June 17 Monday
We left San Diego at 11:30 for the flight to Los Angeles. From Los Angeles, we flew to
Lima, Peru on Lan Chile. We arrived in Lima June 18 at 12:30 AM with a 6 hour lay over
until our 6:30 flight to Cusco. Trying to sleep in an airport is an exercise in futility so we
spent much of the time wandering and watching and waiting. Did get a great picture of Ken
stretched across 4 seats in a vain attempt to catch some zz'sssss.
Finally we boarded the Aero Continente plane to Cusco, arriving at 7:30 AM.
June 18 Tuesday
Magalay, an employee of Southwind, met us at the airport. It was nice to have
someone ready to take care of us as we were in rather poor shape after being up
for 24 hours. She had a porter take our luggage to the waiting van and off we
went to the Hotel Libertador--a beautiful 5 star hotel in the heart of historical
Cusco. We sipped some coca tea which is a very old elixir for acclimating to
high altitudes----Cusco is at 12,000 feet. After tea, we immediately went to our
room and slept for a couple of hours. Waking up and feeling refreshed, we set
out for an exploratory walk around Cusco.
It was an interesting time to be there as the people of Peru were protesting the
government's plan to privatize the electric utilities companies. Throughout Cusco
hundreds of people were marching in protest, banging drums, chanting, etc. In
the Plaza de Armas, the historical center of Cusco, soldiers carrying large body
shields were lined up along the promenades, while army trucks lined the streets.
Although this sounds ominous, it really wasn't as there was more of a festive
atmosphere in the air------which would change dramatically the next day.
We sat in the Plaza, watching children play, lovers stroll, venders desperately
trying to sell everything from shoeshines to postcards, tourists resting and
watching. It was very colorful and vibrant. However, underlying it all was the
awareness that many people are in poverty and really living a third world
existence. Many young boys were trying to sell postcards while women were
persistent in trying to sell trinkets and woven goods. "No" and "nada, gracias"
had to be repeated over and over again before a vender would venture on to the
We went back to the hotel around 4PM and found that we were not going to stay the night there as planned, but rather were going to
immediately drive to Yucay in the Sacred Valley. We needed to get out of Cusco and on our way as there was a country-wide strike which
involved closing all transportation routes----vehicular, air, trains,----scheduled for the next day. So-----we all hopped in the van and were on
our way with Rosa, our wonderful guide, and Miguel, our fearless driver.
On the way to Yucay, we made brief stops at a couple of Inca sites. At Tambo Machay there is an ancient fountain where the water always
flows. It is said that the water provides eternal youth and so, of course, we spread it on our faces and the wrinkles and ravages of time
Finally, exhausted from minimal sleep, adjusting to the high altitude and the hurried flight from Cusco, we arrived at the charming, delightful
Posada del Inca in Yucay at 6:30 PM. After eating at 7 PM, we were in bed by 8:30.
|Location: SACRED VALLEY--PISAC
Today was the day of "our grand adventure on the llama trail." After a good night's sleep we were awake and up by 6:15. I took some
early morning pictures and then we had breakfast at 7:15. As expected, all roads were barricaded today and so it seemed as if our trip to
Pisac and the Inca monuments there would just be a dream. But--------Miguel, our fearless driver, said he knew a back way and, being the
intrepid travelers we all are, it was easy to make the decision to give it a go. So we set off on a three and half hour excruciating off-road
drive, bouncing along a trail composed of rocks and gullies (the normal route takes 45 minutes.)
Fortunately all of us have a sense of adventure when traveling and
recognize moments that become great memories. We frequently reminded each
other of this as we competed with sheep herds, wild turkeys, cattle and llamas;
turned down blind paths; found ourselves where no cars had gone before; asked
directions of sheepherders who could not understand from whence we had
come; followed river beds and generally used a van to traverse what we dubbed
"the llama trail." We passed through several small villages with people in colorful
native clothes. Most of the people were very dirty as water was scarce and
things were very dry. Along the way we gave coloring books and crayons to
adorable children. Their eyes sparkled as they timidly smiled and clutched new
treasures to their chests.
Finally we arrived in Pisac after drivimg across what looked like a not-at-all-safe
pedestrian bridge that took us across the river to the main road. As we started up
the mountain that led to the Archeological Park of Pisac, several people stopped
us to warn that the road was barricaded and that we could not get through.
But--------we had come too far to be deterred so up we went. Sure enough, we
began to find large rocks across the road but we were able to easily navigate
around them. "This is easy," we thought. It didn"t seem like a very serious effort
to stop anything. This assumption was soon shattered when we met the first of
a series of very serious blockades. Huge tree limbs and boulders filled the road
and there was no way around them. Our first thought was "Well, this is it. It's
been a gallant try but it's over." Then, a refusal to admit defeat took over. While
Leah and I worried that someone would end up snapping a back, the men used
tree limbs as levers to move boulders, making just enough room for the van to
squeeze through. We were on our way again. When we finally arrived at the top,
it was no surprise to find that no one else was there except the lone Quechua
person along the trail.
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Wonderful, warm guide Rosa began educating us about Peruvian history--a history that begins long before the Inca civilization; although
most of what we will see and what remains is from that time. We took an hour and a half walk through ancient Inca ruins, temples, etc.
The "stroll" took us up many (!) steep rock steps and along small paths cut into the mountain with deadly drop-offs along the way. We saw
thousands of small caves in the mountainside cemeteries. For centuries, people were buried in this way.Â It is difficult to understand how
the caves were dug so high and how the bodies were taken to them, as the sides of the mountains are quite sheer and steep. Along the trail,
in the middle of what seemed to be nowhere, a little man sat selling little trinkets he had made--it was very strange to find this solitary soul
just sitting there, waiting for us.
We saw our first Inca terraces cut into the mountains and hillsides. They are
really quite remarkable. The stonework is still in place as if built yesterday. It
became fairly easy to picture each terrace being worked by myriads of people as
they planted, nurtured and harvested their crops. Higher than the terraces were
the temples and other buildings of what was probably a sacred sanctuary for the
Inca and his people. We were impressed with what we saw although it was just a
hint of what would be at Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu.
When we returned to the van, we were amazed to see that Miguel had spent the
time finding water and completely cleaning the van, inside and out. There was no
trace of the mud and dust from our morning adventure. We were pretty
impressed! Also, we found that a few other vehicles had found their way up the
mountain, taking advantage of the heavy work accomplished earlier by our men.
We headed back down, recrossing the now navigateable road although the boulders and trees were there just as we had moved them. After
having a fantastic lunch at an elegant little restaurant owned by a well-educated couple who had lived in the US for several years, we spent
some time at an outdoor market in Pisac. Unfortunately, because of the very limited amount of traffic that day, there were just a few stalls
open. We did buy a little leather bowl from the colonial period. It had probably been owned by people living high in the mountains who had
sold it to a collector of artifacts.
Then-------we started home. Rosa and Miguel believed that the barricades would
be down on the highway so we began the 45-minute drive. As we went along,
several cars stopped us to say that the road ahead was barricaded but we kept
going, passing several weak blockades which were easy to get around; again we
were lulled into thinking "no problem, home free." Finally we rounded a corner
and there ahead of us was a very high, substantial wall of boulders. Several men
were standing around it. Fortunately, Miguel stopped quite a ways back, as the
men began shouting and running towards us. They were throwing good size
stones, clearly wanting to hit the van. It was somewhat frightening as they were
very angry and very serious. Quickly we turned around and started back toward
Pisac, looking for a bridge to cross back over to the "Llama trail." When we
stopped to ask directions, villagers told us where a bridge was but said that the
other side was barricaded. Rosa told them "no, we drove this morning and it was
Little did we know that the angry men, having realized what we had accomplished earlier,Â spent the day barricading the trail. Soon we
found ourselves out of the van once again, moving huge boulders, but this time without tree limbs to serve as levers. At first it appeared that
we might be stranded in the middle of nowhere for the night--in a cold, cramped van.
As the men were struggling, two little boys sat watching. After a while, the littlest boy, Michael, got
up, walked over and began moving small rocks. No words were spoken as he reached out to
strangers. It was an absolutely charming moment. When we were through, I gave him a coloring
book and crayons. His little face said it all as he held them to him. I often think about him and hope
he has had many hours of special pleasure with his treasure.
Finally through brute force, the men were able to move two boulders just enough to squeeze the van
through. We were on our way once more.
Soon dark came and we could see nothing except what our headlights covered. For a while we
followed an old man who was leading his cattle home. He would not move them to the side of the
road and, since he was carrying a rather threatening looking axe, we meekly slowly followed behind
him until he turned into his pathway. At that point, he turned to us and said, "you know, the
highway is faster", providing us with a moment of sorely needed comic relief.
Just as we finally saw the lights of Yucay across the river--all we needed was to find a bridge to the
other side--we got stuck in a gully-----the van would go neither forward nor backward. We all piled
out, wondering what to do and what else could happen. Finally, two people who had been watching
from a hillside came down and helped fill the ditch with rocks and we were able to get out.
A few minutes later we were back at Posada del Inca--tired, hungry, dirty and anxious to share our
great adventure with anyone who would listen. We were the only people who had done anything that
day. Everyone else had sat around the hotel with nothing to do. For many it meant not being able to
get to Machu Picchu at all. I can"t imagine how disappointing that was for them.
After a shower and change of clothes, we enjoyed a very fine dinner. As we closed the day, we had no idea what the next day would bring
as the strike and protests were scheduled to continue. We did know that we couldn't repeat today's misguided but worthwhile adventure.Â
It was a good day although it had taken 6 and a half hours to drive what should have been one and a half hours at most.
June 20 Thursday
Location: SACRED VALLEY--OLLANTAYTAMPO AND CHINCHERO
We were up at 6:30 as the new plan was to go with another group larger group under police escort to Chinchero. Mornings are beautiful
at the Posada. Women fill the 3-tiered fountains with flower blossoms; the sky is clear and blue with towering mountains surrounding
the hotel. The women begin bringing their wares in and setting up for the day around 7 AM. They stay until late at night.
We had breakfast at 7:15 so that we could begin our new adventure but then
Rosa called to say "good news." The strike the day before had been so
successful in shutting down the entire country of Peru, that the government had
capitulated during the night and agreed to the demands. The strike was over!
We were able to resume our scheduled itinerary. We left at 8:30 for
Ollantaytambo. This is an old village where people still live in Inca houses and
the streets are as the Inca's people built them. We visited two of several houses
built around a courtyard. Each "house" was a single room where the family eats,
sleeps, cooks and works. They were the Inca equivalent of an apartment
complex with common walls, etc. The people are not allowed to do anything to
modernize the structures-----no painting walls, no plaster, etc. as these were
actually built by the Quechua people and have been lived in continuously for
centuries. Guinea pigs, a favorite food, are raised in the homes and run around
on the floors. Skulls of revered ancestors are prominently displayed under
pictures of Jesus.
At Ollantaytambo is a huge fortress at 11,500 feet with terraces fanning the
countryside below. We hiked to the top, again many stairs and death-defying
paths with steep drop-offs. Amazingly, neither Ken nor I had problems with
breathing or other altitude problems. At the top, along with the Inca ruins, was
an ancient Sun Temple constructed by a civilization 2500 years ago. It is
composed of massive blocks of pink marble--each weighing several tons.
Somehow the people had quarried the stone at the top of a mountain across a
river, transported it over the water and then mysteriously moved it to the top of
this mountain. These marble slabs still stand perfectly vertical just as they were
positioned originally. They are so tightly fitted that nothing can be slid between
them--absolutely amazing. Their transport there defies belief or understanding.
From Ollantaytambo we drove to Chinchero at 12,500 feet--really high with beautiful vistas of the Andes and glacier tops. We had lunch at a
delightful restaurant overlooking the town and valley. Below us the local Andean people were holding a meeting to explain the terms of the
government settlement. After the explanation, they voted to accept the terms. The vote was taken by raised hands. It was a colorful sight, as
the people all dress in the vibrant colors and clothing indigenous to this area of Peru.
We began talking to a fourteen old boy, Juan, who was selling postcards. He goes to school and said his "future profession is to be a tour
guide." He has studied English for just one year but speaks fluently and well.Â We bought several cards from him as he uses the money for
school supplies. He was quite the charming entrepreneur--telling us he takes "VISA and MasterCard."
After lunch we went to a weaving demonstration, which was absolutely fascinating. One woman
explained the entire process while village women sat around in groups working on various stages from
spinning to final product--including the dying of the yarn. Girls begin spinning at 5 years old. I
bought a couple of items and would have bought more but Leah suddenly became very ill with altitude
sickness. We had to immediately get to a lower altitude.
Although we were unable to see some of the monuments and churches we were scheduled to visit in
Chinchero, returning to the hotel early did give us the time we needed to prepare for Machu Picchu.
We could only take small satchels with us to Machu Picchu because of luggage restrictions on the
train. Miguel took the rest of our stuff back to our hotel in Cusco.
Location: Aquas Calientes and Machu Picchu
June 21 Friday
Today was Machu Picchu!! We got up at 6 AM, had breakfast and left for the train station in
Ollantaytambo at 7 AM. It was a very colorful scene at the train station with vendors on the track,
many tourists waiting and local people in their vibrant red, yellow, green and blue native clothes. When
the train from MP pulled in, it seemed as if hundreds of people debarked, most of them having trekked
the Inca Trail. They were loaded down with gear, tired and dusty. For each trekker there are at least
two porters who carry most of the equipment. The loads are exceedingly heavy, forcing them to walk
bent over with heads down--it is hard to look at them, as it is as if they are pack animals.
Our train came around 8:20. Rosa made sure that we had seats on the "right" side of the train----the riverside. The scenery was spectacular
as we moved from the high Andes into the tropical jungle Andes. Machu Picchu is about 4,000 feet lower than Cusco and Chinchero.
Towering cliffs, green-wild vegetation, rushing rapids--all gorgeous. We passed several Inca villages and terraces along the way. One
village was very high on the mountainside--amazing. There were terraces along the river and up high on the mountains. While traveling, we
were served breakfast and coca tea.
After an hour and a half the train pulled into Aguas Calientes, the village at the base of the mountain leading to Machu Picchu. Vendors
again lined the track. Porters from the hotel carried our few belongings to the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, which is a "Garden of Eden."
It is stunningly beautiful--both grounds and facilities scattered throughout the lush, jungle landscape. Our room was lovely with a
glass-enclosed balcony overlooking tall jungle bushes and trees. We were greeted with the usual coca tea but this time it was iced. The
hotel is nestled under towering Andes mountain peaks--awesome.
After fifteen minutes for unpacking and freshening up, we headed to the bus for
the 20 minute ride up to Machu Picchu. The road was something else----13
extreme switchbacks and basically just room for 1 vehicle with a few places that
up and down buses can pass as we moved from 8500 feet to 11,000 feet.
But------what majestic, breathtaking scenery! It is impossible to see the Andes
and their unparallel beauty without knowing that only God could have created
them. Then, we rounded one curve and there was Machu Picchu majestically
perched on top of a mountain. The surrounding mountains were breathtaking.
Machu Picchu was more than I ever expected. It is so preserved. The buildings
are there, just needing their thatched roofs reconstructed for the visitor to be
transported back in the 16th century. The structures and terraces cover a much
larger expanse than I had envisioned. It just isn't possible to find words to
describe the city or the awesome affect it has when you see and explore it. The
intricacy and perfection of the stonework defy understanding. Rosa led the way,
explaining theories and known facts as we went. The vistas over the Andes and
valleys were beautiful beyond words.
We had lunch at the restaurant at the entrance and then caught the 3:30 bus back
to Aguas Calientes. Today was an overview by Rosa, familiarizing us with the
layout and history. Tomorrow we will come back and spend the entire day
exploring, trekking the trail to the Sun Gate and just absorbing the incredible.
Once back at the hotel, Ken took a nap but I couldn't sleep so showered and then
walked around the grounds of the beautiful jungle hotel with its towering jungle
plants, vines and gorgeous flowers.
Humorous note: Almost forgot this "let's trap the tourist" maneuver. When the
bus returned, it dropped people off at the bottom of the hill so that we were
required to walk through the sea of vendor stalls--very clever. It was really quite
colorful and fun and we resisted the temptation to buy (then.)
June 19 Wednesday
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