León is the old capital of Nicaragua and is known for being a liberal city full of intellectuals and poets. It also has several really awesome churches.
The most famous cathedral is this one, the biggest church in Central America. It was built in the 1700s and although the outside is a bit worn out, the inside is really well-maintained and gorgeous.
We saw two other really old churches in León.
Other highlights of León included some good street food, fun parties, and volcano boarding (post on that coming tomorrow)! We also ran into an old friend who worked with us at LokiHostel in Cuzco. What a small world!
Average $27.48 per day or $13.74 per person per day without the Inca Trail
We chose to include the $400 Inca Trail deposit in our Perú stats, even though we paid it back in August, before we even left for South America.
56% of our spending was on activities. Most of this was the Inca Trail but we also did several other things because there is just too much to do in Perú!
Food and Entertainment were the other significant budget chunks. They would be about the same percentage as Ecuador without the Inca Trail.
We barely spent ANY money on Lodging, which is awesome. In all we stayed in 3 hostels for free (Loki for a whole month), Couchsurfed once, and only paid for 4 short hostel stays, totaling only $106. Not bad for a whole 43 days in the country!
Overall, although Perú is the first country we blew our budget on, I think we did great! Considering how well set up Perú is for tourists, we could have spend A LOT more money on swankier hotels, gringo food, and even more tourist activities. We definitely could have spent less if we had skipped the Inca Trail and some of the other tours. But we came into Perú knowing we were going to do more touristy things and prepared for the cost. Everything was well worth the money. We were about 10 days behind on our budget entering Bolivia, but because everything is so cheap here, we are hoping to make it up quickly!
Has anyone been convinced to come join us for a cheap adventure yet????
Before reading this, read yesterday’s post, because the two together are meant to appropriately demonstrate our love-hate relationship with Loki Hostel. It was a blast running the bar. The experience we gained because of it will definitely help us if we ever want bartending jobs in the future. But another thing that we really like is SLEEP! The noise around that place never stops. It’s fine if you are working, but when you’re trying to sleep at 2am and the whole building is still shaking from the loudest dubstep you’ve ever heard, you start to go crazy. Not to mention once the bar closes everyone runs around drunk and screaming, messed up on Blood Bombs and ready to go out to the clubs. Headphones or earplugs are definitely necessary for sleeping in the dormitories. Most who stay and work at Loki are just all about the partying, every. single. night. Many people love it, and end up staying and working here weeks or months longer than intended, drinking on the cheap, day and night. It’s like a vortex that sucks you in. Call us old, but we just don’t feel the need to stay out until the sun rises! We did it one time to say we had, but most nights we were the first in bed, around 2:30am. Ha.
Also, everyone who works at Loki is always just a little bit sick. That’s because the staff room is usually in a general state of disarray and filth, and you don’t tend to take care of yourself very well living this lifestyle. As of now, everyone has this horrible cough that gets worse and worse. And there is no chance of getting better when you sleep no more than 10 feet away from the next sick person. We’re hoping that we will be magically cured soon now that we are far away from Loki!
Loki is also not what we would consider an “authentic” South American experience. It is made up almost completely of Europeans, Australians, North Americans, and other English speakers. We think our Spanish actually suffered due to lack of use while here. Some of the foreign staff members who’ve been here for over one year don’t even speak Spanish because they never leave Loki so they don’t have to learn! The Loki vortex…it doesn’t really encourage you to get out there and immerse yourself in the wonderful culture of Cuzco. It just tells you that it’s about time for another Blood Bomb.
There is one last thing that I have to complain about. If you stay in a hostel, it is inappropriate to have floor-shaking sex in a dorm room. I can’t tell you how many times I was woken by strange sounds from one of the beds next to me. Like we said, it really is kind of like a freshman dormitory, full of drunk and horny travelers.
All in all, we did have a good time a Loki. But we were SO EXCITED to get as far away from that place as possible. Maybe we are too old, or maybe we are just a little more mature than you should be to be a proper Loki employee. I guess Loki did make us realize how much we have grown up since college. If you want to spend some time in Cuzco, live for free and have fun, I’d say to do it. Just don’t expect anything about it to be relaxing.
“LOKI LOKI LOKI!” someone shouts as we all raise our glasses.
“Oi oi oi!” we respond in Aussie fashion, slam our glasses down on the bar, and proceed to chug our Blood Bombs. A Blood Bomb consists of a shot of mostly vodka with a few drops of grenadine dropped into a half-glass of Red Bull. Totally beneficial for your heart and brain; it’s the signature drink of Loki Hostel.
We first heard of Loki from a Couchsurfing host in Ecuador who recommended we stay at the Máncora location. We ended up staying elsewhere, but we remembered him raving about Loki as an awesomely fun party hostel with opportunities to work and stay for free. We wanted to try a different volunteer (not WWOOFing) opportunity, so we decided to give Loki Cuzco a try. As soon as we walked into the bar and offered our help to the manager, we were given bartending jobs and asked to start the next night!
Loki Cuzco is the original of the four Loki Hostels (the others are located in Máncora, Lima, and La Paz, Bolivia) and was opened in 2005 by a group of backpacker friends. It’s a HUGE hostel (capacity over 200) in a 500-year-old amazing historic building. The owner and staff are all friendly and bilingual, and the hostel includes free breakfast, a book exchange, a full restaurant and bar, a tour booking office, and daily activities and parties. It basically has everything you could ever need so that you don’t even have to venture outside if you don’t want to!
All of the bartenders are volunteers at Loki. We worked four shifts a week (either 1-7pm or 7pm-2am) in exchange for a free dormitory bed, one free meal a day, and 40% off on everything at the bar/restaurant. It was definitely an awesome deal, and we had a lot of fun. The bar staff during the four weeks we worked at Loki consisted of travelers from Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and a few more of us from the U.S. We all got along great and every night was a party. Working behind the bar is not really work; it’s more like serving some drinks while drinking some drinks. By the end of the night there were always people dancing on the bar, and most of the staff usually went out dancing until the wee hours after our bar closed. Highlights of our time at Loki included dancing like crazy on the bar at Groove Nightclub, going out for pizza for Zach’s birthday, and all the random hilarious conversations in the staff room. Being at Loki was kind of like living in a college dorm again, except with the added fun of people from all different countries and none of the hassle of class!
Before you judge us as nonsstop-partying alcoholics, please wait for tomorrow’s other-side-of-the-coin post: WE HATE LOKI
As of January 27, we’ve been in South America for three months! That’s about 1/3 of the total time we’ll be down here (assuming money lasts) so it’s quite a milestone. Sometimes I feel like we’ve been on the road forever and other times it feels like it was just yesterday we landed in Medellin.
To celebrate our 1/3-iversary, let’s list some fun stats!
Days in South America: 95
Dollars Spent (not including flight): $3005
Countries Visited: 3
Books Read: 8 (Carrie), 7 (Zach)
Number of Laundromat Visits (not including hand-washing): 3
Bacterial Infections: 1 each
Things We’ve Lost
iPhone (Carrie)…The Infamous Bird Poop Incident
Water bottle (Zach)…just left it at a Couchsurfer’s house
Glasses (Carrie)…stupid lake
Sunglasses (Zach)…stupid ocean
2 rings (Carrie)…two separate places
1 shirt (Carrie)…I think this girl on our first WWOOF farm thought it was hers because she always wore orange!
Dr. Bronners soap (Zach)…”It’ll turn up!” he says
And now, since it is Awards Season, we hereby present to you….
The 1/3-iversary Superlatives…a.k.a. the Best Of “So Far”
Loki Hostel a daily Cuzco free walking tour. The tour takes you to some of the famous sites around the city, as well as a couple cool restaurants that the hostel is promoting. The first stop was a free vegetarian restaurant owned by an Indian family. They ask for a donation that goes to feeding poor children in nearby small villages. We sampled the food and they told us about how to volunteer to help feed the kids. We are trying to go do it before we leave Cuzco. Next we walked to the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco’s famous square. From here you can access many famous churches and restaurants. The flag of Cuzco is actually rainbow stripes, causing many people to mistake it for the gay pride flag!
After the plaza, we walked to the Museo do Cacao where they let us sample cacao-leaf tea and showed us where chocolate comes from. We also sampled the “aji” (spicy) chocolate and the dark, which were both amazing.
Next, we walked down an old alley; on the right was a wall built by the Incas. The Spanish had knocked down the top of their building, but the bottom 10 feet or so remained. The blocks were huge, some a couple feet wide, and fit together perfectly (you couldn’t fit a piece of paper between them). The best part was that every rock was a different size and shape, the coolest one having 12 sides.
Another cool part of the tour was playing with an alpaca and a vicuña! The vicuña thought our blonde hair looked similar to the grass they eat in the wild. Thus we kind of had to watch out to not get bitten on the noggin!
We spent the end of our Cuzco free walking tour at the food market, satisfying our appetites with seafood soup and beer smoothies!!! All in all, the Loki free walking tour was a great time!
The horrifying hour of 4am came WAY too soon. We had been dead to the world in our unexpected hostel bed and trying to pull ourselves out of bed was extremely difficult. Not only because of how tired we were, but because our leg muscles were practically incapable of motion after the grueling 22km of the day before. Considerably less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we met at the restaurant for breakfast and then took off. Half of our group had decided to tough it out and finish the trek on foot (including stubborn us), while the other half opted to take the bus for $8. This is the one aspect where I think Peru Treks failed us–our detour and change of plans caused us to have to foot the cost of a hostel room (20 Soles=$7) and the bus, if we chose. I know that Peru Treks had no control over the trail closure, but with how much we paid them for the trek, I felt that they should have been able to adjust with us and foot these costs. (More on the cost/value of the trek later.)
What we naively assumed about hiking from Aguas Calientes to the front entrance of Machu Picchu was that we would be walking up the same road that the bus took. Wrong. After a couple turns along the road as the sun was coming up, Juan pointed out the “short cut trail”–1,760 steps UP. Our jaws dropped. We were all feeling dead from the past three days and now THIS??? It was almost too much. But inspired by the unwillingness to pay $8 for a bus ride and the stubbornness of wanting to make it the whole way on foot, we started. One foot in front of the other, stopping for frequent breaks, and sweating profusely in the humid air, we progressed grumpily. I was so sore and tired and not in a good mood. By the time we finally made it (after about two hours of steps) I felt like crying and Zach felt like throwing up. All this to arrive at the main entrance of Machu Picchu along with all the lazy bums who took the train! We exchanged exhausted high-fives with our guides and the bus-riders from our group, who had beaten us there, and then entered. By the end, we had hiked 50.5km, 7.5km MORE than the normal Inca Trail! We basically rock. Arriving early definitely paid off…we got there around 7am, beating the crowds and the clouds! We hurriedly pushed ourselves up to the top of the ruins on about-to-fall-off legs in order to get the classic Machu Picchu photos. Despite all our bad luck on the trek, we were extremely lucky to be at the site on a clear, non-rainy day! Cheers to that! The site was stunning. I couldn’t believe I was finally there after so much planning and hard work, but unfortunately caring much about it was quite an effort due to how tired and sore I was. I think other group members felt the same way. You could definitely tell the hikers from the train-riders at Machu Picchu because we were the ones hilariously hobbling up and down the steps at the speed of arthritic grandparents. Percy gave us a two-hour tour of Machu Picchu, highlighting the most important parts. It was really interesting, and I wish I would have been more awake and alert for it! All in all, I think I personally appreciated having seen Machu Picchu more and more after the fact, as I recovered from the trek. I think that if there hadn’t been landslides and we would have stuck to the original route, we would have been much more energetic and excited to be there in the end. But what can you do? Woulda, shoulda, coulda, you can’t control the weather! Lest I come across like a total Negative Nancy, let me share our AMAZING pictures with you now!
After touring the ruins, we decided we had had our fill and headed back to Aguas Calientes to have one last lunch as a group. Aguas Calientes is an unapologetic tourist trap, like the Times Square of Perú. Anyone coming to Machu Picchu HAS to go there, and they definitely know how to exploit the gringos. Food and beer costs are nearly triple what they are in Cuzco. We didn’t really find anything redeemable about the town, although if money was not an issue for you, you could probably have some fun and some tasty food. Luckily our group had a whole restaurant reserved for us all day, so we hung out on the couch reading, writing, and napping until our train left at 6:45pm. The British-run PerúRail company has a monopoly on the railroad in Perú and thus is also a ripoff. The ride was unremarkable, highlighted only by obnoxiously yelling drunk people and free coffee and peanuts. We got off the train two hours later in Ollantaytambo, and spent the last two hours on the Peru Treks bus back to Cuzco sleeping. We finally got back to our hostel around 11pm, more physically exhausted than we’d ever felt before!
And here we are a week and a half later, finally finishing our recaps! Despite our complaints about the trek, we were so glad we did it and we would recommend it to others. Basically, it’s way more satisfying, and, we believe, a better value than taking the train! Just KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING INTO! It’s not easy; you must acclimatize; and you have to be in good-enough shape! You might struggle and get sick despite acclimatizing and being in good shape. The person in our group who had the hardest time was a former NFL football player. Also, be prepared for the fact that you might be too exhausted to enjoy it by the time you get to Machu Picchu. People who are more excited about Machu Picchu then they are about hiking and the Andean scenery should just take the train. We were equally pumped about both, so we’re for sure glad we trekked!
Cost/Value of the trek:
There is much debate on the effects of the commercialization and popularity of the Inca Trail. The trail was crowded but not unbearably so. The limit on the number of people on the trail per day is what makes booking so far in advance necessary. It’s also important to make sure you use a company that treats their porters fairly. Here is what we paid and what we ultimately thought about the value of our experience (all prices are per person):
Peru Treks total cost=$490
Included: bus from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo ($10), 4 days of hiking, guide and assistant guide, porters, Inca Trail and Machu Picchu entry permit ($93), 10 big meals, tents, water on Days 3 and 4, sleeping pads, Machu Picchu tour, bus ticket from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes ($8), train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo ($37), bus from Ollantaytambo to Cuzco ($10). (Breakdown info taken from Andean Travel Web.)
Not included: Sleeping bag ($20 to rent, we brought our own), personal porter to carry your sleeping bag and pad ($40, we carried our own stuff), breakfast on Day 1, lunch and dinner on Day 4, water on Days 1 and 2 (you can buy it for inflated prices along the way but we brought our own), snacks, coca leaves, walking sticks, tips for cook, guides, and porters ($25 minimum).
Extra costs we incurred due to landslides: Hostel on the night of Day 3 (20 Soles=$7, this was a decision our group made together; we could have chosen to camp and pay nothing but then it would have taken longer to get to Machu Picchu in the morning), Bus to Machu Picchu ($8, what a huge ripoff for those that didn’t want to hike anymore!).
Overall, I am totally impressed with the service, food and equipment provided by Peru Treks. I know they’re not making an enormous profit on these treks with all the expenses involved. Still, because of how much we shelled out, I can’t help but feel that Peru Treks could and should have included some of those extras, especially the three meals they are missing. We were picked up at 5:30am on Day One and didn’t get back to Cuzco until 10:30pm on Day Four, so the meals on those days should have been part of the price! Also, as I said before, I think Peru Treks could have shelled out some dough for our hostel and bus tickets due to our forced detour.
I also have one criticism of the Machu Picchu facilities. Despite the loads of money the park brings in, the bathrooms are absolutely atrocious. I am not usually one to complain about bathrooms (ummmm, hello, I’m Returned Peace Corps Tanzania, what can I say?) but what is the point of having modern toilets if you’re going to let them be so disgustingly filthy? There was no toilet paper in any dispenser and literally every single stall was covered in pee or poop splashes. Not what I expected from the most famous place in South America.