It’s All Maya!

If Life is an illusion, then why do I keep banging my head against the wall?

Si la Vie est une illusion, pourquoi je n'arrête pas de me taper la tête sur les murs?

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Where Is She? Where Did She Go? — (When A Parent Has Dementia)

November 4th, 2017 · By Lynn

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Who is this woman sitting in a wheelchair staring out into space, this woman who more often than not prefers to keep her eyes shut even when she’s awake? Is the sight of this world too overwhelming as she slips further and further away? I don’t know, but I do know this woman looks like my mum, but she’s not. What happened to our little Energizer Bunny who kept going and going and going? Where is she? Where did she go?

Mum was full of energy, always doing something. If she wasn’t in her garden planting or harvesting, she was cleaning house, or watering her flowers, or in the kitchen cooking and making tortillas. If that wasn’t enough, she was volunteering her time to help others. She was full of life.

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Mum’s hibiscus in bloom this morning.

When I’d called mum on the phone, she could talk ten minutes straight telling me which of her flowers were flourishing. I would listen, yet I had no idea what an azalea looked like from a zinnia, but it was funny to hear how animated she could get over a flower in bloom. Mum no longer talks now unless you ask her a question and most of the time her answers are either yes, or no. Nothing more.

Mum had a mini stroke eleven years ago and recovered fully. She had two strokes recently and miraculously she suffered no physical consequences. Her speech isn’t slurred and there’s no partial paralysis, but mum has dementia and this horrible disease is slowly taking her away from her family. She was in the hospital and then rehab, but at 95 years old we brought her home. She wanted nothing more than to come home.

“Home sweet home…there’s no place like home.”

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Except, she no longer knows she’s home.

“Where are you, mum?” my brother asked.
“I don’t know.”
Don’t you recognize your Japanese coffee table?”
“No.”
“What about your Chinese dining room set?”
“No.”
“That’s okay, mum, you’re home.”

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Mum must’ve been Asian in a past life if her choice of furniture is any indication, but she never made it to the Far East. After my father passed away, she traveled halfway around the world. She swam with dolphins in Hawaii, and went to the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, she took cruises to Greece and Turkey where her ship almost sank in a storm. Mum was always afraid of water, but that didn’t stop her. When she was 56 years old, we traveled throughout Europe and Scandinavia hopping on and off trains for six whole months. I wanted to show her places where I had lived: Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid… Most often she journeyed to Mexico to visit family.

Family.

“Who am I, mum? Do you know?”
“No.”
“I’m Lynn, your daughter.”
“Lynn…Lynn?”
“Lindy, mum. Belinda.”
(I was named after Jane Wyman’s award winning role in the film, Johnny Belinda. My younger sister was named Olivia, after Olivia de Havilland from Gone With The Wind. Mum loved her movies.)
“Hmm, Belinda? No, you’re a stranger.”
“Would a stranger feed you, bathe you, care for you?”
“Yes, a nice stranger.”
“Good answer, mum. Yes, a nice stranger, but I’m your daughter.”

All day long, mum repeats to herself, over and over like a mantra she mumbles, “Help me, God, help me get well. Help me, God, help me get well.” She knows there’s something wrong in her mind. And I tell God, “Help her, dammit!” Sorry, God, but I can only listen to it for so long.

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Mum and her grand-daughter, Kerri, holding hands.

Help this woman who at 93 was still playing Candy Crush every day on her tablet (she reached level 577) who used a smartphone, went on the internet and Googled, and had her own Facebook page to see what was going on with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. This nonagenarian who could email and Skype on her own. My laptop would buzz in Paris and there was mum pleased with herself on the other side of the pond Skyping me so we could chat.

“God, what did you do with my mum? Where is she? Where did she go?”

After my father died 44 years ago, mum kept her family together. She was the matriarch, the nuturer, the glue that kept us united. She cared for everyone. Ironically, she can no longer care for herself. I feed her. I put food on her utensil and tell her, “Pick up the spoon, mum, and eat.” She’ll pick it up and feed herself. Once. Then she’ll sit with the food in front of her and wait. Over and over, I put food on the utensil and tell her to feed herself, but she has to be told each time. Truth be told, it’s easier to just feed her.

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Mum’s vitals are better than mine, all her organs are working fine. Mum’s a fighter, her doctor said she could live to be 100+, but mum isn’t mum. Dementia is stealing her from us one day at a time. She’s here, but she’s not. Her body is, but the essence of her isn’t. Her spirit, her soul, who she is, or was, has taken flight to places we can’t go. Places I don’t want to go. I watch and care for her. I set my alarm and wake up every 3-4 hours at night to care for her. It’s a 24/7 job. My job. I will watch her until January 2018 and then one of my siblings will take over, and then another, and then my turn will come again. It’s not easy even though she’s my mum, because in a way, she’s not. She’s a stranger.

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I miss my mum. The mum who laughed and joked and heralded the family news to keep me in the know because I lived so far away. The prankster who every 1st of April made sure she tricked each one of her kids and delighted in saying “April Fool’s!” Every once in a while, mum returns from that other place she goes to and there’s a spark of recognition. Not too long ago, we sat and watched Dancing With The Stars. It was Disney night. I had shown mum a photo we had taken a few years back, mum and her five kids.

“Who is this, do you know?” I pointed to mum.
“That’s me.”
“Good mum. And who’s that?” I pointed to my brother, the baby of the family.
“That’s Bam.” (My brother was a strong kid like Bam-Bam from The Flintstones. He got his nickname when he was two years old and the name stuck.)
“Good. And who’s that?” I pointed to my other brother.
“Bobby.”
“Yes, that’s right. Your two sonny boys, mum.” Next, I pointed to me.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know. Look, that’s me.”
“I don’t know.”
She didn’t know my two sisters either. Strangers we were.
So we watched Dancing With The Stars and out came the Disney characters.
“There’s Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.” Mum said.
“Boy, mum, you know Mickey and Donald, but you don’t know your three daughters.”
Mum laughed. Bob and I laughed.
“I think you’re playing possum mum.”
Mum stared at the TV, but no longer saw what she was looking at.
Where is she? In that split second, where did she go?

I ask myself, is mum in a better place, a place where she sees family and loved ones? Does she converse with them in her mind like in a dream? Or is she a prisoner locked away in a void where there’s nothing, no one? Is her mind condemned to solitary confinement, living in an empty cell?

“Do you talk to anyone, mum?”
“No.”
“Do you see anyone?”
“No one.”
“What are you thinking, mum?”
“Nothing.”

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Mum on one of her good days.

Maya Muses: These past few days, mum emerged from behind a cloud. She was her old self once more. Was this the miracle we’ve been praying for? Or is she like a shooting star, shining bright for a moment before falling from the sky. Whatever it is, we count each blessing when mum emerges, even if only for a little while. Most of the time, however, I look at my lovely mum and ask myself, where is she? Where did she go?

Photo Credits: Personal Photos, Hand Photo thanks to Kerri Schofield

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Happy 95th Birthday Mum!

August 10th, 2017 · By Lynn

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Happy Birthday Mum!

Today my mum turns 95 years old and I wanted to pay tribute to my wonderful mum, but for once words fail me. What can I say about this generous woman who has always put others before herself, who sacrificed a lot from the time she was a child? Her life wasn’t always easy, yet she never lost her sense of humor, her love for life, or her adventurous spirit to travel and see the world.

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Mum looking chic all in blue.

I sit here in front of my computer and delete more words than I write. I ask myself why, yet I know the answer. These words would’ve come easy a few years ago when mum was still herself and she would’ve read them and been happy that I had shared them. Mum’s favorite expression (dad’s too) was always, “Your health is the most important, without it you have nothing.” Today she’s still with us, still going strong physically, but more often than not her mind is somewhere else. She remembers some of the past, but the present seems just beyond her grasp.

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Mum as colorful as the flowers in her garden.

Recently I learned something new about mum. I asked her if she used to go out dancing with her sister when they were young. “No,” she said. “(Your) Grandma wouldn’t let us, but she took dancing lessons and went out dancing.” Mum never complained, she worked and took care of her seven younger brothers and sisters. She was an acetylene welder during WWII, a Rosie the Riveter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, but those are simply titles, words, labels…they’re not my mother.

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Aunt Lupe and mum. (I don’t know who the baby is in mum’s arms.)

When I think of mum I remember moments that were special or moments that marked her life. For instance, mum loved to sing, but never did. As a child, she was perhaps 7 or 8 and the kids in choir class at school were singing the Stephen Foster song, Old Black Joe. Mum was happy and singing along, the choir teacher walked among the students and stopped in front of my mom. “Just mouth the words.” she told her, because mum was singing out of tune. After that my mother never dared to sing again. I have no memories of her singing, but she told me a few months back, she used to sing along with the radio when she was home alone. That made me happy and sad at the same time.

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Mum and her schoolmates.

Mum loved to travel and one of my favorite memories was the time we were in Mexico visiting the pyramids at Teotihuacán. We had spent the day climbing and visiting the ruins and we had saved the biggest pyramid for last. Mum and I climbed the 248 steps, when we reached the top we looked around and mum said, “There’s the Pyramid of the Moon.” (She pointed to the right.) “And there’s the Pyramid of the Stars.” (She pointed to the left.) “Where’s the Pyramid of the Sun?” I looked around and said, “Yeah, where’s the Pyramid of the Sun?” A small group of tourists with their guide were on top as well. So, mum and I went over and I repeated to them, “There’s the Pyramid of the Moon…blah, blah, blah, but where’s the Pyramid of the Sun?” They looked at us like we had just landed from Mars. “You’re standing on it,” one of them said. Mum and I looked at each other and started laughing so hard, we couldn’t stop. “The blind leading the blind.” she said.

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Mum and I resting before climbing the rest of the way up the Pyramid of the Sun. LOL!

I’m sure my two brothers and two sisters have moments that are precious to them as well. Mum had no favorites, she loved us all the same. One day I came home from school, mum had been to a PTA meeting and she had brought home a cupcake they had served, but she had saved for us. My sweet tooth radar was on high alert. “Oh, mum, can I have the cupcake?” “No,” she said, “you have to split it 5 ways.” I wasn’t about to give up so easily. “But mum, you can’t split a cupcake 5 ways. If I eat it, no one will know.” “I’ll know.” Mum said, and took a knife and cut it 5 ways.

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Mum getting ready to celebrate. (Her great-grandson looking very serious with his glasses on.)

Maya Muses: Today is my beautiful little mother’s 95th birthday. So many things to say and to share, but I’ll just say, Happy 95th Birthday, Mum. I love you!

Photo Credits: Photo of cake and all personal photos.

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Why Is Time Going By So Fast?

June 23rd, 2017 · By Lynn

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I know, I know, I’ve been neglecting my blog for months now and I can’t find the time to write a post. It’s not like I don’t have things to say…I do, but I have to prioritize that time. I have final edits going on and I have four wonderful betas waiting to read my WIP. And I want to review a book I just finished reading. Not only was it beautifully written, there’s an important message there that needs to be heard, and I want to talk about what’s going on in Washington (Yes, I know it’s not good to write about religion or politics, but this needs to be said.) and I want to talk about the dogs that run freely in Peru, and I want to write a tribute about a wonderful friend, a VFW, who has passed away…

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Really?

As you can see, there’s so much to write and I’ll get around to it all eventually, but there are other things going on as well…personal family matters that are worrisome and I see my time is limited in many ways. I would spend all my time writing, but that’s not healthy either. So bear with me. This blog is not a free blog, each year I pay for having it hosted and each year it gets more expensive, so I may have to think of other options.

Maya Muses: For now, I will continue to run after time and try to slow it down. Wish me luck.

Photo Credits: Photo 1, Photo 2

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Taxidatum – The Best Way To Get Around Peru

April 27th, 2017 · By Lynn

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Taxidatum, you can’t beat ’em!

Six months have passed since Patrick and I took our trip to Peru and we miss the country and its people as much as ever. While I was researching how to get around Peru before our trip, I had heard of the company Taxidatum. They have rave reviews on a number of sites and 5 stars on Tripadvisor and Google. I can say all the praise bestowed on them are well deserved, every one of them.

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Peru, here we come!

We flew from Paris to Madrid, Madrid to Lima, and then Lima to Cusco. We knew we would be exhausted and we were, but our traveling wasn’t over. We still had to get from the Cusco airport to the town of Ollantaytambo, about an hour and 40 minutes away. Catching a bus or taxi into the city of Cusco and then taking a local bus service to Olly just seemed to be a lot to do after a long journey, so we opted for Taxidatum, a fare of $37. When we landed in Cusco, the driver was holding up a sign with our name on it and we never looked back.

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Beats taking the bus when there’s nowhere to sit.

We used them throughout our entire trip. Leonardo, who runs the company, is very efficient and always answers his emails promptly. Most of the drivers speak English, some more limited than others, but I didn’t mind, I got to practice my Spanish with all of them. They were friendly and helpful giving us advice about where to go and what to do. The cars were all modern and clean and the drivers were there at the exact time they were scheduled to be. What more could we ask for? Twice we had to change our pickup time and once we were late, but it was never a problem to accommodate us.

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Now let me tell you about this ruin.

It was nice to know the cost of each trip in advance and there was never any hassling with the driver. Tours were also available and cheaper than a lot of places. (We took two tours to different ruins.) All in all, the price is the price, no hidden fees, and you can pay in US dollars or soles.

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But, I don’t want to fly home! Can’t we stay longer?

Maya Muses: Yes, they’re a little more expensive than just any taxi you can hail on the street, but there were a lot of warnings about taxi drivers in Peru taking tourists “for a ride” and/or robbing them. We thought it was well worth paying a little extra for peace of mind. Besides, they’re less expensive than booking through a lot of the hotels.

Our next trip to Peru will be Taxidatum all the way.

Photo Credits: Taxidatum and Personal Photos

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Final Stop: Lima, Peru

January 14th, 2017 · By Lynn

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Most of the information I had read about Lima on the internet was, “Don’t waste your time going to Lima.” But how could we not? After traveling so far, we couldn’t just pass up Lima like it was some small town instead of the capital of Peru. Patrick and I decided to spend five days there instead of a week. Too bad, because we could’ve easily have spent the entire week and more. Lima is a large, vibrant city and easy to get around. The size can be overwhelming; it’s twenty times bigger than Paris just to give you an idea.

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Patrick pretending he’s a local.

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This city is so-o-o big.

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Driving up to our apartment in Miraflores.

We arrived at our Airbnb and we weren’t disappointed, the apartment was exactly like the photos. (Not always the case.) We were staying in the heart of Miraflores, the chic part of Lima; think Saint-Germain-des Prés back in the 60s and 70s when it was the place to be. Everything we needed was just a few feet away: restaurants, bars, banks, supermarkets, boutiques, casinos…they were all there.

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Our Airbnb.

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Patrick and I had a yummy lunch that our host had prepared and then we went out to explore. A ten minute walk from our place took us right to the beach and a gorgeous (no other way to describe it) shopping mall called Larcomar. The shopping mall was one of the nicest upscale malls I’ve seen anywhere and what a view.

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Great shopping mall.

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And the view is nothing to sneeze at either.

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Why can’t more shopping malls be built on the beach?

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On our way back to our place we stopped in one of the casinos to try our luck at the slot machines. As usual we didn’t have the Midas Touch that my mom has when she plays. She always leaves the casino with more money than she came in with. Too bad Patrick and I can’t say the same.

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Atlantic City Casino.

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Patrick trying his luck.

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Beautiful bouquet, if only my photo was more in focus.

The old historical center of Lima is simply gorgeous. The buildings are colorful and with a mixture of different styles of architecture, but what struck me most was how clean everything was. No litter on the streets and with a population of nearly 9 million people it was surprising not to see homeless people or people begging on the streets.

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Not a piece of litter to be found.

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Patrick resting before lunch or was that after?

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There were ruins right in the middle of the city, the Huaca Pucllana, but we were “ruined out” by the time we got to Lima so we did a quick tour and then went in search of other things to do. In Barranco, the Bohemian district we visited the Puente de los Suspiros (the Bridge of Sighs). It’s a walking area with bars and restaurants and young hippie types selling their handmade jewelry. The best time to visit is right before sunset.

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Inca ruins right in the center of Lima.

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Patrick sighing on the Bridge of Sighs.

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Quaint neighborhood.

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Are those people having a Pisco Sour on the terrace?

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Another must see is the water park, The Magic Water Circuit (Circuito Mágico del Agua). What makes this attraction so popular is the interaction with the water. You not only enjoy seeing the fountains changing colors to music, you can become a part of it. Be sure to bring a towel and a change of clothes because you’ll need it.

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Water park.

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You wanna’ get wet?

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Okay!

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Hey, kid, don’t put your hand there, I’ll get wet.

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Patrick tempted to finally go in and get wet.

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There were so many things to see and do and so many bars and restaurants to try and rate the best Pisco Sours. (I know, I know!) But what I took away from our trip to Peru were the people. I’ve never met nicer people anywhere. They were, every last one of them, so kind and helpful. It didn’t matter who we stopped to ask for directions, everyone took their time to help us. If they didn’t know the answer, they called up a friend on their cellphone to see if they knew.

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That sign should read, Happy Hours!

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Finger empanadas with melted cheese and gucamole to go with our Pisco Sours. Patrick finally got converted from his Peruvian beer.

If we stopped people to ask if they could take our photo (we’re horrible at selfies) they not only took our photo, they offered advice on the best restaurants and things to do in the area. People from all walks of life, from police officers to professional people coming out of government buildings, to bus drivers and just people on the street.

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Excuse me, can you take our picture?

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How much longer is this bus ride? We’ve only been on for an hour and we’re still in Lima?

On one bus ride, I asked the driver for directions to see the Virgen de Guadalupe church. He didn’t know, but a few other passengers started to help. No one knew where it was, but before we knew it, we had a discussion going with about ten people. All of them trying to find that church. The consensus was it was better for us to get off the bus and find a taxi. Patrick and I exited and a lady got off as well and told us she would get us a taxi so we wouldn’t get ripped off and she would negociate the price. Where else do people do these things?

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Didn’t find the Virgin of Guadalupe Church, but we found her restaurant.

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Patrick (no fun) looking at veggies and salads in our local supermarket.

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Now this section is much more interesting.

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Posting our postcards in the mailbox.

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At least they tell you how many seconds you have left to cross the street.

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That’s where I need to shop!

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How could you not love a city that has a Steelers bar? Oh yeah!

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This trip was like a dream.

Maya Muses: Many thanks to the people of Peru for making our trip unforgettable! We miss your beautiful country more than you know.

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Do we have to leave?

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But I don’t want to go.

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We’ll be back, I promise.

Photo Credits: All personal photos except Miraflores Photo

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Cusco After The Sacred Valley – Not Before

December 31st, 2016 · By Lynn

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The Plaza de Armas, Cusco.

Patrick and I had headed straight to the Sacred Valley before attempting to visit Machu Picchu or spending any time in Cusco. Slow and steady was our motto and it’s the best way to adapt to the altitude. By the time we arrived in Cusco a week later, we had no problems with altitude sickness.

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The Statue of Pachacuti.

After a morning visiting the ruins in Salineras de Maras, Moray, and Pisac, Patrick and I finally arrived at our Airbnb in Cusco in the afternoon. We were centrally located not far from the Plaza de Armas in the old historical center. We took a quick look around the apartment and then went out to explore the town.

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The Cusco Cathedral in the distance.

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Patrick resting with the locals.

The sun was shining when we stepped back outside and the temperature was mild. A perfect day for a parade with children dressed up in different costumes, each group representing a different dance school.

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Children dressed in a carnival atmosphere.

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This cute little guy was falling behind.

We only had a few days to spend in Cusco, but we could’ve stayed for a month or longer. There was so much to see and do. There were plazas tucked away on side streets, barrios like San Blas to discover, restaurants to try, bars and cafés to sit and enjoy a Pisco sour, museums to visit, and the list goes on.

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The parade route took the children in front of the old Palacio de Justicia.

The city is everything one reads about and more, but you have to be there to feel the energy, it’s electric. People are everywhere, talking, eating, drinking, children playing, dogs wandering around freely (more about that in another post) traffic moving every which way, tourists snapping photos, and all under the watchful eye of the Cristo Blanco.

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The San Blas barrio on the hill.

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I think I’m lost…no, no, I take that back, I’m thirsty.

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Going back down.

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A restaurant and an art museum.

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We worked up an appetite and I needed more than one Pisco sour.

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What did I tell you, those Incas were tall.

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Courtyard inside the museum.

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View from inside the Inca museum.

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Hmm, where is that 12-Angled Stone?

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I’m not leaving until I find it.

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Aha! A new day and here’s the famous 12-Angle Stone.

The next morning, we contemplated visiting another ruin, but Saksaywaman was walking distance from the center of town. Saksaywaman, by the way, is pronounced almost like Sexy Woman and it was the only ruin Patrick had no problem remembering how to say. (Hmm.) We hopped a cab and it’s a good thing we did because although it’s near the town, it’s all uphill and further than what most people say.

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Are we climbing ruins again or is this déjà vu?

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Okay, more stone.

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Wow, these stones are enormous.

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I told you it was worth coming.

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And what a view.

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Boy, that stone over there on my right is humongous.

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Welcome to my abode.

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This must be the kid’s entrance or the doggie door.

After Saksaywaman, we went to see the Cristo Blanco on the hill. At night it’s a beautiful sight to behold from the main square. It reminded me of the Cristo Redentor in Rio and Mount Cristo Rey in El Paso, Texas.

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The sign says it all.

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The Cristo Blanco.

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Great view.

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Making friends with a local gentleman.

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The Cristo Blanco lit up at night.

Maya Muses: Our time in Cusco was much too short. Like the Sacred Valley, it’s a place Patrick and I would love to return to one day and really get to know. We had a small taste of what the people were like and the beautiful surroundings and we definitely want more!

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Inside view of the Cusco Cathedral.

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Photo Credits: Personal Photos

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The Otherworldly Sacred Valley – Peru

December 22nd, 2016 · By Lynn

Part Two: Ollantaytambo, Salineras de Maras, Moray, and Pisac

We returned to our favorite place in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo. The train arrived from Machu Picchu and we had one more day here. Not nearly enough time as we would’ve liked to spend in this wonderful place, but we were happy to be back.

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Pinkuylluna Mountain seen from the ruins.

Can you see Wiracochan (or Tunupa) a 140 m. (460 ft.) high face sculpted in the mountain? It’s just to the right of what looks like a landslide, about two-thirds down. He was believed to be a man of superhuman powers, a master of time, an astronomer, and a preacher of knowledge. (Boy, do we need him here today!)

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Lovely stoned streets where Patrick got lost looking for his favorite bar.

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A beautifully detailed wooden door in Ollantaytambo.

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One enormous stone from among many. Our guide giving us the lowdown.

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Yep, we did a lot of climbing.

In the evening we walked back to our Airbnb, when all of a sudden, Patrick stopped in his tracks and said, “Look!” I couldn’t believe my eyes. The sky was covered with stars, but not just any stars. Stars I had never seen before. I’m pretty good at spotting constellations and other well known heavenly bodies in the Northern Hemisphere, but here in the Southern half, I was at a loss. Patrick and I stood there admiring the night sky in awe as locals passed us by without barely a glance upward. I had always wanted to see the Southern Cross, Sirius, and Alpha Centauri, and now here I was looking at them. If you don’t believe how amazing the sky is in the Southern Hemisphere, Professor Neville H. Fletcher, an emeritus professor at Australian National University, once said: “…God, in creating the universe, perversely located all the most interesting regions of our galaxy in the Southern Hemisphere…” You can read this interesting blog post here.

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So many stars in the Southern sky, I could have gazed all night.

The following day, we headed to Cusco, but not before we took a private side tour of the salt mines in Salineras de Maras and the archaeological sites in Moray and Pisac. Each place required some climbing, but after our adventure to the top of Montaña Machu Picchu, everything was a breeze. As always the view from place to place was spectacular and breathtaking. We had our driver stop several times just to admire the mountain scenery and snap a few photos.

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Patrick resting in the main square before leaving Olly.

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Valleys…

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and mountains…

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and more mountains.

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Stop! I have to get a closer look.

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Unfortunately, my photo doesn’t do this view justice. It was surreal.

At the salt mine in Maras, you can walk between the salt pools, but I warn you – you need to have good balance because the dividers are narrow and uneven. I’ve got good balance, yet there were a few times when I was afraid I was going in for a salty dip. Not good when you’re wearing all black. Patrick is the opposite of me, his balance is not his forte, so he treaded lightly.

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A view of the salt pools from above and, yes, we were going to make our way down there.

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Salt pools, some of the best salt comes from here.

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Careful you don’t fall in!

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Excuse me, can I take all this salt back to Paris with me?

In Moray we ventured down to the bottom of this site. It doesn’t look that deep, but the difference is 30 m (98 ft.) and speaking of differences, the temperature varies from the top to the bottom by 15° C (27° F). A big difference. Archaeologists aren’t sure what these circular tiers were for, but they believe it was used to develop varieties of corn and other crops to adapt to different temperatures and elements like the wind.

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Perhaps it was an amphitheater with room in the back there for the orchestra? Just a thought.

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In Pisac the terraces were used as micro climates for a better harvest.

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To us, we just knew the views were fantastic.

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More Inca ruins to visit.

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A local market (for tourists) going to and coming from the Pisac ruins.

Maya Muses: We finally made it to Cusco and had a wonderful view as we arrived. The city is shaped like a puma, one of the three Inca spiritual symbols along with the condor and the serpent. We had heard and read so much about this vibrant city,  we were looking forward to spending the next several days here.

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Our view coming into Cusco.

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A view of the Plaza de Armas in the distance.

Photo Credits: All personal photos except for the starry sky.

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It’s A Long Way To Machu Picchu But We Finally Made It!

December 7th, 2016 · By Lynn

30 hours flying with layovers: Paris – Madrid – Lima – Cusco.
2 hours in a taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo with a stop in Chinchero.
1 hour 40 minute train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes/Machupicchu Pueblo.
2 hours waiting in line at 4:30 a.m. to catch a bus up the winding mountain.
20 minute bus ride to the entrance.
Catching our 1st glimpse of the ruins after years of talking about it.
Priceless!

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Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu in the background.

Our hotel in Aguas Calientes was right in front of the bus stop that takes you to Machu Picchu. I had set my alarm for 3 a.m. By 4, when we left our room, I could hear the rain pouring down outside. I mean buckets full. We made our way to the dining area; hotels and B&Bs in Aguas Calientes are use to their guests having a 4 a.m. breakfast call before leaving for an adventure of a lifetime.

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That river looks small, but boy is it noisy.

We went outside and the good thing – it wasn’t raining. The noise I’d heard was the roar of the river making it’s way down to the valley. The bad thing – when we exited the hotel a half an hour after breakfast, the queue for going to Machu Picchu was already past our hotel and winding its way up the street.

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Uh oh, I thought we were the first ones out. Apparently not.

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Some of the people ahead of us.

I don’t know what I had expected, but I had feared waiting forever for a few buses going up and then coming back down to take more people up.

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Daytime, where are those buses?

Oh no, nothing like that, by 6 a.m. there was a line of tour buses pulling alongside of us waiting to take everyone up at the same time. The whole thing was very efficient. Within a matter of minutes, bus after bus filled with people heading up to the historical site. The narrow winding road quickly became filled with a train of buses maneuvering up the mountain. A little scary when buses started coming back down and they had to pass one another. Not for the faint of heart, but the drivers were used to it they could practically do it blindfolded. (Strike that!)

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Back up, there’s no room for both of us.

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Breathtaking view of the ruins and Huayna Picchu.

As I said, the first sight of the ruins is overwhelming. Patrick and I had dreamed about this moment for so many years, it was almost surreal to be there. We wandered around for a little while, but we knew we had to set off for our mountain climb. Patrick and I were part of the first group that would be climbing up Montaña Machupicchu, which is much higher than Huayna Picchu. What were we thinking? 800 people are allowed to ascend the mountain in two time slots each day. We had opted for the early morning climb at 7 a.m.

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Montaña Machupicchu – That little point on that lopsided mountain was where we were headed.

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Okay, guys, we’re going up.

There’s a check point where you must sign in with your ticket, name, age, country you’re from, and the time you signed in before you can go up. Again you must sign out once you make it back down the mountain. Why? Because if you fall off the mountain, they’ll be able to know who to look for when they send out a search party. Oh yes, people have fallen off the mountain before.

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Checkpoint Carlos.

This was not an easy climb for us. First of all, the high altitude of 3082 metres (10,111 feet) at the top didn’t help and instead of rough terrain which would’ve been a lot easier, the climb consisted of huge steps, some as high as 12 inches, so you had to pull yourself up. (Think of a humongous Stairmaster without the railings. Those Incas must’ve been tall.) I read somewhere there are over 2000 steps, but I felt like there were a lot more. It’s not a climb for couch potatoes by any means or for people like me who spend most of their time sitting in front of a computer.

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This doesn’t look too bad.

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And look at that view.

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What’s a few steps, right?

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…and that view.

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Come on, cherie, I’ll help you.

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Let’s stay here. This is good enough, no?

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Hey guys, how much further?
You’re halfway there.
Whaaat!

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No, no, it’s just a few more steps and turn around, look…

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…I know, I know, look at that view.

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Okay, okay, so maybe there are a few more steps.

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And a couple more.

Before going up we had talked to a couple and their daughter, they were quite the sportive family and, of course we didn’t see them until we were almost at the top. We had stopped once again to *uhm* take some more photos and they were making their way back down after spending an hour or so up on top.

Guy: I see you’re heading back down too. Wasn’t it beautiful?
Patrick: Uh, no, we’re on our way up. We stopped halfway at the wine bar and had a glass. I’m surprised you didn’t stop.
Guy’s Wife: There’s a wine bar? (They both looked at each other perplexed as any French person would where wine was concerned. Lol.)
Patrick: Nooo, I’m joking, we’re barely making it to the top.
(Laughs all around. Well, they were, I was still gasping for every breath.)

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This is it, I can feel it.
Yeah, if we don’t fall off the mountain.

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See, what did I tell you.

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Yep, last ones up.

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Say Chinchero!
I’m too tired to even smile.

It took us a lot longer to reach the top than most of the young whippersnappers going up that day. (More about this further down.) Most of them can make the climb in 1h 40 minutes, we made ours in 3 hours. Going down they can descend in about 45 minutes, we took 2 hours. I’ll blame it on a need to stop every so often to snap photos of the surrounding scenery and the rain, but who am I kidding? We needed to catch our breath.

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But, what about that view!

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And that…

After an hour sitting and soaking in the beauty of the Andes Mountains, the Urubamba River below, and enjoying a light snack we had prepared, something was coming toward us.

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I hate to be a party pooper, but is that rain heading our way?

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What comes up, must go down.

Yep, it started to rain as we prepared to head back. Those stone steps turn mighty slippery when it rains. There were a few people who fell down, so Patrick and I took our time.

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Was it my idea to go up that mountain?

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Did you really ask that question!

We finally made it down and then we found out that I was the oldest person who had climbed the mountain that day and Patrick was the second oldest, but we made it! And yes, we’re proud of that.

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Thank goodness it stopped raining.

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Lovely window and no cleaning required.

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Beautiful, right?

Maya Muses: My advice, if you plan on climbing Montaña Machupicchu or Huayna Picchu it’s better to spend 2 days in Aguas Calientes and go up to Machu Picchu twice. By the time we got back down we were exhausted and didn’t spend as much time as we would’ve if we had just stayed and visited the ruins. I mean if you’re traveling from far away like we were, it really is worth spending an extra day there.

And be prepared for all kinds of weather, it changes constantly, but I think the clouds add to the beauty of the surroundings. Bon voyage!

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Yea, the sun’s back and look, we really were on top of that lopsided mountain!

Photo Credits: All personal photos

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Aguas Calientes, A Stepping-Stone To Machu Picchu

November 27th, 2016 · By Lynn

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Getting off the train, our first look at Aguas Calientes.

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The Statue of Inka with the symbolic condor and puma.

After a few days in Ollantaytambo, Patrick and I headed to Aguas Calientes. I had read that A.C. was a town that was under-whelming and overpriced. A place you had to be if you wanted to go to Machu Picchu, so I was prepared not to be impressed. Instead, I found the small town charming. I think a lot had to do with the scenery and knowing that we had traveled all this way to see Machu Picchu, and we were now at the foot of it. The energy and excitement was palpable for those of us who hadn’t reached our destination yet, but we knew it was hovering above us not far away.

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Patrick ready to leave on the PeruRail to Machu Picchu.

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Waiting to purchase my bus ticket.

There are two trains that take you to Aguas Calientes, or as the town is now called Machupicchu Pueblo, either PeruRail or Inca Rail. Patrick and I opted for the first. Train tickets are best bought ahead of time online to play it safe, just like tickets for Machu Picchu. The MP tickets can be printed out at home, but even though you purchase your train tickets online, you have to pick them up at different locations in Peru. Patrick and I got ours at the station in Ollantaytambo.

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Great view all around.

We had a quick lunch of beef empanadas and a pisco sour before getting on the train. The seats were comfortable and the large windows, even on the ceiling, were perfect so you didn’t miss any of the spectacular Andes Mountaintops as you traveled through the countryside. The change of scenery from the Sacred Valley to the start of the lush Amazonian jungles was interesting to see as well.

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Mmm! Almost as good as Mexican pepitas.

The train personnel wore uniforms much like you see on airlines and they too came down the aisle serving a small snack during the trip. We had tea and cookies on our way to A.C. and juice and a bag of choclo (big roasted Peruvian corn) on our way back to Olly.

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Patrick comparing noses.

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Now that’s a cute tourist information stand…if only someone were there to talk to.

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So this is where we’ll catch our bus.

We had booked a hotel right near the train/bus stop so we could be ready to catch the first bus up to Machu Picchu at 4 a.m. We left our bags in our room and went straight to the bus stop to buy our tickets. It was the only thing we couldn’t purchase ahead of time online. Afterwards, we wandered the streets of this small pueblo. The population is only 1600 and everyone lives off the tourist trade, but when you have millions of people coming through every year to visit Machu Picchu, why not?

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Should we climb up or go back down?

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The Plaza de Armas.

Patrick and I had our worst meal and one of our best meals in Peru in Aguas Calientes. We had heard about a restaurant called the Tree House. It’s not really in a tree house, but you have to climb up the street to the Plaza de Armas and then climb some more to get to it. When we did, we were disappointed to see that the menu was more international than Peruvian. We decided to go somewhere else instead. Unfortunately, elsewhere was not a good choice and we would’ve probably been better off at the Tree House.

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Hmm, maybe this empty restaurant is trying to tell us something.

It was happy hour and all the restaurants were offering two pisco sours for the price of one. What more could anyone ask for, right? Well, a lot more than what we got. The restaurant we ended up at looked inviting, but the food was bland and the service was horrible. We should’ve known what was coming when we ordered our pisco sours and were given all four at one time. The first drink was great, but the second one was no longer chilled and the ice had watered down our drink, so it wasn’t as good as the first.

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I forgot what kind of soup this was. Oh, right – bland soup.

We started off with a soup and were still eating when the waitress arrived with our main course. She had both our dishes in her hands and although she could’ve set them down at the empty table next to ours, I had to help her by making room for them at ours. The same thing happened with dessert. If you’re in a hurry, this is the place to be, but Patrick and I wanted a nice leisurely dinner. The waitress, however, wasn’t having any of it. I could understand if the place was packed and she wanted to turn the tables as quickly as possible, but the restaurant was almost empty. When we got the bill, there was a 15% service charge which most Peruvian restaurants don’t include. No surprise they would do that, from the service we got, I doubt if anyone would leave them a tip otherwise.

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Great view, great service, and most of all, great food.

The next day in Aguas Calientes after an entire morning and afternoon visiting Machu Picchu (more about that in my next post) we were exhausted. Our train back to Ollantaytambo wasn’t until the evening. We were tired and hungry and we didn’t care where we ate. We stopped at the first restaurant we saw and ended up having a wonderful meal. The view of the mountains and river was great and the food and service was excellent.

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Mmm! My enchilada and gucamole was as good to eat as it looked.

Their menu was both Peruvian and Mexican. I decided to try the enchiladas for my main course and I wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t even need a frozen margarita, I was more than happy with a chilled pisco sour. Patrick went for a Peruvian dish (he can’t remember what he ordered) but he too was a happy camper.

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Beautiful colors of Peru.

Dinner over, it was time to catch our train back to Ollantaytambo and thanks to the Red Headed Traveler (you can read more about it on her blog) we had no trouble finding the train station. No one mentions that you don’t catch the train back at the same place as you arrived. Instead, you have to go through the entire marketplace to get to the station platform for your return trip. The market is filled with all kinds of crafts, jewelry, and souvenirs so you can do your last minute shopping before you catch your train. Hmm.

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Yes, there’s a boulangerie de Paris in Aguas Calientes and the owner is from Normandie!

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A little girl and her dog going to mass.

Maya Muses: All in all, I think if you go to Aguas Calientes with an open mind, you’ll have a great time. Just sit back and enjoy the locals and the scenery.

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Modern apartments and spectacular view in Aguas Calientes/Machupicchu Pueblo.

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Peru Here We Come!

November 10th, 2016 · By Lynn

 

Part One: Ollantaytambo

First of all, let me say, this was the best trip I had ever taken. The reason wasn’t only the gorgeous scenery of the Andes Mountains, or our lifelong dream of seeing Machu Picchu, but in large part it was due to the people of Peru. They were the nicest people I’ve ever met anywhere in the world. For me, that’s saying a lot when you know how much I’ve traveled.

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My photos don’t do the mountains justice.

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The sky changes constantly.

During the two weeks in Peru, we stopped hundreds of people asking for directions, asking if they could take our picture (No selfie sticks for us!) asking where we could find x, y, or z, talking to waiters, shopkeepers, bus drivers, the police on the street, etc., and through it all, every last one of them went out of their way and over and beyond the help we were asking for. If they didn’t know the answer, they stopped someone else on the street, or they called a friend on the phone and asked them if they knew.

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Patrick hanging out with the locals.

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Did we really invite you to the wedding or are the two of you wedding crashers?

On the bus in Lima one day, I asked a woman about a certain church we wanted to see, she didn’t know, but before long we had a conversation going with 6 or 7 people all trying to help. A gentleman got on his phone and called a friend to find out where the church was located. The consensus was it wasn’t in a good neighborhood and everyone suggested we get off the bus and take a taxi there. When we got off, a woman got off with us and told us she would get a taxi for us so we wouldn’t be overcharged. Things like  this happened over and over during our trip.

But, let me go back and start at the beginning. It took Patrick and I three plane rides and a 2 hour taxi ride to reach our destination of Ollantaytambo. We flew from Paris to Madrid where we had a long layover, which gave us the opportunity to visit with one of my oldest and dearest friends. Years ago, I lived in Madrid, so it was nice to be back.

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Arriving at the airport in Madrid.

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The Andes Mountains coming into view.

From Madrid we flew to Lima and from Lima to Cusco. Most people stay in Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude, but that’s a no-no. Cusco is 11,152 ft. (3,399 m.) above sea level and many people get altitude sickness. The best thing when traveling to Peru and to the Mecca of South America, Machu Picchu, is to go straight to the Sacred Valley and there’s no better place to stay than Ollantaytambo.

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The Sacred Valley seen from the ruins in Ollantaytambo.

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Walking around the Inca ruins.

The elevation in Ollantaytambo is 9,160 ft. (2,792 m.) so it’s a little better to adapt to the altitude than in Cusco. This beautiful little town hidden away in the Sacred Valley was our favorite place in all of Peru. Most people go to Machu Picchu from Cusco, but oh what you’re missing if you do!

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A few ladies and a child hanging out at the local marketplace.

Olly with its mountains and ruins, its people and town square, its children and dogs that play in the streets (more about the dogs later) is all that and more. We fell in love with this place from the moment we arrived, but let me backtrack a little once again.

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The main square in Ollantaytambo.

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Kids running on their way to school.

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Bienvenidos a Cusco!

Before arriving in Olly, our taxi driver who picked us up at the Cusco Airport asked us if we wanted to stop and visit the town of Chincheros. We were tired, but not tired enough to pass up the opportunity of this little detour. We were taken to a market that sells handwoven crafts (purses, scarves, shawls, gloves, etc.,) made from alpacas.

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The beautiful color fabrics of Peru.

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All the colors are made from natural materials.

Notice the guinea pigs in their little pink house. They’re not pets, for Peruvians they’re one of their favorite things to eat!

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Two alpacas hanging out just so you don’t think someone is pulling the alpaca over your eyes.

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Patrick trying on a scarf/hat for two. Can you picture us wearing that in Paris?

Let me just say, everyone tells you everything is handmade. That may be true, but I honestly could not tell the difference from the machine made products sold all over Peru (which happen to be half price) than those that are handmade in Chincheros, so buyer beware. That said, we did leave with a bunch of gifts for family and friends in tow.

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We continued on our way enjoying the spectacular view.

We arrived in Olly 32 hours after leaving Paris. Yes, we were exhausted, but the breathtaking scenery made us forget all about how tired we were. We got to our Airbnb located on a small side street not far from the marketplace. Our host, welcomed us with a hot cup of coca tea. He said it would help with altitude sickness, but we were lucky and never experienced any problems during our trip.

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View from our Airbnb.

We didn’t want to waste any time, so we dropped off our bags and went out to discover our little town. We had a late lunch at one of the local restaurants on the main square. Patrick ordered a medium bottle of Peruvian beer, large by anyone else’s standards.

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The ruins visible in the distance.

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Lunch at the little restaurant on the square.

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Mmm, my Pisco Sour!

I got my first taste of a Pisco Sour, their national drink. Believe me, it wouldn’t be my last. To be honest, I drank at least two or three of them every day while in Peru. Step aside frozen margaritas and Kir royals, my new favorite drink is the Pisco Sour.

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Bright colors everywhere, but red is the color of Peru.

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Lovely cobblestoned streets.

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Pinkuylluna storehouses. The Incas sure didn’t want just anyone getting to them.

Lunch revived us and we wandered around the tiny cobbled stoned streets and ended up climbing up to Pinkuylluna to see the Inca storehouses which was on our list of things to do. Little did we know this would be the first of many climbs during our stay in Peru.

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“Patrick, are you sure you want to go up there?”

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“Yeah, look it’s a piece of cake.”

We had a wonderful view of the valley, the ruins, and Ollantaytambo.

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Lovely, but the sun was starting to go behind the mountain.

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“Are you sure you want to go higher?”

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“Yep, we have to see the storehouses, don’t we?”

Although it was still early, Patrick and I were still on Paris time, so by six in the evening we decided to shower and rest a bit before dinner. The only thing was, it was 1 a.m. in Paris and we were exhausted. We fell asleep almost immediately.

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Our room was nice and cozy.

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The view from our window.

We didn’t wake up until early the next morning. The sun was shining, as I pulled back the curtains…

Maya Muses: We definitely weren’t in Paris any longer!

Photo Credits: All personal photos

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