Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sister Visit: Round TWO

As you can probably deduce from the title of my post (and the above photo), over Christmas and New Years, I had the honor/privilege/pleasure of hosting my sister BRIDGET for about five days in Cochabamba, before we headed up to Peru where we got to do some mountain hiking and visit MACHU PICCHU! Not too shabby of a way to spend the holidays if you ask me :)

So yes, in a nutshell, having her here (especially over Christmas) AND visiting one of the New 7 Wonders of the World was maybe even more incredible than it sounds, which I realize that especially for those that know Bridget might not even be possible to fathom (right Wayne??). I'll try and give you the "cliff notes" version about what we did, and maybe do a follow up blog post with all the insights I was able to glean from having Bridget in Coch and our subsequent travels, so at not to have a blog post that goes on and on and on and on...

Ok. So, Bridget got here on the 22, the Tuesday before Christmas, after spending HOURS traveling. (She may or may not have a very intimate relationship at this point with both the Denver and Miami airports...) We had a couple days to relax (ie binge watch the entire first season of Brooklyn 99 as well as watch both the short Hollywood version of Pride and Prejudice and the 5 hour BBC version of that very same classic) before we spent close to the entire day of the 24th with the kiddos from one of my ministry sites, Niños con Valor. From 10am-4pm we played, ate a huge lunch, and watched all 32? 33? of them OPEN UP THEIR PRESENTS! It was like being back at Port St. Vincent watching all the men rip open packages on Christmas morning only WAY BETTER because instead of seeing shirts, socks, underwear, etc, we got to see toys, puzzles, new (super cool) shoes, ipods, blue tooth speakers, and jewelry among other things. It was awesome. And the excitement on the faces of the kids was priceless. I'm just happy that I didn't have to deal with any of them after they binge ate pretty much all of their Christmas stocking candy... :)

Other Cochabamba highlights include Christmas Eve dinner and MASS (just ask Bridget, it's waaaay better down here), Christmas morning waffles (!!), and a Christmas potluck dinner with the Maryknoll community and some other ex-pat missioners. Then without really a moment to rest, we took off bright and early the next morning for Cusco, where (among other things) we found a super awesome vegan restaurant. Yup. We had clearly left Cochabamba where at times the idea of "vegetarian" is to give a person chicken (which is still MEAT for those who are confused with why that would be a problem). Vegan is just WAY beyond most people's comprehension.

And then the hiking started. The day after we landed in Cusco we got up well before sunrise to start our two full GLORIOUS days of hiking in the Andes. Please see the below photos to get a small taste of the astonishing beauty that surrounded us:
Sister photo!

Where I would like to live. That is if I could have a very large fire place to sit in front of most of the time, and a constant supply of hot chocolate to drink... It gets COLD up in these mountains!

Breaking camp after our first night where we slept at over 13,000 feet (!!!!!). You know, just another "normal" camping trip.

All the women on our trip! (Bridget's in orange and I'm in purple)

A picture from our summit on the second day, which would mean it was taken at over 15,000 feet. Yup, you read that correctly--FIFTEEN THOUSAND FEET. We were not messing around with this hiking business.

So after our two days of pretty intense hiking (at very high altitudes let's remember), we hit up some natural hot springs, walked a little bit more, spent some time on a bus and a train and ended up in the tourist town of Aguascalientes, which sits at the foot of the mountain where Machu Picchu is located. Which of course meeaaannns that the following day we woke up very early and got on the forever-long line for the bus that would take us up to see those incredible ruins! And to call them "incredible" might be the understatement of the century. But before I go on, first some photos:

Standing in front of maybe half? of the city--it was pretty big. Note the peak in the background. It's called Huaynapicchu and we hiked it later that morning!

A slightly more "up close" picture of some of the ruins. This was part of the section where people actually used to live.

Just shy of the summit of Huaynapicchu (note my very flushed face, it was a very steep hike!)--if you look to my right you can kind of see Machu Picchu in the background.

 A better look at Machu Picchu from close to the top of Huaynapicchu.

I think what first impressed me about the city of Machu Picchu was its large size. I was not expecting it to be as big as it was. If I'm remembering correctly it's made up of three sections: an agricultural section with a whole lotta terraces where they grew some of the food for the city, a living area with houses, and a religious area with temples and other religious things, like the ruins to a large super cool condor statue. Secondly was just how perfectly positioned it was--on a relatively "flat" part of a mountain with the most amazing view EVER. Whoever picked this spot to build a city (ie an Incan king) clearly knew what they were doing. Thirdly, I was very impressed with what seems like pure dumb luck that this incredible city was able to remain "hidden" for so long so as not to be destroyed by the Spanish.

And lastly what impressed me, and maybe not in the same way as I was impressed the first two times, was the sheer number of tourists that were there. Our guide told us that up to 1,000 tourists enter Machu Picchu each day. No wonder I felt like I was constantly surrounded by other people. Because I was. José (our guide) said that after Machu Picchu was named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007, its popularity pretty much skyrocketed. Which is why all lines we stood in that day were hundreds of people deep and also why we needed to buy a separate ticket with a specified time to hike up Huaynapicchu. It was nuts to say the least.

And this is where I'll end this blog post. I'm hoping in the next couple of weeks I can come back with a follow-up blog about, "what the experience meant to me" (as I stated in my blog about Molly's visit) and any new insights it left with me--you know, the "deeper" stuff *wink* However, until then, I hope you enjoy all the pretty photos in this blog post, especially those of you that didn't have the pleasure of seeing all of them and MANY more on facebook!