..Once we arrived in Cuzco, our travel guide took over, making this the most luxurious trip I’ve ever been on. Jack booked our entire Cuzco/Puno trip through Kuoda Travel, a fantastic Cuzco-based tour company. We stayed at amazing hotels, were given private transportation whenever possible and were constantly lead through significant sites by English-speaking tour guides flush with knowledge. Having private transportation already organized for the entire trip made my life so much easier as negotiating transportation is not my favorite pastime and is never fully secure.

Kuoda’s President, Mery Calderon, even paid us a visit during our time in Cuzco to make sure everything was going smoothly and that we were enjoying our trip. Although we all had a tough time acclimating to Cuzco’s altitude, Mom definitely suffered the most, missing our first morning tour. Thankfully, the hotel had beds made of angel wing feathers so she was left in a comfortable place. Jack and I took in the Sacsayhuamán ruins above the city of Cuzco along with La Catedral on the plaza and the Temple of the Sun around the corner. We found some delicious food near our hotel before preparing for our early morning departure the next day to Pisac in the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo, our last stop before heading to Machu Picchu. Our lunch outside of Pisac was fantastic. It was a private lunch with an ENORMOUS spread of typical Peruvian dishes, including vegetarian options for Jack. This will stand out in my mind as the best exposure Jack and Mom had to typical Peruvian dishes. Although I tried to expose them to as many as I could, it wasn’t possible without a spread of dishes like this lunch provided. In Ollantaytambo, we got to relax in another fantastic hotel directly behind the train station where we were surrounded by gorgeous flora and even a sauna. Mom didn’t stop talking about this hotel (El Albergue) for the entire trip, especially once we got to my site and were sharing one room between the three of us.

The next day, we hopped on a train after a minor delay thanks to a transportation strike in Cuzco and headed to Aguas Calientes. Once we dropped our luggage off at another great hotel *with bathtubs* (Andina Luxury) and jumped on a bus up to Machu Picchu. I was not prepared for how the views of the ruins would affect me. They are just so perfectly maintained, so extensive and so majestic that it is hard to be dispelled by the thousands of tourists crawling throughout the ruins like ants – at least at first. We spent the entire morning and afternoon being led through the ruins by our guide but at no point did it feel tiring. Yes, it was a huge amount of information, but our guide did such a good job of making the information relevant to what we were seeing in each moment that I felt constantly engaged; she even told us how to get to a great private spot to relax the next day. After enjoying a huge buffet at the entrance to the park, we went back down to our hotel, said goodbye to our guide and utilized the fantastic bathing facilities of our hotel before heading out to explore the little enclave at the foot of one of the world’s wonders.

I decided that I would like to hike up Huayna Picchu when it opened at 7am the next morning, so I woke up at 4:45 to eat a light breakfast before taking an early bus up to the park. I ended up arriving at the gate to Huayna Picchu at about 6am, giving me one hour of waiting before I could enter and begin the ascent. I was the first person in line, the first one to sign in, and the first one to make it to the top – in 24 minutes at that! I was under the false impression that it was sort of a race to the peak so I jetted up as quickly as I could, soaking myself in sweat and glory before reaching the top of an incredibly steep peak. The views from Huayna Picchu were worth every sweaty step, and having it all to myself made me incredibly happy. I walked/jumped/slipped around the rocky peak for a while before settling into a comfortable spot to listen to Bon Iver and look out over Machu Picchu, the end of the Inca Trail and the surrounding mountains. It was fantastic. On my way back down, I met Mom and Jack, so I turned around and hiked part of the trail again so they could get some good views of Machu Picchu.

We caught a train back to Cuzco in the afternoon in order to get back into the city with enough time to prepare for another early morning the next day when we would take a tour bus from Cuzco to Puno.

I ended up sitting next to a fantastic guy from Australia who was traveling around North and South America before starting at a job in early 2013. After seeing the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, he would be heading across the lake to La Paz, Bolivia to do some site seeing and to ride bikes down some road of death. Right?! He made the ten-hour trip to Puno much more interesting than just staring out of the window. We stopped at some ruins, churches and a market along the way, but I would’ve done a direct train trip if it had been any faster. Puno was not very impressive and the floating Uros Islands were painfully touristy. After seeing these islands, we took our private (read: room for napping) boat over to the island of Taquile. This island was much less disappointing. We hiked up to the highest point of the island from which we could see the Bolivian shoreline and a 360-degree view of Lake Titicaca. We ate a delicious fish lunch as we looked out onto the lake. It reminded me of Spain as we sat on a sun-bleached island in a vibrantly electric blue basin.

From Puno, we took a plane back to Lima. It was very sad to see them go at the end of the trip, but after spending so much time out of site and on vacation, I was eager to get back to work. Or I guess eager to get back to my attempts to start work.

Since my vacationing has ended, I have had my first health promoter capacitation and I have begun writing my project. Currently, Alison (my site mate) and I are preparing for the group of volunteers that will be arriving next Friday for a few days of training and observation of our work here in Sicchez. FUNNN!

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