Nov 18 Friday – Travel: Starlodge to Ollantaytambo to Cusco to SFO (DELAYED!)

Alli’s journal:

Kyu’s ponderings:

Although we went to bed pretty late the night before, I woke up with sun coming up which was before 6am. From watching videos of people sleeping in the lodge, I was worried it might get too windy and shaky at night. But the night was calm and I was able to have a solid sleep. And we radioed the basecamp letting them know we are awake and ready for videoshoot. At 6:30, the videographer we hired for photoshoot, Keko, showed up and spent about half an hour doing multiple shots from both inside and outside the capsule.

After the photoshoot, David came up to the capsule to check us out and lead us down to capsule for breakfast. Walking down those mini metal steps in daytime gave me chill down the spine. And we were the first one down at the basecamp and was able to eat breakfast right away.

The night before when we were walking up to the capsule in dark, my waterbottle came loose from my bag and I basically lost it. or I thought so. And I asked Cesar if he finds in the morning, it’s great, if not, it’s okay. Sure enough, he did find the bottle and I was thrilled to get it back given that was my main source for water (with filter) for the rest of the trip.

Original plan for the day was, after breakfast, we were gonna be dropped off back in Cusco by around noon. However, Cesar was suggesting to go visit a nearby ruins from Starlodge and since it was going to be only a short ride, we changed our plan to go check it out. After breakfast, Cesar was able to secure a taxi for us and it took us to Ollantaytambo. I was very excited to check out Inca ruins for the very first time. It’s a relatively smaller and compact ruin compared to some others such as the one in Pisac. But it was quite a hike and it was hot day so soon after we started hiking, I could feel the laser coming out of Tetsu and Alli’s eyes looking at me. I am glad they didn’t kill me there and moved on. When we came down from the ruin, we had about an hour to kill so we first sat at the coffee shop nearby to hydrate and then checked out the local market right in front of the ruin. I ended up buying a small pyramid stone and Alli also got some unique stones that were mined from local mines.

After the shopping was done, it was around 11:30am and the taxi took us back to Cusco. I was pretty tired and dozed off most of the 1.5 hr ride back and got dropped off nearby San Pedro market. We got stationed at a small mom and pop restaurant and had lunch. Alli and Tetsu decided to go to the San Pedro market while I was waiting in the restaurant. I was too tired both physically and mentally and just wanted to chill and rest. I think I was mentally looking forward to going back home by then. When Tetsu and Alli came back, we called Uber, which took much longer than we expected and as we were waiting for it outside the restaurant, we saw how close cars in the town run by the dogs. And there are lots of dogs freely roaming the city carefree. For locals, it’s probably a normal thing but for tourists, especially dog lovers, it can be a traumatic experience. As a matter of fact, I got to see Testu’s raw emotion there when he jumped on the road screaming at a car that also ran over a dog.

Uber finally showed up and took us to the airport. Tetsu and Alli stayed outside for a quick smoke before going in. I went straight in first since my return flights were still not confirmed. When I entered the airport, it was flooded with people and Latam line was blocked off and the agent told me we cannot leave due to an accident at Lima airport, which was our next destination for layover. I was more confused than shocked at first so I googled lima accident right away and sure enough there was a video from 30min earlier where a plane was on fire in runway. When I shared the news with Tet and Alli, we were all dumbfounded for a few mins on the next move.

Tetsu’s jibber jabber:

Our day started out much the way we expected. Little did we know the magnitude of challenges we would end up facing later in the day.

One of the things we heard after our night in the capsule was that many people have trouble sleeping in the capsule. That was surprising, none of the three of us had any problems sleeping and we all woke up feeling well rested.

We did wake up fairly early though, and just enjoyed being warm and toasty while taking photos and gradually getting ready.

We had contracted Keko the evening before to roll through in the morning for some photographs, and they were well worth it!

Here’s a quick selfie with Keko.

Keko got us some great video footage before we headed down for breakfast. Here are a few screenshots from the videos.

In this photo below, you can see the hot-tub and bathroom platform below the capsules.

I grabbed a few quick photos as we headed down. This one shows the entryway, top hatch, and the platform. You can see the double carabiner harness Kyu is using.

It’s funny that the stairway goes right in front of the capsule’s bathroom, hahaha. Anyone staying here should definitel remember to close the curtains when using the bathroom in the morning, else people see you as they pass by from the capsules above.

You can also see the thin water line and thicker sewage pipe below the capsule. As mentioned on yesterday’s blog, while the older Skylodge has dry bucket bathrooms, as one might expect for a capsule hanging off the side of a cliff, the newer Starlodge capsules have ingeniously included flushing toilets. A real luxury!

And this is what it looks like climbing down.

You’d think someone as terrified of heights as I am would be paralyzed with fear. But the carabiner safety cables felt really safe and the bolts between line lengths were just a couple of meters long, which really helped me avoid fear or vertigo. Still a wee bit nervous, of course, but I was able to climb up and down these steps without slowing anyone down.

Looking back up the steps though, the strength of the steps seemed iffy. Again, I wasn’t too worried about falling, but it did give me pause.

At the end of the metal plank stairs, there was one last small but fun suspension bridge leading to the hot tub platform.

Once down to the base camp, we met with David and Cesar again. Cesar (Carlos Cesar Cahuana Fuentes) was making breakfast in the “kitchen” while David made sure we were taken care of.

After a solid breakfast, we finalized our plan to hit the Ollantaytambo ruins and market, before heading back to Cusco to do some last minute shopping and then the airport to catch our evening flight back to San Francisco.

It took several tries of asking for the pronunciation repeatedly from Cesar, but when he said I finally got it right, to me, it sounded like Ol-yan-tai-tanbo.

David called us a taxi, and it was a short drive to the ruins.

Near the end of the ride, we got to the outskirts of a town and quickly hit the town center, driving further on to the north side of the town. The narrow streets opened up to a market, and on the other side was the majestic stepped ruin. There were some walls in front and a pay window and gate, but once through, there was an expansive field with ruins immediately in front, and we saw other visitors climbing the central stairs up the ruins.

Ollantaytambo is at the northern-most tip of Sacred Valley, and from this northermost point, the Valley extends southeast for 50 miles.

The photo below seems to imply that Sacred Valley extends northeast beyond Ollantaytambo all the way to the lower elevation Machu Picchu, but actually, that extended length is much narrower and no longer a whole valley. There are patches of flat, arable land between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu, but they are splotchy and a stark contrast to the wide valley. I was told that much of that area between these two ruins are jungle forest. There is a bit of a side patch to the northeast of Ollantaytambo, but the ruins are shaped mostly like a dam, signifying the beginning of Sacred Valley.

What makes Machu Picchu, Ollantaytanbo, Pisac and all of these ruins so distinctive are the gigantic boulders precision cut to fit together. Rather than forcing these boulders to all be the same size and dimensions, the original builders focused more on shaping the multi-ton boulders to fit each other so tightly that there are no air gaps.

There are two distinctive ruins types, and the second type makes heavy use of mud mortar, which is representative of post Spanish invasion constructions, and it was interesting to spot the distinction between ancient ruins construction and post Spanish invasion ruins as we saw both types of construction, often layered on top of each other, throughout the city and valley.

The latter type of construction was pretty easy to see even here in Ollantaytambo, where “repairs”were made to level off the steppes (or plateaus?). The difference was star.

From higher up, we saw the market with white roofs, and the rest of the town fairly easily.

Here’s an image about 2/3 of the way to the top, facing north east. You can see how the town makes effective use of every bit of flat land along the valley floor.

Once up to the top, the ridgeline offered a clear view of the northeast side of the ruins, showcasing more valley areas and farm land. A lot of Sacred Valley is farmland.

For most of the trip, I was so much more interested in capturing as much as possible in my photos that I used the 14mm almost exclusively. But with the beautiful long narrow paths of the ruins, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to grab some fun bokeh shots here and there with the 50mm.

From Ollantaytambo, the north west direction turned into a series of arable, patchy flat areas with sharp ravine walls and hinted at the beginning of the descent, turning into heavy forest, which eventually opens up to Machu Picchu another 30+ miles away.

Once back down, we had lots of time to spare before meeting the taxi again, so we hung out at the market at the base of the ruins for a while, grabbing coffee at the shop as well.

Loved the colors of the market.

I decided to play a little more with the 50mm as the colors were so vibrant. And after taking photos of one or two of the store owners and showed them the photo results, other staff started coming up to me to ask me to take photos of them, or their kids, sometimes looking at the camera, and sometimes looking more like candids. It was fun. I got some emails to send them photos. It was fun to feel like an actual photographer, even if I was just a tourist with a fancy camera, hahaha.

After a short coffee break, we met the cab at the previously agreed upon 11:30 and headed back to Cusco and the main San Pedro Armas to do some last minute shopping for souvenirs before heading to the hotel.

We found a restaurant at the corner and decided to grab a bite to eat there, and used it as “base camp” while taking turns checking out the market.

There was a nice second floor area where we settled in.

Crossing the street to the large San Pedro market was impressive. A massive structure, containing everything from produce, to butcheries, food court, flowers, and dried goods…

I can’t remember what this bread is called. Pan-something-something. But it was delicious! Soft and a little sweet. Great as a snack. Kinda reminded me of Hawaiian King Rolls sold at supermarkets in California.

With an amazing morning and afternoon behind us, packed to the brim with activities, it was finally time to head to the airport.

Aaaaaaaaaand this is where everything turned to, well, shit.

(Sorry for the anti-swear word folks, but there’s really no more fitting word to use here)

We got to the Airport around 4:30pm or so, and noticed a lot of staff-like people running around, and lots of passengers milling around or trying to talk to staff.

Alli and I stayed outside to enjoy a last smoke out front. Kyu went in ahead, but came out a few minutes later with some big news.

A plane had gotten into an accident in Lima, no one in the plane was hurt, but the plane crashed into a firetruck, killing both firemen.

There was a lot to figure out as all flights were cancelled, and we all went into “adapt” mode.

Perhaps because I was a little tired and my brain wasn’t functioning well, I had a really hard time understanding that Cusco was not an international airport. I thought it was. In Peru, Lima is the only international airport. Even in Japan, a tiny country that is 1/3 the size of Peru, there are 4 international airports. Even in the Philippines, which is smaller than japan, there are 4 major international airports and 4 more smaller international airports for flights to nearby Asian countries for 8 total. My brain just wasn’t processing it.

I feel bad for the person at the agency below….She was very patient, as we each used shorthand Google translator, until it finally sunk in and smiled forgivingly when I apologized.

After a few hours, we figured that we would have to come back in the morning, so Alli found an airbnb very close to the airport as we knew we had to come back in the morning to get in queue.

We got to the Airbnb late, and were tired and hungry. The airbnb host also lived on the property (it was sort of like a two floor apartment). We got the first floor, another airbnb guest had the second, and the host lived in the back.

The following days would prove to be big improvements, but needless to say, at that moment, the mood was not great.

With a day full of extreme highs and lows, and little else to do, we called it a night.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s