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Making a Trail

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

We fly back tomorrow night. The internet at our hotel in Buenos Aires is the worst so we haven’t been able to upload anything. We’ll catch up when we get home. We saw lots of cool amazon critters in Iguazu.

My iron levels are likely sky high thanks to a steady diet of steaks and red wine. We’re headed to a tango show tonight.

Best wishes to everyone back home.

Despite Mike’s insistence that Iguazu falls resembled Jurassic Park, we didn’t see any dinosaurs. We did, however, see some pretty awesome wild animals just roaming around the park.
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We spotted these little rodents sneaking around. They are called “agouti” and they look like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel. Supposedly, there are also Capybaras in the park, but we weren’t lucky enough to spot one. They are the largest rodents in the world and can grow up to 140 lbs.

There were also coatis, which looked similar to a racoon, but are diurnal.
DSC00086We first saw them poking their little snouts under the leaves and dirt to root around for food. They are also smart enough to hang out around the park benches where the tourists sit.
DSC00121While Mike and I were distracted adjusting his camera, another tourist walked by us with a plastic bag. The coati growled, and jumped for the bag, hungry for food, as the tourist swung his bag towards Mike’s arm. Luckily, no one got bit, but these critters are not to be messed with.

There are also tons of beautiful birds. These blue and cream-yellow birds were not shy, and one jumped and perched itself right on Mike’s shoulder.
DSC00603Needless to say, he was not excited about communing closely with nature after our coati experience.

At the end of our last days, we were relaxing in our hotel room when Mike saw some bright colors flashing from a tree top nearby. There was one toucan, who was soon followed by the rest of his family, and we counted at least six birds in the tree at one point. Later on we spotted this creepy looking vulture just hanging out. Pretty amazing stuff.
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The internet isn’t the best at the Iguazu Sheraton, so I’m going to keep it short. We hiked around the lower and upper trails of the falls and got some great pictures yesterday. The falls are absolutely huge and the rumble of thousands of gallons of water is constant, we can hear it in bed from our hotel room. Today, we’re going to check out the Garganta Del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) which is supposed to be the most impressive part of the falls.

Here are some pictures starting with the view from our hotel balcony–it feels like we’re at Jurassic Park.

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Behind Hong Kong, I think Buenos Aires was my second favorite big city that we have visited. In large part, this is thanks to the amazing food, nice people, and general metropalitan feel of this place. Buenos Aires is known for its beef and the best place to get a good steak is at one of the parillas. We went to two of the more popular ones in town and were not disappointed.

First, we went to La Cabrera. This place is so popular they have 3 iterations of the same restaurant in a 2 block stretch. The steak was above average and they bring you a ton of different little sides/snacks to enjoy.

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La Cabrera was nice, but Don Julio was the more memorable place for us. I somehow managed to talk Becky into lunch steaks (borderline breakfast steaks) the day after our La Cabrera dinner. The nice people at Don Julio let us in for lunch around noon and we had the best meal we’ve had all trip. If you get wine, which we did, they let you write something on the bottle and they put it up on the wall. Our bottle is in the picture below–I’m not saying which one.

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As we were leaving, our waiter told us he hopes we get pregnant soon, which was kind of funny, strange, and sweet all at once. Thanks, I guess? Its hard not to be happy, regardless of what you hear, with a belly full of red wine and prime cow.

Yay steaks!

We’re here and safe. Looking forward to some serious steak eating and enjoying the city which is said to be the Paris of South America.

They love fernet branca here, which is the unofficial drink of San Francisco. Strangely, it makes me feel at home. They drink it mixed with coca cola, which I’ll have to try.

Its hard to believe we’ve been traveling nearly 3 months now.

We send our best to everyone back home.

Becky finished her Machu Picchu posts, they can be found here: part 1 & part 2

We updated our list of top things from our trip on the navigation bar to the right, Machu Picchu has eclipsed pretty much everything else, and now sits at number one.

We leave Peru tomorrow and head to Argentina. After a few days in Buenos Aires we visit Iguaza Falls.

Best wishes to all our loved ones back home.

So we went to Machu Picchu. It was probably the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen. Becky is working on a few posts about it, so I’ll leave that to her.

In between some long train rides, early mornings, and battling the altitude we’ve had a lot of fun. Becky speaks great Spanish and gets lots of compliments. I can understand about 60% of what I hear and know enough to say silly things to get a laugh out of the locals. The woman at Starbucks couldn’t stop giggling when I told her my name was Miguelito. A store owner forced this poncho and hat on me when Becky said the same.

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Becky got swindled by these cute girls and their baby sheep. They asked for 20 soles (6 bucks) after this picture. They were adamant. It almost worked until another baby sheep picture hawker came over to say it should only cost 1 sole. They got all our loose change, those ruthless cute monsters.

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The town of Cusco is really cute. They have a parade every Sunday that the mayor attends. It’s a total scene. Some stuff didn’t make a ton of sense, including these weiner-nosed masked dudes.

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But it really is a beautiful city in the clouds.
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Finally, here’s the famous 12 sided rock in the city center. It’s part of an original Incan structure that the Spanish built on top of later. It’s impressive how the Incans were able to masterfully carve such huge stones with such limited tools.
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We fly back to Lima tomorrow, then a few days later on to Argentina.

Machu Picchu is part of a larger group of historic cultural sites called the sacred valley. This valley and it’s imposing mountains hold numerous ruins and artifacts of Incan and even pre-Incan origin. Indeed, some sites, such as Choquequirau, have only been rediscovered in the last decade. There is more information on those discoveries here.

So, we decided to visit two very unique sites in the sacred valley.

The first was the salt terraces, salineras, near the city of Maras. These salt terraces have been in use since ancient times. They are fed by a stream of brackish water that flows from an unknown underground source. The water comes out warm and is extremely salty, we tried it.

This is the start of the stream that feeds all the salt flats.
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Through a clever system of small tributaries that can be clogged or allowed to flow, every 30 days a flat is flooded with brackish water then allowed to dry and the salt is harvested.

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A picture from further out.
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Salt that isn’t totally dry yet.
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Working and walking along the narrow foot paths.
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Enjoying the amazing views.
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After the salineras we went to Moray. Moray is an ancient Incan agricultural testing and hybridizing facility. It is absolutely huge. The pictures do not do it justice. The different leveled terraces simulate growing crops at altitudes ranging from sea level to high altitude Andean cultivation. The difference in soil temperature from top to bottom can reach up to 15 Celsius. Essentially, Moray is an ancient agricultural laboratory that the Incas used to test crops, hybridize, and determine ideal water, altitude, and cultivation techniques. Today it stands as an impressive and beautiful representative of Incan ingenuity.

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It is hard to get an idea the scale of Moray, but the specs you see down near the center of the circles, those are people.

We woke up bright and early on our second day in Aguas Calientes in order to beat the crowds and to be ready for our full day at Machu Picchu.

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When we arrived in the park, a lot of the Alpacas were still sleeping and we had to sneak by some of them to get to the trail we were hiking.
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We got to see an awesome sunrise, where the sun rises exactly between a notch in the mountain, and it’s thought that the Incas picked the location of Machu Picchu for its relation to the celestial bodies and the surrounding mountains.
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We bought our tickets to Machu Picchu a month ago and I had heard that there were only 400 tickets/day to “climb up Huayna picchu.” So naturally we wanted those tickets. I wasn’t quite sure where Huayna picchu was, but everything I had read mentioned great views of the ruins. The night before our hike, Mike figured out what mountain Huayna picchu was:
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Mike found in his research that they think the ruins on top of the mountain were the residence of the high preists and some virgins. There’s a trail that winds up the side of the mountain, but you can’t see it in most pictures because it’s tiny, narrow, and still sports the original “escaleritas,” which in Spanish translates to either “tiny stairs” or “ladders.”
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After much huffing and puffing, crawling through a small tunnel/cave on our hands and knees, and holding on to the escaleritas for dear life, we got to the top!
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Don’t worry, mom, we made it down safe and sound. After lunch, we took a tour of the ruins with a local guide. Here is a little info/conjecture of cool things we learned (as most archaeologists are not sure why Machu Picchu was built):

1. Machu Picchu was built from the bottom up with tons of terraces that are still being discovered. The terraces were not “cut out” of the mountain, but built on top of the slope itself. For example, look at the stone walls in my first post. The Incas started at the bottom and worked up the mountain. These steps are filled with large rocks, gravel, sand, and finally topped with dirt. This way, with torrential rains, there is no erosion, as the water filters through the layers of sand and rock to be evenly dispersed below. Through this clever appoarch to handling the region’s torrential rains, we can still see these terraces today.

2. The Incas did not carry the rocks up to Machu Picchu, but used huge rocks found at the top to build most of the upper city. Their stonework did not involve mortar, but fitting the stone surfaces exactly so most of these structures have survived multiple earthquakes. If they came across rocks that were still a part of the mountain, they built around them, or used them as part of the main structure–as they considered the mountain sacred. The Temple of the Sun is a good example(see the foundation):
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3. The Inca were versed in astronomy as well. The Inti Watana stone, shown below, is thought to be an astronomic clock or calender, where the sun shines directly above the stone on the winter solstice and casts no shadow. The water mirrors shown below were also used to view the sun without having to look directly at it.
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I could go on and on, as I was blown away by this place, but this post would be too long and no one would read it. All I know is that the Inca were a fascinating, intelligent people who left behind one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
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Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list since I learned about it in my high school Spanish class. It’s the main reason I dragged Mike to Peru in the first place. You can hike the Inca trail (4 day schlep) or get there by train, but either way they don’t call it a “pilgrimage” for nothing.
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After successfully arriving in Lima, we flew into Cusco, then took a 20 minute taxi ride to the train station, then a 3.5 hour crawling train ride through the Andes that involves a manuever called “el zigzag” (I’ll let you figure it out), only to land in the town just below Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, where you take a 30 min harrowing switchback bus ride up to the top.
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So after all of our journeying, I was scared of being disappointed. Then we walked into the park on beautiful afternoon and were greeted with this:
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I know this sounds dorky, but I teared up at the site of it. I lied and told Mike the sun was in my eyes and I needed to take pictures with my sunglasses on.
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That first afternoon we spent just wandering around the park. The ruins are impressive, but the natural beauty of the Andes, the sound of the rushing river below, and the ever-present silver clouds make this place remarkable. It’s not surprising that the Incas worshipped the mountains.
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The first day we did a small hike to an old Incan bridge that is now off limits, and for good reason. (The wooden planks were put there after the stonework fell apart).
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It was a great afternoon just taking it all in and exploring the ruins, and we were saving our energy for the next morning…
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