January 2013

The places we wish to visit just once in our life

A long, long dream came true; Machu Picchu and Salar de Uyuni touched my heart strongly.

By: Taisuke Azuma
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Kanagawa-ken - Japan

The volcano Tunupa reflects in the water on the Salar
Photo: Taisuke Azuma

Like many travelers all over the world, I had this dream to come to South America and visit Machu Picchu and the Salar de Uyuni, at least once in my life. Machu Picchu is always on top of places Japanese people long to visit because of its world heritage status and it has also been my dream. I organized my 2 weeks trip and I have to say, I have been in these places and I was impressed.

The first stop of this journey was Machu Picchu with only one whole day to see almost all the highlights. Before I tell my story, I will explain a little about Machu Picchu simply to let you understand it.

Machu Picchu is set on the top of a mountain along the Urubamba valley which ends close to Cuzco where the capital of the Inca Empire was. Because of being in between the rugged valleys, it has been deemed the Lost City and unknown until the first discovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911. It has been said that this city was built as the villa for the king Pachacuti about 1450, when the conquistadores came. The authority of this villa has still remained. In the early morning I entered the ruins to climb Huayna Picchu. The day was nice and between 7 and 8 a.m., Machu Picchu showed its fantastic sight. The ruins were cloaked in mist, the grass glistened with dew and the rising sun softly lighted the ruins. It seemed to be a castle floating in the sky. Walking along the route and passing through the entrance gate of the ruins, I got the illusion of being in a fantasy world of adventure. It was exciting for me to walk around imagining that some monsters like skeletons might appear in front of me. Huayna Picchu is also called Wayna Picchu and like at Machu Picchu, the number of daily visitors is restricted to 400. It soars highly over Machu Picchu and waiting in line I figured to climb would be harsh work. Repeating climb and rest, about 1 hour later I made it to the summit, and saw the most beautiful sight, which was worthy this hard work. Sharing this pleasure with other climbers, I looked over the ruins and we took photos with each other. At the backside of the summit, there is a narrow way to the temple of the moon. Though the round-trip way is steep and hard and all in all we needed about 2 hours, the atmosphere of the ruins of the temple in the shallow cave let me feel its spirituality.

Back at the ruins, I found some hidden stones and walls, which imitate the shape of animals such as the wall of the bird. In the mood to find the archeological treasures one by one, walking around the ruins I found enjoyment that differed from the tour described in guidebooks.

As my final stop I have been to Intipunku, which means the gate of the sun in Quechua and is located on the Inca road that stretches all over the empire. From the ruins it takes about 1 hour to walk there. Since I had walked around the ruins for 9 hours and my water bottle became empty, I was tired when I arrived. However, from this gate I saw the whole ruins surrounded by the light of the evening. Staying here I was reminded that in ancient times the Incas saw the same scene and were also impressed.

Machu Picchu made me aware of the magnificent works of the ancient people.

On the other hand, the second stop, The Salar de Uyuni is magnificent nature. I arranged the 2-days package tour at Uyuni town according to the information researched in advance for staying on the salt and enjoying it to the fullest. El Salar de Uyuni (in the following Uyuni) is the largest salt plain in the world, which was formed by the uplift of Andes Mountains in the past. Its salt is sold to locals or foreigners after being purified and some is formed into crafts and houses. This plain has two faces, one at dry season when one can see the land of salt all around and one at rainy season when the land turns into a reflective surface. Now, which season is the best for traveling to Uyuni the dry or rainy season? Some people will advise you to visit during rainy season which is between December and March. However, the off-season when I took my trip in November is better, because you might see both, the land of salt and the mirror.

Playa Blanca in the twilight
Photo: Taisuke Azuma

The land of salt seemed to be spreading into infinity. After visiting the train graveyard and Colchani village which are always arranged first in a tour, I entered the world of salt with other tourists on the car. Once we got into Uyuni, I could see nothing without the land of salt. Until the horizon we could look over a solely blue and white world. Nobody and no creature were there. In fact, I felt it might mean the end of the world, though it is too beautiful to be so. Since this land is made through the drying process of the sun, although you think it is very hot, I felt cold and comfortable to lie down. On our trip through the Salar, we had almost driven only on salt in the Land Cruiser, except for some spots such as Isla Inca Wasi, where a lot of cactuses and rugged rocks exist. It looks like a fish from far away and we had lunch at this sight.

The volcano Tunupa is also a spot as famous as Isla Inca Wasi. Around the foot of the volcano, some animals and birds assemble and we could see pink flamingos and llamas. The reason that the volcano attracted me so strongly is that this place shows other aspects of Uyuni, which are the warm ingredient spouted from the volcano and fauna, and there might be a little water even, if it is not rainy season. In both days I came here and enjoyed watching animals or taking photos of the reflecting surface with other tourists. One of the great experiences at Uyuni is to stay at the hotel of salt, known by the name "Playa Blanca". Surrounded by salt, I and other tourists experienced life without any water or electricity. Instead we could see the beautiful sunset in the twilight and innumerable stars in the sky at night. Watching it until it gets dark, I found every gradation from madder red and white to deep indigo in the sky. During our stay we had nothing to do, but it became an irreplaceable memory to talk with other multinational tourists over the light of a candle.

These two places gave me some kind of encounters and the changing appearances such as international friends or sunrise at Machu Picchu and sunset at Uyuni. Though there are a lot of photos about these places on the Internet, the real sights are incomparable to the unreal ones as being at those sights and connecting with them is a truly irreplaceable experience. I recommend you to see them with your own eyes. I also hope you might get something from there when you travel just as I did.

When football is not just a game

I apparently arrive early since only some of the coaches are here and some kids holding their mothers hand; they seem eager and cannot wait until practice begins. I do not blame them. I remember my first day of football practice as if it was yesterday. I felt pure excitement, but also I was a bit scared. Perhaps they feel the same way? I decide to go ask one of the mothers why she and her kid are here.

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