Saturday, November 24, 2012

Machu Picchu and the Sanctuary Lodge

Machu Picchu is pretty spectacular, and I can see why folks are awestruck when they see it in person. Not *all* of the stones in the terraces, walls, and buildings appear to have been melted together--there is some use of mortar in places--but enough of them are laid gaplessly stone-on-occasionally-giant-how-on-earth-did-they-get-it-there-stone to be impressive, and a little unbelievable. Many of the best-constructed walls have stones that are perfectly, uniformly curved at their meeting edges, slightly recessing the seams between rocks, and adding to the aura of unreality. How did these stonemasons shape this granite so uniformly?

Yesterday afternoon, Ian and I, clinging to the cliff-side so we wouldn't plunge to our untimely deaths hundreds of feet below on the banks of the Urubamba River, took a trail out the back of the site to an old Incan bridge. Fortunately, the final approach to the bridge--a deep, stone U-shape in the cliff wall trail, crossed by four, several-yard-long warped planks of hardwood--had been blocked by park officials. Who knows what tragedy my love of a challenge may have led to.

The main site was overrun by teenagers maniacally taking pictures of each other with digital cameras. "They really have become a scourge," Ian said. About the cameras.

The Sanctuary Lodge itself is a boutique, breathtakingly expensive, all-inclusive hotel just outside the gates to the park. You can see a bit of the Machu Picchu citadel from the stone hot tub up at the top of the garden, and Ian and I watched the last light fade over the mystic city from there.

This would all, in fact, be a completely magical place if it weren't for one thing: it's in Peru.

Peru gives the impression of being an up-and-coming, well-established and organized place. Peru excels at marketing. You can book tickets for all sorts of things online from the US: train tickets, tours, hotels (even the $10/person/night hostel we used in Puno). Airplane tickets on LAN Peru were a bit more difficult, as we had a complicated itinerary (Iguacu-Sao Paolo-Lima-La Paz, then Cuzco-Lima-Iquitos, then Iquitos-Lima), so I spoke directly with an agent for those. Marsh had voiced worry about the reliability of plane reservations in South America in general, and I assured him that LAN was a global company and part of OneWorld with British Airways and other well-established international carriers. Even so, I called an agent before leaving Seattle, just to make sure. Veronica assured me that we had E-tickets and our seats were confirmed.

This is perhaps not the fault of Peru, but our first troubles of the trip came when we went to check in at Iguacu to come to the Altaplana. Our reservations had been dropped. We got on our flight with no real trouble, but we were seated one by one in middle seats. This happened again from Lima to La Paz, with the added complexity of different information about where and when to pick up bags, with the result that some rode with us to La Paz and some didn't (they arrived late at night in La Paz).

For our trip across Lake Titikaka, I had booked through a glossy Peruvian website that implied we'd steam up the lake from Bolivia to Puno, Peru, visiting, among other things, a floating reed village. We did not. We steamed around the Bolivian end of the lake and then were put on a bus to the Peruvian border, where we had to get off the bus and collect our bags and cross on foot, then put our bags on a different bus for a three-hour ride through shockingly litter-filled countryside to Puno, where torrential rain was flooding the  streets. In Puno we had to get out of the bus in that rain and transfer our bags to a minivan to get to our hostel, with a terribly ill trip member (this was our first clinic night). Strike one, Peru.

Our bus early the next morning, a clever tourist bus going to Cuzco with several stops along the way and a toilet on board, was close-by the hostel. The company wanted to be paid in US dollars, $180 of them. I handed over a wad of twenties I'd received from my bank just before leaving the US.and boarded the bus. Marsh got on several minutes later and told me that he'd had to exchange several of my bills for some that he had, because mine were "broken." My new twenties weren't good enough. Strike two, Peru.

The bus trip was okay--we did have several opportunities to get off and walk around, but the "bilingual" "guide" was a hyper-chipper fast talker who had only a bare grasp of English. Since by this point I understand Spanish pretty well, at least tour-contextually, and mostly what I wanted to do was sleep, this endless nattering and, at times, wild conjecture about what we were seeing, was hard to take. At least the English version of everything was relatively short. Strike 2 1/2.

Somewhere in here--the oxygen-starved memory is foggy on the details--I received an email from LAN saying that our flight from Lima to Iquitos had changed and they were sorry for any inconvenience. The inconvenience with this turned out to be that our flight from Cuzco to Lima had not also changed, and so we were set to arrive in Lima 30 minutes after our plane took off for the Amazon. Strike 3 1/2.

We had one full day scheduled in Cuzco, and Ian and I spent it, not unhappily, managing plane reservations at a LAN office and mailing a box home. I do like to get into the nitty-gritty of a place, and figuring out how to find a box for our belongings and get them in the mail definitely fit the bill.

At the main post office there was a little kiosk with a stack of used cardboard boxes outside. We brought in our things and a little lady packed them in, then taped the box closed, then wrapped it several times in stretch plastic both directions around the box, then taped the stretch plastic down on the ends and the edges multiple times. It's a good thing I'd written the address in a super-big font. All this for about 10 soles. I then went across the street to get a copy of my passport (Peruvians are big on wanting to copy your passport), and when I got back, the lady took us through behind the counter at the PO and handed us off. I filled out a customs form in quintuplicate, put a fingerprint on each of the five pages, gave over my passport copy and 185 soles for our 5.6 kg box (much of that tape and Saran wrap), and we were on our way. We did add 20 postcard stamps to our order, which brought the total up another 120 soles. At that rate, it looks like our box will be sent by paddle boat.

My one finger is cramping, and my phone-holding hand is numb, so I'm going to sign off for the moment and continue this story  later . . . stay tuned.

one-fingered on my phone

No comments: