"So, why Peru?" others would ask when we told them of our upcoming journey. That made me think, why indeed Peru!.
And coming to the realization that the desire stemmed from my childhood. During the hot Kansas scorching summer days of my youth, the local theater would have a weekly matinee where all the frazzled mothers could drop off their rambunctious children for an hour or two of peace and quiet. The whole entire community's prodigies would be held spellbound by familiar films as "Old Yeller" or "Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang".
It was there on those acid sultry days, when the winds of the great furnace blew unmercifully turning the jaded wheat crops into dry, chaffing golden kernels that I saw "Chariots of the Gods" based on Erich Von Daniken's belief in UFOs, as seen in the evidence of the ancient cultures. We had already explored the pictureglyphs of the Mayan Temples in Mexico, and saw for ourselves the exquisite architect of the pyramids of Gaza, and now it was time for the Nazca line runways in Peru.
Thus, we rose before the neighbors, quietly packing our bags and locking the doors as a silent, powder-sugar snow fell lightly around us, covering our departing footprints. We flew from Missoula to Salt Lake City to Atlanta and landed in Lima, Peru under the velvet darkness of a tepid sky. It took a grand total of 14 hours, a change of seasons from winter to summer, and a lifetime of another experience.
We had little time to encounter our new environment, for we caught only a few wisps of sleep before we were whisked back to the airport for our flight to Cusco. Our driver, Boris, became a familiar face in a sea of many and despite our language barriers, we came to appreciate one another. His skin darkened and blond hair lightened throughout the week due to his many surfing excursions, but his bright flashing smile always signaled his delight when recognizing us.
Cusco, literally meaning the navel in the ancient Inca language, was a city that we flew a million miles to visit but knew immediately upon landing. It is nestled in the green valleys of the Andes, as Missoula is huddled within the slopes of the Rockies. It took our breath away---being at 12,000 feet slowed us down to enjoy the uniqueness of the ancient civilizations that piled one on top of the other vying for our attention.
As we weaved our way through one-llama streets, pre-Inca and Inca foundations that never crumbled through the years or earthquakes, which to the present residents' convenience was used to build homes or shops upon, surrounded us. We followed the corridors to the Sun Temple, the true center of the Inca Nation where the tarnished gold vat laid empty of the corn beer that flowed abundant in the many ceremonies of long ago. And around this sacred nucleus laid the temples---The Sun Temple, The Moon Temple, The Star Temple (the heavenly daughters of the Sun and Moon), the Thunder Temple, and the Rainbow Temple (who was well known to sneak up on many unwary and innocent virgins to impregnate them).
The astrological abilities were amazing, with many of the temples having portals that allowed for the glow of the Sun, Moon, or Venus during summer or winter equinox to illuminate their altars. But, the Spanish conquistadors had stripped the beautiful Inca temples of their gold and silver lining, enslaving the people, forcing the natives to create the churches and religious icons from the spoils. They could not topple the Incas temples due to their construction strength, so they built their sanctuary around them. Thus, upon the Sun Temple advanced a church so tremendous as if to crush the pagan foundation below it and whose steeple reached for the heavens demanding that it was the only and true entity of the realm. The stucco walls had crumbled off to reveal the true identity of the structure. And within it's walls, the stolen gold and silver glimmered and gleamed with the Catholic deity idols. But to the amusement of all, the central figurine of Jesus on the Cross had changed from a pale skin entity to one of a darker hue because of the candle smoke of a thousand years and he had become the color of the ancestors.
We delved into museums full of Inca artifacts. Mummies who had been laid to rest facing east in their fetal positions were surrounded by sacred objects that they would need in the next life. We saw skulls that had surgery, large gaping holes looming in the craniums, and heads that had been elongated when the bones were still malleable in infancy to proclaim their prestigious class. The witches market was filled with elixirs, chicken feet, feathers from the multitude of fowl, potions, and dried llama fetuses in which magic could be invocated to help achieve even your smallest desires. We sipped coca tea and our guide expertly read the leaves and our fortune. One could also chew the leaves in an effort to achieve greater stamina and energy, perhaps while hiking the Inca trail.
Native Peruvian porters help with your belongings on Machu Picchu treksThe people for their part were various shades of coffee. They had strong angular noses, and chiseled features but not made of granite for they readily flashed their bright smiles at strangers. The topographical lines of life on the older Peruvians ran deep and strong. Their sharpei wrinkles would multiply when laughing, which they frequently did, and, mostly I think, at our expense. Their short and hardy bodies would climb readily any steep terrace while carrying massive amounts of weight (Scott observed men carrying 2 full propane tanks that he estimated weighed around 50lbs. apiece.)
The clanging of the church bells in the square awoke us to begin our journey to the Sacred Valley and the Inca Trail. We drove to Pisac where we climbed the hills and followed the pathway of the ancients. Our feet trod upon the track and followed it over terraces, around streams, among fragrant blossoms, and through the ruins of yesterday's civilizations. This was Sherry's favorite day---surrounded by the beauty of the countryside with a cool breeze encouraging us along. It was the rainy season, and not many other tourist venture out this time of year, but we were fortunate and only were drenched for a couple of hours later in the week at Machu Picchu. To us the climate was perfect, allowing us to wear shorts and a sweater that later would be discarded as the sun rose higher in the sky. And, much to my guide's surprise, I was like a mountain goat keeping up with his pace in my Teva sandals, which he initially eyed with great reservations.
We came upon a graveyard---a porous rock hillside looking like a honeycomb but filled with the remains of the mummified bodies. It stretched forever down the crevasse of the green landscape. We climbed vertical stairs made from the rock layers, wove underneath granite arches, and were awed by the centrally located sundials in every township made from the bedrock. The primitive salt mines went on and on for miles within the cliffs of the river. Still operated by the families of the originals, they allowed the water to evaporate to expose the salt for gathering. But, better yet, as we traveled on top of the high plateau over 50 falcon pairs surrounded us. It was amazing, for around us the massive Andes stretched towards the blue skies with translucent clouds weaving amongst them while the black & white hawks entranced in their mating rituals danced above us and the moss green earth. Once, we looked down and around we were fortunate to find shards of quartz clear as glass.
We ended the day in Ollantaytambo, a village that has intertwined the past with the present, for the residents live upon the ruins of an Inca town and have incorporated the ancient stone foundations into their buildings. The cobble streets that define the town are of true ancestry and can only accommodate 1-2 llamas, and very few automobiles. We were privileged to be invited into a home. It had one large room with earthen floors, a fire pit for cooking, thatched roof, and no bathroom. The skulls of the resident's ancestors had my attention, but the squeaking guinea pigs had Scott's attention, for soon he too would dine on such. The roofs of the houses were adorned with ceramic bulls for protection and prosperity. A wooden cross between the bovines would indicate a Catholic belief. But, all had bottles of corn beer for the Mother (Mother Earth, of course)---the goddess of the Incas.
We sustained a sleepless night of truck engines roaring for we were next to the road that the huge automotive beasts could not easily climb or maneuver. Furthermore, a rooster crowing long before the crack of dawn awakened us. Thus, we were upon the golden Inca Ruins of Ollantaytambo as the sun rose to greet us. A great wall wove its way around the city, but was incomplete due to the natives leaving to fight the advancing Spaniards. The pink rock quarry for their structures was a valley away and they even had to change the flow of the river to get the stones into their present position. But, with all the hard work there was evidence of play as noted by the slide made for the children out of a rock outcropping in the midst of town. The fountains still held magic and gurgled with the water that flowed through them. And, there remains a revered one that is still used today in ceremonies.
We boarded the brightly painted train to Machu Picchu and chugged steadily up the mountainsides thatwere splattered with Inca signs. The train followed a turbulent chocolate milk river, as well as the Inca Trail. It stopped every so often to allow the stone faced hikers to disembark in the downpouring rain. I was glad we had chosen to go the entire length by train. Once at the base, we loaded into buses that took 30 minutes to climb the mountain that would take days or weeks for the trekkers to ascend. The Conquistadors never did discover Machu Picchu, well hidden from below protected in the arms of the mountains and the cloak of the clouds. And, when we arrived that is how we found her!..the mist thick and the rain falling upon her. But, our guide lead us to shelter and we sat for 3 hours absorbing his knowledge, listening to the tales of other travelers, and experiencing the essence of being amongst the ethereal spirits. The constant drumming of the raindrops mellowed to a quiet sputtering, and finally quieted down all together. We watched in awe as the clouds climbed the mountain peaks, providing us with dewy kisses along their way, and eventually departed leaving a glistening city for us to explore.
Yes, we were truly amazed for the metropolis laid between pillars of mountains, and teetered on the edge of great cliffs which hunched abruptly down towards the agitated river below. We attempted to discover all it's nooks and crannies---the sundial's highest vantage where all of it's corners pointed directly North, South, East, and West; the very Heart of the city formed by a rock in the shape of a valentine and where the sacred cave that entombed the 6 female mummies was located; the Temple of the Sun which was the roof of the sacrificial heart cave below that had portals for the summer or winter equinox sun to light the alter within; The Sun gates which were 2 miles away from the city entrance, centered on the mountain pass above that the Sun shone through during the summer equinox and lit up the city streets which pointed to her sister mountain peak; and the 16 fountains as they cascaded down throughout the city.
We grudgingly pulled ourselves away but impatiently anticipated the next day when we could continue our intimate embrace of this site. We bobbed in buses down the mountainside, peering over the fragile guardrails through the wild terrain to the depths below. We were bemused by a child, dressed as the Inca runners of old, who ran down a vertical trail to wave good bye to the visitors and were disappointed when we rounded the 3rd or 4th curve to find him absent, only to discover as we rounded the pass there he was running down the road well in front of the bus. The road drops some 2,000 feet from Machu Picchu to the town below, and we were very impressed with the child's endurance of doing this 3-4 times a day.
We returned early the next day, as the morning mist was dissipating and the golden rays of the sun caressed the terraces. Scott chose to climb the sister peak of Huaynna Picchu while Sherry further explored the interiors of the dwellings. It was a beautiful day with the sun shining in the clear blue sky, the humming birds danced about us, and the llamas lazily cantered by. The perfume of an orchid whose blooms last for only 24 hours wafted through the gentle breeze that was intermixed an ancient earthly musk. We were in heaven.
The streets and walls of many towns in Peru are built from stones left from the IncasWe retraced our footsteps to the buses and then returned to the train that rocked us gently to Ollantaytambo, where our van was awaiting us to whisk us back to Cusco. This seems like a good time to discuss bathrooms, for the one on the train did have a commode to sit upon but there was a hole in the bottom of the floor for our waste to spill directly on the tracks. I worried about splattering the kids who ran along the tracks waving at us. The Peruvian bathrooms all had toilets with running water however we were strongly advised not to flush the toilet paper due to the resultant plumbing problems, but rather to throw the tissue in the nearby wastebaskets.
We explored the outer Inca and Pre-Inca ruins that laid beside Cusco. But, by this time we were weary travelers---our muscles ached from the climbs, we were sunburned and flea bitten. The cool waters from the Water Temple were said to be the fountain of youth and we gladly bathed in them. We came upon a staggering young llama still with the umbilical cord attached and placenta on his snout, having been born only an hour before our arrival. We climbed amongst the natural caves used by the Pre-Incas for their sacred sacrificial rituals and found the many animal figures hidden in their crevices.
Our journey had ended in the mountains and it was time to head south to the desert and the Nazca lines. We flew from Cusco to Lima and enjoyed a leisurely day in the city. We were pleased to find how clean, quiet, and safe such a large city felt. We spent some time in the Miraflores Park where Scott felt that I was easy prey to a con artist posing as a distraught American tourist who claimed to have lost his backpack with all his money and identification. I only parted with $10 but felt uneasy about being an apparent target. I soothed myself with the knowledge that my karma was good, willing to assist a stranger in need. Anyway, we were taken advantage of earlier by Scott's need for a newspaper, which we did indeed buy a $.50 US Today for $2.50 and it was yesterday's news!!! We boarded a double decker bus and headed for Pisco. As soon as we left the lushness of Lima we were surrounded by dessert, the sand dunes rose directly from the Pacific Ocean and whirled with dust devils as far as our eyes could see. After 3 hours we arrived, and the heat rose up from the sand to envelop us while we breathed in the baked earth.
My karma was instant for as we walked around the sultry village 3 individuals, at different times, indicated that I must diligently protect my video camera. We immediately chose to return to our room and leave it there rather than chance being mugged. Scott was readily surrounded by a mass of young girls vying for his attention, cajoling him to eat at their diner. He decided to take the long route home rather than return to that situation---as soon as he discovered what they wanted I think it rather deflated his ego. For the most part, the street vendors would quit pestering you when you indicated that you were not interested in their wares.
We were only a block from the city square and a great commotion rose up from 7-12 that night. They were wailing, they were chanting, they were crying, they were singing, and they were yelling!! Sherry's poor Spanish skills assisted her in interpreting the shouts as denouncing the greedy, white belly Americans, wailing for the capitalist pigs to get out, and making other serious disparaging remarks about Yankees. She swore she could hear the crowd sharpening their pitchforks and sickles, while Scott peacefully slumbered. She paced frantically in the room throughout the night, knowing that the mob would soon find them. Eventually, the crowd dispersed into the darkness with no harm done to us. And, with the light of a new day we discovered that it had only been a Jehovah Witness revival.
We ventured to the Coast and boarded small motorboats as the pelicans and pink Chilean flamingos curiously eyed us. We were whisked out to the midst of the deep blue Pacific Ocean. There, located on a deserted sand duned island, was drawn a Trident that had withstood the test of time, with it's first documented account as early as 1827. It's meaning is unknown, but it is thought to have been carved by pirates to indicate a safe harbor. This 585ft x 110ft, and 3ft deep symbol was protected from winds, received little rainfall, and had calcified. It stood bold and proud, the very first highway sign.
The engines roared and off to the Isles Ballestas we zoomed. The island is a bird sanctuary where we observed blue-footed boobies, Peruvian turns, pelicans, commerants, turkey vultures, and an abundance of sea lions. The sounds that arose as we approached were deafening and the stench was thick. As in the day of the Incas, the Peruvians clean the island 2 times a year of the bird droppings and use it for fertilizer in their fields.
We returned to shore and drove deep into the Paracas National Reserve where we saw nothing but sand dunes. They rose and fell like waves in the ocean as our bus sailed tipsy turvy through them. We took photos of Cathedral Rock and listened for the dings that the blowholes made as if to call all good parishners to mass. But, we became more interested in the fishermen who climbed the rough cliffs from the shore carrying prized tubular mollusks that would be shipped fresh to Spain and purchased for an extraordinary fee. Scott readily ate one later and declared it tasted like lobster. We watched the fishermen lazily bring their catch back to shore---nets filled with wiggling silver shapes of all sizes. The pelicans and seals swam behind them, hoping for divine intervention that would allow them a feast. The dramatic effect of the mountain blue water lapping against the parched maize colored landscape enthralled us.
We returned to the village and somberly watched a funeral parade march past us. The hearse parted the streets, followed by the casket being carried by the pallbearers, with the forlorn and melancholy music rising from the musicians' instruments, and then the family and friends slowing finding their way to the grave yard, their wails and weeping drifting behind them into the wind. We caught the bus to Nazca arriving much past dark and searching only for our beds to rest our sleepy heads.
The screams of the peacock levitated us out of bed the next morning. And, before the heat of the day could sear us we were off to see the Chauchillian graves. Pre-Inca people built underground adobes, and placed the fetal positioned mummies facing east to begin their journey. The wrappings had worn and we were surprised to notice bleached ribs, humeruses, fibulas, and skulls with hair long and braided blowing in the breeze. We had passed many barrow owls and statue birds on our way into the depths of the desert.
Now, it was time to fly over the unexplainable Nazca Lines. Lines that stretched for miles in precise directions, huge drawings of animals that were meticulous--discovered only when modern man conquered flight. The small engine plane sputtered and we left the ground, dipping up and down with the air currents. We dove and spiraled above the arid brown cracked landscape and yelped with excitement when we recognized a figure---a whale, an astronaut, a hummingbird, a lizard, a spider, with perpendicular lines that crissed-crossed on top of one another. The naked eye could clearly see the drawings, however we were not so fortunate with our photos or video.
The return home was a lengthy one. A 6-hour bus ride from Nazca to Lima was extended when our vehicle overheated and there were traffic jams from the locals returning from the beach after a weekend of romping. We made our international flight by the skin of our teeth. We had no difficulties with our connecting flights and soared home uninterrupted, landing safely in Missoula. Some things we are looking forward to include constipation, flushing the toilet paper, and ice-cold drinks on a hot summer's day. Things we will do without for awhile include anti-itch cream, layers of suntan lotion mixed with bug spray, and hard rolls with strawberry jam (every Peruvian breakfast meal).
We hope that your Peruvian travels find you safe and happy, as we are.