Mt. Koya

Mt. Koya

Today marked our travel day from Osaka to Mt. Koya to stay in a Buddhist temple. We decided to visit Mt. Koya at the recommendation of one of my dearest, Japanese culture-loving friends, Lauren. Boy was she spot on with this recommendation!

We met my parents in the hotel lobby for breakfast and walked about a mile to find a place suitable for my mom for breakfast. After poo-pooing on 3 options, she finally settled on Tullys – again. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Tully’s is good, but we need to add some diversity to our breakfast routine. We told my mom it was the last “Tully’s breakfast” of the trip and she said “we will see”. Of course, that means “no”. Haha! If mom’s not happy, no one is happy, right?

We grabbed some snacks for the 2 hour train ride to Mt. Koya and hit the train station. We ended up missing the express train but the extra 30-minutes on the regular train was not bad. We had great views, some snacks, and all got time to decompress.

Once we arrived at the station, we hopped onto the cable car which took us up this insanely steep slope to the top of the mountain. It was packed with people and I cannot even begin to fathom how they installed the cable car on just a steep incline.

It took about 10 minutes to get to the top and then we hopped on a short bus ride which dropped us off right in front of the Koyasan Onsen Fuchin. The lodging was part temple, part onsen (Japanese baths), with Japanese style rooms. We were not able to check in yet so layered up in jackets and scarves before heading out to explore. It was pretty darn cold in comparison to the 60 degree weather in Osaka!

We decided to find a spot for lunch and ended up in a traditional style table where you sit on a high platform, on a pillow, around a short table. Ryan almost wouldn’t fit!

My sister and I split some sushi and I had a delicious tempura udon. The food was so filling and warm on such a cold day!

After paying, we took off to find the temples and renowned cemetery. There is a grouping of temples on one side of town which were all different styles and pretty amazing to look at and explore.

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Photos are not allowed inside the temples but there are a ton of gold ornaments and sculptures very similar to those in Thailand. They were quite stunning.

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We then took off to the other side of the town for the Okunoin Cemetery. You can do cemetery tours at night but we opted to walk it during the day so we could see it more clearly, not freeze completely, and be back to the onsen in time for our 5:30 dinner.

The cemetery was awe inspiring. The faded light coming through the trees, slight fog in the air, moss that covered the monoliths and huge trees that went up 100’s of feet in the air gave the whole place such and ancient, eerie and scared feeling.

I could have stayed in there taking it all in for hours but my mom was on a mission. She was speed walking ahead of us so fast that we lost her for a good 20 minutes! When we finally caught up, we had arrived at the Okunoin temple. It has over ten thousand lanterns inside and is absolutely magical. We were able to go inside and take it all in and then we went to a side building that had even more yellow lighted, gold lanterns. It was well worth taking our shoes on and off to go inside.

The whole walk was well worth the hour or so trek. We spotted a sweets shop on the way back and grabbed a few to sample. A lot of the sweets in Japan have red bean inside and have a gluggy consistency with pastry on the outside. Super good and filling though.

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We got back to Fuchin and checked in. We had to leave our shoes at the door and wear special red shoes within the buildings. We were brought up to our small room that kind of smelt like straw. There was a small table in the middle and we settled in with some tea. We also had to wear robes around the building and to our meals!

Once 5:30 hit, we went to room 23 for our multi-course Royal dinner. The dinner we had was monks’ cuisine (shojin ryori) and completely vegetarian!

There were so many things to try and they kept bringing in more dishes. Quite a bit of the food had a gelatin consistency which we weren’t too keen on but, overall, the food was delicious. Ryan tried this one piece of spongy white tofu or something and bit into it and all of this liquid came out. He flipped and couldn’t stop laughing at how weird it was! The rest of us tried it but didn’t get very far into it… It barely touched my lips before going straight back into the bowl. Amazing how new food textures can create such a different dining experience.

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After dinner, my sister and I decided to try out the onsen. Japanese baths are separated by men and women because you get completely naked and are not allowed to wear swim suits. We walked down in our robes and took our shoes off to be pleasantly surprised that the floors were heated! Thank goodness because it was only 30 degrees or so in the temples halls!

Once disrobed, you have to wash yourself off in a shower station in the central bath room. There was a big shallow bath pool inside, which was too hot for us, and then a outdoor rock pool. We were the only ones there and chatted for a good 30 minutes before anyone else joined. It seemed like everyone finished their dinner and had the same idea as us around 7 because a huge group came and it was far too crowded to stay in the onsen so we headed back to the room. Totally refreshed, we hopped in our Japanese style beds and passed out.

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Sacred Valley, Peru

Sacred Valley, Peru

6:30 AM wake up to meet our guides and head through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu! We hopped into our van with our guide, took a treacherous ride with crazy traffic through winding hills and, somehow, didn’t topple off one of the hairpin turns to our death. We were all very relieved when we made it to the various stops along the way!

Our first stop was at the Awana Kancha alpaca & llama farm to see the various types of indigenous animals. Apparently, there is a certain type of llama that gets so frightened when people approach, it is likely to have a heart attack and die! Talk about a poor fear reflex!

There were also native women weaving alpaca wool blankets and clothing in beautifully Peruvian patterns and, of course, all of their items were on sale in the gift shop at the end of our tour.

We then headed to a terraced, ancient city, atop mountains overlooking the Sacred Valley. The views from the city were astonishing and, though the air was thin, we were able to hike up to the top of the city.

Thankfully, we arrived early in the morning and there were only a few other people hiking the city while we were there. As we were leaving, we passed masses of tourist buses and huge groups that were about to climb up. Our driver had quite a time getting back down the narrow road past the big  buses – literally only an inch or two between us on either side! For almost all tours, it is worth getting up early to beat the crowds.

My dad and I looking over the Sacred Valley on the way to Machu Picchu, Peru

Along the drive to the next spot, we saw tons of stray dogs, cows, pigs, and kids running in and out of the streets. There were huge fields of quinoa and tarps lining the side of the road with huge corn kernels laying out to dry.

We were getting hungry on our road trip, so we stopped at a market. There was a silver factory there with a huge fire pit at the back for making empanadas. The store had guinea pig empanadas which I was going to try, but there was a cage with baby and adult guinea pigs right next to the fire pit and we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat one. Instead, we had a delicious chicken empanadas and bought some jewelry in the store.

Our empanadas were not enough to hold us over, so we headed to the Tunupa Sacred Valley  restaurant. There was a beautiful garden entrance with parakeets and other exotic birds. Inside, it was so packed with people through the buffet lines. After we ate, my sister, Ryan, and I went into the back garden to explore and make friends with some testy lamas. They give us the stink eye but I think we got through to them eventually!

Once we were shopped out and our stomaches were fully, we took off to Ollantaytambo, the town home to the train station. The town was surrounded by amazing fortress ruins and a temple for Sun God worship. We walked up 210 large stone steps to the top of ruins where there were 40+ ton rocks used to make the buildings. The crazy thing is, the huge rocks up at the top of the ruins were actually mined from the mountain across the valley. The Inca would mine the boulders from the top of the other mountain, push the boulders so they toppled down the mountain, and then, somehow, lug them back up to the top of other mountains to build their buildings. All of that at an average male height of 5’2!

After admiring the view for about 30 minutes, we had to catch the train. Our guide dropped us off and we almost took off in the wrong direction. Thankfully, she ran after us and pointed us the right way.

The views from the train were amazing, especially because there were windows from our seats to the ceiling and the over the ceiling, and it didn’t take long (1.5 hours) before we arrived at the Machupicchu Pueblo, the town below Machu Picchu!