.

American Romance strives to reflect the everyday life of men and women who are working, raising families and searching for the American dream. Americans can vary in tone but, whether the book is light-hearted, humorous or thought-provoking you’ll always get a fast-paced read and an uplifting reading experience.   

The heroes in American Romance come from all walks of life. Bad boys, businessmen, firefighters, policemen, military men, ranchers and a reader favorite—cowboys. Our readers just love a hero who wears Wranglers, boots, a Stetson and says, “yes, ma’am”.    

Secondary characters play a distinct role in American Romance. We use these characters to help advance the relationship between our hero and heroine. After reading an American Romance don’t be surprised if you not only remember the hero and heroine but also one of the quirky secondary characters.    

American Romance is unique in that our authors explore a variety of settings across the United States. Whether it’s a small town out West, a borough of New York City, or downtown Detroit—the details of the setting and the characters which live there will draw the reader more deeply into the story. The setting helps define our characters and usually plays a major role in their lives.  

Family plays an important part in American Romance. You’ll find babies, teenagers, small children and even extended family members in our books. Whether the hero is the boy-next-door, a hot-shot business executive or a down-on-his-luck rodeo cowboy, they’ll have a soft spot for babies, children and teens.

For those of you who love Cowboys—you’ll find plenty to pick from the line each month. This past June Harlequin American Romance launched its first-ever six-book miniseries. The Codys: First Family of Rodeo debuted with Rebecca Winters’ book, Walker: The Rodeo Legend. Book 2, DEXTER: HONORABLE COWBOY is out this month. The series runs from June through November. 

If you’re still craving more cowboys…the authors of The Codys: First Family of Rodeo post a new “cowboy blog” every Wednesday at 

Are you a fan of cowboys—if so what do you find so addicting about cowboy heroes in romance novels?


Please leave a comment or question for Marin to enter to win DEXTER: HONORABLE COWBOY. If you’re reading this blog through a feed at Facebook, Goodreads or another social network, please note that you need to leave your comment at to enter.

Marin’s latest book for Harlequin American Romance is out in stores this month. DEXTER: HONORABLE COWBOY (July 2010) received a 4.5 Star  Top Pick from Romantic Times magazine. You can learn more about Marin and her books at To read Marin’s bio and the back cover copy for DEXTER: HONORABLE COWBOY, please see yesterday’s post.