Well, if you look at the post date of this one, you'll see it took me almost a month to wrap up this blog. It's 'cause I'm now traversing the USA and rarely in one place long enough to post. But here goes!
The last day of the trip (other than the flight home which was completely uneventful.) The day was pretty much a perfect cap of the whole trip. Not boring, but not hectic - just mellow and yet full of Peru-ness.
Good old Mario. He's the main driver for the hotel, and dropped me off and picked me up from town every day of my stay in Cuzco. My plan for this last day was to drive (be driven) through the Sacred Valley, which is a set of towns and ruins from Cuzco to Macchu Pichu. The hotel guys told me that a personal driver was the way to go for this. Very alien to me. But it turned out Mario was available, so I felt really good about it, because he's really cool. We couldn't communicate hardly at all, but it worked out fine. He was amused by me saying "beautiful" all the time, so he started saying it, too.
The first stop was not expected by me, but I guess Mario knew I'd like it somehow. It was an animal rescue. It didn't sound all that interesting at first, but they had a lot of uniquely South American critters. My favorite of all was a very ugly dog that was held sacred by the Incas. He looked like a nuclear mutant but he was just as sweet as any other dog. I stayed at the shelter too long, but I ended up getting a bunch of souvenirs to bring home as well as for myself. They were extremely grateful about the amount of money I spent there, even though it wasn't much to me. They appreciated that I did all my shopping there because the profits would go to the hideous dog. Awww.... ain't I a great guy? Yes, I am.
We stopped here and there for some more ruins - some that were very cool and would have excited me more if I hadn't seen so many that week already - but what I enjoyed much more was just seeing the small towns and the daily life of people.
We grabbed lunch in a small restaurant in one of the larger, more touristy towns. I remember a whole lot of flies. But also a "beautiful" ceiling of orange flowers on the back porch where we ate. One thing was odd: when Mario was talking to the waitress / hostess, he suddenly turned into a much more serious and macho person, treating her very imperiously. Odd.
Afterwards, there was an uncomfortable moment when it came to paying for lunch. I was like, "Well, I hired him for the day - but to drive. Does that mean lunch is included? Or is he going to pay for himself? What sort of Peruvian protocol is involved here?" I ended up paying, and in the end I realized I was worrying over like 5 bucks.
Soon after I started seeing The Mountain. It was just a snow capped Andes mountain that stood out because of it's interesting shape. I don't think there was much more significance to it than that, but I found my attention being drawn to it over and over. I think I was just eager to see more of the Andes than I had. Really I hadn't seen much at all. I would have seen more if I'd gone to El Calafate, and I guess I was slightly let down that I hadn't seen all the craggy snowy mountains I'd imagined. Cuzco is high in elevation, but for some reason the area has now snow on the mountains. Just dry, I guess.
Early in the visit, I had been cynically positive that all the native Peruvian dress was strictly for the Gringos. But towards the end of this last day, driving in the boonies, I definitely saw that it was legit. People do dress that way on a daily basis - which is very cool to me. There was a moment when a herd of sheep and llamas was being driven along the road and parted in front of our stopped car, surrounding us from all sides, driven by a shepherd in traditional dress. It was one of those foreignly exoticky moments that really made the day special for me.
There were a couple final stops on the ruin tour. One was a site that I thought was the salt mine we were going to see, but turned out not to be. I'm still not sure what it was, but it looked cool. And then there was the actual salt mine. It was very cool, but it was too late in the day to explore it in detail. That was all right, because it looked great from the top of the mine valley, but probably not as interesting from down in the midst of it.
"Cuzco?" "Cuzco". We were ready to go "home". As we went, my eyes said their final goodbyes to The Mountain. The Mountain disappearing over the edge of the Sacred Valley was a bittersweet but perfect way to say farewell to South America. (For now!) The rest was all footnote. That Mountain fading away is what I consider to be the end.