PANORAMIC PERU 2006
September 22 – October 8
Harold and Karen Greig
John and Barbara Wise
Guides: Carlos Lazo and Marco Palomino
Friday, September 22. TRAVELING
After driving up I-5 to the Portland Orrs, on Thursday afternoon, we spent a fitful night trying to get some sleep, but mostly we just dreamed about the adventure to come. The alarm went off at 4:00AM, and we hurriedly dressed and Randy made a magnificent effort to get up and get us to the airport, just ten minutes from their house. When we arrived at the airport at 4:30, we noticed that the Delta check in desk was dark and deserted. It was then that we noticed that our original flight had been cancelled, and that our new flight was to leave an hour later. So, we were at the airport an hour earlier than needed. It didn’t matter much, as we were too excited to sleep anyway. Eventually, the Delta desk opened, we were the first ones in line, and we successfully moved through immigration and security and boarded Delta Flight #1683 and were speeding through the skies to Atlanta, Georgia.
Since the flight left on time, we made a very smooth, but long flight to Atlanta, arriving around lunch time. There, we were faced with the immense complexity of the overwhelming W.B Hartsfield airport. After grabbing a quick sandwich at the airport Wendy’s, we walked to the airport subway system that rapidly transports passengers to distant concourses. We managed to get ourselves to the proper international gate, and soon we were checked into Delta flight #335 and flying on to Lima, Peru.
After a grueling set of flights that included four and a half hour from Portland to Atlanta, and a very long six and a half hour flight down the west coast of South America, we arrived at Lima, descended through the fog and landed at J. Chavez airport. It was just after midnight, and the airport was in incredible chaos, with many hundreds of passengers filling the airport and trying to work their way through customs and immigration. We followed the crowds, and eventually worked our way through the maze of checkpoints. We sweated out the usual apprehensive baggage arrivals, but they all arrived safely! As we walked towards the exits of the airport, we encountered hundreds of taxi and transport drivers aggressively yelling at us, and trying to get us to hire them. Fortunately, we quickly spotted our transport driver holding an Adventure Life sign with “Harold and Karen Greig” written on it. It was a very welcome sight! Our transport driver helped us get our bags into his van, and quickly we were driven away from the mad scene of the airport, and into the late Friday evening mad scene that constituted downtown Lima. . We couldn’t believe that we were actually in South America!
The rough streets of Lima were still alive with action at 12:30 AM as we raced through the perilous traffic, dodging cars and busses that seemed to pay no attention to stop signs, lanes or stop lights. Fortunately, our driver understood some English, and was able to carry on polite conversation with us as we nervously rode along. Eventually, the surroundings became decidedly more upscale, and we realized that we were entering Miraflores. Soon we were at the Carmel Hotel, checking in and collapsing in our room. It was almost 1:00AM, and it had been a very tough day of traveling. Before retiring, we tried a couple of bottles of chincha, the popular Peruvian corn beer that was stocked in the hotel minibar.
Saturday, September 23, MIRAFLORES
We were too excited to sleep much past 6:00am, so we got up, showered and went downstairs to the hotel restaurant. There, we ate our first continental breakfast at the Carmel Hotel, sampling for the first time quinoa the high-protein grain that is a Peruvian staple. We also tried chincha morada, a juice made from purple corn. It was not too flavorful. The hotel brought a money changer to the restaurant, and we exchanged some dollars for Nuevo Soles, the common currency of Peru that exchanges at 3.2 Soles for each American dollar. I then used the hotel computer to send an email to our family and friends. We were astounded to find that in a country with such limited resources, that they were so technologically advanced on the internet. There was no problem in connecting on the internet anywhere in Peru.
After breakfast, we explored the streets of Miraflores, the very upscale and modern section of Lima. We have to admit that we were nervous for a few minutes as we mingled with the natives who were energetically going about the start of their Saturday morning. Before long, we lost our fear and started enjoying the tremendous buzz of this nicer part of Lima. Along the way, we purchased some watercolors paintings from a local sidewalk artist, who had trouble changing our $20 Sole bill, and had to run down the block to get change from a friend. This was a problem we were to encounter throughout Peru. Even though 20 Soles is only about 7 US dollars, most merchants have trouble exchanging it because of the poor economy. Wandering far and wide, after some time we strayed beyond the boundaries of Miraflores, and entered an area with a dark energy. There we found ourselves close to a funky looking local market, and decided to explore it. However, a nicely dressed, middle-aged business man approached us and told us in Spanish that we were going into a very bad area, and we would lose our wallets and camera because it was an area replete with pickpockets and thieves. When we gave him puzzled looks, he quickly switched to English and told us that he just could not let us go in there. He was genuinely concerned, and we appreciated being saved by this local from entering a bad area. So, we gave it a cursory exploration and got the heck out of there. We felt very thankful that this nice Limeño citizen would b e so helpful. As we walked through Miraflores, we were amazed at the captivating women with beautiful hair, big dark eyes and lithe bodies, as well as the handsome, curly-haired charming men-what a beautiful race of people!
In the early afternoon we returned to the hotel lobby and had our first meeting with Carlos Lazo, our first Adventure Life guide. Carlos walked into the lobby, looked at me and said: “Look! We’re twins!” This was because we were dressed in similar fashion, and were wearing our Adventure Life hats. Later in the tour, I was to realize that this statement was more accurate than I could have imagined. Carlos and I were certainly “simpatico” in many areas! A few minutes after meeting Carlos, we met Jon and Barbara Wise, who were to be our traveling companions for the tour. Jon is 58, and recently retired from his job as a transportation planner. Barbara is 53, and is still working as a nurse practitioner. They live in Glenwood, Maryland and have three grown children. We all realized right away that we thought alike in terms of politics and world views. This made for a very pleasant companionship throughout the trip.
LIMA TO PISCO
Carlos took us to the bus station where we first sampled Inka Cola, the favorite soft drink of Peru. It is a lot like Mountain Dew. Soon after that, we boarded an Ormeño bus for our trip from Lima to Pisco. An attractive girl from Madrid sat by Carlos on the bus and shared filberts with us as we traveled along the Panamericana Sur-coastal freeway running to the south. We saw political slogans painted on numerous buildings in Lima, and throughout our Peruvian tour. Carlos said that they were nearing elections in Peru, and the politicians were in high gear. We learned that the Spanish word alcalde, means “mayor” in English. Evidently, numerous people were running for that position, as we saw it painted on buildings everywhere. We noticed many Pecsa Peruvian gas stations as we left Lima. Many abandoned high-rise apartments with hundreds of windows broken out were situated on the outskirts of Lima, as the tenants had been unable to afford the rents. We quickly encountered the first of many peajes, the Spanish word for "tollbooth". There we paid our small fee and drove on. Ripening cotton fields dotted the landscapes, and we saw cattle living with squatters in their houses. Many large chicken farms were scattered along the highway, and pumpkin fields and palm trees lined the roads. Farther outside Lima, we saw slums established on high sand hills with steep stairs leading up to them. Carlos mentioned that the squatters had to carry their water up those many steep stairs from long distances. These settlements were occupied by squatters who placed a Peruvian flag to claim their spot. These slums all had names like “Nuevo Lima,” and were more or less tolerated by the local governments. Carlos mentioned that the first relatively strong earthquake would bring all of these settlements crashing down. As we traveled along the highway, we saw sticker bushes placed on back of trucks to deter robbers from climbing up the backs of the trucks to steal goods as the trucks slowed down on steep grades. As we passed through the town of Chincha, Carlos mentioned it was a town with many black people, but he said that more Asian people were brought to Peru as slaves than blacks.
After three and a half hours on the bus, we were glad to arrive in the late afternoon and stretch our legs by walking the streets of colorful Pisco, our first road town. After we checked in and settled into our first hotel, the Posada Hispana, we moved to the upstairs restaurant where we enjoyed a memorable first supper that included Pescada Putanesca (sea bass with Putenesca sauce). As we watched the attractive waitress in the Posada Hispana flirt with Carlos, we noticed that he had the ability to attract beautiful woman of all ages wherever he went. We were becoming more and more aware of the need to speak Spanish, as English speakers were far and few between. Before dinner, we had our chance to first experience the Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru. It did not disappoint! It is a special type of brandy made from clear grape alcohol, beaten egg whites, lemon juice, sugar syrup and a touch of Angostura bitters. Jon Wise colorfully said: “It will knock you on your ass!” As we sampled our first typical Peruvian dishes we learned that Peruvian “papas fritas” are the best french fries in the world! We also noticed that Peruvian food is always served with both potatoes and rice. An excellent pipe band was playing authentic Peruvian music nearby as we finished dinner, adding to the festive air. When we recognized El Condor Pasa being played by the band, we mentioned to Carlos that it was unusual hearing a song by Paul Simon in Peru. We were surprised to learn that El Condor Pasa is actually a Peruvian folk song that Paul Simon “borrowed” to make his big hit. We heard this song everywhere we traveled, and came to consider it the unofficial “national anthem” of Peru. After dinner, Karen had a fascinating discussion with Carlos about our visit with the Peruvian Healer in Eugene, thus quickly cementing a strong bond between her and Carlos. After two Pisco Sours, we all barely managed to stagger back to our room after a very extraordinary day.
Sunday, September 24 - ISLAS BALLESTAS
After awakening and getting our showers, we moved downstairs, where we dined on the typical and ample continental breakfast that was provided free in every hotel we stayed at. The typical breakfast consisted of a granola type cereal made up of quinoa, rice puffs and coconut, with great tasting fresh yogurt and a little milk added in. In most places we also had scrambled eggs, delicious pan (unleavened bread) and different jugos (juices) such as orange, mango and other undetermined mixed juices. The breakfasts were always excellent, and always provided us with plenty of energy to start our day.
After breakfast, we traveled to El Chaco waterfront on Paracas Bay to catch our boat to the Ballestas Islands. As we strolled along El Chaco, the very tame pelicans patrolling the sandy shore eyed us suspiciously. On the beach we first encountered very aggressive locals trying to sell us souvenirs as we made our way to the boat. This was to be repeated everywhere we traveled in Peru, as they have become very reliant on tourists. As we took our boat ride on the Pacific Ocean, we noticed that it was much calmer in Peru than in Oregon. As we were leaving the Ballestas dock, dolphins playfully swam circles around the boat. It took us about 25 minutes to reach the Ballestas Islands. Along the way we passed the enigmatic "candleabro", a design etched into the cliffs facing the ocean. There are many theories about who created this design, ranging from indigenous Indians to landlocked pirates. Carlos thought that the Candelabro may be a representation of a hallucinogenic cactus that was widely used by indigenous people in times past, as well as in the present time. When we reached the incredibly scenic Ballestas Islands, we saw lobos marinas (sea lions), Humboldt penguins, pelicans, boobies, four types of cormorants and thousands of other birds too numerous to mention, all flying in the cold Pacific air. The rock formations around the islands featured beautiful arches carved by the waves, and they were stunning. The real adventure started when we returned to the dock, and my glasses went flying off my head directly into the bay when I stepped off the boat and took off my new Tilly hat! Luckily, the water was not too deep. But after repeated attempts to snare them with a long fish pole, boat Capitan, Manuel Molasquez, gave up, took off his clothes, put on a swim suit and mask, and dived down off the dock into the cold Pacific. As I anxiously watched, he managed to find my glasses on the murky bottom and retrieve them for me. Thank God! Without glasses, the rest of the trip would have been one big blurry headache for me. He received a generous tip, but I think that he would have done it for free; they are such generous and amazing people here! After leaving the dock, we lunched at the nearby As de Oros ,(Ace of Gold) a first-class seafood restaurant. There for the first time, we ate ceviche, which is raw fish cooked in a lime solution. We tried cebiche mixto-pulpo (octopus), and conchas Pollo cuaso, which is conch and chicken. Those who were not brave enough to try the ceviche, dined on Pollo Paulta, which is a chicken and avocado dish.
After lunch, we traveled to the Paracas Reserve and explored this vast desert wasteland. Carlos had told us that the deserts in Peru were cold in the early morning, ranging from around freezing to 40 degrees at 2am. But they rapidly rise in temperature to the 80’s and 90’s by mid morning. Our first stop was the Museo JC Tello, where we viewed ancient mummies, pottery and artifacts of the Pre-Incan Paracas culture. There we saw examples of how they purposefully shaped their heads into oblong cone shapes by employing primitive brain surgery and inserting metal plates. This process was called “trepanation”. After our museum visit, we took a short walk to a “mirador” where we viewed Chilean flamingos hanging our in the distant bay. We concluded our Paracas visit by taking a short hike through the sand dunes exploring the fossils, colorful rocks and interesting geology. It was a rock hunter’s paradise. Eventually, we came to a cliff top lookout where we saw the "Paracas Cathedral", a beautiful arched rock and sand formation jutting out into the ocean.
Later that afternoon, we took another Ormeño bus to Nasca where we checked into the Hotel Majoro, located out of the way on a dirt road near the Nasca Airport. The hotel was an indescribably beautiful colonial hacienda with magnificent flower and vegetable gardens, beautiful dining areas, a great swimming pool and an attractive outside bar area. As we wandered through the spacious grounds, playing with the llamas and peacocks, we saw broken bottle glass cemented on top of the walls as well as small thorny cactus plants growing on top of walls to deter intruders. Before supper, Carlos taught us how to play “Sapo”, a Peruvian game that features a brass frog that you throw weighted discs at. The discs fall through various holes and you score points. It was very fun!
At supper, we ordered up the ever-potent Pisco sours from the friendly bartender who had took a liking to us, and enjoyed Cancha, a type of corn tostados served as appetizer. Then we moved on to our more traditional Peruvian fare, and ended with lucuma, a type of peach flavored ice cream that Carlos greatly favored. It was elegant dining. We were attended to by polite Peruvian waiters waiting on us hand and foot, as we were the only guests in the hotel that night.
Monday, September 25 -- Nasca
Terror in the Nasca Skies! We all could not fit into one airplane, so Barbara graciously consented to wait for a second aircraft so that Karen and I could ride together. Alas Peruanas, was the flight company that provided the light aircraft for our adventurous ride. We didn’t crash while we flew over the Nasca lines, but we certainly got queasy stomachs as the pilot did sudden, acrobatic dips with the plane to give us better views of the mysterious and mystic figures scratched on the pampa below. We were able to make out and photograph many lines such as the “whale”, “triangles”, “trapezoid”, “astronaut”, “monkey”, ”dog”, “condor”, “spider”, “humming bird” , “alcatraz”, “parrot”, “hands” and “tree”. We also saw hundreds of other unnamed lines running in all directions. It was very strange. Carlos believes that the Nasca lines were an attempt to communicate with the Gods. He points out that the line known as the “astronaut” has” one hand pointed to the heavens, and one hand down, signifying a connection between the Gods and the earth. After seeing the lines up close and personal, we are still just as puzzled as before about their purpose and origin. But that’s all right, because all the Peruvians can’t figure it out either.
After the flight, we enjoyed the lectures and presentations of Edgardo Aguilar, an excellent local Nasca guide, as we toured the very dry Chauchilla Cemetery to see the ancient mummies still preserved in the sand. We were astounded to see that the young women braided their hair in a similar fashion as the Hopi women in the Southwestern United States! Many of the graves had been looted or disturbed, as the selling of artifacts is very big business in Peru. Edgardo told us that the huaqueros (grave robbers) were very bad guys and you don't mess with them because they were part of a very well-organized "mob.”
After the cemetery we went to a pottery production place and saw a pottery demonstration by potter Juan José Gallegos Cajo. Of course we wound up with a few pots. We ended the day with a tour of a local gold mining processing plant. It was amazing to see that the gold ore is taken out of the rocks completely by hand in Peru, as the workers stand on wooden trestles shaped like teeter-tooters and work the gold out of a mixed slurry of water and ore.
Late in the afternoon, we returned to the Hotel Majoro to wait until time to catch our overnight bus to Arequipa at 10:30PM. That evening, we took the bus ride from Hell from Nasca to Arequipa. We rode all night through incredible mountain roads and hairpin curves, arriving in Arequipa just before 8am, Tuesday morning. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much and fought nausea and car sickness all night. Along the way, the bus "stewardess" served us sandwiches and coca tea, but it did not make up for the extreme discomfort and nausea from traveling so many miles of mountain roads. But we survived! It was certainly one of the lower points of the entire trip. The sun was just coming up as we entered the Arequipa valley. It was a beautiful and welcome sight.
Tuesday, September 26 -- Arequipa
Carlos was free this day, and not obligated to be our guide. But without much effort, we talked him into helping us tour Arequipa. For a few extra dollars we were able to hire a rental car and driver, pay the entrance and guide fee for the Santa Catalina Convent, and acquire other services that would have been impossible to obtain on our own. We were very grateful to Carlos for helping us organize a tour of Arequipa that was very special. After registering at the Hotel Meliana, we dropped our laundry off at the Fairy Laundry and began our tour of Arequipa. First we traveled to the very large local market in the center of the town. This is where Carlos came in handy, as we realized that we were the only tourists there. The market was a bewildering array of vegetables, fruits, natural remedies, fish, chicken and other exotic things that we didn’t recognize. We had a lot of fun wandering through it, and catching the excitement of mingling with the natives. There we saw many of the 2890 types of potato varieties that are grown in Peru. We sampled fresh fruits such as chirimoya, granadilla and tumbo. After the market, it was church time, and we toured the magnificent Cathedral located next to the beautiful Arequipa Plaza de Armas. A Mass was being presented in the Cathedral, and Carlos chastised a local woman for begging while it was going on. As we walked along the streets and admired the magnificent buildings, Carlos pointed out sillar, the sparkling white volcanic stone used in constructing churches and other buildings throughout Arequipa. At La Compañia Jesuit Church, we admired the ornate façade and beautiful wooden door. Carlos made every attempt to expose us to the effects that the indigenous natives had on the Catholic religion.
As we observed the city traffic, we were amazed to see that very little attention was paid to lanes, stoplights, stop signs or other general rules of the road. However, there appeared to be a high level of necessary cooperation between drivers. Even though there appeared to be a great deal of horn honking, almost all of it was very purposeful, and needed to warn other drivers. We then got the chance to do some serious shopping and Karen finally got her chance to acquire some alpaca sweaters, at the Alpaca Camargo store. She was skillfully guided by Carlos, who told us that there was a big difference between baby alpaca and "maybe" alpaca. Fortunately, he helped her acquire the real thing. We next traveled to a high overlook, where we viewed the three volcanoes; Chachani, Misti, and Pichu Pichu that surround Arequipa, and had a beautiful view of the valley with the Rio Chili flowing below. At the overlook, we strolled through a beautiful garden and ate passion fruit straight off the tree. Carlos informed us that there are tremblers almost every day from the volcanoes, which makes the Arequpños feel much safer, because the earth is releasing energy instead of building it. After visiting Yamahuara, yet another indigenous influenced church, we were beginning to realize that Carlos really wanted to teach us that the indigenous people influenced the Spaniards much more than is generally accepted. At this point, we were asking ourselves: “Who assimilated who?”
We ate a late lunch at the Sol de Mayo, another restaurant that caters mostly to locals. There, Karen turned down the Cuy, (roasted guinea pig) when she realized that it would be served with the head and feet still attached. However, we still kept telling our selves that we were really fortunate to be getting the "non-tourist" type of experiences.
Our last tour was the famous Santa Catalina Monastery, where we were briskly guided through the sprawling convent by a business-like 4' 6" nun. The monastery was very interesting, but unfortunately it has been converted to a money-making tourist trap complete with bars, gift shops and all the methods of extracting money from unwary tourists. It was very interesting, but our nun guide was more interested in getting us swiftly through and collecting her tip than she was in presenting the Monastery. Overall, it was one of the more negative experiences of the trip. We ended the day by visiting La Chocolateria and sampling bitter Peruvian chocolate for the first time. What a treat! We then drove to the Fairy Laundry and picked up our laundry. That night we took it easy in preparation for the high-altitude adventures that awaited us.
Wednesday-Thursday, September 27-28 -- COLCA CANYON
We were sleeping soundly when we were shaken awake in our Hotel Meliana room by an earthquake at 4:40am. We mentioned it to our waiters as we were enjoying the usual excellent continental breakfast in the Hotel Meliana courtyard, but they didn’t seem to think that it was any big deal. After breakfast, we checked out, and met Agusto the able, friendly, big-hearted Quechuan who was to be our Colca Canyon driver, and the best driver that we would have. After leaving Arequipa, we soon learned that the easy part of the adventure was over. First we stopped at a local store on the outskirts and bought 6 liters of water, some coco candy and some regular coca leaves. We learned that the coca leaves are used by the natives and everyone else to combat the certainty of altitude sickness. We also bought some toothbrushes and toothpaste to give to the school children at Vizcachani School, in Colca Canyon.
Next, we made an arduous trip in our Mercedes Benz van traveling ever higher, and eventually leaving the pavement onto ever deteriorating gravel roads. We drove through the Aguada Blanca and Reserva National Salinas, traveling higher into the highland puna as they call the shrub lands and grasslands that act as a sponge for the Andean rains. Soon we saw wild vicuna herds roaming freely on the high altiplano (high plains). Carlos told us that vicunas have an 11 month pregnancy and have one baby a year. They can run 60 KPH. We also saw large herds of different types of llamas and alpacas. The two types of llamas are the klacla which is long eared; and the chapu which is short eared. Llamas have long necks, no face fur and short hair; their tails are up. Alpacas have long hair, "suri"-web type feet and like to get their feet wet. Alpacas are smaller, their ears are up, and their tails are down. There are two types of alpacas: luacaya- long eared; and suri-short eared.
As we rode along, we noticed that Agusto had a feather attached to the windshield of his van for protection. High on the altiplano, we stopped at Pata Wasi, a rustic grocery store-cafe and had our first cup of (required) coca tea; it was a special blend of three herbs, chachacoma, muma and coca leaf. Believe me the flavor is nothing to brag about. After leaving the store, we traveled on ascending ever higher before stopping at Bata Pampa, the highest point to stretch. There Carlos told us about Ichu- the yellow grass that grows prolifically on the altiplano. It is basically wild quinua with tiny seeds. At that point, Carlos casually informed us that it was 16,200 feet where we were standing! No wonder we felt so short of breath from walking such a short distance! We noticed thousands of stacked stones scattered widely across the altiplano at this high point. Carlos called them the apechitas and said that the stacked stones mark sacred vortexes and energy points according to quechuan belief. By now, Carlos knew us well enough to feel confident about telling us about his belief system, which was deeply rooted in quechuan folk lore, healing and shamanism.
After we left the high point, Carlos instructed us on the proper and ritualistic way to chew the coca leaf. You take three leaves as a base in your left hand and then slowly layer in more leaves. In the middle, you add a small piece of ash rock, and then put more leaves on top of the rock until you have a formidable pile of leaves. Then you stuff the whole thing into your mouth and chew it for at least twenty minutes. After about ten minutes, you notice that your cheek and gum is beginning to get numb. It is then that you know that it will be effective against the “Soroche”, which is what the locals call the altitude sickness. We all rode along chewing the leaf and listening to Carlos’s Peruvian music, which consisted of local musicians playing big pan pipes called toyos, a guitar called a charango often made with armadillo hump, middle sized pan pipes called sampoñas, small pan pipes called sicuris, two types of flutes called quenas or darous, a bombo which is a drum made with alpaca leather, and a cha cha which is an instrument made from alpaca or llama nails on a wrist bracelet shaken like maracas. The music was exotic and beautiful and greatly enhanced the voyage through the high regions.
Bumping along on the gravel roads, we stopped at Vizcachani School and gave the kids toothbrushes and toothpaste that we had purchased earlier for them. It was great to see the excitement on their faces and the delight of the teacher as we handed out the tooth brushes and toothpaste. We noticed that due to the effects of the dry, desert altiplano, the Vizcachani kids had skin conditions and need creams. We promised ourselves that we would send them some when we got home.
We traveled on, and finally arrived at Chivay, the gateway city to Colca Canyon. There, we experienced an amazing buffet lunch at El Balcon de Don Zacharias, sampling things such as alpaca, lamb, ostrich, guinea pig (cuy) and numerous other foods that we were too scared to ask about. Karen told our guide Carlos that she just couldn’t eat the guinea pig with its head and feet still on, and its eyes staring at her. So he had the cook cut it up and put it in a bowl for her. Unfortunately, when she reached for a cut up piece of the Cuy, she found that she had still selected the head! It was a memorable lunch.
After lunch, we traveled on to the Colca Canyon Lodge, crossing a dangerous bridge with tree limbs being utilized for reinforcement. It was a scene right out of Romancing the Stone! We checked in at the lodge, and walked to our rooms to find that they were musty rooms that we knew would cause allergy flares. After settling in, we then traveled a rocky path down to the hot springs and enjoyed a dip. The hot springs featured three natural pools with temperatures that ranged from warm to hot to very hot. After the hot springs dip, we enjoyed a very good dinner at the lodge, dining on chicharrones, which are deep fried chunks of pork. That night we experienced intermittent sleep, waking every two or three hours. Our guide told us this was a common symptom at high altitude.
Thursday, September 28-Colca Canyon Tour.
We ate breakfast at 6am, and then left to tour the canyon. We noticed that all the other tour busses were going one way, and we were going in the opposite direction. That had been the case this entire trip, and we loved it! Adventure Life goes out of the way to give their guests a real experience beyond the typical tour offerings. With them, you always go on the road less traveled. We drove along the rim of the canyon viewing the Rio Colca, the beautiful river that runs by the lodge and throughout the canyon. We admired the ancient terraces presently being farmed by quechuans as they have for centuries. The 10,607 feet deep canyon unfolded in scenic majesty as we drove along. We saw many eucalyptus trees which are not native, but have thrived in the canyon. We also saw beautiful saw pine trees growing in the canyon.
As we drove, we passed through little pueblos such as Yanque village, Pinchollo, Ichupampa, and Lari, where we stopped and viewed the old thatched roof houses and enjoyed the early morning sunshine. Even at 6:30am, the natives were up and about, and busily going about their daily affairs. We then traveled on, working our way to ever-higher points of the canyon, and always marveling at the ancient terracing dating to pre-Inca times. Along the way, we saw our first condor a good distance away.
Eventually, we arrived at Cruz Del Condor, the famous tourist viewing point. It was packed with hundreds of tourists and dozens of tour busses. We drove right past it! Our guide Carlos knew where to go! We went a short distance farther to the Mirrador de Tapay, where we saw many Andean Condors soaring in the sky as well as other birds including a buzzard eagle, puna hawk and a red back hawk. In addition, we saw lizards and other wildlife. It was awesome! From that lookout, we took a short high altitude hike along the rim of the canyon between two viewpoints. This hike gave us the chance to admire the many beautiful wildflowers and view the vizcacha, the Andean rabbit with its funny curly tail. We saw more condors, and just generally had a great time on this hike. But we also started feeling the altitude a bit. When we returned to the bus and resumed the tour, Carlos kept us informed about the culture of the canyon. When we passed a cemetery, he noted that the red and blue crosses marked where teens were buried; the black crosses marked the adults. He explained how the women’s hats designated who they were. The white hats designated women from warrior tribes; the embroidered hats designated farmers. If women had safety pins in their hats, they were married. Eventually, we made a later afternoon visit to Cruz Del Condor, and were amazed to see that there were very few tourists present.
On the rest of the tour of the canyon, we stopped at various vista points and saw Hualcahualca, Sabancaya, and Ananta the northern volcanoes that surround the canyon, and Chachani, Misti and Pichu Pichu, the volcanoes to the south. We noticed that Misti was spewing smoke in the distance, and we remembered the tremor we had felt in Arequipa. We also viewed the volcano Mismi, and Carlos told us that it is the source of the Amazon River. We stopped near Choquetico to see the Hanging Tombs that were used by pre-Incan people. They were drilled high up the mountain side to protect them from grave robbers. When we passed through the last village on the canyon tour, Carlos described how the villagers made bricks from Colca mud and produce maca, a type of diatomaceous earth. We then returned to El Balcon de Don Zacharias, the Chivay restaurant, for more authentic Peruvian food. After lunch, we toured the Chivay local market in pouring rain. There, we had an interesting conversation in Spanish with a local lady who insisted that we needed to buy her alpaca meat so that we could feed the condors. That way she insisted, we could get a good close look at them. After that, we returned to the lodge for more hot springs and dinner. We met a nice couple of ex-Peruvians from North Virginia in the hot springs and had a great conversation with them. That evening, Karen started feeling poorly, and by morning she had developed a bad case of “Soroche’, the altitude sickness that so many tourists to Peru have the pleasure of experiencing.
Friday, September 29 -- COLCA TO PUNO
Karen was very ill this morning when we packed and left our room. She managed to struggle to the lodge, but was unable to even think about breakfast. However, she was able to make it to the van unlike the British lady who was so sick that she had to be carried to the bus in a chair by the lodge porters. Karen fortified herself with a couple of Gatorades and rested much of the way as we began the long trip across the altiplano to Puno. We stopped briefly in Chivay to view the colonial church, and Agusto loaned his new blanket to a very sick Karen. On the way out of the Canyon, an Andean Sechuran red fox ran across the road and into the brush. We were amazed to see that it was as large as a big coyote. Carlos said that the red-tailed creature is the worst enemy of baby alpacas. It was a long, more than seven-hour journey over the altiplano to Puno. It was very desolate and high, more than 4528 meters. The only sign of civilization was the occasional shepherd, who with great skill used his long staff to move his flocks away from the cars and busses. It was curious to see the shepherd dogs waiting along the road every mile or so for handouts. Evidently truck drivers throw bits of food to the dogs as they travel the lonely altiplano. We passed Lago Lagunillas, a breathtakingly beautiful high lake where colorful Chilean flamingos swam lazily in the late afternoon sun. We stopped at Santa Lucia, the only chance for a bathroom stop on the entire long journey.
Nearing Puno, we passed through Julica, a mid-sized town that was caught up in a celebration of sorts. There, to the consternation of our driver, but to our complete enjoyment; we were caught up in a traffic jam while the revelry whirled all around us! Carlos told us not to use the banks or money changers in Juliaca because counterfeit money is the main industry there.
We eventually reached Puno, and got our first view of Lake Titicaca, the birthplace of the Incas. We traveled down the hill into the city and checked into the Qelqatqni Hotel. I slipped getting out of the van and badly scrapped my right shin. I was afraid that I had possibly broken a bone, but it was only just badly bruised. Karen was so sick, that she went straight to her room and went to bed. At that point we reorganized our tour a bit because Karen was still quite ill. We decided not to stay overnight on Amantani Island as it would have involved a strenuous walk in the great altitude. While Karen rested in bed, Harold and John visited the streets of Puno. A colorful early evening celebration was taking place with native dancers and flute and drum bands marching around the Puno Plaza de Armas in the center of Puno, not far from our hotel. It was a festive sight. By now, we were beginning to realize that every Peruvian town, large or small, had its own Plaza de Armas.
Saturday, September 30 -- SILLUSTANI RUINS
Karen definitely encountered the full Peruvian experience with her "Soroche", altitude sickness. On Saturday she was still in bed with nausea, diarrhea, headache and fever. What a bummer! The very nice hotel manager sent some oxygen up to the room to counter the effects of the sickness, and that started an improvement in Karen’s condition. We were lucky enough to be traveling with Barbara Wise, who is a nurse practitioner, and the hotel manager also was an expert at handling this problem. They assured us that this would soon pass, and Karen gradually did improve throughout the day.
John and Barbara traveled with Carlos to Amantanti Island where they stayed overnight with the islanders. On Sunday, they were to tour Taquille Island and then return to the Hotel to meet up with us again. They hated to go without us, but it could not be helped. Since I wanted to stay with Karen, Carlos arranged an alternate tour for me. Later in the afternoon, I toured the Sillustani Ruins that featured pre-Inca burial chambers sitting high on a hill overlooking beautiful Lago Umayo. It was very interesting to see how these ruins neatly coincided with all the other ruins that Karen and I have seen in Mexico and the Southwest. After that tour, the guide took us to a working Peruvian stone house farm where we got an up close and personal view of how they eke out a living. It was interesting to see the guinea pigs being raised in a stone walled pen for food, and the well-trained llamas. The farmer gave us a demonstration of how they grow their potatoes all by hand with primitive implements. He took me inside his sleeping quarters to show me how he made his bed mattress with tree branches. Later he showed me how he keeps his llama herd in line with a sling shot! Boy is he good with that sling shot!
I enjoyed the tour, but have to admit that I missed my traveling partner greatly. However, when I returned to the hotel, I was heartened to see that she had really improved. She continued to rapidly improve throughout the night which lessened our concern somewhat. Since we had spent so much time at the hotel, we had made good friends with all of the clerks, waiters and managers. They were all very happy when Karen ventured down for some “pollo dieta” (chicken soup) that evening.
Sunday, October 1 -- UROS ISLANDS AND BYCYCLE TOUR
Karen woke up this morning 95% normal, and raring to get back into action. After a hearty breakfast, we took a tour to the Uris Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca. It was a great outing. The sunny weather and the huge blue, blue lake filled with all kinds of sea birds made for an enjoyable experience getting there. When we reached the islands, we disembarked onto what can only be described as a big floating reed covered raft with houses built on it. Everything on the islands is built out of the tatora reed, and they also use the reed as a food. A native gave an excellent demonstration of how the islands are constructed and maintained. Karen was invited by a native into his Uros hut to see his battery powered television and lamp. He was proud of the fact that he was the only one on the island to have such technology. We traveled between islands on a boat that was built out of reeds and featured a puma-like head in the front of the boat. Two natives rowed us. We all felt very primitive.
After returning to Puno, Karen was feeling better all the time, and wanted to make up for lost time. So we started a walking tour of Puno using a map that the hotel had provided. As we relaxed in the Plaza de Armas and viewed the Puno Cathedral, we let a bicycle taxi driver talk us into taking us on a tour of the city around the streets of Puno in his two-seat bicycle The bicyclist quoted 10 Soles for the tour, which was about four US dollars. We thought that would be a good deal, so off we went. About midway through this tour, we stopped and toured the Yavari, a naval boat that had been shipped piece by piece over the Andes so that Lake Titicaca could have a military presence in the late 1800's. There we met Maximo Florez, the Captain of the ship, who proudly extolled the virtues of the Yavari. We really enjoyed the boat tour and it gave our friend the taxi cyclist a chance to rest. Can you imagine this small Peruvian guy pushing Karen and I all over this hilly high altitude city? We are not the lightest people, you know! He did take us into many places in old Puno that regular tourists do not, or would not go, including the local market that only the locals use. At times we feared for our lives as the crazy traffic screamed all around our bicycle! We were not too surprised when at the end of the tour our cyclist wanted to charge us twenty US dollars instead of only ten Soles. I argued weakly to let him know that it was a bit of a scam, but didn’t protest too much as he certainly had earned the money. After the tour, we ate an afternoon lunch at Don Piero's, a highly recommended, but not very good restaurant near our hotel. Late in the afternoon we met up with John and Barbara who had pictures and tales to tell of their exciting trip to the islands.
That evening we had our last supper and farewell meeting with our guide Carlos Lazo. We realized that Carlos had been a superb guide and had become a personal friend. He told us about the rest of our trip, and our new guide Marco, who we were to meet in Cusco.
Monday, October 2 - PUNO TO CUSCO THE INCA ROAD
Adventure Life subcontracted this part of the tour to "Inka Express,” a company that provides bus service and limited touring between Puno and Cusco. We were all a bit surprised to find out that we would not have an Adventure Life guide for this part of the trip. The trip turned out to be a ten-hour bus ride with a large group, and a guide who couldn’t communicate in either Spanish or English. It was not one of the better experiences of the tour, but we did see some interesting sights.
Our first stop was Pucara where we toured a small museum that featured steles and monolithic statues with long knife and severed heads. The guide described a bloodthirsty tribe that liked to cut of heads of their unfortunate enemies. Pucara also boasted an impressive Colonial church. After leaving Pucara, we climbed swiftly, traveling higher through incredible scenery, and stopping at the La Raya Pass summit, the border between the Puno and Cusco regions. There was definitely a chill in the air at this point, and the souvenir sellers were all bundled up in blankets. We moved on to the town of Sicuani, where we enjoyed one of the better buffet lunches of the trip.
After lunch, we continued on, and made a short stop at San Pedro, where we saw the outstanding Raqchi Inca ruins that are the remains of the Temple of Viracocha . These ruins featured 22 fantastic columns and long sweeping walls reminiscent of the Mayan ruins we saw in Mexico. We would have liked to have had more time to fully explore these fantastic ruins. Our last stop was at Andahuaylillas, where we viewed the Jesuit "Church of the Americas" and again noted the heavy indigenous influences, a wonderful combination of Catholic and Indian mythology.
When we arrived in Cusco, we met our new guide Marco Palomino, a young Peruvian with movie star looks. He met our bus at the Cusco station with a sign that said "Karen Greig". He took us to our hotel, the El Balcon, which was midway up Tambo de Montero, a steep cobblestone street that took our breath away as we walked up it. We first noticed bells ringing as they did constantly throughout the day from numerous churches throughout the city during our stay in Cusco. Darkness was falling as we unpacked in our hotel, and we could see the Cathedrals lit up in the Cusco Plaza de Armas and the illuminated White Christ with outstretched arms watching over Cusco from the hill above. It was a warm velvet night, and we truly knew that we were in the Navel of the World. Marco took us on a night walk down Saphi, the Incan walled street that leads to the vibrant Plaza de Arms of Cusco. He helped us get acquainted with the area. We used an ATM in a jewelry store near the Plaza de Armas to get some cash, and Marco helped us get our digital pictures copied to a disc at an internet exchange near the hotel. After that, we all dined at A Mi Manera, eating among other things, lomo saltado which are strips of beef with tomatoes, onions and peppers. After that we returned to our hotel for some rest.
Tuesday, October 3 -- THE SACRED VALLEY
We enjoyed a very good continental breakfast complete with scrambled eggs and “real” coffee. The way they serve it is in thick espresso syrup, to which you have to add hot water in order to dilute it down to your taste. After breakfast we climbed into our van and were off on our tour of the fertile Sacred Valley, a U-shaped glacial valley. We stopped at a view point along the way to see the Willcamayu, one of the Sacred Valley rivers that flow into the Urubamba, the main river running through the Sacred Valley. The town of Urubamba-50,000 population- is fast becoming a popular tourist site in the Sacred Valley. Along the road we saw Aguave cactus growing 20 feet tall. It was spring in October; corn was knee high and trees and flowers were in bloom. There were more cattle than llamas in the Sacred Valley, and we saw a few tractors and evidence of farm machinery in the fields. As we viewed the mountains, we saw that snow-covered glaciers exist only in highest mountains, 23,000 feet above the Sacred Valley. Marco said that this is because the Sacred Valley is so close to the equator.
We traveled up the twisting roads to Pisaq, stopping at the Pisaq market. Harold bought a Peruvian flute and a llama bell at the Pisaq market, and Karen bought silver jewelry. We enjoyed a very good lunch provided by Adventure Life before moving on to the Pisaq Ruins where we walked 3.5 miles of steep demanding trails with precipitous drops that would take your breath away. This was a truly challenging task for us. The ruins were emotionally uplifting and inspiring. We had our first opportunity to be truly amazed at the intricate stonework produced by the Incas. Marco told us that the terraces to Pisaq Ruins are called Andes. This made a lot of sense to us. After we had negotiated the steep trail and were inside the ruins, Marco explained the meaning of the Intiwasi-Temple of the Sun, explaining that the Temple had two windows to mark the seasonal equinoxes. Marco told us that the Incas were astronomers and scientists who understood magnetic forces and knew how to apply them.
After touring the Pisaq Ruins, we hiked back to our van enjoying the local flute player who was performing ancient melodies on the nearby trail. We traveled farther up the valley to the city of Ollantaytambo, a fantastic Inca colonial town with tremendous history. A hard rain fell on the way, but it was short-lived and quickly dried. At Ollantaytambo, we checked in to the El Sauce Hotel and discovered that we had a fantastic window view of the Ollantaytambo Ruins. After a short rest, we then made another difficult climb up many steps to the ruins, and enjoyed another wonderful lecture from our guide Marco about the significance of these ruins and the stonework in them. Peruvian kids followed us up the steps of the ruins wanting to sing for us for a few Soles. Karen and I were really beginning to feel the spirit of these ruins even though we were dead tired. After returning from the hard climb up and down the ruins, we sat by a nice fire in El Sauce, and relaxed over cups of coca tea and enjoyed a late supper. It was a very early bedtime for us.
Wednesday, October 4 -- TRAIN TO MACHU PICCHU
We got up early and took a tour of “Old Ollantaytambo” this morning. As we walked the ancient cobblestone streets, we spotted the “Andean giant hummingbird” flitting through the flowers of a nearby garden. We had the opportunity to enter one of the local houses, visit with the occupants and view how they have lived for many hundreds of years. The most interesting thing was that their food source, the herd of guinea pigs lived right in the house with them, and rushed to our feet to greet us as we entered. The open pit fire was burning in the living room, and real human skulls were placed on the mantle to protect them from bad spirits.
After the very interesting visit to the old town, we took a taxi to the train station and caught the Perurail train that runs from Ollantaytambo to Auga Calientes. It was a fantastic train ride into the heart of the Andean jungle. Along the way, we noticed very tall trees with dark green fruits the size of grapefruits hanging from them. Marco told us that they were avocados. We had never seen such large avocados in all our travels. We continued to travel along the Urubamba River through incredible scenery until we reached Auga Calientes, the gateway city to Machu Picchu. After checking into the Macchu Picchu Inn, We walked across the street and dined at the Inka Wasi, marveling at how they had made intricate carvings of animal figures out of carrots in our lunches. Needless to say, Karen had avocado stuffed with chicken salad for lunch after seeing the large fruits on the train ride.
After lunch, we walked to the bus station where we caught the bus and took an adventurous 35 minute ride, twisting and turning ever upward into the heart of the lost Inca Citadel, Machu Picchu. As we ascended the steep, narrow dirt road that led to the ruins, we met other busses on the hairpin curves, narrowly avoiding collisions, as one bus would have to stop and back up for the other one. Finally we arrived at the entrance, and we proceeded through the checkpoints and had our passports stamped with a Machu Picchu symbol. This was the moment we had been looking forward to for many years! As we had come to expect, our guide Marco had timed our visit perfectly, and the morning crowds of people were leaving the ruins making plenty of room for us. We spent the afternoon hours being guided through the fantastic Ruins by Marco, learning ancient secrets and feeling the energy of this very sacred and special place. First we entered the main gate and paid tribute to Hiram Bingham, who discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. We then sat at a resting point called the house of the terrace caretaker. It was an excellent place to view the ruins for the first time, and we sat and gazed at them for many minutes.
As we sat at the bench, we saw climbers ascending the very dangerous Huayna Picchu and screaming in exaltation as they reached the top. Llamas roamed freely among agricultural terraces serving as “lawnmowers” according to Marco. After a while, we got up and walked across the terraces to an area called the Dry Moat, and viewed the Main Fountain. Crystal clear water was cascading down from the highest points of Machu Picchu through a series of 16 beautifully constructed, cascading aqueducts.
We then ascended the steep steps that led to the Temple of the Sun, the only round building in the ruins, and the finest stonework in Machu Picchu. Marco described the sacred niches that were carved in the temple walls for idols or offerings, and pointed out the centerpiece that served as an astronomical observatory. It has a straight edge cut into it precisely aligned to the sun at the June solstice. The temple entrance door has holes drilled above the jamb that may have supported wooden beams that held a ceremonial sun disk. Below the temple in a cave carved from a rock is the Royal Tomb, or Palace of the Princess. It is a very exquisitely carved altar carved in steps.
Next to the Temple of the Sun is a three-walled house called the Fountain Caretaker’s House. Marco pointed out the thick stone pegs high on the wall probably used to hang heavy objects. At the top of the staircase, you pass the Quarry, where you observe a partially split rock that seems to show how the builders cut and moved the stone from the quarry. However, many experts think that this rock was probably cut by a 20th century archeologist.
The structures directly opposite the Temple of the Sun Are called the Royal Sector because of the huge stones that weigh up to 3 tons used in the buildings. Again we marveled at how they could have possibly fit them all together so perfectly. As we walked along the ridge enjoying the magnificent views of the Urubamba river far below, we came across the Tres Ventanas (3 Windows), a wonderful example of trapezoidal Incan windows. Marco says that if the windows in ruins were not trapezoidal, they weren’t Incan. Next to this site stood the Principle Temple, featuring beautifully crafted walls and another sub-temple attached to it called the Sacristy, were the left-hand door jamb has no fewer than 32 corners in its separate faces.
Next, we climbed the steep staircase to the Intihuatana and viewed the solstice markers that were used for calculating seasons and making astronomical observations. This extraordinary monument somehow escaped the Spanish attempt to smash all "idolatry." At the north end farthest from the entrance, we came across the Sacred Rock, which seems to trace the actual mountain skyline behind it. The Incas really understood the power of stones! We noticed beautiful rocks embedded in the pathways and stairs throughout the ruins.
Walking back towards the entrance, we stopped at the grassy field known as the Sacred Plaza, and Marco told us that helicopters used to land here with tourists before they realized that the vibrations of the rotors were damaging the ruins. We then walked through a series of cruder constructions known as the Common District and paused in an area known as the Mortar District. The common belief there is that the two discs cut in the floor of this district were used for grinding corn, but Marco believes that they were filled with water, and used as reflecting pools to reflect the Southern Cross at night. The Incas used the Southern Cross to establish direction and keep track of seasons. Marco told us that it was a very important indicator for them. As we neared the end of our tour, we viewed the Prison Group, and Marco explained the Temple of the Condor to us. We then moved through a series of maze-like passages called the Storage Areas that led to a Ceremonial Rock where Marco demonstrated important Inca rituals. It was a fantastic moment.
As our tour came to a close, we were all struck with wonder as we walked towards the exit and boarded the bus to make our way back down the dangerous winding road. Often we have visited tourist attractions that were “over-hyped”, but Machu Picchu is so overwhelming that it can not possibly be over-hyped! It is a magnificent, deeply spiritual and very sacred site.
As we rode the bus down the twisting road, a Peruvian boy dressed in a red robe raced us down the hill, a distance of 5 miles for the bus, but much shorter for him, as he did not have to take the switch backs. Of course he won the race, and the bus driver let him on the bus to collect his tips. Marco told us that boys like him often make more money than anyone in their family. He also repeated something that we had heard throughout the tour. Do not give children any money if it is during school hours and they should be in school! He mentioned that it is a big problem in Peru. Because tourism is so lucrative, parents are taking their children out of school, dressing them up in colorful clothing and then taking them to tourist areas to be photographed for money. After returning to Auga Calientes, we enjoyed a very good supper at the Indio Feliz with Marco before retiring to the very nice Machu Picchu Inn with its extra room and excellent bath facilities.
Thursday, October 5 -- THE INCA TRAIL
We got up early and had a nice breakfast at the hotel and then arranged for our luggage to be stored. All of the hotels had been very good about keeping our luggage for us well beyond the check out hours. This made it a lot nicer for touring, as we did not have to pack our luggage around. We met Marco, who had taken care of the extra costs of returning to Machu Picchu for us. Even though we had to pay for the extra visit to the ruins, Marco was willing to take care of it for us. This was great for us, because the language barrier made such transactions very difficult. We walked to the bus station and once again took the twisting, hair-raising ride up the hill. Today, we walked directly to the top of the ruins to the Caretaker’s Hut and got the best possible view of the ruins. As we sat at the top and surveyed the majesty of the ruins, Marco gave a profound lecture on the Andean Chakana, also known as the Andean Cross. Although it is very complicated, a simple explanation is that it is a three-stepped cross representing the Southern Cross constellation, and it symbolizes the three tiers of Inca life, the lower world, this world and the higher world.
After this very interesting conversation, we hiked the old Inca trail to the Inca Drawbridge with Marco. The trail wound back from the heights of the ruins leading along the west flank of the mountain behind Machu Picchu. The trail grew narrower until it was cut into the side of a sheer precipice, and we were taking each step with great care. There was no room for fear of heights here! Eventually we came to the drawbridge, a huge stone buttress cut into the side of the mountain. It was an exciting one hour hike to and from the bridge with many exotic flowers, birds and beautiful rocks to admire along the way. Karen and I were very pleased that we had gotten the chance to hike a portion of the Inca Trail!
After we returned from the drawbridge, we again sat at our most beautiful location above the ruins. Two Mexican women approached Marco with questions about the trail, and we were surprised to find that we understood the Spanish conversation between the Mexican women and Marco. We realized at that point that if we were to spend a little time in a Spanish speaking country, we would acquire the language.
Marco shared some bitter Peruvian chocolate with us as we sat high above the ruins, and we had a profound discussion with him about the effect of music on stones, and whether that might have been the way that the Incas managed to move and place the stones. It was another magic moment in the tour.
All too quickly it was time to go, and as we made our way back down the ruins, we marveled at the way the water aqueducts carry water throughout the ruins. A llama challenged us on the way out, and we had to wait until he was ready to let us pass before we could proceed. As we passed through the exit, we saw Marco kiss the wall saying goodbye to the place he loved so much. It is very hard to say goodbye to such a beautiful and magical place.
We again raced down the hill with the Peruvian boy. This time Karen asked him in Spanish why he wasn’t in school. He gave her a pretty dirty look. A hard rain was falling in the streets of Auga Calientes when we got off the bus, but we ducked into a nearby diner and ate lunch. We then returned to the hotel, got our luggage and then returned to catch the train back to Ollantaytambo. When we got back to Ollantaytambo, we met our Adventure Life Van and took a different route back to Cusco, traveling on a higher road through rolling farmland and viewing the 23,000 foot peaks prominently displayed in the distance. Along the way, I a got a nasty surprise when we stopped at a high vista point to view the mountains, and noticed that the lady souvenir vendors were laughing at me and pointing at my rear end. I realized then that the lid had come off the suntan cream tube that I was carrying in my back pocket, creating quite a mess. It was another one of those minor, but unforgettable travel misfortunes. We were pretty tired when we got back to Cusco, and we were glad to check back in to El Balcon for some much needed rest. We managed to work up enough energy for supper that evening in the Plaza de Armas. Marco took us to the restaurant, but we insisted that he attend a family function for his daughter instead of having dinner with us. We managed to get through dinner without him, and then went across the street for some brief shopping, but we were back to our hotel room very early for some much needed rest.
Friday, October 6 - THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD
We awoke this morning with some sadness because we realized that it was our last tour day, but we were happy to be spending it in the magical city of Cusco. Jon and Barbara had wanted to go rafting, but Jon had succumbed to a bit of altitude sickness the night before, and he was resting in his room. Barbara had elected to stay with him, so just Karen and I toured the profound Sacsayhuman ruins with Marco. Marco told us that most tourists learn how to pronounce the name of the ruins by saying; “sexy-woman”. We rented a taxi and drove up the hill to the ruins, which were close, but up a very steep hill. These spectacular ruins feature astounding outer walls constructed in a zigzag formation of three tiers. The Inca king Pachacutec constructed it as a fortress in the shape of a Puma’s head to protect the Incas from their enemies, but it was eventually conquered by the Spaniards. It eventually became the site of the bloodiest battles between the Spaniards and the Incas, when the Inca king Manco took the fort back from the Spaniards, and then Pizarro retook the fort for the Spaniards in a series of battles that took thousands of lives. When you stand in these amazing ruins, this history jumps to life, but more importantly, you wonder how they ever fit these colossal stones together so perfectly! Marco explained that the stones are a language that the Incas were trying to preserve, and that one of the meanings for the word "Inca" is “light". He again suggested that music might have been the power that lifted the stones. He concluded by saying that when the stones speak, the Incas will return! He then took us to a series of tunnels that lead from the lower part of the ruins to the upper parts. He described these tunnels as initiation areas that would-be priests had to travel through as a type of birthing experience. We fearfully held tightly to him as he led us through the pitch-black tunnels. By this time, Marco knew that we were receptive to the mystic and philosophical elements of his belief system, so he asked if we wanted to visit the house of a local shaman that he had great respect for. Of course we jumped at the chance, but he was not home when we got there, and we were disappointed at missing the chance to visit with him. But we realize that things happen the way they are supposed to, and we just weren’t meant to see the shaman on this day.
From Sacsayhuaman, we traveled to the nearby White Statue of Christ that overlooks Cusco. From there we had magnificent views of Cusco in all directions. After that, we returned to the hotel and picked up Barbara. Then the four of us made a fantastic tour of the Cusco local market, again noticing that thanks to Marco, we were the only tourists in the market. Karen bought a chess set that featured the Incas versus the Spaniards. We bought coffee beans in the market and watched the coffee seller grind the beans. We continued through the market, viewing the various forms of slaughtered animals, and many varieties of potatoes and vegetables. Marco took us to his favorite juice bar where we sat and watched the local Peruvian woman mix exotic fruit drinks for us. As I was drinking my juice, I felt someone near me. I looked to my left and saw that a very small, colorfully dressed Peruvian woman complete with black hat, had sat down next to me so close that we were actually touching. I looked into her eyes and she looked back, and we both smiled. It was a great moment! We concluded the market tour at the shop that featured natural medicines, magic herbs, potions and aphrodisiacs. Marco had his picture taken with Karen by the dried rabbits.
We returned to our hotel room and did some preliminary packing. That night, we ate our last dinner with Marco in the Inka Grill, the old palace of the Inca King Pachacutec. A fantastic Peruvian pipe band performed in the balcony of the Inka Grill as we sampled several different types of potato chips as appetizers, and ate a fantastic meal. We hated to say goodbye to Marco, who had been another fantastic guide for us. We promised to keep in touch and exchange information about Incan cosmology. After dinner, we went to a nearby grocery store and bought some bitter chocolate and other last-minute souvenirs before returning to our hotel.
Saturday, October 7 -- LONG JOURNEY HOME
The usual cacophony of bells was ringing throughout the city, and as usual, celebrations were happening everywhere, as exploding fireworks awoke us a 6am. We went downstairs to enjoy our last continental breakfast. We met Barbara and Jon at breakfast and were glad to see that Jon had recovered from his sickness. We could hear bands playing in the distance, and children were out of school because it was Saturday. It was a festive atmosphere as it always is in Cusco. As we were finishing our packing, Karen had a scare about her jewelry being stolen, but it was just hidden well in our luggage.
Our airport transport driver showed up right on time, and we rode to the Cusco airport and quickly moved through the departure gates, making sure that all our luggage got checked to Lima. The airport officials made sure that we paid our $8 US airport departure tax, and we took off right on time on LanPeru Flight #2902, starting our two days of flights back home. We arrived at the Lima airport just after 1:00pm, successfully retrieved our luggage and met Charles (pronounced Char-lays), the transport driver who was to take us to the Carmel Hotel to wait for our red-eye flight later that evening. John and Barbara had met friends in Lima who were visiting with them until time for the flight. When we greeted Charles, we were met with a blank stare, and we realized that he spoke no English! We didn’t realize at the time that Charles thought that he was to escort all four of us, so he was waiting for four people. He mistakenly thought that we were John and Barbara. It was a monumental language barrier problem, but after 15 minutes of broken Spanish, I finally got through to Charles that we were the Greigs, not the Wises! We then quickly moved to his van, and we were speeding through the streets of Lima to the Carmel Hotel. As he drove, Charles and I chatted in Spanish about his Argentinean background and the "loco" drivers, especially the “taxistas” (taxis) that hurtled down the streets of Lima. At the end of the trip, I gave Charles a very generous $20 US for his transport because all I had left were $20 bills. He was very happy.
We stayed at the Carmel Hotel lobby while waiting for our "red-eye' flight back home. The hotel stored our luggage, treated us very well and did not charge anything for it. They do this for Adventure Life so that they can keep their very lucrative business. At the hotel, we a met couple from Grants Pass who had just finished a tour of the Amazon. Their tales about bugs, snakes and humidity convinced us that we could wait a little longer to make that trip! Later that afternoon, we ate at Norkys, an upscale restaurant across the street from Carmel Hotel. Even though we dined lavishly with a bottle of wine and a fancy desert, we still only spent about $35 US for the entire meal. Peru is a very inexpensive place to tour! After dinner, we returned to the lobby and I checked on the internet as the Oregon Ducks got thrashed by UCLA. I felt very out of touch with American culture, but it was amazing to see how many Americans were coming to the lobby to check the internet to see how their favorite football teams were doing.
We were not surprised to see Charles show up to take us back to the airport at 9:30pm. We had another pleasant conversation in Spanish on the way to the airport, and Charles got another $20 payment. When we entered the airport, we were shocked to see the huge line at the Delta check-in that stretched for hundreds of feet. We needed all of the more than three hours to get through the line, and proceed through security, duty and customs. When we made the last stop to pay our $28 US departure tax, we found that without warning or notification it had increased to $30.50 US. We were only trying to survive at that point, so we paid it and managed to make it onto Delta Flight #274, where we settled in at just after 12:30am, Sunday morning, for our long flight back to Atlanta. It was a maddening airport experience!
Sunday, October 8 -- BACK IN THE USA
A beautiful sunrise lit up the west coast of Florida as we flew into Atlanta, but the flight was late. We realized that we only had just over an hour to make it through customs, rechecking of our bags, duty and immigration procedures. We weren’t sure that we would make it. When we reclaimed our bags, a customs official was moving through the baggage area with a dog that was sniffing the luggage. I realized that I probably had not cleaned the entire coca leaf residue out of my back pack. Sure enough, the police dog smelled the coca leaf in my back pack from thirty feet away, bounded over to my bag, and begin to growl and make a fuss. The young officer asked me what was going on, and I leveled with him and told him that we had chewed coca leaf for altitude sickness in Peru. He laughed and said that his dog had a very sensitive nose for such things, but he checked the entire contents of my backpack anyway very swiftly before he let me go. At that point, I was sure that we would not make our next flight. We made sure that our luggage got put on the right carousel and had the PDX label securely fastened to it. Then we quickly moved through immigration, caught the subway and sprinted to our gate, only to find that they had changed the gate! We quickly found the new gate and sprinted to it. They were just closing the doors to the airplane when we arrived, and we barely managed to catch Delta Flight #1824 to Salt Lake.
The flight from Salt Lake to Portland on Skywest Flight #3808 was uneventful, and we arrived in Portland right on time, and made our connections with Shelley to come and pick us up at the airport. But the drama was not over yet! We waited for our luggage at the carousel until every other piece of luggage was taken. It did not show up. Even though we had been fast enough to make our Atlanta-Salt Lake connection, our luggage had not made the same connection. We filed a delayed luggage report, and then returned to the Portland Orr house to nervously wait for our luggage. Around 7:30pm, the airport called us to let us know that our luggage had arrived on a later flight, and Stephanie took us to the airport to help us retrieve it, because she was a “luggage loss expert” as she put it. With our luggage safely in hand, we returned to the Portland Orrs to bask in the warmth of our family, and tell the first stories of this amazing journey. When we arrived home, we were amazed to find that we had actually lost weight on this trip. This was the first time that had ever happened!
Peru is a land where the sacred elements of earth, sky, water and fire all come together in a meeting of cosmic proportions. Above all else, it is a country of geographical extremes that is experienced richly as one travels through the diverse regions of this intensely beautiful land. A journey to the high altitudes of the altiplano changes one at a molecular level due to the basic physical necessity of providing more oxygen for the body. This profound physical change also produces spiritual change, and affects the way that every other aspect of life is perceived. One starts viewing everything in a different way than they ever have before. In Peru, being alive is a real thing, not taken for granted by anyone who lives there or visits there.
Even though many Peruvians live in extreme poverty, they exhibit a richness of the soul that is evident, but not easily explained. You see it in the beauty of their eyes, and the richness of their culture founded in ancient roots. They live in basic simplicity and go about their lives always with a smile on their faces. Their belief systems are an intriguing mix of Catholic Christianity and a lot of native folklore and shamanic practice. The local people go to Catholic Mass on Sunday morning, and then spend the rest of the afternoon and Sunday evening practicing their native religions. No one can know for certain why historical events brought about the downfall of the great Inca Empire, but today we can see that the resulting Mestizo mix of Spanish and Indigenous culture has brought about an extraordinary race of Peruvian people.
Our Cusco guide, Marco Palomino told us that he would “show us magic” when we toured the ruins, and he certainly did that. We learned that the ruins were so much more than just stones. Our trip to Peru was a fantastic journey in which we challenged ourselves to the utmost, physically and mentally. But more importantly, we made a journey inward, discovering new aspects of ourselves that will change us forever. This is the real Magic of Peru.