3 October 2017
I flew from Los Angeles International directly to Lima, Peru on the Peruvian airline, LATAM. It was the first time I’ve flown out of Los Angeles where I was loaded onto a bus and driven along the tarmac next to the runways to my plane. There was a bit of excitement when the bus driver braked so hard and suddenly that many of the standing passengers (including me) were thrown forward, crashing into other passengers. The reason turned out to be a plane crossing our path. Not an auspicious way to start a trip but apparently no harm was done and, after picking themselves back up, everybody seemed to take the incident in stride. It makes me think, though. If a driver can miss seeing a passenger jet taxiing into his path, motorcycles really don’t stand a chance on the road. Although I certainly would have expected the driver to see and stop for the plane before he did, it is good he decided not to fight with the pilot for the same piece of real estate on the tarmac. After that the flight was pretty routine.
4-5 October 2017
I arrived in Lima shortly after midnight, got through immigration, customs and collected my luggage. I met Raquel who was there with a friend to pick me up. Kris, Raquel’s husband, is the friend of a friend of mine who introduced us via email. Kris and Raquel own a B&B in Ancon a suburb of Lima, and serve as a tour guides for Dutch speaking tourists, primarily from Belgium (where he’s from) or The Netherlands. I will stay with them while I’m in the Lima area and he will help me organize the rest of my time here. Kris met Raquel while he was riding his Honda Pan European motorcycle around the the world (a 4 year trip of 260,000 kilometers, about 161,500 miles). They met while he was traveling through Peru and later married. The Honda Pan European is the same motorcycle I rode from about 1996 to 2014, going through 3 of them. So that gave us something else in common. When I arrived Kris was just returning from taking a professional photographer around Peru. He returned the afternoon of the 4th after a long drive from Cusco. We talked briefly before he crashed into bed. Most of the 5th was spent organizing my month here and getting Kris’ list of recommended places to stay and local tours for each of the areas I want to visit, making reservations for internal flights, and paring down my list of the number of places I wanted to go. There’s more to see here than I’ll be able to do in the month I have.
6 October 2017
Travel day. I was up at 4:00 am. Not my favorite time to start the day, but necessary to make my flight which was scheduled for an 8:45am departure. We started boarding a little late and after scanning my boarding pass the airline official said she was going to tag my carry-on and put it with checked luggage. My carry-on is a case that contains my camera, lenses, and assorted photographic equipment. For obvious reasons, I never put that in checked luggage. After I explained to her what was inside, how fragile it was, and the fact I’d hold the airline responsible if any of my lenses were broken in the luggage compartment, she decided I could carry it on the plane after all. The rest of the flight was uneventful and we landed in Tarapoto. After collecting my luggage I got a taxi to take me into town where I could catch a “colectivo” to my first tourist destination of Chachapoyas. A colectivo is a large passenger van. I didn’t count, but I’d guess there were about 18 seats. All the luggage is loaded onto the roof, where it is first covered with a tarp, then tied down with a cargo net. And we were off as scheduled at noon. As is true in many other places in the world, traffic through towns is often slowed down by some very serious speedbumps. Here, I learned, the word “speedbump” translates to “rompemuelles” meaning, “spring-breaker”. An apt description. Our driver was clearly interested in making the trip in as little time as possible and passing as we approached blind curves was de rigueur, as was straddling the center line when traffic in both lanes of the two-lane road, consisted of the ubiquitous smaller and slower tuk-tuks and motorcycles who were forced to the sides of the road. The route was scenic and I enjoyed watching the scenery change from the jungle environment of Tarapoto, where it was hot and humid, with coconut palms, banana plantations, and jungle foliage, to cloud forest with moss covered trees, and the forest floor covered with ferns. We arrived in Chachapoyas around 8:00pm. I caught a taxi into the center of town where my hotel was located right on the central Plaza de Armas. After checking in, I arranged tours for the two days I would be here then found a place to eat some dinner, came back to my room and crashed into bed.
7 October 2017
After breakfast in my hotel I joined my tour group to travel first to the town of Cocachimba, the jumping off point to the Gocta Waterfall.
You haven’t heard of the Gocta Waterfall? Neither had I, nor, it seems, had almost anybody else until recently. It was known only to the locals who said nothing about it, supposedly because they feared the curse of a mermaid spirit in the falls if they revealed the location of the waterfall. But in 2005 a German hydro engineer saw the falls and persuaded the Peruvian government to measure them. The total height was measured at 771 meters (2,530 feet) making them the third highest set of falls in the world. Apparently that measurement has been called into question and I’ve seen various rankings for Gocta on the list of the world’s highest waterfalls. Suffice it to say that it’s impressively high.
The potential for tourist dollars was more powerful than the curse of the mermaid spirit and there is now a steady stream of tourists who come to hike to the falls. Depending on whether you hike to the lower falls or the upper falls you have to start at one of two different towns. Cocachimba, where my tour went, is at the trailhead for the lower falls. It’s about a 5.5 Km hike to the falls along a very scenic, well maintained trail.
It is, however quite steep in places and my old legs were complaining. For those who can’t make the entire hike there are horses available to carry you most of the way. Being stubborn, I did it all on just two legs. Hiking in you can see both upper and lower falls. Once you are close to the base of the lower falls, that is the only waterfall you can see.
After hiking back out and returning to Chachapoyas it was time for dinner, a shower and bed.
8 October 2017
Today I check out of my room, store my luggage with the hotel and tour Kuélap. This was a citadel of the pre-Inca Chachapoya culture (for whom the town is named). It is still being studied by archeologists and much is not known. Kuélap is constructed on three levels with the lowest level being surrounded by an impressive wall built of limestone blocks and is almost 2,000 feet long by 400 feet wide.
The wall varies in height between about 30 and 60 feet. The citadel has been dated to the 6th century AD and was conquered by the Inca in the 1470’s. The citadel was abandoned in the late 1500’s after the arrival of the Spanish. There are only three entrances, each being very narrow and very defensible.
There are the remains of about 550 circular stone structures that are believed to have been family dwellings. There are also larger stone structures believed to have served religious and ceremonial functions.
Archeologists believe that most of the building at the site took place between 900 and 1100 AD and they estimate that, at its height, about 3,000 people lived there. The site is still being actively worked and both conservation and some reconstruction are being done. I was fortunate to be able to access the site after the construction of a modern cable car system that ferries tourists across an impossibly deep gorge and up the opposite mountain.
Before the construction of the cable car system it was a two hour ride along a dirt road to get there (or a 4 hour hike) and another 2 (or 4) hours back out. I would never have made this observation but our guide pointed this out. On the cable car ride, as you go over a cliff, if you look carefully at the cliff face you can see some holes in the wall. Some early civilization used those holes as a final resting place for some of their dead, and they’re still there. If you look carefully at the hole in the cliff face in this picture you can barely see a human cranium.
Kuélap is said to rival Machu Picchu in terms of size and impressiveness and I can well believe that’s true. It has the advantage, though, of being in Northern Peru, off the main tourist trail in the south, so you don’t have to deal with such big crowds of tourists.
I return to Chachapoyas from Kuélap and catch a night bus. I’ll spend tonight on the bus, traveling to Chilayo.
9 October 2017
I get a taxi at the bus station and go to my hotel. Not hard to do, since there’s a big group of taxi drivers clamoring for the attention of the bus passengers. The hotel lets me check in, even though it’s early in the morning. Super nice not to have to wait until afternoon. I could sleep on the bus without any issues, but it will feel much better to be able to shower, shave and brush my teeth this morning. In Chiclayo I’ll be learning about another pre-Inca civilization — the Moche.
I sign up for a tour and we go first to the Brüning Museum. Hans Heinrich Brüning was a German engineer who lived most of his life in Peru between the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s. He became interested in archeology making numerous discoveries focusing on the Moche. The museum contains his collection of artifacts.
From there we go to Huaca Rajada, an archeological site that has yielded a fantastic treasure trove of artifacts. Under a mountain of dirt was a pyramid that was the burial site for the Lord of Sipán who was buried with lots of gold symbols of his exalted rank, supplies for his journey to the next life, and attendants to guard and care for him in the next life. A total of 14 tombs have been uncovered and, amazingly, they had been pretty much untouched by thieves.
All the original artifacts are in a museum (which I will visit tomorrow) so these are reproductions in the original locations. This is the tomb of the Lord of Sipán himself and dates to about 250AD. In addition to the Lord, six other people are also buried in his tomb with him. Note that two warriors were entombed with him and that both of them have had their feet amputated. That was done so they could not walk away from their post, guarding the Lord.
Three of the other people are young women and one is a child. With him are lots of jars with offerings, two llamas and a dog. The Lord was buried with symbols of his rank and lots of jewelry including a headdress, face mask, chest covering, earrings, necklaces, and nose rings, all made of gold, silver and copper. One of his necklaces was made of gold and silver in the shape of peanuts. Apparently peanuts were a major food source for the Moche and they symbolized the earth and the fact that humans come from the earth and return to it when they die. There were 10 peanuts on his right, symbolizing masculinity and the sun god, and 10 sliver peanuts on his left, symbolizing femininity and the moon god.
A separate tomb with three warriors was found. They were buried with armor, weapons, symbols of rank and lots of clay pots with offerings. At the bottom of the picture you can see the skeleton of a llama that was buried with them.
I believe this is the tomb of a high-ranking priest (though to be honest, with a few exceptions, I had a hard time retaining which tomb was identified with which individual). On either side of his skull you can see two very large turquoise objects. Those are earrings. The Moche would pierce holes in their ear lobes and gradually enlarge those holes as some people do today who wear large plugs in their ear lobes. The Moche would put a large round post on the back of an even larger piece of turquoise jewelry and wear them in their ears.
DNA testing revealed that the man in this tomb was older than, and related to the Lord of Sipán, so he’s called the “Old Lord of Sipán”. He’s covered with gold armor and is wearing a necklace of gold spiders held together with thin gold wire. His tomb, though, was generally much simpler than the Lord of Sipán’s.
10 October 2017
This morning I check out of my hotel and have them store my bags, then take a taxi to Lambayeque where I go to the Museo Tumbas Reales, the museum that houses all the artifacts recovered from the Huaca Rajada and restored to their former (truly impressive) glory. Not only are pictures not allowed all cameras and cell phones have to be turned in and stored in a locker before you’re allowed in the museum. Words cannot describe the fantastic, intricately done work.
In the afternoon I go to the local market to take some “local flavor” pictures of people. Peru’s National Football team played Colombia today in a World Cup qualifying match. They tied Colombia 1-1 which keeps Peru’s hope to qualify for the World Cup alive. People were celebrating everywhere. After pictures at the market I’ll take an early evening bus for Trujillo and a taxi to my hotel in nearby Huanchaco.
11 October 2017
This morning I book a tour to the local archeological site of the Pre-Inca Moche civilization which lived in the area around Trujillo from about 100AD to 700AD. A large Moche city is being uncovered with what is thought to be the ceremonial Temple of the Moon on one side of the city and the governmental/administrative center of the Temple of the Sun on the other side. We toured the Temple of the Moon. Spanish conquistadors looted and destroyed much of the Temple of the Sun, but, for some reason, left the Temple of the Moon pretty much alone. The temple is made of adobe and was covered with colorful murals. Most of the outside murals have faded into oblivion because of the sun but many interior murals remain.
There are a complex of rooms within the temple. The murals discovered in this room are thought to depict the Moche god Ayapec. Here’s a closeup of him.
Below is the main altar. Interestingly it was in the interior of the building so the people gathered for the ceremony in the plaza below couldn’t see what was happening. The Moche, like many similar civilizations, practiced human sacrifices on their main altar. So far as I know, most of them were done in public. The Moche, however, sacrificed their victims in private, drained a cup of their blood, and then brought that blood out to show the masses gathered in the plaza.
Some murals remain in the main plaza.
The murals are laid out in seven rows, layers or levels. The top ones are very hard to see. Below are some closeups and explanations. The bottom row shows prisoners or captives being brought back to the city by the victorious Moche.
The bottom level shows the prisoners, tied together, being marched back to the Moche city. The next layer up shows the priests, holding hands, possibly in a dance. The next layer up is of a spider, or two spiders facing opposite directions and sharing one abdomen. One of their gods was a spider god.
At the corner of the walls there are a couple of other structures and murals.
This one shows, in pictorial form, the Moche myths.
This is a view of the site from the top of the Temple of the Moon looking toward the Temple of the Sun. The large open area in the middle is where the people lived. You can see where some initial exploration of the city has begun.
In the afternoon I went to Chan Chan. Chan Chan is the largest known city of the Chimú culture which existed from about 900AD to 1470AD when they were defeated by and incorporated into the Inca civilization. Chan Chan is one of the largest surviving mud cities in the world. The only reason it has survived as long as it has it because of the desert environment in which it is located. It would have washed away if the environment had been rainy. The city covered about 20 square kilometers or almost 8 square miles and the population was almost 100,000 at the height of its power in 1200AD and was the largest city in South America before Columbus. The walls were covered with carvings and reliefs, some of which still remain.
The interior feels like a maze. It’s arranged in 9 large rectangular complexes separated by thick mud walls. Inside were homes, temples, storage buildings burial platforms and plazas. Some of the “streets” are wide.
The wall to the right of the picture above is the outer wall of the city. Some of the “streets” are not so wide.
Some of the streets have what appears to be a water channel running down it.
Because the ecosystem here is desert the primary source of water comes from rivers carrying runoff from the Andes Mountains. Water from these rivers was channeled to supply the city. Some of the wall carvings remain.
The carving on the wall in the last picture depicts fish swimming. On the other side of this wall was a large area, sectioned off into many rooms; some small, some large and the walls separating these rooms were made in the form of a fishnet.
Below is the main plaza and the carving on the wall surrounding the plaza.
It is reported that one of the treasures looted by the Spaniards from Chan Chan was silver that had been used to cover a doorway. In today’s dollars that silver was valued at about $2,000,000.
Tonight I take a night bus from Trujillo and will arrive tomorrow morning in Huaraz in the Andes mountains. On my way back to my hotel to pick up my luggage and get a taxi to the bus station in Trujillo I stop at the Huanchaco beach to take a couple of pictures.
Boats made of reeds were used by indigenous people in this area centuries before Columbus. They are comparatively light, very strong, watertight and very buoyant. Although Huanchaco is right on the Pacific Ocean and has a fishing industry, these boats are now just tourist attractions. They are, however, very cool.
And I had fun watching a mother and her little girl with some pelicans hoping for a handout.
12 October 2017
I arrive in Huaraz this morning, get a taxi to my hotel, and, once again, even though it’s long before check-in time they give me a room and I can shower, shave and brush my teeth before I start my day. Speaking of getting taxis, there’s a slight twist on normal procedure here. Taxis in Peru do not have meters, so you have to determine a price before you get in the cab. That’s tough for a tourist who has no way of knowing how far the destination is from the current location, or what’s reasonable, but you wing it, knowing that sometimes you’ll probably pay too much. Most of the time it works out reasonably.
I arrange a tour for tomorrow to a lake in the Callejón de Huaylas in the Andes. Huaraz is at elevation (just over 3,000 meters or 10,000 feet) in the Andes so overnight I went from sea level to 10,000 feet. I can feel the difference.
After arranging my tour tomorrow and getting some cash out of an ATM, I wander around the city center to take some local pictures. There are numerous indigenous groups in Peru that have remained pretty insular. They still speak their original language, live and dress in traditional styles. One of those styles is hats for women. And the hats have a story to tell. The hat’s style, color, the color or style of any ribbon or decorations on the hat, will identify the woman’s village, and/or indigenous group, and/or her marital status. Westerners usually use a ring on the left ring finger to indicate marital status. These groups use hats.
You will notice that many of the women have a colorful wrap on their back. Those are all over everywhere. Women use them to carry groceries, other purchases, babies, absolutely anything they need to carry goes in that. This next picture is one I would normally filter out just because I don’t think it’s a very good picture. But I’m putting it in anyway because of the subject. If you look at the woman behind the man in the red jacket you’ll see that, on the top of her hat, she has a baseball cap. I have no clue why and I’ve never seen that since. It looks pretty incongruous and useless up there, though. If you look at the pack on her back you can see her child’s legs and shoes sticking out.
This guy has a bicycle powered mobile fruit stand he’s set up on a corner. Just reading the paper and waiting for customers.
This woman was hanging out at the Plaza de Armas with her llama hoping tourists would stop and pay her to take their picture. This kind of thing is a pretty common way of getting money from tourists here.
13 October 2017
This morning I meet my tour group for a day trip out to the Llanganuco Lakes in the Huascaran National Park. Unfortunately there is a pretty solid cloud cover so it doesn’t look as if I’ll get the sun I’ll need for good pictures. Our first stop was at the town square of a little town along the way for a potty stop and so the tourists could stock up on supplies and souvenirs.
Then it was on to the town of Yungay wherein 1970 an earthquake triggered an avalanche that buried the town, killing about 20,000 people. The town was rebuilt near the original site, which Peru has declared a national cemetery.
The town’s cemetery and stadium were the highest points in the town and some of the residents fled there. Those who got to the highest ground survived. We toured the cemetery where we were given a presentation on the earthquake and walked over the rubble of the avalanche under which the original town is buried.
From here we enter the national park and head for the Llanganuco Lakes. There are two lakes — Lake Chinancocha and Lake Orconconcoha. We visit only the first, Lake Chinancocha. For those who would like to go out on the lake there are boat rides available. I choose to hike around it (though the trail doesn’t go completely around).
I have no idea what kind of tree it is, but the trail is surrounded by a beautiful tree with a peeling red bark.A little bit of sun breaks through the clouds during my hike, revealing a hint of the lake’s trademark turquoise color.
In spite of being mostly obscured by clouds the surrounding peaks still look forbidding.
I would have preferred to visit the second lake, but the tour van leaves the national park to take us first to another little town where we stop so people can buy snacks and souvenirs then head back to Huaraz. On the hike a single Peruvian mother with her 5-year-old child and I struck up a conversation. For the ride back the child came up to the empty seat next to me and told her mother she wanted to sit there. So for the rest of the trip I had entertainment talking to and playing with the little girl.
Huaraz is my last stop in the north. Tomorrow I head to southern Peru, which is the much more heavily trafficked tourist route.
14 October 2017
Travel day. I take the bus from Huaraz to Lima. There I change buses to get to my next destination — Pisco. It’s a long day. I don’t get to Pisco until just after midnight. This is not the height of the tourist season (thankfully) so normally I can get a room without a reservation. This time, because of the late hour I’m arriving, I called ahead to make a reservation, warn them I’d be there late, and also called ahead to the tour agent to reserve a trip to the Islas Ballestas.
15 October 2017
It was a very short night last night. I got in early this morning, slept for a few hours then had to be ready to be picked up at my hotel for the trip to the Islas Ballestas at 6:45 am.
The Islas Ballestas are a group of islands off the Peruvian coast that serve as a marine sancturary. You can’t go on the islands, but tour boats take you out to them and you can see the wildlife from the boat. It’s quite the operation with I’d guess over a dozen tour boats shuttling tourists out to the islands.
On the way to the port the tour bus stopped to let us take pictures of a flock of flamingos in the water by the beach. I don’t think I’ve ever seen flamingos in salt water before.
The port from which the tour boats leave also serves the local fishing fleet.
There are tons of birds on the islands. I’m no bird expert, but I think I’ve identified some of them.
And I was really surprised to see penguins.
Ok… so the one in front isn’t a penguin. It’s a pelican. He just got in the way when I was taking a picture of the penguins.
The penguins were marching as a group toward the edge of a cliff. They were a lot of fun to watch with their characteristic waddle and two of them even obligingly jumped off the cliff into the sea for me just before our boat moved on.
There were also cormorants and gulls. Lots of gulls. The islands are so covered with birds that the guano was harvested commercially.
Apart from the birds there were seals and sea lions and I even spotted some crabs.
The islands themselves were beautiful apart from the wildlife.
And there’s a mystery. This is a geoglyph they call the Candelabra of the Andes. It’s on the side of a mountain on one of the islands and nobody has figured out its origin or purpose.
In the afternoon I catch a bus for a short ride to the town of Ica. Just outside of Ica is an even smaller town that sprang up around an oasis in the desert — Huacachina.
In case you want to take a boat ride in an oasis, that’s available.
I’ve mentioned before about being in the desert. Pretty much the entire Peruvian coast is desert. Aside from the fact that an oasis in the desert is significant, Huacachina’s claim to fame is that it is home to the 2nd highest sand dunes in the world. You can gauge the size of this dune by the size of the people on it.
You can get a dune buggy ride into the dunes. The buggies will accommodate 2-6 people and you spend a couple of hours riding around the dunes with stops for pictures, admiring the view, and sliding down a dune on a snowboard. (Yes, I went down the dunes on the snowboard.)
You can see a long way from the tops of the bigger dunes. Although it’s hazy and not so obvious, if you look at the town in the distance, at the top, right of the picture, you can see the town was built around a large dune that sticks up right in the middle of the town.
I liked the play of light and shadow on the dunes and all the fascinating shapes.
If you look at the top edge of the near dune you can see the wind blowing sand off the edge.
Because of the wind, and the blowing sand I asked our driver if the shapes of the dunes were constantly changing as the sand was blown around. To my surprise he said they don’t change. The tire tracks and snowboard lines disappear as sand blows over them, but the dunes remain stable.
I spend the night in Huacachina. Tomorrow morning I go to Nasca.
16 October 2017
This morning I check out of my hotel and catch the bus from Pisco to Nasca. Nasca is famous for the Nasca lines, geogloyphs that are difficult to discern from ground level but can be more fully appreciated from the air. This is a huge tourist draw and from the moment I get off the bus people are hitting me up wanting to sell me a ticket for a flight. Pricing is flexible and adheres to the policy of “whatever the market will bear”. Having been forewarned by Kris, I catch a taxi and head to the airport from which the flights take off.
I make my arrangements and, before too long, I’m going through security to board one of the little Cessnas that do the flights.
The Nasca lines are believed to have been created by the Nasca people between 500BC and 500AD. Most of them are just long straight lines and geometric shapes. Some are shaped like animals and some like trees and flowers. That last group are the most interesting ones and the only ones I photographed.
They are shallow (4-6 inches, 10-15 cm) lines in the soil, created by removing the top layer of reddish dirt and rocks to expose the white layer underneath. Nobody knows for sure what their purpose was, but it’s generally assumed to be religious in nature. One theory is that the lines were created to be seen by their gods in the sky. Another that they served an astronomical purpose, like Stonehenge. Since this is desert and the Nasca worshiped the mountains and other water sources there’s a theory that the lines were sacred paths to where their deities could be worshiped and the animal designs were intended to invoke the gods’ assistance in bringing water to the desert where they lived.
Popular wisdom is that they can only be seen from the air. That isn’t quite true. There are foothills nearby from which they can be seen, but they are definitely better seen from the air. The way that’s done is the pilot flies to a geoglyph, then banks sharply so the passengers on one side of the plane can look down at the geoglyph. He then banks and turns in the opposite direction so passengers on the other side of the plane can look out their window to see the geoglyph.
Here a road was built right through the area. The road was built in 1910 but the lines weren’t discovered until 1927. The road bisects the lizard. Next to him is the tree.
Most of the lines are on the flat desert floor. The Man is on the side of a hill. The figures are huge. The monkey is 93 by 58 meters (310 by190 feet) and some figures are much bigger.
From the airport I go to the Chauchilla cemetery. This is a Nasca culture cemetery that was used for 600 to 700 years starting in the year 200AD. Unfortunately it was extensively plundered by “huaqueros” (grave robbers) before scientists arrived so the graves in my pictures are recreations. The bodies were buried wrapped in embroidered cotton and placed in graves lined with adobe bricks accompanied by pottery with offerings. The bodies were mummified and some still had hair and skin, thanks in large measure to the extremely dry climate.
For any Indiana Jones fans the Chauchilla Cemetery isn’t named in the film but it’s a setting for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
This is the site of the Chauchilla Cemetery. Every grave site has one of these roofs on poles over it.
Tonight I take another night bus, going from Nasca to Arequipa.
17 October 2017
I arrive early this morning in Arequipa. Also known as the White City, Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru (after Lima). It got the nickname “White City” because many of the large buildings in the center of town are made of a white volcanic rock called “sillar”. After an earthquake destroyed much of Arequipa in 1600 the Spaniards found that by using the available sillar and building squat thick-walled buildings, they could survive earthquakes. And many colonial buildings still exist, despite all the earthquakes since then.
Peru is on the ring of fire and has frequent earthquakes. This sign is in numerous buildings letting people know it’s an earthquake safe building.
My first task is to check into my hotel. With my luggage safely stored, and having showered after my all night bus ride, I head for the travel agent Kris recommended and book a tour for the following day to the Colca Canyon. That will be a two day trip with an overnight stay near the canyon.
The Colca Canyon is 3,270 meters (10,730 feet) deep, making it one of the deepest canyons in the world, much deeper than the Grand Canyon’s maximum depth of 6,093 feet. The biggest attraction, however, isn’t so much the canyon itself, as the fact that Andean Condors can be seen there riding the thermal updrafts the canyon generates.
For today I’m on my own to explore the city of Arequipa and it isn’t hard to find the colonial era influence. Iglesia La Merced is Arequipa’s second oldest church. Construction began in 1551.
This church, and most of the buildings in the following pictures, are all made of “sillar”. Many of these buildings have been repurposed from their original use. One example is the Casa Goyeneche, which was originally a private mansion built in the 16th century and home to the Goyeneche family whose coat of arms is still on the facade. That family owned the building from 1782 until 1945. Today it is a commercial building, owned by the Banco Central de Reserva.
As in all Peruvian towns, the center of town is the Plaza de Armas, which, in Arequipa is large and beautiful, with palm trees, benches, pools and fountain; dominated by the block-long cathedral on one side and columned arcades on the other three sides.
Diagonally across the street is the Jesuit church, La Compañía which was built in 1654.
Iglesia Santo Domingo, built in the 16th century, has been damaged by earthquakes and rebuilt several times.
Although I would have liked to enter the main cathedral to photograph the interior, it was not open when I was there. It is, however, massive and impressive from the exterior.
Another repurposed private home is the Casa Tristan Del Pozo. Built in the 18th century as a private mansion, it is now home to the Banco Continental. Just off one of the large, interior courtyards, some rooms have been reserved for paintings and information on the original owners.
The highlight, and most famous colonial religious building however, has to be the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. Founded by the wealthy widow, María de Guzmán, in 1580, most of the complex is now open to the public. ´Nearly 200 nuns lived there at one time and, since they took vows of isolation, they never left, so the monastery is a little city in itself with streets, living quarters, laundry, bath, chapels, gardens, even its own cemetery. This is the exterior wall and entry door.
And these are pictures of the interior.
There is a full sized church which was open to the townspeople and the cloistered nuns would attend services there in a separate area, hidden from the view of the public, which they entered from a separate entrance within the monastery.
Meals were eaten communally, though many of the living quarters had their own little kitchens. At the back of the dining room you can see a raised pulpit. During meals the nuns listened to readings about the lives of the saints.
There is still an active monastery here but with far fewer nuns. They live in a section of the monastery not open to the public.
18 October 2017
This morning, I leave for my two-day trip to Colca Canyon.
There are some stops along the way. The first is at a pullout that is near a site being visited by a group of vicuña. There are 4 animals in Peru that all belong to the camel family — llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos. Llamas and alpacas have been domesticated and are common. Vicuñas are wild and their wool is finer than the alpaca and finer than even cashmere goat hair. Their numbers were dropping significantly because they were being hunted and killed for their wool, which is very expensive costing around $300 per Kg. or $136 per pound for raw wool. Laws were passed protecting them and they are making a comeback. The guanaco is also wild and rarely seen.
At every pullout there is always a group of women with piles of souvenirs, mostly handmade, to sell to the tourists who stop. At this pullout there was a little boy who was there with his mother.
They had with them a baby llama and the boy would play with the llama, chasing it or carrying it around. I got some pictures of him sharing his baby llama with another child about the same age.
After stopping to see a herd of wild vicuña, we continued until we saw a herd of domesticated llama grazing near a well-watered area near the road and stopped for pictures.
Our next stop was at the high point of the pass just before descending to the town where we’d spend the night before visiting Colca Canyon. The pass was at 4,910 meters (or about 16,110 feet) above sea level. When I hike and climb at this kind of altitude I definitely notice the lower levels of oxygen.
Although almost impossible to see, in the far distance, partially hidden by the clouds, is a string of Peru’s volcanoes.
We descend to Chivay and I separate from the group. I’m with a group that has a different travel agent and my itinerary varies slightly from theirs. I’m taken to the nearby smaller town of Yanque where I check into my night’s lodging, find a restaurant for lunch, then meet my guide who will take me on a hike to the archeological site of Uyo Uyo, to see some local pre-Incan ruins, in spite of the overcast weather.
Uyo Uyo (occupied 1350AD – 1500AD) was populated by the Collagua people who built these terraces which are still in use by the local farmers.
The Collagua deformed their heads by placing splints along the sides of newborns to make their heads tall and thin. That distinguished them from the nearby Cabana people who also deformed their heads to make them short and fat. The Spanish found that practice grotesque and outlawed it so the people kept the original idea distinguishing themselves by the use of hats — tall thin hats for the Collagua and shorter wider hats for the Cabana.
On the way we passed a man leading a donkey laden with wood.
Along the bank of the river, which we crossed, you could see the remains of ancient mud brick storage facilities for agricultural goods.
And this is the archeological site of Uyo Uyo.
While hiking back to Yanque we could see some farmers using oxen to plow a field. The oxen were decorated, wearing embroidered cloth and my guide explained that today was a special day in their calendar; a day to celebrate to ox. So the oxen pulling the plow were “dressed” in finery, as were the people.
The people at the lower left of the picture below were manning the “refreshment stand”. The large containers behind them held “chicha”. Chicha is a traditional drink that’s been used in Central and South America for thousands of years. It’s a homemade, fermented drink, most commonly made from corn, though it can also be made from other grains or fruits. The Inca used it extensively in their religious ceremonies.
Men were guiding the oxen and using a homemade wooden plow to till the soil. A woman followed with a bucket of seed she dropped into the furrow and then more men came behind to cover the seed with dirt.
These were working people, not used to the interest or attention of a camera-toting tourist so I was a bit of a curiosity. They were happy to see me, friendly and welcoming. They even offered me a large glass of their chicha. Before coming I had read that it was not recommended that I partake because they use a common glass from which everybody drinks and that would be a good way to pick up some bacteria or virus that I really wouldn’t want. I could not, however, bring myself to refuse their generosity and inclusiveness so I gratefully accepted their offer and downed the whole glass, trusting that my immune system would take care of any microbe I ingested with the chicha.
In spots frequented by tourists many indigenous people have discovered that if they wear traditional dress, bring a llama with them that’s been dolled up in a hat or scarf or sunglasses, the tourists will think that’s cute and pay them to take their picture. I think that’s contrived and unrealistic and am not interested in pictures like that. These people were simply going about their lives and I consider myself fortunate that, for this brief period of time, they happily included me.
As we hiked back to town, one of the many surrounding volcanoes decided to let off some steam.
19 October 2017
This morning we go to the Colca Canyon. But before we leave I go to the Plaza de Armas where I’ve been told there will be a celebration from 6:00AM to 8:00AM. It turns out to be something done for the tourists and busloads of tourists show up. I did take some pictures of the girls who danced around the fountain in the middle of the plaza but skipped the llamas in sunglasses.
I have no idea what the meanings are of the different hats but thought the fuzzy “lampshade” style was fascinating.
Our first stop is another buying opportunity at some stands set up in the Plaza de Armas of a small town just outside the Colca Canyon. The woman in the foreground has a dolled up llama on her right. Harder to see, unless you look closely, is a hawk on a perch immediately to her left. There were a number of hawks there and, for a tip they would put a hat on a tourist’s head then transfer the hawk to the hat so a tourist could go home with a picture of a hawk perched on their head. I’m not sure why anybody would want that but I must be out of step because lots of people did.
Next was a lookout point in the Colca Canyon just over some condor nests in the canyon walls. The canyon here is narrow with steep sides.
Our guide had cautioned us that the condors were wild animals and there was no way to predict whether they would be out or not. Fortunately for me, they were out today. The Andean Condor is the largest bird in the world capable of flight as measured by weight and wingspan. Their wingspan measures from 270cm to 320cm (8 feet 10 inches to 10 feet 6 inches) and males average 12.5kg (28 pounds).
The juveniles are black and brown, or tan. The adults are black and white. And on some of the closeups you can see the crest on the head of the males. It was amazing watching these huge birds effortlessly soaring on the updrafts in the canyon.
As we left the narrow part of the canyon favored by the condors, the canyon opened up and became wide enough that towns and agriculture appeared.
The width of the canyon here is not caused by erosion of the river, but by the collapse of the canyon walls. And everywhere there is terrace farming.
The rest of the day was spent driving back to Arequipa, where I spent the night.
20 October 2017
Travel day. I took the bus from Arequipa to Puno. Puno is on the shore of Lake Titicaca part of which is in Peru and part of which is in Bolivia. After arriving I went to a travel agency to arrange an all-day excursion on Lake Titicaca for tomorrow. Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and is billed as the highest navigable lake in the world at an elevation of 3,812 meters (12,507 feet). With a surface area of 8,372 square kilometers (3,232 square miles) it isn’t quit as big as the Great Lakes, but still impressively large.
21 October 2017
I’m picked up at my hotel this morning and taken down to the docks on the lake where I board my boat and we head out into the lake. In the shallows of the lake a buoyant reed grows prolifically.
The roots of this reed float and the local Uros indigenous people harvest these reeds and use them for just about everything. They are harvested by a knife blade tied to the end of a long pole.That pole is lowered into the water deeply enough that the blade is below the level of the floating mass of roots. Pulling the blade up through the roots separates a chunk of the reeds together with their roots which are then gathered and bundled. By amassing enough of them, they create an artificial island that floats. These islands are big enough that they live on them; usually one extended family on an island.
Although many of the Uros have moved to the mainland, there are still about 60 of these floating man-made reed islands on Lake Titicaca. There are multiple small buildings on the island, all made of reeds. Historically the Uros would anchor their island where they found good fishing then pull up anchor when the fish moved and take their island home in search of better fishing. Today a bigger source of income is the tourists who come to visit. The floating islands also offered a defense. If a threat arose they could simply pull up anchor and take their homes elsewhere.
Their boats are also made of these reeds, whether it’s a small boat for a family,
Or a large boat intended to carry a bunch of tourists.
These bundled reeds are amazingly buoyant, as you can see by how full this boat is with tourists and how high the boat is in the water. That boat is having no difficulty floating, even when it’s so full of people.The water is shallow enough here that the reed boats are propelled by poling.
The reed buildings are made in different styles and some even have electricity, powered by solar panels. Note the electrical outlets in the dining room. This teepee shaped building housed birds (kept for eggs and meat), the rectangular buildings served as storage or the equivalent of different rooms in a house.
The birds roaming this family’s floating island.
Cooking is done over an open flame which is built on a base of rocks. The fire is fed by dried reeds.
The Uros man who opened his island to us and took us out in his reed boat created a miniature island, complete with dollhouse sized reed buildings, people, cooking stove and boats to show how the islands are created stacking cut reeds on top of the living roots.
In addition to being used to build your island, your buildings, your boats and fuel your cooking fire, the reeds are also a source of food. They showed us how, by going to the base of the reed, near the root, you could peel the reed like a banana and eat it. I tried it and it was very tender, slightly crunchy, with a flavor somewhere between lettuce and celery.
All in all, a fascinating look at a very different lifestyle.
Instead of riding inside the passenger area of our boat, during the trip to our next destination, the island of Taquile, I rode on top. It was a beautiful day to be out on the lake.
Taquile is an island in Lake Titicaca (a permanent, not a floating, island) that is the property of the Taquile indigenous group. There are no cars and no hotels on the island. To get from the dock on the lake up to the town, you have to pay a small fee to climb the VERY steep stone steps to the town. While all the tourists stop along the way, huffing and puffing in the oxygen deprived air at that altitude, natives chug on past, carrying big loads of supplies from the lakeside dock up to the town on their backs.
If you look past the tourists in the picture above you get a glimpse of a couple of Taquile men in colorful knit caps with big loads on their backs heading up to town. Once you get to the top, after a few rest stops to catch your breath, if you want to know where home is or how far it is, there’s a helpful sign in the main square.
The mountains on the other side of the lake are in Bolivia.
The Taquile women wear a black shawl over their heads and the men wear knit caps.
Knitting is a male activity and weaving a female activity. Men don’t weave and women don’t knit.
My group has lunch, watches the demonstrations of knitting, weaving and dancing, and learns a little about Taquile culture, then continues to follow the stone path to the end of the island where there’s another dock and our waiting boat. The villagers built this stone path to encourage tourism. As long as it is and as hilly and steep as the terrain is, that is a significant accomplishment.
Along the way we pass many farms
and a woman bringing a small flock of sheep back from where they’d been grazing.
We board our boat and return across the lake to Puno. I catch a taxi to the bus station to buy my bus ticket for tomorrow morning when I’ll leave for Cusco. The Puno market has been set up in a street near the bus station so I wander to market to take a few pictures.
A few stands have prices posted and to put the prices into context, the prices a listed in the Peruvian denomination of “soles” per kilo (2.2 pounds). At this time $1US = 3.33 Soles.
When I get back to the Plaza de Armas in central Puno there’s a parade going on. I have no idea what the parade is for, but watch the dancers, singers and musicians and take a few pictures. Many of the dancers carry noise makers that make a clacking sound when you spin them, which they do in a coordinated fashion.
22 October 2017
Travel day. Today I take the bus from Puno to the beautiful colonial city of Cusco. As soon as I arrive I first find my hotel get my room and deposit my luggage then find Valerio, the travel agent Kris recommended. Though I have his business card, he’s no longer located at the address on the card, which is now a restaurant. So I go back to the hotel and call him. He comes to the hotel and we organize my time there which will include tours to archeological sites and Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu in particular has to be arranged well ahead of time. Although this is not the high season for tourism, so there are smaller crowds around, Machu Picchu is pretty much always busy because it’s at the top of everybody’s list of places to visit and they limit the number of tourists admitted so if you wait until the last minute you can end up discovering that all the tickets for that day have been sold.
23 October 2017
The tours of the city of Cusco are led by Free Walking Tours — a group that works for tips. I head out to the Plaza de Armas where they meet by the fountain. It’s overcast and threatening rain so I’m the only one who shows up for the morning tour. They aren’t very excited about leading a tour for one person because unless I’m willing to be an exceedingly generous tipper they won’t earn what they normally get leading a group. We negotiate and their bottom line for an individual tour isn’t a freewill tip but is more than I want to pay so I decide to wander on my own and try again for the afternoon tour.
I start around the Plaza de Armas. At the center is a fountain with a statue of an Inca; a reminder that Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire before the Spaniards destroyed much of it and built their own colonial buildings on top of the Inca buildings.
The Plaza de Armas, in addition to the fountain, has gardens, paths and benches.
With the Cathedral dominating one side.
And the remaining sides surrounded by an arcade with stone arches. They say that you could tell the wealth of the owners of the buildings by the size of their balconies. If so, these were some very wealthy owners in colonial times.
The neighborhood of San Blas is noted for its narrow and steep streets. The red and white flag is the Peruvian flag and the multicolored flag with horizontal stripes is not the gay pride flag but the flag of the city of Cusco, which is flown all over the city.
There are no laws against loose dogs so everywhere in Peru there are dogs doing their thing, and pretty much universally ignored by the people.
The colonial era Santa Clara gate.
I have no idea what she’s carrying, but that looks like a pretty big load to me.
The weather continues to threaten rain, but it isn’t actually raining so after I get some lunch I head for the Plaza de Armas to try again for a walking tour of the city. This time we collect a few other people and leave on our tour; and this time the tour is in English.
We walk the narrow steep streets, stopping frequently so the tourists can catch their breath as we climb and get information on the history of Cusco. It’s hard to capture in a photograph just how steep these streets are, but I tried.
Yes, that’s a llama walking up the middle of the street.
I have to confess that I hadn’t really noticed them, but our guide pointed out the fact that many of the homes we walked past had a small sculpture on the peak of the roof with a pair of bulls.
The history behind them is that the Inca used images of a pair of alpaca, called “illas” whose images were placed on the roofs of homes and other places for protection and good fortune. When the Spaniards came their goal was to convert the indigenous people to Roman Catholicism and to switch their loyalty to the new Spanish conquerors. Bulls were unknown in the Americas at the time, but were brought over by the Spaniards who convinced the local population that, with their horns and bigger size, bulls could do a better job of protecting their homes. And the cross in the middle of the sculpture, would offer better protection from the Christian god than the Inca god could provide.
The sculpture came to be used to indicate that the family in the home was Roman Catholic and is common on the roofs in Cusco.
We arrived at the Iglesia de San Cristobal which offered a panoramic view of Cusco.
On the way back down, I noticed that the name of the street we were on was “Amargura” which translates as “bitterness”. Our guide had previously told us that many of the street names related to the history of the street, sometimes dating back to Inca times. Curious about a street named “Amargura” I asked and was told that it was so named because that was the feeling it generated among those who had to climb its excessively steep slope.
24 October 2017
Today I take a tour of two local archeological sites — Moray and Las Salinas. Before we get there, however, we make the obligatory commercial stop. This one included an interesting demonstration by some indigenous women of their weaving. They included the local vegetation they use to create the dyes for their colorful handmade woven fabrics.
Moray is an unusual archeological site in that it contains no centers for worship, fortresses or homes but consists of circular terraces. Although there is no certainty about the purpose of Moray, it is generally thought that it was an Inca agricultural research station. Measuring the temperature difference from the top terraces to the terraces at the bottom of the depression show a difference in temperature of 15º Celsius (27º Fahrenheit). Being protected from the wind it was warmer at the bottom.
A crop from a warm climate could be grown in the bottom terraces. Over the course of several crops it could be gradually moved up to colder levels, thereby selecting those plants with the genes to survive and produce at colder temperatures. And visa versa for crops native to colder climes. Using techniques like these Peruvian indigenous people developed over 3,000 varieties of potato and over 300 varieties of corn.
You can get an idea of the size of the site by comparing the terraces to the size of the people. The largest group of terraces is 30 m (98 ft.) deep.
Looking closely at the terraces you can see how they built in steps consisting of elongated rocks, to allow the workers to ascend and descend from one terrace to another.
These terraces have been reconstructed. The site also has unreconstructed terraces.
Irrigation systems supplied the terraces with water. I had no idea that the Inca had such a sophisticated system for agricultural research.
From Moray we drove to Las Salinas. This site pre-dates the Inca. Indigenous people discovered that the water coming out of the ground was extremely salty and channeled the water into shallow rectangular depressions dug into the hillside where the water is allowed to evaporate and the salt left behind is harvested and bagged.
There are approximately 5,000 of these salt pans that have been here and have been used by the local population for over 1,000 years.
The source is a simple channel of water coming out of the mountain which is guided through a series of channels to fill each of the shallow pans.
This woman is shoveling a pile of salt into bags,
Which are then carried up to a collection point.
The salt is separated by color, packaged for retail sale and sold to tourists.
25 October 2017
This morning I pack my bags and check out of my room, packing just enough in my backpack for an overnight stay tonight in Aguas Calientes. The hotel in Cusco will store my bags for me and I’ll be returning there tomorrow evening. I leave the hotel with my camera gear and backpack to meet the tour bus for a trip to the Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley) of the Inca today.
The Urubamba River flows through the valley and its steep sides are covered with terraces the Inca used for farming. Below you can see the town of Pisac.
Not only were the rocks forming the terrace walls hauled up the hillside but our guide told us the terraces themselves were constructed in 4 layers. The bottom layer consisted of large rocks hauled up from the river below. The layer above that consisted of smaller rocks, also hauled up from below, and the third layer was a layer of sand brought up from the river. The top of each terrace was a layer of nutrient-rich soil from the river banks. Thus each terrace would drain water predictably and well and the crops would grow happily in their well-drained, rich soil.
The Inca took control of the Sacred Valley from the local indigenous groups during the period of about 1000AD to 1400AD. Storage buildings and what are believed to be residences for the workers who built and farmed the terraces are on the steep hillsides above the terraces.
It is quite mind-boggling to try to comprehend the amount of labor involved in lugging all this rock into position, chipping away at it to form it into building material, and building the expanse of terraces and buildings on these steep hillsides.
At the back of the site is a gorge and on the other side of the gorge a cliff, the face of which is riddled with holes.
This is the site of a huge cemetery. Each of these holes is a burial site, long ago visited by grave robbers. This is the largest known Inca cemetery with over 1,000 graves. The area is now off-limits.
We have some time to explore the various buildings in the sector known as Qantus Raqay, possibly a residential area with ceremonial baths.
The complex known as Q’allaqasa.
From here we made a commercial stop in the town of Pisac. I love the hats on the ladies at the bottom right.Lots of stalls selling to tourists.
From here we travel to the town and archeological site of Ollantaytambo next to the Patakancha River. In about the middle of the 15th century the Inca emperor, Pachacuti, conquered Ollantaytambo and turned it into his personal estate. I did not have enough time to see everything that’s here because of the time of my train ticket to Aguas Calientes.
There were impressive terraces climbing another impossibly steep hillside. These terraces were made from finely cut stone, rather than the field stone I saw at Pisac.
At the top of the terraces were a number of buildings.
From the terraces you can look out over the valley, across the town of Ollantaytambo.
If you look carefully at the side of the mountain on the other side of the valley you can see a light colored square with a trail leading up to it from the back of the town. Those are storehouses for crops built by the Inca high on the mountain so they would be protected from pillage by enemies and would receive the cooling and drying winds that would help preserve them. Here’s a closeup.
To the left of the storehouses is a natural rock outcropping that very much resembles a face in profile.
That face was thought by the Inca to be the face of a god. A god with pale skin and a beard. Genetically, the Inca are darker skinned and do not grow enough facial hair for a beard. Having this belief in a pale-skinned, bearded god led them to initially view the Spanish Conquistadors as gods and to accept them, rather than seeing them as the humans bent on conquest and pillage that they were.
At the base of the terraces were some examples of the finely cut stones used by the Inca in their building.
Some of them had internal cuts that would have been invisible from the outside after the stone was set but when mated with an opposing stone would have added strength and stability to the structure.
There was much more to see here and I would have loved to explore more, but I had to get to the train station in town. I was not willing to risk missing the train. Missing that train would have meant missing Machu Picchu. There are two different trains in Ollantaytambo both going to Aguas Calientes — one for the locals that’s inexpensive and you have to have a Peruvian identity card to take it. The other train is far more expensive and is strictly for foreign tourists.
I take the train for tourists to Aguas Calientes where I am met at the station and led to my hostel room for the night. Tomorrow I will visit Machu Picchu.
26 October 2017
I’m supposed to meet my guide at 6:00AM in the plaza de armas so I set my phone alarm for 5:00AM. My ticket for Machu Picchu is for 6:00am to 12:00noon. At 4:45 hostel staff are banging on my door to get me up in time. Somebody forgot to tell me they’d do that. The hostel stores my backpack for me so I just take my camera gear and a pre-packaged simple breakfast I can take with me.
I was early so the small plaza de armas starts out with only a few people but is soon crowded crowded with tourists and numerous guides calling out names off their lists trying to collect their group. I find my guide and join his group. We walk to a nearby street where there’s a long line of tourists boarding buses that come in a continuous stream. As soon as one is full it leaves for Mach Picchu and another takes its place so the line is moving more or less continuously.
The bus takes us along a dirt road that switchbacks up a steep mountain and deposits us in front of the entrance. The system to manage the hoards of tourists is well-organized and obviously well-practiced. While I would much rather have seen Machu Picchu without the Disneyland-like crowds there really is no option.
Paths inside are clearly marked and the crowds are managed by making them all one-way so you’re not allowed to wander but are guided through the site and out the exit. As long as you are within the six hour window of your ticket you are allowed reentry so I make two trips through. One with the group led by my guide and another taking my time to get the pictures I want.
Machu Picchu is a huge complex with numerous buildings.It is believed that it was built around 1450 as a royal estate for the emperor Pachacuti. It was abandoned at the time of the Spanish conquest and, though it was known to locals, it was unknown to the outside world until the American explorer and historian, Hiram Bingham, brought it to the world’s attention in 1911.
This plaque is located at the entrance and was set to honor Hiram Bingham on the 50th anniversary of his discovery of Machu Picchu: 24 July 1911-1961.
Much of it has been reconstructed to give tourists an idea of what it was originally built to look like.
I mentioned earlier about the crowds of people but, hopefully, not too many show in my pictures. That’s because I waited patiently for gaps in the crowd. If I didn’t wait it looked like this.
There was running water through Machu Picchu via channels. Some large:
And some small.Individual stones were carved and placed for special purposes. This 4 points of this stone point in the four cardinal directions — north, south, east and west. A cell phone with a compass app placed on top of the stone confirms the Inca got it perfectly aligned.
This stone is known as the Intihuatana Stone. This Quechua name was given to it by Hiram Bingham and translates as the “hitching post of the sun”. It was called that because the Inca believed that this stone held the sun stable in its path across the sky. The stones point directly at the sun during the winter solstice.
This is a large slab of rock, set on end, that duplicates the shape of the mountain range behind it.It is thought that this rock pile in the middle of the complex was a quarry used as a primary source for their building material.
The peaks at the end of Machu Picchu were seen by the Inca as the profile of a man lying on his back.
There are about 200 buildings, with one area for storage buildings, an area for ceremonial purposes, residential areas divided into a section for the common people and a section for the nobility.
The Sacred Plaza
Earthquakes take their toll. One corner of this building on the sacred plaza is showing the effects.
The vistas from this mountaintop location are phenomenal.
Llamas maintaining the grass in the main plaza.
In Quechua, the word “machu” means “old” and “picchu” means “peak” or “mountain”. So Machu Picchu is Old Mountain. The peak on the left is the peak for which the site is named — Machu Picchu.
This door jamb is a “double jamb” which indicated that the area behind it was for upper class people only. Common people were not allowed past a double jamb.
If you look at the stones at the two top corners of this wall you will see a round protrusion carved into each rock.
Those protrusions served as anchors for the thatched roof and were used like this:
It’s Spring, and, if you looked closely, you could see little wildflowers sprouting out of some of the terrace walls.
Everywhere you look, everywhere you wander, there are amazing ruins, amazing views.
I took the bus up the mountain but hiked down. There is a well marked trail from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes. They said the trail was just over 1.7 km (a little more than a mile) long but, as steep as it was, even going down was tiring.
You get more of the feel of the jungle hiking through it than you do riding in a bus along a dirt road, even though it’s the same jungle. The steepest parts had stone stairs and the trail was well marked. (Though sometimes the arrows pointed in different directions).
On a vertical section the Inca method of stone steps protruding from the vertical surface was used.
When I came out from under the jungle canopy the surrounding jungle covered mountains were a constant presence.
The trail even went past the unmarked ruins on the side of the mountain of some more old terraces where the Inca farmed.
And the occasional jungle flowers growing wild.
The trail ended at the dirt road leading back to Aguas Calientes. Along that road was a butterfly house; an enclosed preserve to breed and study the local butterflies. I’d seen the signs as the bus drove by going up the mountain. Now that I was on foot I could stop and visit. It was small but fascinating and I got an individual guided tour.
The most beautiful butterflies would always close their wings whenever they landed. The underside of the wings was good camouflage but the top of the wing was a bright blue and it only showed when they were flitting around.
I never did successfully get a picture of one flying around (though I spent a lot of time trying) but captured just a glimpse of one that had just emerged from its chrysalis and was drying its wings.
My train ticket to return to Ollantaytambo was for the evening. I killed some time in Aguas Calientes, then caught the train. In Ollantaytabo there are numerous buses available for transportation back to Cusco all of which were named. Part of my package included transportation on “Bus Pedro”.
When I got off the train there were a number of people holding signs for different buses and I searched for “Bus Pedro” but didn’t see a sign. There was a woman at the end of the line with a sign that had a long list of passengers but not the name of a bus. I said I was looking for “Bus Pedro” and she said she had that list. I looked over the list of names on her board but mine wasn’t one of them.
I stuck with her and she got everybody (except me and two other men) on their buses. Since my name wasn’t on the list for Bus Pedro she was telling me I’d have to pay her for passage then try to collect reimbursement from my travel agent. I had his phone number and she tried calling but said she got no answer.
She found a bus (Bus Lucy) with space available I could purchase. I didn’t much like that idea since 1) I’d already paid for the bus and 2) she said she had no receipts, so I’d just have to pay her and would have nothing to prove to my agent I had, in fact, had to pay again. The driver for Bus Lucy still was holding his board and, lo and behold, there was my name. I have no idea how my name got on Bus Lucy’s list or why it wasn’t on Bus Pedro’s but I’d found my seat and got on board.
It was late and everybody was tired so sleep was what everybody did. But this was no overnight bus where the seats folded flat so we had to sleep sitting upright. The man next to me fell asleep before I did and every time the bus went around a curve he tilted. I have a hard enough time falling asleep while sitting upright, but having a 200 (plus) pound man leaning over on me with every turn didn’t help.
I did eventually fall asleep, waking up when we stopped at a square in Cusco. I got myself oriented and walked to my hotel where I could sleep horizontally.
27 October 2017
Today is my last day in Cusco. I shop for presents and see a few more of the Cusco sights. The sky is full of rain clouds but the sun is shining on the cathedral, making for a dramatic picture.
The Killeke culture occupied the Cusco region from about 900AD to 1200AD when the Inca came and made Cusco their capital. The small building to the left of the Cathedral is a separate chapel called the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) though it is connected to the Cathedral and you can enter the Cathedral through the Sagrada Familia. To the right of the Cathedral is the Iglesia El Triunfo (Church of the Triumph) which is also connected to the Cathedral.
None of the churches allow any kind of photography inside, either with or without flash, which I found disappointing. Just up the street is the Palacio Arzobispal (The Archbishop’s Palace) which today is a museum of religious art.
The stonework lining the walls of the building on the outside is Inca stonework. One of those stones is named — La Piedra de Doce Angulos (the twelve-angled stone) and is listed as a Cultural Heritage of The Nation of Peru.Other similar stones exist, but this is the most famous. I found the entire wall to be impressive even if the other stones didn’t have as many angles.The door to the Archbishop’s Palace is huge. If you look at the door knocker you’ll see that nobody could reach it while standing on the ground. It was about the right height, however, to be used by a man on horseback.
The center of the interior is a courtyard.
There was a service going on in the palace chapel so I didn’t enter.The arcade surrounding the courtyard is beautifully tiled.With carved wooden doors.
28 October 2017
Heading down to the Plaza de Armas I ran into police in riot gear and a protest march.
Everything was peaceful and orderly. The protesters marched in the street and the police stood by as the protest circled the Plaza de Armas. It wasn’t until the above sign came by that I had any idea what this was about. The sign says “Marcha por la paz y por la integridad de la carretera Hiram Bingham en defensa del empresariado Peruano-Machupiccheño” (March for peace and for the integrity of the Hiram Bingham road in defense of the association of Peruvian/Machu Picchuian businessmen). Okay, I made up the word “Machu Picchuian” but that was as close as I could come to whatever you call a citizen of the town of Machu Picchu (the town of Machu Picchu is an alternative name for the town of Aguas Calientes.)
I later searched the Internet and discovered that the Hiram Bingham road is the road I took from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. The buses that ferry the tourists all belong to one concessionaire (Consettur) which has a 30-year monopoly until 2025 based on a contract signed by the mayor of Urubamba who is now a local congressman. They are making millions by overcharging foreign tourists significantly to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
By comparison foreign tourists pay about the same price for the 20 minute, 7 km ride from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu as they would pay to take the bus for the 9 hour, 500 km ride between Arequipa and Cusco.
A local business consortium sued to allow competition and got an initial decision in their favor. Consettur (not surprisingly) is appealing the court’s order. The protest appears to have been organized by the local business consortium and appeared to have broad popular support with a number of people carrying handwritten signs. This woman’s sign says “I want peace because I want life”.
And these signs say “Peace is liberty in tranquility” and “Waling toward peace is moving closer to liberty.”
These signs say “The Hiram Bingham route belongs to Machu Picchu”There was even a band.
The last site I want to visit before I leave Cusco this afternoon is Quirikancha and the Convent of Santo Domingo. Quirikancha was the temple of the sun god, which the Spaniards plundered, destroyed and then built a convent on top of it — the Convent of Santo Domingo. Here is a model of what they believe Quirikancha looked like.
There are remnants of the temple inside the convent and the rounded portion of the outer wall is still standing. The large open area in the foreground above and the rounded corner of the outer wall at the left of the model are still standing and can be seen in the picture below.
It was said that Quirikancha had a large disk of solid gold that was studded with precious stones to represent the sun god. The conquering Spanish said that the grassy area below contained 20 life-sized llamas and their herders in solid gold and a garden of gold plants with stems of sliver and solid gold corn cobs.
Another view of the Inca wall with the convent rising above it.
The Convent of Santo Domingo.
Inside the convent are displays of the remnants of Quikoncha.
A double door jamb, like the one I saw at Machu Picchu, indicating only upper class people could enter.
And a sign said the jamb featured a 14-angle carved rock
There was a display of some of the carving the Inca did in the interior of the stones to channel water through the rock and connect the stones to each other.
And here’s the convent that replaced the destroyed sun god temple.
A dance group was dancing on the grass in front of the convent.
I returned to my hotel to pick up my luggage and catch a taxi to the airport. I’m flying from Cusco back to Lima where Kris will meet me and take me back to his home for the night.
29-30 October 2017
Today was a quiet day with Kris and Raquel in Ancon. I repack everything for the trip back home and work on this blog. I fly out of Lima for Los Angeles tonight (technically early the morning of the 30th) on a red eye flight that lands in Los Angeles the morning of the 30th. My month in Peru has come to an end.