Lima – 23/9/2018

“Take every chance you get in life, because some things only happen once.”

Karen Gibbs

Lima’s Historic Centre

Lima was known as the ‘City of Kings’ and its historic centre was founded by Spanish conqueror. Francisco Pizarro in 1535.  One of the most notable things that the Spanish brought to Peru was the catholic religion, (and diseases like small pox) and this is seen by the sheer number of churches throughout the city and the money spent on them.

We stayed in Lima’s historic centre twice during our 8 day stay and while it had the historic buildings, the area did have an edgy feel to it and I felt conscious of both my belongings and the people around us.  Would I recommend staying there? No, I would probably stay in the Miraflors area, the safer and more touristy area of Lima.  An interesting sight throughout Lima is the high police presence.  Most corners had armed police officers and armoured vehicles.

So after our mid afternoon arrival we wandered the streets in Lima.  Our first stop was at the Convento de San Francisco.

Convento de San Francisco

The Church of San Francisco, dates from 1672 and is designed in Spanish Baroque style.  While the church and monastery withstood earthquakes in 1687 and 1746, it did suffer extensive damage during the 1970 earthquake, although it has since been repaired.  The church, like the Plaza de Armas forms part of Lima’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While the lemon exterior of the building with its many pigeons flying overhead is interesting, it is the interior that draws the visitors.  To visit the interior and its catacombs you need to buy a guided ticket.  We waited about 30 minutes for an available English speaking guide. 

One of the first stops on our tour was the Library, which was reminiscent of what you would expect to find at Hogwarts in Harry Potter.  On either side of the library are two  wooden spiral staircases and shelves crammed with a 25 000 old books, some dating from the 15th century.

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Following the library, we visited the Hall of the Choir, used by the Franciscan monks as their office or for religious ceremonies.  The choir is filled with intricately carved cedar seats with timber brought from Panama in the 17th and 18th centuries. The walls feature religious oil paintings from the 16th century and there is also a pipe organ from 1901.

The main cloister is essentially a covered walkway between the building and the courtyard.  The walkway’s  columns and the lower half of the walls are covered in hand painted azujelos tiles from Seville, dating from 1620.   The coffered ceilings are carved cedar wood from the 17th century and most is still the original tongue and groove technique.  Above the tiles are a series of oil paintings about the life of St Francis.  The tour moved through this area pretty quickly so you only get to glimpse at the remains of the artistic talent.

Another highlight of the Convent and Monastery is in the Refectory.  The refectory was used as a dining room by the Franciscan monks, but the big draw card in this room is the large oil painting of the last supper. It is a very interesting and unique rendition of the last supper, due to the fact that the apostles are dining on a guinea pig, while a devil is standing beside Judas.  Personally I could not recognise the object as a guinea pig, but Andrew said he could see it.  The painting was originally believed to have been painted sometime between 1610  – 1620 by Diego de la Puente, a Flemish born painter who joined the Society of Jesus in 1605.  However, during a restoration the year 1698 was discovered at the bottom of the painting, some 35 years after Diego died.  So the artist remains unknown. Unfortunately my quick photo snap really does not do it justice.

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But the real highlight is the descent into the catacombs, the underground vaults below the church. The catacombs were Lima’s first cemetery and are similar to those found in Rome. They were used until the early nineteenth century and contain the bones of an estimated 70 000 people. The catacombs encompass a maze of narrow hallways, with low ceilings and doorways, lined on each side with bones. In one area, a large round hole is filled with bones and skulls arranged in a geometrical pattern, like a piece of macabre artwork.

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Burial in the catacombs involved stacking the coffins on top of each other, but separating each one with a layer of soil and lime to accelerate decomposition, while preventing  epidemics and bad odours. Bones like skulls, femurs, tibias and fibulas are more readily seen than others, as they take the longest to decompose.  The wealthy who made large contributions to the church bought themselves their own family vault.

In 1808 a new cemetery was opened and the catacombs subsequently closed.  In 1950, after a period of restoration the catacombs were opened to the public. 

Opening Hours:

  • 9 am – 5 pm

Entrance Fee:

  • General Admission – Peruvian Sole – 15, approximately $4.50 USD/ $6.30 AUD

Then entrance fee includes a guided tour in Spanish or English through the church, monastery and catacombs.

http://museocatacumbas.com/

Our next stop was the Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor).  The plaza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, despite the fact that the original buildings, with the exception of the bronze fountain from 1651, were destroyed in the earthquake of 1746 and what we now see are either renovations or reconstructions. The Plaza de Armas has many beautiful buildings like the Cathedral, Archibishop’s Palace, the Casa del Oidor and the Palacio del Gobeirno.

Palacio de Gobeirno

The Palacio de Gobeirno was built in 1542 by Franciscco Pizarro to be both the residence and headquarters of the government and it continues to be used as the president’s official residence today.  The palace is also the place where Jose San Martin declared Peru’s independence, on July 28th, 1821. 

Similar to Buckingham Palace their are motionless guards stationed throughout the grounds of the Palace.  Changing of the guards occur weekdays at noon, its a very simple ceremony, nothing like the elaborate ceremony at Buckingham Palace, although they do march raising their legs almost horizontal with the ground.

Lima’s Cathedral

Lima’s cathedral is situated on the east side of the Plaza de Armas. The original cathedral was constructed in 1535 and later enlarged in 1564, based on the design of Seville’s cathedral in Spain.  It suffered damage in the earthquake in 1687 and was nearly destroyed in the quake of 1746, but was rebuilt. We were there on a Sunday afternoon and went to visit, only to be told it was closed and to come back ‘mañana’.  The interior of the cathedral houses a chapel decorated in mosaics which holds the tomb of Lima’s founder, Francisco Pizarro and the small Museum of Religious Art. 

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Opening Hours:

  • Monday to Friday: 9 am – 5 pm
  • Saturday: 10 am – 1 pm
  • Sunday: 1 pm – 5 pm

Entrance Fee:

  • 10 Peruvian Soles – 0.90 USD

Santo Domingo

Spanish conqueror, Francisco Pizarro gave some land to Dominican Friar, Vicente Valverde, who built the church and monastery in 1540.  The Dominican Friar had accompanied Pizarro throughout his conquest and is believed to have persuaded him to execute the captured Inca Atahualpa.  

While the Convento has the catacombs and the Cathedral has the final resting place of Pizarro, Santo Domingo is the final resting place of three Peruvian saints San Juan Marcias, Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martin Porres.

Santa Rosa de Lima was and still is so popular that she is not only buried at the age of 31 under Santo Domingo,  but also has a room in memory of her as well as gracing the face of the 200 Peruvian Sole and her own religious procession on August 30th.  She devoted her life to caring for the elderly and poor children of Lima.  She was the first female American canonised.

San Martin de Porres was the continents first black saint.  He established an orphanage and a children’s’ hospital as well as many miraculous cures, such as caring for and curing many he cared for during an epidemic.  He also raised money to feed the poor and was well known for his empathy towards others.

John Macias, originally from Spain is remember for his generosity to the poor, feeding up to 200 every day.  He was aided in feeding the poor by a donkey who he sent through the streets of Lima with a sign asking for donations.  The donkey apparently knew his route well and would often bray to attract attention from those inside to bring out their donations.  Beggars, disabled and other disadvantaged people flocked to the friary gates for food, counsel and comfort and the rich came for advice.

The church houses many relics including the skulls of San Martin and Santa Rosa encased in glass on the right of the main alter.

Entrance Fee:

  • Adult $15 Peruvian Sole – approximately $6.30 AUD or / $4. Each

Opening Hours:

  • 7 am – 11 am/ 4 pm – 8 pm

Pachapapa Restaurant – Cusco – 24/9/2018

Our first night in Cusco we decided to dine at the Pachapapa Restaurant.  The restaurant serves traditional Peruvian food, as well as some western meals like calzone and pizzas.  We went for the Peruvian food and the ambient outdoor patio dining.

The restaurant is located in the San Blas neighbourhood opposite the San Blas Church and near the picturesque Plaza, in an old converted mansion.

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San Blas Plaza and Cathedral, the restaurant is in the far right corner.

We opted for the outdoor dining area and the waiters brought out a heat lamp to keep us warm.  The restaurant is tastefully decorated and although filled with tourist, it had a great atmosphere with people eagerly recounting their days events, music and candles  and wonderful smells wafting from the kitchen.

We started with an entree of pork, potatoes and toasted chulpe maize. It was a large entree and the interesting thing was the toasted chulpe maize, a variety of corn, which tasted a bit like a crunchy popcorn. While Andrew tried the baked Cuy, I opted for the marinated Alpaca kebabs with more potatoes and salad.  We were seated near the oven and watched the process of cooking the cuy, while enjoying a drink.  Although Andrew enjoyed his cuy, there was not a lot of meat on it and it was probably a once in a lifetime experience. I thought the Alpaca was very nice and tasted like steak.

The view of the San Blas Plaza on route back to our hotel after dinner.

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For more information on Pachapapa restaurant visit their website: http://www.cuscorestaurants.com/restaurant/pachapapa/

 

Maras Moray Tour – 25/9/2018

We did an afternoon tour with a small local company, Chacras Travel, which is run by a Peruvian local, Isaias.  Isaias picked us up from our hotel and took us for an afternoon trip in his air-conditioned car firstly to the Maras Salt Mines and then to Moray.

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We stopped on a hilltop on route to the salt mines and had the obligatory photo with the llama ladies.

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The approach to the salt mines overlooking the Urubamba Valley

The Salineras de Maras (Maras Salt Mines) are set amongst the hilly landscape of the urubamba Valley, about 40 km from Cusco.  The salt pans have not changed since they were established in the Inca times or perhaps even earlier.  The salt mines are made up of a series of salt crusted terraces which are fed by the trickle of mineral rich water. The polygon shaped plots vary in size from about 4 – 10 square metres and a depth of 10 to 30 cm.

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The salt that is harvested is apparently some of the best in the world.  How do they get salt mines up in the mountains you may ask?  Apparently the water is naturally salt infused and as it flows down the mountains and channeled into the pans where it settles.  The water is allowed to evaporate, leaving the salt behind, which is then collected and sold.

There is a tourist path around the top of the terraces allowing a view below of both the terraces and the people working them.  The plots are worked by both men and women of all ages, doing the backbreaking work of harvesting salt on their small family plots.  The harvested salt is piled into pyramids around the pond edges until its bagged for sale. Our guide, Isaias tell us they are paid fairly well, by Peru standards, but the price they pay is calloused hands, bent backs and parched faces.  The family plot passes from the parents to the children.

As you leave the salt pans there are some small shops where the vendors sell a variety of items that incorporate the salt with herbs for cooking, for bathing and even in chocolate bars.

We continued west of Maras to reach the Incan ruins of Moray, situated in the Sacred Valley.  The Moray site is made of three circular depressions, each with a series of concentric circular terraces.  The largest of these depressions is approximately 30 metres deep.

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The largest of the terraced circles with a depth of 30 metres

Although the circular terraces resemble a Greek or Roman amphitheatre, it is believed that they were an Inca agricultural laboratory. Each of the terraces have their own unique micro climates with differing temperatures, wind and orientation to the sun.  In fact the temperature between the top and bottom terrace can vary up to 15 degrees Celsius.  These natural depressions allowed the Incas to create Andean, jungle and semi-tropical environments suitable for a range of plant varieties. 

Soil studies have also revealed that the terraces differ in the type of soil they contain.  The theory is that soil was transported from different regions of the Inca empire, ranging from the Amazon rainforest to the coast, to be used in the Moray terraces. Seeds from the Incan empire were also likely to have been sent from different tribes to the Moray site for cultivation.

The purpose of the soil and micro climates was for the Incas to study the best conditions to grow a wide range of crops from around the Inca Empire in the Andean environment and possibly share this information with farmers in the region. The fact that over 60 percent of crops have originated from the Andes, which includes thousands of potato varieties and hundreds of varieties of maize, makes the possibility of this having been a research station quite believable.

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The circular agricultural terraces are constructed with rock retaining walls and have built in irrigation systems.  So far the lower terraces have never flooded, even after excessive rainfall, it is assumed there are underground channels underneath the depressions to drain the water away.

On our route home, Isaias stopped for a toilet break and there happened to be a couple of local ladies chatting while their llamas were grazing.  Not a bad grazing spot with the mountains in the background.

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Chacras Travel only does private tours, but can accommodate large groups and Isaias price was a bit negotiable.  The advantage of a small tour is that it can be customised and we were able to visit the sites in the afternoon, rather than the morning when most of the larger companies visit, so it was less crowded.  I liked that it was a local running the company, rather than one of the large tour companies in Cusco owned by Americans, Australians or Germans.  For more information on the tour company see their website: https://www.chacrastravelperu.com/tour-moray-maras-salt-mine-cusco/

Sacred Valley of the Incas – 26/9/2018

Although having booked a day trip to the Sacred Valley through AB Expeditions, because it was a group trip it was actually done by another company.  We began our journey heading towards Pisac, stopping briefly for a photo opportunity at a lookout with the Andes mountains in the background, before continuing on to Pisac.

Pisac

The village of Pisac is located 28 km from Cusco, along the Rio Vilcanoto or the Urubamba River.  The Pisac Ruins are situated on the hill at the entrance to the valley.

The village of Pisac was once a strategic controlling point of the road which wound through the Sacred Valley to the Eastern Jungle and connected the Inca Empire and the city of Paucartambo.  Due to Pisac’s elevated position it is believed to have provided a defensive purpose protecting the southern end of the valley.

Our guide led us up a hill past Peruvian vendors selling crafts, corn and various juices to the entrance of the ruins. 

Our first stop was Qantus Raccay, one of Pisac’s residential areas. The area is made up of homes and Inca baths, however the most impressive part was the sweeping views over the terraces with the Andes mountains in the background.

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The furthest buildings from where we were standing and situated amongst the terraces is the Temple of the Sun.  We did not have time to visit and few tourist actually go there.  But it looked pretty impressive.

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Or a closer view…

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We then had some free time to explore the site and we headed across the terraces for a better look.  The view from the site is amazing.

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We continued on to the gorge.  Our guide told us to look at the rock face for the honeycomb holes in the cliffs, which once housed more than 3500 tombs.  Unfortunately treasure hunters raided the Inca cemetery looking for valuables, but as the people weren’t wealthy they didn’t find any, but damaged the tombs.

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We did not have time to visit Q’alla Q’asa, the highest point of Pisac. It’s believed to have been the military area and housed the living quarters of the guards.

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We stopped briefly at the Pisac markets where I did buy a few gifts for the kids.  Our guide took us to a silver shop and as we entered he explained that the clay house usually held guinea pigs, but there was a festival on the other week and family ate them. Poor guinea pigs.

P1060496 (800x563)  Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo, otherwise known as ‘Ollanta’ by the locals is a small town filled with narrow, cobble-stoned streets and old buildings and is located at an altitude of 9160 feet in the province of Urubamba.  No matter where you are in Ollantaytambo, you will be able to see the spectacular Inca ruins which rise above the town, the main draw card for a visit here.  Among the Inca ruins are the ceremonial temple and a fortress that guarded the entrance to the valley to stop any invasions.  To reach the temple and fortress, visitors scale the steep stairs set amongst the tiered and very steep terraces.

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A Brief History of Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, who built both the town and ceremonial center during Inca times.  Ollantaytambo was constructed during the middle of the 15th century and considered the second best preserved ruins after Machu Picchu.

Ollantaytambo is one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors lost a battle.  At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, Ollantaytambo was the temporary stronghold of the leader Manco Inca Yupangui, who had retreated here after his defeat at Sacsaywaman.  Francisco’s younger half brother, Hernando Pizarro led a force including a cavalry of 70 to Ollantaytambo to capture Manco Inca. Manco Inca showered Pizarro’s men with arrows, spears and boulders rolled from the terracing, but what really won the battle was when he flooded the plain where the conquistadors were situated, bogging down the horses and resulting in the hasty retreat by the conquistadors.

The Inca victory was short lived as the conquistadors returned the following year with quadruple the cavalry and led to Manco fleeing to his jungle stronghold in Vilcabamba.

The Site

To reach the religious site requires strenuous stair climbing, which is made even harder by the altitude.  Even though its day 3 in Cusco, Andrew is really struggling to breathe and I will admit I can’t shake this headache, altitude sickness!  Anyway, while it was a struggle to climb up our guide did stop regularly to tell us about the site and I will admit the landscape is jaw droppingly beautiful and somewhat reminiscent of Colorado’s scenery.

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P1060551 (800x533)The Sun Temple

The Sun Temple, although uncompleted is the main structure in the temple section and was a temple to worship the sun.  The temple features a Wall of the Six Monoliths, each said to weigh approximately 50 tons.  How these stones were transported from the quarry remains a mystery.  Surrounding the temple are Inca walls with their perfectly cut stones fit snugly together like puzzle pieces and held perfectly in place without mortar.  The temple walls are smoother, more angular and fit more perfectly than walls elsewhere in the site which are made from field stones.  

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The Terraces

The terraces at Ollantaytambo are similar to others found in the Urubamba Valley which start at the bottom of the valley and climb up the surrounding hills.  By terracing the land it allowed the farmers to not only use otherwise unusable terrain but also aided in irrigation and increased the space available for crops.  The use of terraces also allowed them to create different ecological zones through temperature variations between the top and bottom layers.

Storehouses

On the hills surrounding Ollantaytambo are several store houses constructed from field stones.  Due to their location at a high altitude, where it is significantly windier it reduces the temperature in the store houses, allowing grain to be stored without the risk of decay.

Our guide asked us if we could see a face to the left of the storehouses.  After some looking, some people spotted it.  Can you?  It is supposed to be the face of  Viracocha also called Huiracocha and Wiraqoca and is considered the supreme Inca god.  Viracocha formed not only the earth, heavens, sun and moon but also living things.

Quarries

The rose rhyolite blocks used in the elaborate buildings on Temple Hill at Ollantaytambo came from quarries located at Kachiqhata, across the Urubamba River about 5 km from the town.  Its believed an elaborate system of roads, ramps and slides allowed for the blocks to be transported to build the temple.

After making it back down we were greeted with a beautiful view looking back at the ruins and some very cute alpacas.

Train to Machu Picchu

While the rest of our group made their way back to Cusco, we stayed to catch the train to the base of Machu Picchu ready to visit the famous site in the morning.  We caught the late Inca Rail train up.  During the train trip we were served tea/coffee and some snacks while watching the scenery pass us by.  We unfortunately were in the seats facing backwards, so a little harder to see what was passing us by.

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Information on the Tour and Train

Tour:

I booked our tour through AB Expeditions which is run by a local Peruvian couple.  However if you book a private tour they run it, if you book a group tour, it is outsources to a larger company who runs big group tours. I’m not sure who the company was that ran our bus tour, but it was significantly cheaper than a private tour.  The tour guide we had was excellent, probably the best we had in Peru.  The only suggestion I have is don’t book the lunch, the tour guide can take you somewhere local.  We opted for the lunch thinking that was the only option and it was at a buffet at a restaurant with virtually no guests and the food was nothing to rave about.  For more information on the tour follow use the link: https://abexpeditions.com/tour/sacred-valley-tour-day-trip/#1518213131619-4a1d49bc-3dec

Inca Rail

We went with Inca Rail up to Machu Picchu, the price of the seats vary according to what class you want and the time of day you are going up there.  More information can be found at the following website: https://incarail.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Machu Picchu – 27/9/2018

Interesting Facts

Machu Picchu, also referred to as ‘The Lost City of the Incas’ is situated at 2430 metres above sea level.  Historians believe that Machu Picchu was constructed during the rule of Pachacutec in the mid 15th century and possibly used as a winter retreat from Cusco’s cool weather.  Machu Picchu receives over 1 million visitors annually and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983, as well as one of the seven wonders of the new world.  The site was first discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an archaeologist at Yale University who inspired the character Indiana Jones.

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Our Machu Picchu Experience

Despite having slept in the most comfortable bed in Peru, Andrew did not sleep well and was most definitely not feeling well.  So although having organised to catch the 5 am bus to do a morning hike up to the Sun Gate, we had to cancel so Andrew could recover.  Luckily Andrew rallied and we managed to catch the but by 8 am, I was beginning to think we were going to miss Machu Picchu and after planning this trip for 20 years it would have been a little disappointing.

One advantage of having been delayed was that instead of an hour wait to catch a bus from the town to Machu Picchu, we only waited about 15 minutes.  Driving a bus up the mountain is definitely not for the faint hearted with sheer cliffs that drop off into deep ravines below and a single lane dirt road filled with pot holes.

On arrival, we had a final bathroom stop (there are none at Machu Picchu and we were going to be there 6 hours) and a security check, we were finally making the slow climb to the top.  Okay so we were both still struggling with the altitude despite the fact that Machu Picchu is lower that Cusco and made frequent stops to catch our breaths.  But the climb was so worth it when you get your first glimpse of Huayna Picchu .  Its amazing after wanting to see a place for so long and building it up in your head that it can still exceed your expectations.  Unfortunately neither words or photos can truly enlighten a person to the wondrous sight that meets your eyes when you first see Machu Picchu.

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We had some free time so we wandered around and took lots of photos.  Who knew you could take photos of Machu Picchu from so many different angles.

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There was only so many photos I could take until Andrew had, had enough so I left him sitting down enjoying the view without my constant clicking, while I took the opportunity to walk to the Inca Bridge. The walk wasn’t particularly strenuous or that exciting really.  Before you ask, no you can’t walk on the bridge, definitely not safe. The bridge was interesting, but I probably wouldn’t bother to do it unless you have loads of time.  Surprisingly I returned to where I left Andrew and he was still there.

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With more time to kill before meeting our guide I took a few more photos of Machu Picchu, you can never take enough, before wandering around the site some more.  There are a lot of llamas wandering around and we had one nearly walk right into us.  There seems to be a spot below the caretaker’s hut that the llamas congregate and they seem to be okay with you patting them, I tested the theory and still have all my limbs. 

Although they may look like the same llama there are in fact three different ones in these photos.

We met our guide at the caretaker’s hut, where he gave us some background information on Machu Picchu before taking us down to visit the Inca buildings.  Our first stop was the Sun Temple, which could only be entered by the priest and the Inca.  The priest was in charge of performing the rituals and sacrifices on the stone that formed the altar in the temple and would read the stomach and lungs to see the future and hopefully prevent any disasters.  Hiram Bingham who discovered Machu Picchu concluded that the two windows in the main building were used to predict the winter and summer solstices and to make decisions on when to harvest using the sun’s movements and positions of the stars at night.  

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Our next stop was the Temple of the Three Windows located in the Sacred Plaza.  The windows overlook the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu and are aligned with the sunrise.  I love the way the window frames are cut so perfectly they fit like a jigsaw puzzle and still stand hundreds of years later without mortar.

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Close to the Temple of the Three Windows is the Principal Temple or the Main Temple.  Archaeologists believe this temple was a public temple and due to its size was probably used for large ceremonies.  Soil movement has caused the blocks within the temple to shift and one corner of the temple to sink, as can be seen in the photo.

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The interesting thing about Peru and Machu Picchu is the ingenious Inca design of their buildings, which have enabled so many to withstand earthquakes and heavy rain.  There techniques like having slanted walls and the use of trapezoidal windows have created structures that have stood the test of time.  Its believed the houses did have steep roofs with in built drainage systems, which again suits the climate as it rains a lot in Machu Picchu.  

Interestingly enough within the building complex are haphazard piles of large rocks some weighing up to 50 tonnes.  The rocks are the remains of a quarry.  The Incas created their own blocks from the rock in the mountain rather than transporting them in.

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The main plaza was particularly important to the Inca aristocratic class and was used as a sanctuary and where the inhabitants could congregate and attend events, rituals and celebrations.

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The Sacred Rock is located in the Central Plaza or the far end of Machu Picchu.  The Sacred Rock is a monolith reaching to 3 metres in height and 7 metres in width. Most Incan villages contain a sacred rock which is usually dedicated to a site prior to constructing the village. The exact purpose of the rock is speculated about and has many theories, the one I like is that the rock is modelled on the Cerro Pumasillo, the mountain behind the rock and that it is orientated to some type of astronomical alignment.  It makes sense it is almost identical shape to the mountain.

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As you leave the city the view behind you is amazing, with the inca buildings and Huayna Picchu soaring behind them at 2, 720 metres.

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Exiting the city of Machu Picchu takes you across sweeping terraces that once grew crops like corn or maize, potatoes and quinoa.  At the end of the terraces are the granaries with reconstructed roofs.

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After six hours spent at Machu Picchu we were both ready for a drink and to sit down on the bus on the way back down.  Well we got the drink, but had to wait 45 minutes in a horrendously long queue to get back down.  We were extremely fortunate as the weather had been hot and sunny during our visit, no sooner had we sat down on the bus then it poured with rain, for hours.

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This was only a section of the queue it continued down the hill

We had a long lunch to kill some time before we caught the Peru Rail train back to Cusco.  It was nearly a three hour journey back and we were both very glad to get off the train.

Extra Information

Tickets for Machu Picchu can be purchased online at their website and its advisable to book in advance particularly from June to October.  The ticket price varies according to what options you choose from hiking Machu Pichu or Huayna Picchu (both have a limited number of spaces available) or visiting the museum.  The following website can give your more information: https://www.ticketmachupicchu.com/

There are two trains that service Machu Picchu, the prices vary according to both the time of day and the class of seating you choose.  The websites below will give you more information:

Tips

  • You can’t buy water or food once you enter Machu Picchu, so remember to bring it with you.
  • There are no toilets once you enter Machu Picchu so make sure you use the ones prior to going through the entrance.
  • The weather can be unpredictable so it is not uncommon to need a hat, sunscreen and a rain jacket on the same trip.
  • If you are travelling by train you are only able to bring a small bag and it has to be stored under your seat.

 

Lake Titicaca – 29/9/2018

We flew from Cusco to Puno on Friday and then spent Saturday visiting one of the Uros Islands and Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca (pronounced Titihaha).  After we were collected from our hotel we were transferred to a speed boat and taken to the Uros Islands. The Uros people were landless and firstly lived on large reed boats before creating their own reed islands, which they could move around if enemies approached.  There are approximately 120 Uros Islands near Puna in Peru that are inhabited by the Uro or Uros.  The Uros Islands take it in turns of being visited by tourist boats as this shares the tourist money among the islands which they are totally dependent on as they grow no crops or hunt any foods. 

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Our boat visited the island, ‘Islamanco Capac’.  After stepping afoot on the reed island, which feels somewhat like walking on a waterbed, we were seated in a circle and greeted by the president of the Island.  On this island the president was a young man and was supported by his new wife, who spoke excellent English.   Each year a new president is elected to govern the island.  There are about 5 – 6 families that live on each island.  The islands are located very close together.  There is also an island which houses the local primary school which the kids attend.

The island leader began by explaining how the islands are constructed, yes they are man made. Basically they cut reeds down to their roots into squares and tie the clumps together where eventually the roots grow and the island squares join together.  The island we visited was composed of about 20 metre clumps of reed roots.  The clumps are then covered with about ½ metre thick of cut reeds, which they top up every couple of weeks.  They grow nothing and now live from what they can make off of tourist visits and selling things they craft.

There are shared kitchens on the island, designed so that the islands won’t catch fire.  The toilets are located on another nearby island which the islands share and you have to use a boat to reach.  Some islands offer home stays where you have the opportunity to experience Island living.

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After the president and his wife demonstrated how they constructed the island and did their cooking, we were free to wander the island and look in the houses and view the different crafts that they sold. The applique work was very reminiscent of what we saw in the San Blas Islands in Panama. They had stalls set up selling their wares a lot of which was made of reeds, like mobiles and boats.  

An optional extra was a reed boat ride over to a nearby island.  We opted not to do this one. 

We continued on in a speed boat to Taquile Island, situated at 4000 metres above sea level, higher than Cusco and Machu Picchu and so made for another breathless hike to the top. What amazed us was the number of islanders, that overtook us, who were carting goods brought in by boats up to their houses at the top of the hill.  

The island is famous for its textiles. The men knit and I have never seen knitting like it, it’s so finely done you can’t see the stitches. On the island the women weave and spin the thread.  While we were eating our lunch, an older pair of ladies sat nearby spinning thread, weaving and giggling to themselves, they were very cute.

An interesting part of their culture is that a couple will live together for four years to see if they get along, before getting married. Try before you buy approach, the island doesn’t believe in divorce so you have to get it right the first time. When the women marry they cut off their hair and knit it along with wool to make a belt for their husband as a gift, you can see it in the photo below.

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We enjoyed a traditional meal with Quinoa soup followed by either an omelet or fish.  We had some free time to wander the village and talk to the locals before we caught the speed boat back to Puno.  The kids were really friendly and happy to pose for a photo.  There were lots of young girls making friendship bracelets from wool and selling them on their own stands along the pathway.  The other interesting thing was seeing men of varying ages, sitting around knitting.  

I think I preferred this island over Uros as it was more authentic.

Trip Information

There are a lot of companies offering tours to Uros Islands, Taquile Island and trips to the Bolivian Islands, ranging from private to group tours of differing sizes and prices.

We went with Titicaca Travel Peru  and did a one day, fast boat tour out to Uros and Taquile Islands for $40 US each including lunch.  The guide we had was awesome, switching between English and Spanish to accommodate all guests easily. For more information on the tour we did, use the link below:

https://titicacatravelperu.com/tours-clasicos/puno-uros-taquile-islands-1-day-full-day/

 

 

Nazca Lines – 30/9/2018

After an evening flight from Lake Titicaca yesterday and arriving at our hotel at midnight it was a bit of a killer to be up and ready for pick up at 5.45, but we did it.  We were taken to the bus station where we made the 3 hours and 45 minute journey on a double decker tourist bus to Paracas.  It was the most luxurious bus I have ever been on, heaps of leg room with foot stools, reclining seats and food service.

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A driver met us at the bus station and took us to the new Pisco airport where we were checked in for our flight.  We were weighed with our bags and shoes on.  There is a limit of 100 kg per person or 200 kg for a couple, whew we made that.  Then we waited to go through security and the waiting lounge.  The waiting lounge seats hundreds but was empty except for the twelve of us ready for our flight.

Finally it was time and I’ll admit I was very excited.  I had read that its advisable to take motion sickness tablets and I’ll admit I took one of the ones from the boat, but I had read gravol is what they recommend, so I doubled up and took one of those too.  We walked out on the tarmac and met the co-pilot and climbed aboard our Cessna Grand Caravan, its amazing how small it is inside.  We were the second couple to check in so we were right up the front, so close you could see the control panels of the plane.  We put our seat belts on, while the pilot and co-pilot did their pre-flight checks and then it was time to go.

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It was exhilarating experience as the plane went down the runway and you could see through the front window as we took off.  It was so amazing looking down as we flew over green areas and then over the desert landscape below.  Our flight to the Nazca lines took a little under 30 minutes.

Prior to boarding the plane we were all give a map of the different Nazca Lines with a dotted line marking the path the plane would take. 

Nazca Map

Before we even reached the first official Nazca lines we past over various trapezoids and lines that weren’t even marked on our map.  

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I love this photo of the shadow of our plane.

We finally approached the Nazca lines, the pilot would point out each one, fly over it and tilt the plane so one side could see and then tilt the other way for the other side to see.  It was very cool.  A few people felt a bit queasy.   While I photographed most of the lines, I did miss a few.

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The Monkey (Mono)
The Dog (Perro)
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The Whale (Ballena)
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The Hummingbird (Colibri)
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The Condor
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The Spider (Arana)
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The Tree (Arbol) and Hands (Manos)

We were picked up from the airport and transferred back to Paracas for a seafood lunch and a pisco sour… mmm delicious.

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This was my first time in such a small plane and I enjoyed every moment of it, one of the best things I have ever done. I would highly recommend this trip if you find yourself in this area.

Tour Information

We did our trip with Nazca Flights, which included a hotel transfer to and from the bus station, return bus trip, transfer to and from the airport and to and from lunch at Parracas.  For more details about the trip see the link here: http://www.nazcaflights.com/nazca-lines-flights/nazca-lines-tour-packages/tourpackage2/full-day-tour-by-bus.htm

The company offers various package deals, flights over the Nazca Lines from either Pisco, Ica or Nazca.  The prices vary according to where you do your flight from and whether you do a package deal.  I felt that the company was excellent and the whole day ran smoothly.