I can’t believe it’s been a month since I last posted! I’ve gotten terrible about blogging, but hopefully, I’ll rectify that soon. We’ve been really busy lately, I had a friend come visit, the boys are winding up their semester of school, and I’ve been planning what’s next for us.
My dear friend Andrea came for a visit and we had a fabulous time together. She’s a homeschooling mom, so she has a natural curiosity about the world. After she bought her plane ticket she went to the library and checked out all the books they had on Peru. Being here for so long has made me kind of jaded, so it was refreshing to get to marvel over this place from her perspective.
Andrea was here for just a week so I had it all planned out with an action packed itinerary. The first few days we traipsed up and down the valley seeing all the important sites and giving her an up close look at how people really live by taking the bus everywhere, eating local foods, and learning as much as she could first hand about the history and culture of the area.
On Wednesday as we were taking the bus to the neighboring town of Ollantaytambo, we were stopped by a group of local teachers that were marching in a protest. The public school teachers have been on strike here for about a month, but other than the children being out of school it hasn’t affected life much. Since they were blocking the road with stones and whatever else they could find we had to get out and walk. It actually turned out to be a great hike and we really enjoyed ourselves and the views of the valley.
We went to Ollantaytambo to see the ancient town and the ruins, but also to buy our bus and train tickets to Machu Picchu. This is when we ran into some more problems. It turned out that the teachers were not only blocking the road, but they were blocking the train track as well. Since all this commotion was going on and the teachers had scheduled a demonstration for the following few days, the railroad was not selling tickets. This put a hitch in my plans, but I was not to be deterred, off to buy bus tickets we went. After waiting around a bit for the bus lady to get back from an errand, we were able to secure our places on a shared van the next morning. Since the railroad was shut down our tickets cost 50% more than the last time I went!
My plan was to take the bus to the hydroelectric station and then hop on the train for the last 10 km to Aguascalientes. I figured since the teachers would be demonstrating in Cusco, the last stretch of train tracks would be fine. Well, I figured wrong. We got to the train depot at the hydroelectric station around noon and the ticket seller was out to lunch. After waiting around for an hour, we finally got to talk to someone. He explained that everything was delayed and they weren’t selling tickets and that if he were the foreigner price for this 20 minute ride would be an absolutely ridiculous $30!! (The Peruvian price is $2.) The only way to get to town now was to hike the last 10 km. I felt terrible for Andrea, who was struggling with the high altitude, but she was a trooper.
The boys and I hike much slower than Andrea since we frequently stop to rest and play. When we were just making it to town some friendly police officers took pity on us and drove us the rest of the way (which was all up hill). I thought we would see Andrea waiting for us along the way but we didn’t, so I found a cafe with wifi so that I could text her and we could meet up. As I was awaiting her response I looked out the window and saw a familiar face, it wasn’t Andrea, but my sister-in-law’s best friend! I knew she was in Peru and had hoped to meet up with her at some point, but I was quite surprised to just run into her in Aguascalientes!
We finally met up with Andrea and I left her with the boys while I secured our tickets and hotel. I also made a trip to the train station to see about tickets out of town for the next day. The train station was jam packed full of frustrated passengers trying to get out of town. The ticket seller gave me the bad news, they were not selling tickets until Friday. It looks like we were stuck going out the same way we had come in.
The next day we got up early to marvel over the ancient Incan treasure, it was just as fabulous the second time. I actually enjoyed it more since we took the bus up the mountain rather than climb all those steps. After a morning at the ruins, I figured I should make reservations on the bus for the next day. There was no way that we were hiking 10 km after a morning of climbing all over the ruins. The company that we came in on had tickets for 2:30 pm so I went ahead and bought them (again at 50% more than normal price).
We had planned on sleeping in a bit on Thursday and starting our hike a bit late, but as I got to thinking, I started to worry about Andrea making it all the way to Cusco (normally a 6 hour drive). With the demonstration going on there was a good chance of some roads being blocked and the drive taking longer than normal. Her plane left early Friday morning and I didn’t want her to arrive in Cusco at night or there to be any chance of her missing her flight.
So early Thursday morning we embarked on the long hike back to the hydroelectric plant. I told Andrea to search for a van leaving earlier than the one I had arranged since the boys and I are so slow. She found a van for the same price as the other one so we piled in. At the last minute, the guy tells us our price is for 2 seats not 3 and they expect Jovani to sit on Andrea’s lap the entire 6 hour drive. Uh no. We finally negotiated on paying $5 more for the 3rd seat. So we make ourselves comfy and get started on the long way home.
After an hour or so on the dusty dirt road we made it to the 2nd town where the dirt road turns to pavement then the driver stops the van and tells us to get into another, more spacious one he says. The next van was a bit smaller and older with 12 seats instead of 8, but it was already paid for, so we climb in. Have I mentioned how twisty and turny the road is? The entire drive consists of climbing up and back down a mountain through a series of switchbacks. It is absolutely nauseating, especially since we were super stinky (we only brought one change of clothes and we had just hiked 10km) and we were sitting in the very back of the van. Thankfully, Jovani told me he was feeling sick in time for me to find a plastic bag for him to throw up in.
Finally we made it to the home stretch, just 20 minutes from Urubamba, so I texted Joaquin and told him to meet us on the side of the road with Andrea’s luggage. There would be no time for her to go to our house and get it and find another ride to Cusco. Just as I was planning on how to spend the rest of the afternoon and what to eat for dinner (we hadn’t eaten a thing except for snacks and we were all starving) we got news that the road to Urubamba was blocked and we would have to take a detour. No problem I thought, we’ll just have to meet Joaquin on the other side of Urubamba. Well, I didn’t understand that the off-road detour we were taking would bypass Urubamba completely and take us directly to Cusco. We were so far out of the way that there was no signal to let Joaquin know that we wouldn’t make it! The poor kid was waiting on the side of the road with two huge suitcases for over an hour!
We finally made it to Cusco just before nightfall, grumpy, hungry, exhausted, and stinky! We grabbed a taxi and found Andrea’s hotel, got her settled and went for dinner. When we got back to the hotel the proprietor explained that the boys and I couldn’t stay there, so we were tossed out into the streets. After looking for a hotel for an hour we finally found one at 9:30, the boys and I were completely worn out! They were so good though, I can’t believe they lasted that long, trying day without any major meltdowns.
Andrea made her early flight (wearing her pajamas, since she had no clean clothes!) and the boys and I treated ourselves to a good breakfast. The teachers were still demonstrating, but the roads were no longer blocked. We saw some of the marching on the way to the bus and I took the opportunity to explain to them what the strike meant. All they had understood was that the teachers had ruined their train ride. This opened a dialogue about peaceful protest, citizen participation in government, and the importance of teachers. I tried to explain to them, that although the strikes caused an inconvenience for us, this was the livelihood of the teachers and the future of the children’s education.
We finally made it home safe and sound and enjoyed a weekend of rest and relaxation. The boys have one last week of school here before they are done for the semester, so our time in Peru is coming to an end. As some of you know, Israel is already back in the States and we will follow him after a quick trip to the jungle. We move out of our house here in Urubamba next weekend and will take a 10 hour bus ride to Puerto Maldonado and the Tambopata River where we will finally get to experience life in the Amazon basin.
The decision to head back to the States was a difficult one, but we think it’s the right thing to do for now. Joaquin really wants to experience life in an American public high school, we need a bit more of an income, and Israel wants to experience boating life. We have decided to settle in a small town in Washington State after reading a bit about sailing communities. Hopefully, this move will offer Israel more opportunities to learn about sailing, we’ll get to experience a completely different part of the country, and Joaquin will be able to settle a bit and go to a ‘real’ school. We are looking forward to the adventure ahead.