Archive for the ‘Peru 2010’ Category

2013 New Year’s Resolutions

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

I am not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I feel they are made to be broken. To set me up to fail. I usually make mid-January birthday resolutions instead. Don’t ask me why, they work better.

However, this year, this year I shall overcome my fear of NYRs! In fact, I’m posting some right now. If I don’t achieve them, you can light me on fire. Okay, just my pants. While I’m not wearing them. Preferably when I’m nowhere near them. Like, they are outside and I’m inside. Like, I’ve taken them to the dump and returned home already. Like, you can light them on fire at the dump. Like?

Just don’t be stalkerish about it.

Cindy’s 2013 New Year’s Resolutions

#1 Finish my Galapagos travel posts. Before I go somewhere else.

#2 Sort through and shred the nine file storage boxes full of documents from my writing “career” that have been sitting in my office for the last 18 months. Don’t break the shredder this time. Remember to oil it evey 20 minutes. If I break it again, burn the frickin’ boxes without sorting them.

#3 Don’t dig ONE more file box of old documents out of crawlspace until 2014 minimum. I don’t care if it says, “Shred in 2007” on it.

#4 Put pictures from Peru trip into photo albums. I am only three years behind this one. Three years behind on photo albums is pretty darn good, wouldn’t you agree?

#5 Think about creating photo albums from Galapagos. Only THINK about it. Don’t actually do it. I don’t want to get a reputation as an overachiever!

#6 If I must, put G.I. pictures on nice big digital frame instead.

#7 Postpone re-hanging pictures in living room following the painting that ended a month ago as long as humanly possible.

#8 Do the laundry twice without complaining.

#9 Eat two more chocolate bars per month.

#10 Make plans to paint the hallway, the bedroom, the wainscoting, the office, and don’t follow through on them.

#11 Don’t fall through big hole in sundeck—same sundeck husband keeps promising to rebuild “this year.”

#12 Stop buying salt ‘n vinegar chips every other Tuesday. Change to Wednesdays instead.


#13 Become a mommy-in-law!!! Hip-hip-hooree!

Do you have any NYRs?

Peru, Day 21: Sillustani & Our Long Journey Home

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Okay, it’s been a few days…where was I? Oh, yes, our last day in Peru and our very looooooooong flights home.

So we woke up in the little Puno hotel on our last day eager to get home, but we had one more stop to make—to a pre-Inca burial site that is considered one of the oldest in the world, Sillustani. We saw no need to book a tour to Sillustani, as I’d read on the ‘net that you could basically ask your taxi driver to take you there on the way to the airport, which is 47 miles away in Juliaca (for geographical reasons, there’s no airport in Puno). So that’s what we did. While we were still with our guide, Tito, from the Lake Titicaca excursions, we asked the best way to get to Sillustani on our way to the airport. He had the perfect thing. He’d call his tour company, arrange something for us, and phone us at our Puno hotel the evening before to let us know everything was copasetic. We got the phone call, and were told to meet a “guide in training” at our hotel at 11 a.m. Our flight out of Peru left Lima at 11 p.m. or close to midnight, I can’t remember which. We just had to get from Puno to Lima several hours beforehand, to accommodate the Lima airport’s windows.

No problem! I really wanted to see the ancient funerary towers of Sillustani. You see, a long time ago when the earth was green and there were more—um, a long time ago, 1976 to be exact (I finally phoned my dad and nailed down the correct year), my parents went to Peru. Some of my dad’s photographs still hang on the walls of their house, and their travels partly inspired our trip. One of the stories I remember my dad telling me was about losing his roll of film featuring Sillustani near Puno. Well, he didn’t actually lose his film. It was confiscated. The story goes something like this (with apologies to Dad if I screwed up anything):

My parents traveled Peru during a time of political strife. There was quite a military presence, especially around Puno. My dad’s a history buff. So when he realized he could take pictures out his hotel window of the military presence and machinery, he couldn’t resist. Don’t ask me how, but he was spotted. They received a visit in their room from a military personnel/soldier type. And Dad’s film was confiscated. Luckily for him, they took just one roll of film. My dad was very much into photography at the time, and what a shame it would have been if he’d lost all the photos of his travels. Like us, they were at the end of their stay in Peru. The film was ripped out of his camera, and the camera returned to him. That film contained not only the photos of the military presence, but also of Sillustani. And my parents didn’t have time to return. My dad always bemoaned the loss of those pictures.

Trip Tip! Nowadays, in a similar situation, you’d get your entire digital card confiscated. Consider that when you’re waxing prosaic about the wonders of the digital age! Or maybe DON’T make like James Bond and snap photos of a military presence out your hotel window with your zoom lens attached. It’s especially essential not to do this if you’re like 5’6″ tall, weigh all of 140 pounds, have black hair and a dark skin tone. Because then you might look really suspicious! Especially if you add in that you have piercing blue eyes. You might be considered a sloppy spy masquerading as a tourist with really odd colored contact lenses. (The things you people learn from me!)

Anyway, my father mentioned that if we had a chance to visit Sillustani, he wouldn’t mind if we got some photographs to jog his memory. Of course, I simply had to make his dream come true. Because I’m such a thoughtful daughter. You know how it is.

So, we’re back to Day 21 and that our Lake Titicaca guide, Tito, had arranged a time and price for a “guide in training” to arrive in the morning and drive us to Sillustani on the way to the airport. Now, I can’t remember the name of the guy who was supposed to drive us, I know it began with an R, but that’s it, so let’s just call him Not Tito. The morning of Day 21, Not Tito arrives at our hotel only a little late. The language barrier was great, which confused us because a “guide in training” would have at least a bit of English and desire to learn more—hence the “in training” part. Our fellow insisted he was Not Tito, but he knew nothing about taking us to the pre-Inca burial site on the way to the airport. He thought he was there just to drive us TO the airport. Yet he wanted the price Tito had prearranged.

After help from a very nice employee of the hotel and an older gentleman who was on the street and decided to lend a hand, we learned this fellow WASN’T Not Tito, after all. Not Tito couldn’t make it. So Really Not Tito came in his place. And Really Not Tito was “just” a driver, not a guide. After much discussion, during which we tried to explain, over and over, that we didn’t desire a guide to take us around the ruins, we were more than capable of making up stuff in our heads as we walked the grounds. We just wanted to see them because we’d heard they were really cool, and we had this time before we needed to be at the airport (from what I could tell, aside from people-watching in the plaza de armes, Puno isn’t a town to hang around in, not when you can go explore a pre-Inca burial site. Plus, we’d had our fill of people-watching the night before, when an entertaining political rally rolled through the streets while we ate dinner in a little restaurant with a balcony view of it all). Eventually, Really Not Tito agreed to the arrangements we’d made the night before and for the same amount of cash. I think he was a little ticked that he wasn’t getting extra cash to stop for an hour at a tourist attraction. From our point of view, we’d made the arrangements with Tito and wanted to stick to those arrangements.

So, everyone happy now, we left Lake Titicaca and Puno behind and fed Really Not Tito one of our last few Globbopops, the Peruvian cherry lollipops with gum inside that we’d become addicted to. Really Not Tito decided we weren’t so bad.

We had 45 minutes at Sillustani. It’s really cool. Really Not Tito sat in the van while we walked around. At the last minute, he tried to find us a guide and again we explained that we didn’t need a guide. But he had the Globbopop in his belly by this point and wanted to make us happy. Once he realized, yes, he could really nap in the van for an hour, everything went along smoothly.

Sillustani features several ancient, pre-Inca burial tombs, circular structures called Chulpas.

One of the more well-preserved structures. The Sillustani site isn't as well preserved as other sites in Peru, and it's too bad. It's incredible.

The rocks on the ground were probably inside the structure  at some point. The Peruvian government filled the structures (the bodies once inside them long gone) with rocks and cement to try and help them retain their shape. Some of them have boards, etc., trying to hold them up:

One of the crumbling chulpas.

My Liege peeking in a hole at the bottom of one of the structures. My dad actually climbed inside when he visited. No wonder they confiscated his film!

The opening at the bottom faces east toward the “reborn” rising sun. Chambers inside the tombs (not there any longer, but at one time), were built to resemble wombs. The dead were placed in the fetal position, like we’d seen at the underground cemetery in Nasca (only there are no mummified dead at Sillustani).

There was a nice path that you could meander around that would take you to every structure. But we only had 45 minutes, so we hightailed it to the ones we most wanted to visit.

Did I mention that while we were on Taquille Island on Lake Titicaca, we bought these nifty little matching bracelets off a girl in the square? We decided they were our real anniversary present, and we wouldn’t take them off until one of them rotted off. In fact, I had the audacity to suggest that whoever’s bracelet didn’t last as long as the other’s clearly wasn’t as invested in the relationship and should suffer a punishment of some sort. My Liege thought this was awful, simply awful of me! (I think he was afeared he would lose the competition). He called me a Nasty Pants (which is his nickname, so I don’t know where he gets off trying to confiscate it!). Aw, well, you don’t reach your 25th anniversary without the need to constantly come up with new nicknames for each other.

Self-portrait of us showing off the bracelets (I have the pink bracelet):

Still at Sillustani. My bracelet came off three times over the next four months, you know, as karmic punishment for having made that Nasty Pants suggestions. Twice it came off while I was turning socks inside out doing laundry, and once it came off while I was doing the dishes. The dh didn't lose his bracelet ONCE! So apparently I wasn't as invested in the relationship. Or maybe I was just doing all the housework. HUH? The last time I lost mine, I couldn't find it, so we cut his off and put it in the souvenirs-that-go-in-the-photo-album pile. At least a week later, he was digging a pair of socks out of his drawer, and he found my bracelet! Phew, I wasn't a loser after all. It hadn't rotted off, you see, the force of me lovingly turning his socks right side out had taken it off my arm.

Back to Sillustani. We knew we didn’t have much time, so we made sure to get back to the van within the 45 minutes Really Not Tito had allotted us. He awoke from his siesta, and we continued on our way to Juliaca. Well, it turned out Really Not Tito had neglected to inform us that he Really Didn’t Have a Clue Where the Juliaca Airport Was. He had to get directions, and those directions took us through Juliaca instead of around it. On the up side, we got to experience our last terrifying experience of crazy Peruvian city driving and see parts of Juliaca. On the down side, it was starting to look like—thanks to me wanting to visit Sillustani for my dad—we might not ever ARRIVE at the airport.

Finally, we did. And with enough time to spare. In fact, when we got to the airport in Juliaca, our flight hadn’t been announced yet. It wasn’t on the monitors. We couldn’t find ANY employees in the airport! And Really Not Tito was long gone. Turned out we were just too early. Why arrive to work when the security gate won’t open for another 20 minutes? I mean, really. Eventually, other tourists arrived, and we began to feel some assurance that we would make it to Lima in time for flight #2.

Our first flight was from Puno to Lima by way of Arequipa, the only city and area of Peru we missed that we’d wanted to visit. It’s known for having the deepest canyon in South America, Colca Canyon, where you can see Condors in flight, and it’s also known for volcanoes. We flew close to a few of them:

The tourist in the row behind us took pictures EVERY FEW SECONDS all the way from Puno to Lima. It was a 3 hour flight, so it was ultra-irritating.

Isn’t that a cool volcano, though? We had a brief respite at the Arequipa airport, but weren’t allowed to get off the plane.

Three hours later, we landed in Lima. We didn’t have much time before we had to catch the Lima-Houston leg of our journey home. We were pretty tired and grouchy by this point. We tried to upgrade to first class in the Lima airport (remembering the offer of upgrading on the way down for only $70 each one way, that we stupidly declined). But we were told it would cost $1700 each, and that was just to get us to Houston. Forget about it!

At this point, all I wanted to do was play Sudoku:

Tired and grouchy, losing at Sudoku.

So of course we were stuck with an obnoxious aisle-mate all the way to Houston (about 6 hours). I was in the middle and had to sit beside him. I wanted him to just shut up already (have I mentioned I’m not very talkative on planes? I don’t want to know your life story, sorry. I want to sleep or read and/or play Sudoku!)

Another layover in Houston, very short this time so we were running, and then we flew to Calgary with an EXTREMELY obnoxious aisle-mate. This time My Liege was in the middle, and reports have it that the Obnoxious One was super reluctant about giving up any elbow room. M.L.’s philosophy is that the middle seat is the worst seat, so the others should accommodate you. I’d have to say I agree.

In Calgary, we had enough time to grab something to eat. It was blissful! We ate at Montana’s. We had ribs, the most delicious ribs I have ever consumed. From Calgary, it was a one-hour flight home. By the time we arrived in small town B.C. and my dad picked us up from the airport, 24 hours had elapsed. We were so glad to be home!

We thoroughly enjoyed the journey, but decided we’re too old to experience another “Cindy holiday” for at least two years. (Cindy holidays are when you do anything except lay on the beach). (Cindy is easily bored and quickly gets overheated in the sun). However, only five months have passed, and I am eagerly looking forward to another trip to South America, this time to the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador. Don’t ask me how we plan to pay for it. For now, I’m dreaming and planning. And will even welcome the snafus. Because every snafu we encountered in Peru became a funny memory. And our wonderful experiences more than made up for the few snafus. The snafus made it interesting.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Over and out!

Peru, Day 20: Taquille Island, Lake Titicaca

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Only two more posts of my travels in Peru! Those bored to tears can clap loudly. Those who have been enjoying the series can look forward to posts and piccies of Ecuador in a couple of years. At least, that’s the plan for now.

We left Amantani Island on Lake Titicaca on my dad’s birthday. We hadn’t slept well, because of the small bed, how cold it was, and me worrying whether I would have to get up to use the chamberpot (I didn’t have to, yay!). We met the other members of our tour group back at the boat and enjoyed a slow ride to Taquille Island.

Taquille Island has a very interesting culture. We didn’t get to see a lot of it, because there just didn’t happen to be a lot of people in the village square that day. But when you have a guide, well, they’re full of information.

The cool thing about Taquille Island is that the women make all the clothes that the men wear, they name the baby boys, and they dress the boys. The men make the women’s clothes, they name the baby girls, and they dress the girls. So every once in a while you’d see a guy walking by in traditional dress with a weaving thimble thingie hanging from his hand. They cart them around everywhere.

The women wear pom-poms on their skirts. If the woman has a problem, the pom-pom is worn on a certain side. We saw such a woman when a couple of women entered the square, and one group member asked about her. Because Tito the guide had told us that the community met in the square every Sunday to air out problems. Problems are not allowed to be discussed or resolved at any other time. So when our group asked about this woman wearing her pom-pom on the “I’ve Got a Problem” side of her skirt, Tito said her problem, whatever it was, would not be addressed or fixed until Sunday. It was Thursday. She still had half a week to go!

The men wear different styles of hats depending on if they’re single, or if they’re ready to start looking (some might start at a younger age). They flip bits of the hat about like body language. It was really interesting!

Halfway up the loooooooooooong walking path to the Taquille Island square. Steve and I had to stop several times to catch our breath. The only people behind us from our group were the mid-sixties couple from New Zealand along with Tito, our guide. They were birdwatching. We had no excuse other than everyone else in the group was under 40, and most were in their late twenties or early thirties. We managed nicely considering (and as long as we didn't compare ourselves to the Islanders!)

If you look way, way off in the distance of the above photo, you can glimpse a hint of Bolivia. The view of the Bolivian mountains was breathtaking, but don’t really show up in my photos. The view of Peru from the Island was ho-hum compared to the view of Bolivia.

Taquille Island was pretty upscale compared to Amantani Island, where we'd spent the night, or Uros (the floating islands). A typical hillside view as we hiked to the square.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sky as blue as I did when I was on Lake Titicaca. It was so beautiful! In the foreground of the above picture, you can see a woman carrying a load down the path.

The homes on Taquille, like on Amantani Island and other islands on Lake Titicaca, are built of adobe bricks (compiled of sand, clay, water, maybe even some straw or manure, depending what you have on hand and where you live). On our way up the very, very steep island, we happened to pass a man making adobe bricks. The pathway passed right by his yard. I jumped up on a rock to get the two following photos:

Taquille Island resident digging mud for adobe bricks.

Now they just have to bake in the sun, and he can continue building his house. Note the boy having a break up top!

I don’t know if those wooden frames beside the boy help to form the bricks or what. They look like the right size but they seem a lot bigger than the bricks to me. The man was so busy at work I wasn’t about to stop him and ask (also, I didn’t know the right Quechua words).

View of Peru from Taquille Island, a few steps from the restaurant where we had lunch (outside).

After lunch, we headed back down to the boat. A very loooooooooooong walk down huge stone steps. It was harder on the knees going down than it was going up, because the steps were so big. Don't ask me why people so short in stature build such huge steps!

Having reached the boat, we were pretty proud of ourselves. Then Steve noticed this old fellow, an Islander, carrying two FULL propane tanks UP the steps! I tell you, it's like visiting Switzerland and seeing signs that tell you how long it will take you to hike a mountain trail...depending if you're Swiss or North American (hint, we're much slower).

The boat ride back to Puno was very pleasant. We spent a lot of time talking to the older couple from New Zealand (of course, I remember where they’re from but not their names—isn’t that typical?). A girl from Taquille Island in traditional dress hitched a ride back with us on the boat to Puno. She sat in the same spot in a hot part of the boat (outside) the entire ride, and her skirt was heavy and dark. I felt sorry for her, because she must have felt a bit out of place with all these tourists. But I have an idea her ride didn’t cost her anything.

I would have loved to take her picture, but it felt intrusive at the time to ask and taking pictures of Islanders without their permission isn’t exactly known as the height of politeness.

Back in Puno, we attempted to settle into The Balsa Inn for the night (again, I would not recommend this little hotel, at least not based on our experience!). It was quite comical. We said we didn’t want the same room as the first night we stayed there, because 80% of the light bulbs were out, the toilet didn’t flush, and the showers were frigid. Plus, it had 3 beds, and we only needed one. So they put us in a room on a different floor with only one bed. There was a TV with a cord and cable dangling from it, but no place to plug it in. We let the shower run for 20 minutes and it didn’t warm up one iota. I don’t mind “camping”-style accommodations (no hot water, no showers or baths, etc.) when I’m doing something like the Amantani Homestay, but when I’m paying decent money for a hotel room that HAS a shower, yeah, I kinda want to be able to TAKE a shower without zapping myself back to the Ice Age.

We were tired and dirty and hungry. So we put our nasty pants on, called the front desk, and told them that this room would not do, and gave the reasons why. Within a few minutes, two fellows arrived, first one and then the other. The first attempted to get the shower to provide hot water, but it was still as cold as when they’d put us in the room. So they admitted they would have to change our room. And guess where they tried to put us? In the same room we’d stayed in our first night in Puno! The one without the light bulbs, the toilet that was iffy about flushing, and water only one degree warmer than the room with no hot water at all.

We pulled on a second pair of nasty pants, and I do believe My Liege muttered the word, “upgrade.” This seemed to work, because we were escorted to a room on the 5th floor with a shower that had—ta-da!—plenty of hot water! It had two beds, and it had a curtained off area with a desk. We were in the junior suite or somesuch. Lots of room to spread out our stuff and repack in anticipation of our trip back to Canada the next day, which would consist of four different flights.

Trip Tip! If you want hot water for one precious night, ask for the top floor of your Puno hotel. Apparently, the top floor gets it all.

You can imagine how much we were looking forward to flying four different planes in 24 hours! But it was time to go home. First, though, we had one more stop—on our way to the airport! Being as this is me we’re talking about, of course more snafus occurred.

I ask you, what fun is life without a few snafus?

Peru, Day 19: Amantani Homestay on Lake Titicaca

Monday, September 20th, 2010

After our visit to the floating islands, our group motored toward Amantani Island, where we broke into smaller groups for an overnight stay in the village of Colquecachi. Our “smaller group” was my husband and me. We stayed with a woman named Aurelia and her teenage son, Evan. They were wonderful hosts. Aurelia didn’t speak any English, and neither did Evan. Aurelia spoke Quechua and a handful of Spanish words (like amigo), while Evan spoke Quechua and some Spanish. My Liege had his trusty Latin American Spanish phrasebook out all the time, and we also had a cheat sheet of Quechua words that our guide Tito had taught us during the motorboat ride. Without this cheat sheet, we would have been lost.

I was nervous going into the homestay. We didn’t know if we would be assigned to a family that had done this hundreds of times or a first-time family. Later, we learned that some families had several members, whereas ours had just the two (Aurelia’s husband works in Puno). Some families have mosaic stonework in their courtyards, and we even heard of a family with a guestbook for the guests to sign. Some might have a little propane stove in the kitchen, which is essentially housed in a separate building. Others just cook over a fire. Aurelia cooked over a fire.

We walked uphill from the boat to the meeting point for the village, where we would be assigned to our hosting family. Passing by sheep on the way to the meeting point.

Aurelia's house, which was a short walk from the meeting point. The big building on the right forms the right side of the house. Our bedroom was the top floor of that building. It had three beds, so Aurelia could host up to six people if she wanted to. Three beds, a chamberpot, a table and a couple of small windows, and a candle. The candle was our only electricity.

We asked and were told that the room under our bedroom contained “nothing.” Which meant it might have been used for storage or was inhospitable. Our room had a steel door that separated it from Aurelia’s room, which was on the top floor of the little bit of blue you can see sticking out to the left of the rectangular building.

Evan lived on the ground floor underneath Aurelia’s room. He had roots and vegetables drying in his room. Vegetables were also drying in the courtyard.

The little building in the front, by the bush, was the kitchen. A gate contained the house and courtyard. Water came from a pump outside the courtyard. That was where we washed up. No showers, no hot water—unless you boil it.

The stairway to our room. Aurelia kept the door locked with a padlock if we weren't there. The little balcony extended to the entrance to her room, on the left.

You can see that at one time the adobe (mud) walls were covered with stucco. Most of the stucco and paint had chipped and worn off our host house. The courtyard had about 90% earth floor.

Two outhouses, but the green one was locked. They used some kind of gravity system for their plumbing. You used the toilet (which didn't have a lid or seat), then scooped water from a bucket inside the outhouse that would then "flush" the waste down the toilet. The more water you scooped into the toilet, the greater the "flush."

Aurelia cooking our lunch. Steve and I peeled small potatoes for this wonderful soup she made. The walls were adobe, with one open door and a little window. The roof was corrugated tin with multiple holes poked into it. The noon sun shone through the pinprick holes, and was very beautiful.

Aurelia’s “cupboards” were a pile of pots and dishes to the left of this picture. At one point, Steve examined the platter you can see on the floor beside Aurelia. But he didn’t put it back in the right place! He sure heard about that. Everything had its place. With such a confined space, it had to.

Inside the kitchen. I'm about four feet away from Aurelia.

Our guide Tito had warned us that the doorways to the kitchens were very short and likely used the corrugated iron. Such was the case at Aurelia’s house. We were warned not to forget to duck! Well, Steve went outside with Evan at some point to try and figure out some point of language, forgot to duck, and gashed his head on the doorway. For some reason, Evan, Aurelia and myself all thought this was hilarious. Meanwhile, Steve had blood rolling down his head. That’s what you get, gringo! Listen to instructions!

After our hearty lunch we began the loooooooooong hike up to the community hall. There were a couple of buildings and a soccer or basketball court (I can't remember!). The school itself was a walk downhill from Aurelia's. We were cautioned that at any time hiking the path up to the community center, we might come across sheep getting herded. And so we did. They didn't care how many humans were hiking up. They were coming down!

When Steve and I were first assigned to Aurelia’s house and realized it was about level with the meeting spot, we considered ourselves lucky. We didn’t have to hike up to our house! But we had to hike up to the community center, and, let me tell you, it was exhausting. We stopped to catch our breath on Lake Titicaca more than at any other place in Peru. And we weren’t the only ones. We met a mid-sixties couple from New Zealand who had hiked the Inca Trail with less effort than they expended on Lake Titicaca. They hiked to the community center but opted out of hiking to the top of the island to watch the sunset.

When we left Cusco for Puno and Lake Titicaca, I mistakenly thought my hiking days were behind me. Amantani Island is all uphill. There were two peaks we could hike to to catch the sunset, Pachutata (Father Earth) or Pachamama (Mother Earth). We chose Pachutata.

It was a long hike! At this point, M.L. and I were easily the oldest people in our group hiking to the top. That was our excuse for all our rest stops.

Sunset over Lake Titicaca.

More sunset. As soon as the sun went down, we had to skedaddle back to Aurelia's house. We knew she was making us dinner, and we didn't have a flashlight. Night fell very fast.

The hosting families had a set menu to offer. Steve and I basically ate what everyone else in our group was eating. Which was, essentially, a rehash of what we had at lunch. Not much time had passed between lunch and dinner, so we weren’t very hungry. Our hosts wanted to make sure we were full, so Aurelia made way too much. We ate as much as we could, but our little North American stomachs weren’t used to the starch-heavy meals.

Aurelia, Evan, and Steve.

After dinner, we were allowed time to rest. Then Aurelia showed up with some of her clothes for me to put on and some of her husband’s clothes for Steve to wear. Dressed in traditional clothing, we hiked up to the community center again! This time for a party. Dancing and drinking ensued. The villagers really get into the dancing, and at some point if you’re not finding yourself dragged around the floor in a huge group that feels like a twisting, twining snake, you’re missing all the fun.

Me at the community hall with our guide, Tito Castro.

Between all the hiking and dancing, we were once more exhausted. I’m convinced it’s impossible to rest in Peru. At least not during a Lake Titicaca homestay. They kept us running.

Eventually we made our way back down to Aurelia’s house. We knew the community hall was a fair hike when she wanted to stop to catch her breath almost as often as we did.

We went to bed early and rose to watch the sunrise. It was very cold. Remember I said no electricity. We brushed our teeth by the water pump outside the courtyard and went to bed wearing clothes and topped with 4 or 5 blankets.

The next morning, Day 20, Aurelia made us thin, crepe-like pancakes, then Evan accompanied us (downhill this time) to the boat and stayed with us until Tito arrived. We were the first guests back to the boat!

Meeting Aurelia and Evan was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Evan and Steve hit it off, Steve, as you know by now, not being afraid to make a fool of himself trying to communicate.

Eventually, the rest of our group arrived and we set off for our last stop on Lake Titicaca, Taquile Island. Our 25th anniversary journey to Peru was rapidly coming to an end, which filled us with joy in some aspsects (we couldn’t wait to taste American food again—and salad!!) and with sadness in others. Soon, we wouldn’t have experiences, only memories. But memories that will last us the rest of our lives. Which is the joy of travel.

Peru, Days 18-19: Puno, Lake Titicaca, and Uros Island

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Three weeks in Peru was perfect, considering this was the first major trip My Liege and I had taken without the kids in…ever. Two weeks would have been too short. Four weeks, and I fear I would have become too homesick. We might try four weeks next time, but three weeks for this trip was bang on the nose. Don’t tell my kids, but at this point I was worried more about the dog than them! I missed the dog more than them! I know that sounds awful. But the kids are 22 and 20 (19 for the youngest when we were in Peru), they have a great support network, and both have nice girlfriends. But were they looking after my baby dog’s needs? (well, she’s 8, but to me she’s a baby). And what about the channeling? Allie McBeagle, I discovered, couldn’t channel through me to express herself while I was in Peru. She tried once, and it came out sounding like a drunk Martian playing with a voice-changer. Allie was simply too far away for proper channeling to occur. If that doesn’t depress a channeler, no matter how amazing the spot she’s visiting, I don’t know what will.

Day 18 was a travel day. We spent the morning in the Cusco Plaza de Armas, practicing our “no, thanks” skills with the vendors. When who should we meet but the young woman named Nikki from Scotland who had done a Lima City Tour with us. My Liege recognized her accent when she tried enticing us to the restaurant run by the orphanage where she was volunteering. Yes, now people we actually knew were also hawking to us! We didn’t have time to visit the restaurant, or we would have. For Nikki, who had a funny fear of birds that endeared her to us. But we had to catch a shuttle to the airport and fly to Juliaca, the nearest town to Lake Titicaca with an airport.

I’m pretty sure the only reason anyone, or any tourist, I should say, goes to Juliaca is to get to Puno and therefore to Lake Titicaca. Large vans/small buses are waiting at the Juliaca airport to get you out of there as quickly as possible. Most guidebooks will tell you it’s not a place to hang around.

The bus dropped us off at The Balsa Inn. (By the way, I have no idea how old that picture is, but the Inn looked pretty dreary when we were there). We had booked our Lake Titicaca Homestay through GAP, the same company that put us in the 5-star hotels for Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Aguas Calientes, and the same company that booked us into a decent 3-star hotel in Nasca. Maybe it was just us (I’m pretty sure not), but The Balsa Inn sucked. I would not recommend it. My Liege and I ate that evening in a restaurant of another hotel just off the main square that would have done us much better. The Balsa Inn felt very 2-star to me. The next morning, we met another Canadian who had used the same tour company to book the place, and she felt the same way. We only had one night there before going onto Lake Titicaca, so we thought we’d just tough it out. After all, we’d stayed in worse places as students backpacking through Europe. But at this time of our lives, we expected more than to have 80% of the lightbulbs burned out in our room, that the toilet would have flushing problems, that there was zero hot water.

What the heck, we suffered through.

The next morning, we were picked up and taken to the harbor along with the Canadian girl from Toronto. The van picked up a lot of other people, and everyone but us and the Canadian girl had booked through various agencies. The commonality was a local company called Edgar Tours. Or maybe it was Edgar Adventures. Whoever it was, they did a good job. We had a great, knowledgeable guide named Tito Castro. And we quickly realized something.

Trip Tip! If you want to tour Lake Titicaca, don’t bother thinking you’re saving yourself time and aggravation by booking before you leave North America. The N.A. company will usually subcontract to a local firm like Edgar Adventures, and E.A. does such a decent job, why not hire them from the get-go? And for the nights you have to stay in Puno before and after Lake Titicaca? Do yourself a favor and avoid “three star” hotels. “Three stars,” in my experience, does not mean the same thing in Puno as it does in Cusco and Lima. See if you can find a four-star hotel instead. Or be prepared for more of a “hostel”-like stay.

Lake Titicaca sits between Peru and Bolivia and is the highest-elevation, navigable lake in the world. It is gorgeous! We had about 15-20 in our group and were motoring very slowly toward Uros, the Floating Islands.

The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca are now a part of “Peruvian Disneyland.” Everyone I spoke to who visited Uros, either with our group or not, enjoyed visiting the Floating Islands but felt it was “too commercial.” Well, tourists caused the commercialization. The fact remains that people really still live on the floating islands, except now they depend on tourism for a large portion of their income.

Our approach to Uros.

The islands are “floating,” because they are constructed of huge pieces of sod and reeds that are anchored to the lake bottom. Wikipedia has a good write-up. There are about 42 islands. The small houses are constructed of reeds, and the boats are made of reeds, as well (although they now use motorized boats if they wish). Some residents might never leave the islands, while others go to make a living in Puno and return now and again.

This isn't one big island. It's a number of islands hooked together. You can tie your island up to your neighbor's, or you can cut your island in half if you no longer wish to live on the same island as you mother-in-law (or so Tito told us!)

The reed boats last about 18 months. We took a ride in one, along with a bunch of other tourists (Peruvian Disneyland!).

When our tour boat stopped at one of the floating islands, gaily dressed women were there to show us how the islands were constructed, to entice us to buy their wares (I bought an embroidered pillowcase cover and a replica of a tiny reed boat), and to welcome us with open arms. They were extremely friendly.

When you walk onto the island, it feels a little like walking on a waterbed. Your foot sinks, and it takes a while to get the knack of it. Almost as soon as I stepped out of the area where the construction of the islands was explained to us, a Uros woman encouraged me to enter her “casa.” There, she dressed me in some of her clothes. My husband ducked in to find out what was going on, and he got dressed up like a little doll, too!

Our hostess's system of getting you into her house and dressing you up like dolls worked very well, because once you realized the women were selling their weaving, well, let's just say I felt indebted to buy off "my friend." It's not like I needed a pillow cover, either. I still haven't found a pillow to fit it.

We met more Canadians on our overnight tour of Lake Titicaca than anywhere else in Peru we visited. There were several, most from the Toronto area, in our tour group. Also, Americans, a friendly Colombian fellow named Daniel, some New Zealanders, and a girl with an English accent (where in England I could not tell you). Some were traveling together, having hooked up as traveling partners along the way. They’d stay together for a few days and then go on their separate ways again.

Why, it's a floating guinea pig! It's a little floating island of guinea pigs in the middle of the floating island. Isn't that cute? How sweet to build the guinea pigs their own shelter....

Make no doubt about it, these guinea pigs are fattening themselves up in preparation for...dinner. They are the main course. Mwahahaha.

A Uros woman. The women in the Puno area are more rotund than anywhere else we visited in Peru. It's pleasing to be round. In the city, the girls aspire to a Western idea of beauty. Not on the islands. This also explains why they wear so many skirts. The more skirts, the rounder the effect.

After Uros, we settled back into our Edgar Adventures tour boat and motored to Amatani Island, where we would stay overnight. We enjoyed sitting on top of the boat visiting with our compadres, and also Tito taught us several words in Quechua, the native Peruvian language. We needed to learn some Quechua on top of what little Spanish we’d acquired, because our homestay hosts weren’t guaranteed to know ANY Spanish. They definitely weren’t guaranteed to know any English. Thus began one of the most interesting and event-filled days and nights of my life!

(Sorry, for some reason, I can’t get the Comments function to work for this post).

Peru, Day 17: Tambomachay and Sacsayhuamán

Friday, September 10th, 2010

And two other sites along the way.

The day after our souvenir-buying spree, we decided to take a taxi to the furthest-from-Cusco of one of four ruins. It was only 9-11 kilometres away (depending who you ask). Surely we could walk back (one day of feeling good, and I get grand ideas).

Now, taxis in Peru can be irritating as all get-out, but when you want one, man, it’s there. Our first encounter with honking taxis was in Nasca, which doesn’t get anywhere as many tourists as Cusco. We couldn’t figure out WHY the taxis in Nasca were honking all the freaking time! Once we were in Cusco, we realized that every time a taxi sees a potential fare, they honk. The potential fare could be a person trying to flag them down (except I don’t think you ever have to flag down a taxi in Cusco, as they have such an eagle-eye on their surroundings), or a person walking down the street that may or may not look like a tourist. We learned to drown out the sound of the honking taxis. When we needed a taxi to drive us to Tambomachay, the honking suddenly didn’t seem so bad!

M.L. "giving perspective" by doing one of his goofy poses at Tambomachay, an ancient Inca ceremonial bath site.

The fountains still running with water. They were beautiful.

We climbed the hills across from the ceremonial baths. Way behind me, in the distance, you can glimpse the second ruin we visited this day, Puca Pucara. (No worries if you can't see it, a closer shot is coming).

While on the hill in the above photo, we noticed a cave above the ruins across the way. So of course M.L. had to climb up there, too. While trying to find the cave, we passed (or rather we were passed by) an old woman herding her cattle and donkeys. You can glimpse her hat just above the rear of the cow or steer or whatever it is. Something with horns.

We walked to Puca Pucara from Tambomachay. It was maybe 5 minutes away. "Easy-Peasy!" we thought. "No problem walking all the way back to Cusco." Of course, the little gasps of breath from being at 11,000 feet were already getting to us. But, other than a few tour vans, we saw—for once!—no taxis. Our taxi had left to find another fare after dropping us off at Tambomachay.

Puca Pucara (aka Pukapukara) is a small fortress that was probably used to store supplies or maybe as a guard post. No one really knows. It’s a nice spot to hang around awhile. However, then we had to walk (so our guidebook told us) 90 – 120 minutes to the next site closest to Cusco, Q’Enko. We tried to walk! We walked through a small village, but the altitude was wearing on us (and our wimpiness, I’m sure!). We made a pact that if a taxi drove by honking at us, we would stop him. And so we did! We hopped a taxi and caught a ride to what we thought was the entrance to the Q’Enko ruin. The sign said Q’Enko. But, basically, we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. We walked and walked and walked. Asked some directions off some musicians that had just popped out of their own taxi. They thought we were looking for something else entirely, or possibly they were just having fun at our expense. Finally, we realized we were on a dirt road amidst fields with nothing vaguely resembling an Incan site, except, lo and behold, there was a guy lounging against the fence beside a dozen horses. With our limited Spanish, we managed to get out of him that we had basically walked in the wrong direction. So we returned the way we’d come (after tipping the horse guy for his directions), waved to the guy who’d given us the wrong directions, then eventually found the back way into the Q’Enko ruins.

The Q’Enko ruins are a bunch of huge rocks that might have been used for ritual ceremonies and/or sacrifices. The big huge rocks create an interior “cave.” You can climb around inside the caves and imagine where blood might have flowed if your throat was cut in sacrifice.

Steve is one of the "caves" created by the huge rocks at Q'Enko.

After Q’Enko, we walked to Sacsayhuamán, a positively HUGE set of ruins that is still being excavated near Cusco. It was quite amazing. Sacsayhuamán is pronounced sort of like “saxywoman,” so a few times you’ll hear the joke “sexy woman.”

Peruvian children sliding down granite hills at Sacsayhuamán.

An massive site! A military fortress or religious temple? No one really knows. Apparently, it took nearly 100 years to build.

The zigzag shape of the walls reminded us of a huge snake.

That's ONE rock. We're all lovey-dovey to show the size perspective (okay, for other reasons, too).

Because Steve is instatiably curious, he just HAD to stick his camera into one of the carved drains in the huge rock walls. So you're not looking at the inside of an elephant's trunk or someone's intestines, I assure you.

Steve at Sacsayhuamán.

You can catch great views of Cusco from the hills around these ruins. There’s also a giant white statue of Christ a fair hike away. I just could not handle another uphill hike at 11,000 – 12,000 feet above sea level, so we hired a pretty beat-up looking taxi with a young driver to take us to the Christo Blanco, then wait there while we had a look, then drive us back to Cusco.

If you’re old enough to have ever watched an epsiode of The Streets of San Francisco, that’s what our drive back to Cusco felt like, a car chase through those streets! Especially once we reached the city. Because we’d asked him to drive us to the Plaza de Armas. To do that, he had to drive down narrow, steep streets, dodging tourists and vendors. But we survived. This was the last night we spent in Cusco. A well-deserved “rest,” if you can call it that, after all our hiking at Machu Picchu.

We were finished the 3rd leg of our 4-leg trip. Next stop, Lake Titicaca near Puno! 

Peru, Day 15 -16: Free Time in Cusco

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Our train trip from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco was uneventful. It took a few stops and transfers to accommodate route changes as a result of the 2010 flooding, but we made it back to our tour hotel for one final night without incident. Unless you count my health. Everything came to a head that rest day back in Cusco, and I’m sure the return to an 11,000 foot altitude didn’t help. I basically laid in bed for the rest of the day. I do believe we emerged at some point to visit the bar and get some snacks there. I had a little pizza that was pretty tasty, but My Liege had an awesome spicy beef appetizer. Oh, yeah, sure, the first time he orders beef and I don’t it’s amazing. I wanted to eat all of his appetizer and let him have my pizza, but he didn’t go for it.

The next morning we changed hotels. I was a little nervous about the switch, because we’d been in 5-star hotels since first arriving in Cusco, and all through the Sacred Valley and Aguas Calientes, and because those hotels came with the tour we’d booked I could blame any dissatisfaction on the tour company. Not so easy to do when you’ve scoured the Internet and hotel review sites and booked the hotel yourself. And we were dropping down to three stars. Well, I tell you, it was a fantabulous change. We stayed at the Hotel Rumi Punku on an obscure street with a difficult-to-pronounce name. The street was nothing to write home about. Narrow, with construction or more probably renovations going on across the road. In Cusco, when they’re renovating or simply don’t want you to see what’s going on on the other side of the street, they cover the building in question with huge sheets of corrugated tin. So, a narrow street, and the door to our hotel was quite literally a hole in the wall. But! A hole in a wall that still had original Inca stonework. And, like most “a hole in the wall” places in Cusco, the entrance opened up into a beautiful little hotel with multiple courtyards, a very pleasant staff, and a decent breakfast.

The Hotel Rumi Punki. Three stars, but I far preferred it to the 5 star hotel we'd just come from. It didn't have a restaurant (although breakfast is served), but restaurants abound in the area, and for the difference in price, the savings we incurred, it was definitely a worthwhile move. When I booked, I went "all out" and asked for a king-sized bed. We had a fantastic, new-looking bathroom that never lacked for hot water.

Our room was very quiet, but we did have some noise. Like what sounded like very loud firecrackers going off early in the morning. It was nearing the end of May, and some festival or another was rapidly approaching. Wake up, wake up! We didn’t mind.

We had two free days in Cusco where we intended to just relax and do some touring on our own. The first thing we did was an Inca Stone Walking Tour. We had a map (without a listed route, we just flew by the seat of our pants) and our Frommer’s Peru (recommended), and off we went. We discovered this one amazing street filled with Inca walls. M.L got in trouble for nearly touching one of the stones! We realized a little policeman was stationed across the narrow street solely to blow his whistle at people like my dh.

After the whistle-blowing, M.L. behaved. We saw many amazing rocks in this wall. All tight Inca construction with Spanish buildings on top. The conquistadors recognized good foundations when they saw them. No reason to destroy the Inca foundations, just the Inca buildings.

Before heading out on our walking tour, we scoured laundries around the Hotel Rumi Punku and negotiated a fantastic rate from a pleasant young woman who delivered our laundry back to us exactly when she said she would (well, we had to pick it up from her). Laundry facilities abound in Cusco. You just have to do some exploring and decide if you want your stuff handwashed and hung to dry, or you prefer machines. We wanted machines. We liked our girl so much that we stopped her from negotiating her price down, down, down and I think we even gave her a sucker (we’d discovered these cherry suckers with gum in the middle called Globbopops, and we consumed them by the bagful. They really helped with the after-effects of my health issues, which were rapidly slowing, I’m pleased to report).

We stumbled upon this celebration in the Plaza de Armas. When the cause exists, they'll take one of their statues out of a church and parade it around. We had no clue why they were doing this today, but it was fun to watch.

For some reason, this marching band in the parade felt compelled to spray shaving cream on the crowd.

My camera card had filled up, so I went and sat on a park bench to change it while M.L. hung around the parade. I sat on a bench with room for three people, but an old woman working her worry beads was already there. I assumed when I sat it would just be her and me. Within minutes, an elderly gentleman showed up. I thought he was with her. But when he sat down, he began talking to me. In Spanish. We did pretty good, considering M.L. had the phrasebook and I was just getting by on the few words I’d learned our, so far, 2.5 weeks there. I learned the man’s name was Ernesto and that he lived in the mountains and had come to Cusco for whatever celebration was occurring or would occur soon. Later, I introduced him to M.L., who felt bereft that we didn’t get a picture of me with this friendly old guy. But I’d rather have the conversation than the picture. It was the highlight of my day.

Two main churches are on the Plaza de Armas. Shops and restaurants circle the square as well. I don't think I ever got a shot of the big cathedral we toured together, but I walked through this church on my own while M.L. rested in the square. I love the dark clouds hovering in the background. I told M.L. it was the ghosts of the Conquistadors.

You could climb the bell tower and wave out at the crowds. M.L. told me he would watch for me. So there I am, waving and waving and waving, while he's chatting up a Spanish woman sitting with him on his bench! I was nearly ready to climb back down when he finally saw me and snapped a few piccies. Men!

After a day of shopping for souvenirs, I was becoming more and more accustomed to "Peruvian Disneyland," so I did something I swore I would not do. I paid to have my picture taken with these two girls and the sweet little lambs. They said I could pay whatever I felt was right, but after I paid them, they immediately asked for more! It was all smiles and chuckles. Of course they want to get as much as they can. This is their job, walking around asking tourists if they want their picture taken. The least I could do was oblige once!

Peru, Day 14, Part II: Cindiana Jones

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Machu Picchu deserves two full days of pictures and anecdotes. I went skinny on the anecdotes on Monday because, really, the pictures say it all. But today I’ll introduce you to…Cindiana Jones! That’s what I felt like exploring the Inca sanctuary/citadel that was once considered the “Lost City of the Incas.” (Today, other less-accessible sites are more likely to claim the title). We had a full day at Machu Picchu, and we intended to make the most of it. Like I mentioned in a previous post, we had dreams of arriving at Machu Picchu early enough to make it into one of the two groups (200 people each at 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.) to climb Huayna Pichhu, the mountain in the background of the most famous of Machu Picchu photos (like mine—see back to this post). (Well, I guess I can’t claim my pictures are famous, but the view is!) We spoke to our guide about it the night before (which was torrential-downpourish). He pretty much talked us out of it, in that it became very evident very quickly that he did not want to meet us at 4 a.m. and get a taxi or whatever to the gates to wait in line and claim our spots to climb Huayna Picchu. He told us that the “sunrise” that everyone always wants to see at Machu Picchu didn’t occur until 7 a.m. anyway. The sun rose long before 7 a.m., but not in the specific area to which he referred. Oh, well, it was cloudy anyway. But not rainy. We couldn’t figure out why the GAP representative (the tour company we used) who met us in Lima before we flew to Cuzco told us to let our guide know we wanted to climb the mountain and he would make it happen told us that—and then he didn’t. Initially, we weren’t very impressed with him because of that. He made up for it by providing us with an excellent tour of Machu Picchu. And considering how exhausted I was (not being in the best health at this point) after eight hours of climbing all over the terraces, I can’t imagine how worn out I would have become climbing Huayna Picchu. But a part of me will always be a little disappointed that our guide did not present the opportunity to us, especially after we asked.

Yes, I’m whining. I couldn’t climb Huayna Picchu, so I snapped my zoom lens onto my camera and shot this close-up instead:

Yes, that could have been me huffing and puffing my way up the mountain. But it wasn't. Instead, I made do with other explorations.

Moi in the quarry. Machu Picchu wasn't finished when the Spanish conquistadors showed up, so these huge boulders are still waiting to get carved into more amazing structures.

There are llamas all over Machu Picchu. If you have llamas, you don't need lawnmowers. The llamas ARE the lawnmowers.

Our guide told us there were plenty of places we could hike to at Machu Picchu instead of Huayna Picchu. One hike was to the reconstruction of the Inca Bridge. That's what Pte. Inca means. "Inca Bridge."

I slapped on my zoom lens again so I could take close-ups. I took this picture on the trail to the Inca Bridge. You can see the reconstructed wooden bridge built off a sheer cliff face. I swear it was like over 1000 feet down if you fell. And I'm afraid of heights! Before our guide left us to mosey around Machu Picchu on our own, he assured me that the path to the Inca Bridge lookout point had "walls." Uh huh. Um, yeah.

If you google Inca Bridge, you’ll find that there are two types of such structures, one being a rope bridge and the other, as shown above, being a trunk bridge. This bridge was another route into Machu Picchu. Why not just continue the path, you ask? Why leave a gap for a bridge? Because, if you have a trunk (as in tree trunks) bridge, you can easily destroy it. Comes in handy when your enemies are chasing you.

Before we could walk the path to the Inca Bridge look-out (there was a wimpy wood gate preventing you from going any further. IOW, no one actually gets to walk on the bridge anymore), we had to sign a guestbook of sorts. Why do you think that is? We were assured that “tourists never fall off the cliff.” Yet you need to sign the book before you continue on (unless the guy at the desk isn’t there; then you might not realize you need to sign the book). You sign when you enter the path and you sign when you successfully emerge again. If you don’t “sign out,” what does that mean? Are you camping on the narrow path? Have you Cindiana-Jonesed your way across the bridge? Or have you taken a tumble down a 1900-foot cliff? (I just googled the height). I’ll let YOU decide. 

Yeah, that wall really extends all the way to the look-out point for the Inca Bridge! Um, not. We reached a very scary portion of the path (for the height-impaired, at any rate.) There I was, paralyzed by fear while the dh went forth without me. The path narrows right after the point where he took this picture. I swear, it couldn't have been more than eighteen inches wide. With no wall! Although there was a cable of sorts hooked into the curved rock that you could hang onto to get around the corner.

So there I stood while other people passed me by. Moments passed. Moments and minutes and more moments passed. Finally, M.L. returned. “Cindy, you just gotta see this!” Something to that effect emerged from his mouth. Lucky for him, I had already decided that I had to conquer my fear. I finally conquered my fear of roller coasters that flip you upside-down while chaperoning Youngest Son’s band trip to Disneyland years ago. I could do this! So when M.L. returned, I agreed. I would do it. But no way could I have done it without his help.

He took my daypack from me, wearing his on his back and mine on his front. Then he went ahead of me and held my right hand with his left while I gripped the rope-cable thingy with my left hand and stared at the cliff the rope-cable thingy was stuck into with my left eye. My right eye was closed, because there was zero wall at that point and if I had ANY chance of seeing how far up I was, I knew I’d get vertigo and destroy myself.

But I made it! Cindiana Jones!

Evidence that I made it. Rosy-cheeked evidence, LOL. The red cheeks are from physical exertion and sheer fear! I always get very red cheeks from exercise, and M.L. and I had been hiking around for a fair while.

Someone else took the above picture. No way was I attempting self-portraiture with only that little fence to protect us from falling onto/entering the rest of the path to the bridge.

Can you see how skinny the path is beyond the look-out point? Those Incas were crazy!

A close-up of the reconstructed bridge. I'm pretty sure M.L. would have tried it if he were allowed. He's crazy that way. I'm not!

On the way back, M.L. still carried both daypacks and went in front of me again. This time he held onto my left hand while I gripped the rope-cable thingy with my right. My LEFT eye was closed (the eye closest to the drop-off cliff) while my right eye was firmly glued to the rock the rope-cable thingy was sunk into.

While climbing around the less frequently visited parts of the ruins, M.L. discovered this amazing animal. He'd never seen anything like it. I wasn't with him when he found it, but he insisted I had to go back with him. We kept approaching this strange creature, part rabbit, part squirrel, getting closer and closer while M.L. took pictures. Another tourist, an American, was as enthralled as we were. He took tons of pictures, too. Later, we discovered the animal isn't a rarity, after all. It's a chinchilla!


On our way out of Machu Picchu for the day, M.L. "encouraged" me to pet a llama. By this point, we'd walked around the ruins completely at least twice, leaving the gates to eat lunch and visit the bathroom (you had to pay for toilet paper), and then entering again. We fell asleep that night utterly exhausted.

Out of everywhere we went in Peru, Machu Picchu is the one spot I would consider visiting again. Not because I didn’t enjoy the other places, like Nasca and Huancayo and Lake Titicaca, but because it’s a lot easier to get to than the 3 others. Well, I could be convinced to take the train to Huancayo again. However, other train rides occur in other parts of South America, like the Devil’s Nose in Ecuador, so I probably wouldn’t duplicate the train to Huancayo again. The only thing that would bother me about returning to Machu Picchu is that I don’t know if seeing the ruins a second time would have the same effect as the first. But if we were traveling with friends and they insisted we make that one stop again with them, I could be convinced. It was that beautiful and surreal.

I loved it!

Peru, Day 14: Machu Picchu

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Finally, I’m back to posting about Peru! My apologies to those who were following my anecdotes and pictures only to get left hanging as soon as My Liege and I reached Machu Picchu. If you need a refresher, here’s a link to my last post on the subject. If you’d like to follow our travels from the beginning, check out the sidebar and then scroll dowwwwwwn, way dowwwwwwwwwwn (and I’ll call Rusty—sorry, Canadian childhood reference) to “Categories” and then click on “Peru 2010.” That will take you to the Archives for all the Peru posts. Or be lazy and click this link to get to the first Peru post.

For a quick primer on Machu Picchu, check out Wikipedia. I have so many piccies, I’m concentrating on those.

Above, an overview of the terraces and residential sections (minus roofs). See those triangle-shaped peaks? Thatched roofs went on top.

One of the coolest things about Machu Picchu is the fog that rolls and wisps around the site, literally almost like a live thing. It took my breath away. You can see it here just starting to creep in on the right.

The fog reminded me of a cat. Slinking in, then slinking out again. It moved fast!

The clouds and mist swooping over the panoramic view of Huayna Picchu, the biggest peak on the Machu Picchu site.

See what I mean? It was just surreal. One minute there, the next gone again.

The view from inside a bedroom for a very important person. I think it was for a princess, when she visited the sanctuary. Her bed was carved out of rock, and this was the view that greeted her when she woke in the morning.

Steve on the right by the "crappy" Inca wall, and our guide, Wilmington, on the left by the "good" Inca wall. Why such perfect construction on the left and not-as-stellar construction on the right? Because nobility and royalty either lived in the rooms walled in on the left, or the buildings were used for ceremonial purposes. The wall on the right was either "just" a wall or a wall for a building without ceremonial or religious purposes. In Machu Piccu, wall construction = status.

More excellent Inca construction, and an example of the thatched roofs (not an original roof, of course!)

In the mood for a little human sacrifice? Step inside!

Close-up of wall construction shown in previous photo. Isn't that crazy?

Peru, Days 13-14: We Get in Hot Water En Route to Machu Picchu

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Aguas Calientes, that is.

Ha ha, I’m so clever! (Not.)

Aguas Calientes is also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, which basically means “town of Machu Picchu.” On Day 13 of our travels, we woke at our hotel in the Sacred Valley eager to get to the train that would take us to Machu Picchu. We had decided against hiking the Inca Trail. We’d actually decided this a year earlier while researching our trip. You can’t just decide to hike the Inca Trail on the spur of the moment, because it’s not something you can do on your own. You need to go on an organized tour, and only a certain number of people are allowed to begin the trek each day. Also, hiking the Inca Trail takes 3-5 days. That would have consumed a big chunk out of our 3 weeks. We most definitely would have been forced to chuck one of the four legs of our trip. I asked the DH during planning, and he didn’t seem to care about doing the trek. I cared. I didn’t want to do it! We were in a bad car accident 19 years ago this summer, and I’ve suffered neck and back and hip problems since. Honestly, I recovered from the car accident long ago. I didn’t have therapy of any kind for a solid year. But then I started writing consistently…and of course I aged (it’s a curse). I presently go to massage therapy every other week so I can do things like paint the deck and run with the dog and work at a computer. I couldn’t imagine hiking the Inca trail without my very own personal massage therapist!

Pre-car accident, I would have done it. However, I was younger than 30 pre-car accident, too. I like to think that pre-40 I would have wanted to hike the trail, too. But who am I kidding? I’m not an athlete! And I thought that people carried their own packs on the trail. They don’t. Peruvian porters carry the tents and food, etc. The porters set up camp and cook for you. The trekkers carry their cameras or whatever else they want in small day packs. Typicaly, in Canada, this is not one’s idea of “hiking” a trail. Or so we liked to tell ourselves whenever we overheard others congratulating themselves on making the trek. Oh, yeah, carry your own stuff instead of making some little Peruvian guy do it and THEN we’ll talk. (Yeah, I know, sour grapes, because I’m decrepit).

We met many people in Peru who had hiked the Inca Trail, including a couple in their 60s. Cusco is at about 11,000 feet elevation. However, Machu Picchu is at about 8000 feet elevation. The trek goes up and down, up and down, and then you finally emerge with (if you want) a dawn view of Machu Picchu. However, watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu can also be tricky…because there are so many clouds drifting around the sanctuary. More on that in a bit.

The train to Machu Picchu takes about 90 minutes. The train crawls! It crawls because the scenery is so spectacular. It’s hard to take good scenery pictures out a train window, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Because of the floods earlier this year, the train to Machu Picchu started further up the line than normal (they were still repairing the rails). At one time, it ran out of Cusco. In the mid-Seventies, my parents took the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. But now it’s faster to bus tourists to the train start point.

We were picked up at our hotel and driven to a shuttle bus in the new part 0f Ollantaytambo. The shuttle bus took us to the train station. From there, we caught the train.

The river that flooded early in the year, view from the train station. When our train was ready, we walked down to where you can see folks walking on the road. This was also where you could watch the porters and trekkers start out on their Inca Trail treks.

Looking out the window of our train. Repairs from flood damage were still occurring. We saw many stretches of broken tracks before we boarded the train as well.

One of the many ruins we passed during the train ride to Aguas Calientes. Honestly, there are so many, it's feels like they're in some people's back yards.

We reached Aguas Calientes without incident (no surprise floods!) and settled into our hotel, the very delightful Inkaterra Hotel. This place was like something out of Swiss Family Robinson. It was gorgeous. We had a very private room, the grounds were expansive, with a good restaurant (meals included, but not drinks), and birds and flora and fauna abounded. Honestly, we could not have afforded to stay at the Inkaterra if not for our tour, which included 5-star hotels (better price through a tour). Every other hotel we stayed in on this tour—in Lima, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley—was part of the Casa Andina Private Collection chain. That chain was…okay. The hotels themselves were very, very nice. But our rooms were the, um, bottom of the scale, shall we say, for 5-star hotels. I wouldn’t call the rooms themselves anything special. Except for at the Inkaterra. It was like a little piece of paradise to return to after a long day of walking around Machu Picchu (we did 8 hours of nearly solid walking).

Our room at the Inkaterra hotel in Aguas Calientes. I slept well that night!

We had no idea that meals were included in the hotel cost when we arrived, so that was a pleasant surprise. As I’ve mentioned, drinks aren’t included, and if you’re a big drinker, you gotta watch out. Because when you check out of the Inkaterra, they tack on a hefty “donation” for the upkeep of the birds (which, honestly, could fly away if they wanted) and flora and fauna. The “donation” is a percentage of whatever you spent on booze and wine. The “donation” is voluntary, but you don’t know that if you don’t ask. If you receive your bill and are the type to just pay it without reading the fine print, you might think there’s no way out of this rather hefty surcharge. There is. You can choose not to donate…and feel like a cheapskate. We chose not to donate, because we had been leaving very nice tips and didn’t realize tipping wasn’t expected. We donated to our waiters instead of the birds and flora and fauna. I know, we’re bad.

To be honest, we gave the hotel a little extra. But not the 25% or whatever it was they tacked onto your bar bill.

I’m sure you can find your own Trip Tip! in there somewhere. I don’t have to spell it out for you, do I? Oh, all right.

Trip Tip! Read the fine print. Ask for translation of the fine print if necessary. Go ahead and feel like a cheapskate if you’re not comfortable with the fine print. It’s okay!

After a very nice lunch, we rested and then walked into Aguas Calientes. It started to rain. It rained and rained. It rained like Oregon-coast rain. Yes, we were in the rain forest. It was pretty hard to miss. We were told that the rain was “unusual” for the time of year (3rd week of May). We did get a teensy depressed that our visit to Machu Picchu the following morning would be marred by rain. We borrowed umbrellas from the hotel and went to bed telling ourselves that at least we could check out the amazing Inca drainage systems (except we’d already checked them out at Ollantaytambo).

We had a meeting at around 7 in the evening with our guide. We told him we wanted to go to Machu Picchu early, so we could watch the sunrise. He assured us that the sun rise didn’t occur until 7 a.m., and besides, the first bus to Machu Picchu didn’t leave until 6 a.m. Truth be told, you can watch the sun rise earlier over Machu Picchu (just not in the specific location to which our guide was referring), but you had to be standing in line at the gates at something like 4 a.m. for the privilege. If you wanted to hike Huayna Picchu, the famous peak you’ll see in the photos below, you also had to line up at 4 a.m. When my parents visited Machu Picchu in the mid-Seventies, you didn’t have to get up at 4 a.m. and you didn’t have to stand in line. That’s because you were one of a handful of people there. Now, in high season (which was just coming up, luckily we missed it), there’s something like 3000 tourists a day. Peruvian Disneyland!

The road the 6:30 a.m. bus traveled to get us to the gates of Machu Picchu. You can walk the road at 4 a.m. if you're a keener. That way, you can get in the line to climb Huayna Picchu. Only two groups of people are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu each day. The first group of 200 starts the hike at 7 a.m. and the second group of 200 starts at 10:00 a.m.

By the time we arrived at the gates to Machu Picchu (where you could show your passport and get a stamp, which made it feel even more like Peruvian Disneyland, but who cares?), the two groups had already been filled. We were a bit surprised to learn this…even though I’d been told by friends and had read about it. We’d hoped to be part of the 10 a.m. group allowed to hike Huayna Picchu and felt that our guide had fed us a bit of erroneous information, because his idea of “sunrise” and OUR idea of “sunrise” (i.e. it’s dark and then the sun rises) were two different things. HIS idea of sunrise was the sun had already arisen but hadn’t risen over a specific point at Machu Picchu. At first we figured the guy just didn’t want to get up at 4 a.m. to accompany us. In retrospect, he didn’t want to walk up that road that we traveled by bus! And I can’t say that I blame him.

But guess what? It wasn’t raining! It had started raining two or three days before we arrived in Aguas Calientes. We didn’t have a hot day at Machu Picchu, but we didn’t have a rainy, either. Considering we thoroughly explored the place for 8 hours with a very short lunch break (we had the guide for 2 hours and the rest we did on our own), we had the perfect weather. And the clouds were covering the guide’s version of the “sunrise,” anyway. So there. Even if we’d hiked up to the gates at 4 a.m., there was no sun to watch rise!

The "postcard" view of Machu Picchu. The peak in the background is Huayna Picchu. Considering I was just beginning to recover from my health issues, it's probably a very good thing I didn't get to the gates early enough to line up to climb it! As it was, we had to climb tons of steps to get to this point.

Here's another of Steve, just because he's cute.

Another way to ensure you’re at Machu Picchu early is to stay at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. It’s right outside the gates. It’s VERY expensive, and, honestly, with the number of tourists hanging around outside the Lodge (at the gates) all day long, I’m not sure how pleasant your stay would be. I’ve since talked to another writer who did stay at the Sanctuary Lodge specifically so she and her husband could watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu. But! The clouds covered the sun.

I’d stay at the Inkaterra and take the bus up the winding road again in a Peruvian minute.

Tons of pictures! But this post is way too long. We’ll get back to it next week. Adios!