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peru


June brought the beginning of the 5-month hurricane season to Mexico, and with it days of heat and humidity, often ending with late afternoon thunderstorms. As the weather became more uncomfortable, we began planning a trip away from the boat, first to Seattle for family visits, then to South America, which we had never visited before in our travels.

We decided on a month in Peru, culminating in Machu Picchu, where Dave would hike the 4-day Inca Trail, followed by a second month in Chile, finishing at Easter Island.

We had no expectations, being largely ignorant of latin american history, geography and culture. Fortunately, cruising friends Sally and Alan of Jack Nesbitt had just completed 7 weeks in Peru, and gave us their travel tips, introduced us to their travel agent, and imparted their enthusiasm for the country and its history.

We met with their agent, Victor of Victor Travel Service, and laid out an itinerary that hit the highlights of Southern Peru. Sal and Al were equally enthusiastic about northern Peru, but we realized our four weeks constrained us to either northern or southern Peru. We opted to head south, as Dave was already booked for the Inca Trail in early September.

Victor promptly put together a tour that maximized our 19 days before Machu Picchu, arranged flights, busses and connections, including booking the train to Machu Picchu for Jan. All this was affordable and saved us countless hours trying to figure things out, and dragging our luggage to locate hotels. Victor did a great job listening to what we wanted and making it happen, and called us several times midway to ensure all was well.

Dinner with Sal and Al at the Merced in Lima.

Our last night in Lima was literally earth-shaking as a huge tremor leveled Pisco and Ica, about 100 miles away. We were at dinner in a restaurant built into the side of a church, enjoying Pisco Sours and Lomo Saltado, when the earth shook for nearly 2 minutes.

Fortunately for us, there was little damage in Lima (the worst being the loss of the cell phone system for some hours), but more than 500 people were killed south along the coast.

The next day we flew to Arequipa. We stayed at the lovely Casa Arequipa B&B, a splurge for us. Arequipa is an International Heritage site due to the sillar (white volcanic stone) buildings, exquisitely carved.

Beautiful sillar buildings surround the main square.

Ornate stone facade of an Arequipa church.

Carved sillar collonade of a colonial monastery.

Sillar carving detail.

Dave tucks in to ostrich, alpaca and beef filets, flamed in cognac, at the ZigZag in Arequipa. Yum.

Dinner in Arequipa at the ZigZag

The next morning we were picked up for a 2-day tour of the Colca Canyon. The minibus climbed up to 15000 feet, then dropped slightly into the canyon to Chivay.

Colca Canyon towns welcome visitors with pretty gateways.

Casa Andina in Chivay.

Peruvian children colorfully dressed are photogenic and charming.

And entrepreneurial.

The next day we were roused early for the long drive up the canyon to see the Andean Condors, gigantic birds soaring against the cliffs in a spectacular setting. We counted 7 birds, watching them glide without a wingbeat in the updrafts. Beautiful.

Tourists watching condors soar in Colca Canyon

A condor glides in the canyon updraft.

Along the way the tour bus made many stops at points of interest (and shopping opportunities). In Yanqui, Dave got to try on a live Andean Eagle hat.

Dave meets an Andean Eagle...

And tries on a new hat.

Juan Carlos, our Guide Extraordinaire, met us the following day for some trekking across the river to an old Colonial town, Coporaque, with its pretty square and interesting church, then guided us up the canyon to the footbridge bridge to Yanque.

We saw miles of terraces, built over the milleniums. The upper terraces were no longer farmed after the Spaniards conquered and forced many Indians into the mines and other labor. Also, Europeans brought many diseases, notably smallpox, which wiped out a large portion of the native population. Today, the upper terraces lie fallow.

Juan Carlos explained the cactus is Peruvian barbed wire.

At Yanqui, men shape mud into adobe bricks to build a new house.

Puma carving on Coporaque colonial church.

And a nice guitar angel.

Juan Carlos, Guide Extraordinaire

Colca Canyon terraces

This girl is standing in front of an Incan wall...

Characterized by gapless seamwork.

We never tired of looking at the stonework in Peru.

Dave ponders what were they thinking to shape this one.

Our minibus returned us to Arequipa and the B&B. The next morning we flew to Puno to visit Lake Titicaca. Now we were getting into serious altitude, with the lake at 13,400 feet. Climbing to the second floor of our hotel was a breathtaking experience!

The local tricycle produce stand in Puno.

And the town meatmarket.

We hopped aboard a small boat with a dozen other tourists, and were taken to the floating Uros Islands. These are built upon reeds, and literally can be moved around and anchored. Traditionally the local Indians lived on the islands in reed houses. Today they live on the largest floating island and their homes have metal roofs, but the traditional islands are maintained to show the tourists how they once lived.

Uros reed boat on Lake Titicaca

Uros floating island.

Back aboard we motored 3 more hours in calm waters to Amantani. This island is largely self-sufficient and rural, home to local Indians who speak Quechua. We were assigned to a family who hosted us overnight, feeding us 3 meals, and giving us a glimpse into how they live. We hiked to the mountaintop for the sunset, then were dressed in native costume for a dance. Dave was a whirling dervish, and danced most energetically, but was still outpaced by our hostess.

Amantani Island - our lodging

Amantani hostesses

Dave in costume...

Dancing with our histess.

Finally it is time to wave goodbye to our generous hostesses.

Uros floating island.

We returned to Puno to catch a tour bus to Sillustani, a pre-Columbian gravesite of regal towers perched high above the lake. The guide explained the rougher looking towers were the oldest, and the beautifully smooth stonework was Inca. Graverobbers and earthquakes had toppled many of the towers, but the site is still magnificent.

Back again in Puna, Dave and I hailed a tricycle-taxi for the trip out to the Yavari, an iron ship built in 1862. Peru needed a navy for defense, and contracted with a company in England to construct 6 warships, 2 of which were intended for Lake Titicaca. They were assembed in England, then disassembled, no single piece weighing more than 40 pounds, shipped around the Horn, then packed up and over the Andes to the lake on llama back. The Captain met us on deck and told us some of the ship's fascinating history, and the plans for completing restoration. For more info, visit http://www.yavari.org/

Captain of the Yavari who is also heading up its restoration.

We climbed aboard a first class (plush) bus to Andahuaylillas, in the Sacred Valley toward Cuzco. Our bus ticket included stops at many ruins, including Pukara and its interesting museum. Statues of leaders were holding the heads of their enemies! At Raqchi, we saw a huge Incan military complex and temple, round silos for grain, and a defense wall ringing the hills.

Colonial church at Pukara

Shopping Andean style...

Temple ruin at Raqchi

Drawing of original

Grain silos at Raqchi

Dave makes a new friend

Late in the day we reached Andahuaylillas, a tiny village with a colonial church, with its huge paintings of St Peter's life.

We had arranged to stay 2 nights, to take a breather from our pace in this tiny village. Off season, we were the sole occupants of our hotel El Sol. Dinner was $2.50 each.

Our room at Andahuaylillas

And the pretty courtyard

Once again a minibus picked us up, courtesy of Victor Travel Services, and whisked us to more ruins, to Pikilacta with extensive Wari (pre-Inca) ruins, and to Tipon, up a steep torturous road not much wider that a goat track, to its magnificent terraces connected by an elaborate aquaduct system. This was one of our favorite ruins in Peru.

Terraces and aquaduct system at spectacular Tipon

Tipon fountain

At the end of the day we arrived in Pisac, with the local market in full swing. One of the delights of Peru is shopping for quality handmade goods, including tapestries, placemats and knitted alpaca (so soft!) hats and sweaters. In the evening we sat on the balcony of our charming and funky Hostal Pisac to watch the market tear down. It was back in full swing the following morning.

Sunday market at Pisac

Though it seems just as lively every day.

Pisac Market

Time to climb to the ruins

The Peruvians build these cute condos for the Guinea pigs.

But they are food, not pets.

In the morning we grabbed a taxi for the drive to the Pisac ruins high above the city. It baffles us why the Incas needed to build these incredible places of worship on inaccessible mountaintops, but the hiking did have the benefit of getting us in good shape! After exploring the ruins, we found the trail back down to the town, and trekked downhill for several hours on ancient Inca trail, granite steps set 500 years ago and still in generally good condition.

Pisac

Pisac

Inca steps between terraces

Hiking back down to Pisac town

On the minibus again 2 days later, we visited Ollantaytambo, on the Urubamba river, again huffing our way uphill to more fantastic ruins. What were they thinking??? Across the valley more ruins clung to a sheer cliff. We could not see how they could access that area, much less build on it. There must be a lot of bones of construction workers littering the valley floor.

We arrived in Cuzco, where Dave made final preparations for the Inca Trail hike. We found (thanks Sal and Al!) the good coffee shop above the Plaza des Armes. It's a mystery to us why South America settles for Nescafe, while we enjoy their great coffee beans in Seattle. While enjoying our coffee and croissants we could watch the daily military or religious parade in the square.

We visited several important Inca ruins at Cuzco, Korikancha, with its colonial church built on top of the ruins, and Sacsayhuaman, with its gigantic pillow stones.

On Sept 1, Dave started the 4 day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. The trek is on original Inca stonework. 500 people are allowed on the trail each day, of which over half are guides and porters. The trail wanders up the Urubamba valley, passes over Dead Woman pass (14,200 feet), passes a dozen Inca temples and checkpoints, and then descends gradually into Machu Picchu. Dave describes the experience as challenging, despite having trained for it and having been at altitude several weeks. The hike culminates with a daybreak entrance through the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu.

We loved Machu Picchu. The stonework is varied and gorgeous, and the setting is indescribable. Though we'd seen plenty of pictures, nothing can prepare you for the exhilerating experience of being there. We spent 2 days climbing around, shooting way too many pictures. Our last hike was on a cliff trail to the Inca Bridge, a drawbridge scarfed into a sheer granite wall, with a couple logs that could be pulled away to block invaders.

We spent a night below Machu Picchu at Aguas Calientes so we could return the following day for more exploring. With Machu Picchunow established as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, expansion of tourist services is underway. But growth will be constrained by access limitations - you can only reach Machu Picchu by train or by foot.

Although Peru is a relatively poor country, we found the people helpful, tolerant, charming. We enjoyed the glimpses we received of typical life in each region. We found the history and ruins fascinating. We loved the stonework. We'd love to go back and visit the northern half of the country.

Time to move on! We flew back to Lima, then on to Santiago, Chile, for part two of our South America sojourn.

 

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