Cusco was our home for a few more days after we returned from the Urubamba valley. The cuy (guinea pig) took its revenge on Mike, and he was confined to the campground for a couple of days.
I braved hairdressers again with Lesley at my side. This time was quite a different experience, a salon at a posh hotel with an Argentine hairdresser who did a good job without techno music as a backdrop.
Some more shopping, restocking supplies and we were done with Cusco, eager to move on. We spoke to a local business man who informed us that the reason foreigners get sick in Cusco is that the locals have no respect for tourists and really don’t care if we get sick.
The drive from Cusco to Nasca took us through some beautiful countryside, and up and down high passes through the mountains and valleys.
Nasca area is known for the Nasca lines. There are many theories about the lines and how and why they were formed. The main one is that the Incas formed the lines by moving rocks and clearing areas to create shapes like a spider, an astronaut, a hummingbird, a pelican, a monkey and geometrical lines. The lines are aligned with the constellations, and have associations with the seasons. There is a belief that they were offerings or signs to the various gods. Another theory is that the lines were formed by space aliens, and our friend Gerret believes a donkey just took the same route for many years and wore it down!
We took a flight over the Nasca lines in a small plane to get the aerial view. Mike and I completed the flight 18 years ago, with a few less regulations than now and a plane and pilot that looked like they were on their last legs. Keira loved the flight, as did Lesley and Phil. It is incredible to think of the work that went into making the lines.
An oasis in the desert called Huacca China was the next stop. It literally is an oasis, a small lake with palm trees surrounded by high sand dunes. Unfortunately it has been taken over by the lore of the tourist dollar. Hotels, hostels and restaurants have taken over all the available land. Any tranquility has been taken over by the loud roars of the beach buggies, which take tourists for rides on the sand dunes. We were fortunate to be able to stay at a nice hotel, compliments of Lesley and Phil. We had a great time with many “happy hours”, and mojitos starting our evenings.
We were all desperate to get to a beach and have some sunshine and relief from the high altitudes of the Peruvian Andes. We had heard that the Paracas National Park on the coast south of Lima was beautiful with some good camping options, and great seafood. We stopped at a little seaside village inside the park, and had a seafood lunch. Lesley got to try a ceviche (raw seafood salad), which had been on her list of things to try. She did like it, but you are always nervous eating seafood in a foreign country. Fortunately it was fresh with no adverse side effects.
This time period was around a national holiday celebrating Peru’s independence, similar to July 4th in the USA. The area was crowded, so we sought out a more remote camping spot on a high cliffside with gorgeous views. We had a great evening with fresh fish cooked over an open fire, good conversations and the grunts of sea lions as they came into shore for the night. We camped in our roof top tent and Lesley and Phil in a ground tent. It was a highlight of our time together however this coast was not what we were all craving as it is not a typical coastline.
The coast in Peru is a desert landscape right up to the ocean and at this time of year, winter; it is very grey and misty, with very little sunshine.
We took a short detour inland from the coast to a very fertile valley near Lunahuana. The crops grown there were maize, avocados, papayas, coconuts and sugar cane. It is also an area for wine growing and vineyards. If you haven’t tasted Peruvian wine, don’t bother adding it to your bucket list. We stayed one night in a nice hostel where the owner made his own Pisco in huge glass jars, with all types of fruits for flavor. We were not brave enough to try any. He also had travelled to the USA and had all sorts of cowboy paraphernalia mounted on the walls of the hostel.
We decided to bypass Lima, having been there before, and wanting to avoid big cities. We did however have to drive through it, which was as challenging as every other South American capitol city we have been in.
We headed for Trujillo north of Lima, taking one night to rest in between at a town called Casma. We completed a lot of hours of travel in a short period of time, and were in need of a rest.
Not wanting to stay in a big city we went to Huanchaco a coastal town near Trujillo. This would be Lesley and Phil’s last days before returning back to Scotland, so we sort out a nice hostel with a pool, and a great restaurant.
Unfortunately Keira became unwell, so our days were spent focusing on her health. We had 10 days of her not feeling well.
Being at the hotel we had access to good food and a clean, nice environment whilst she recovered which was great.
Whilst in the area we visited Chan Chan and the ruins of Huaca del Luna and Huacca del Sol.
Both places we had visited on our previous trip, but still found them interesting to visit again. There has been more excavation of the Luna site since we last visited. We were blown away by the sidewall of the pyramid that they have excavated. It is covered in pictographs of scenes, gods and symbols from the time period. Some of the original colors still remain. It was spectacular!
HUACA DEL SOL AND HUACA DEL LUNA
We were very sad when Lesley and Phil left us to return to Lima and then back to Scotland. We had such a wonderful time together.
We stayed on for several more days to give Keira extra time to recover.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: the Internet for medical information, Dr David Walder in Australia who answered our emails.
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- seeing the pictographs at Huaca del Luna; Keira- getting to eat chocolate cake and jelly when I was sick; Riss- seeing the frescos/pictographs at Luna
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-keira being sick; Keira- being sick and not able to eat properly; Riss- Keira being sick.
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- discovering a real Panaderia (bakery) like in Argentina, Keira-chocolate cake/jelly; Riss- healthy stir-fry from the hotel restaurant
BEST CAMPING SPOT: Paracas National Park
Ollantaytambo is a small town in the Urubamba valley. It is the point from which tourists take the train to Aguas Calientes. There are also some interesting ruins in the town. Most people just pass through and do not stay in the town. We stayed 1 night before catching the train to Aguas Calientes, but then liked the town so much that we stayed 3 more nights when we returned.
The town was centered around the plaza with good restaurants, shops and some specialties stores like a bakery with some wheat free products. The streets were small cobbled stone alleyways with no car access and the walls of the houses were of inka like stonework. The town had a very relaxed atmosphere.
Lesley and Phil took the opportunity to go horse riding in the mountains to an ancient ruin site. The ride was really picturesque and challenging. They both thoroughly enjoyed it.
Whilst there were explored the Parmamarca ruins, which they said were really interesting.
Ollantaytambo Ruins were a highly effective fortress during the Inca reign. The steep terraces acted as a great defense, and the site was one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors lost a major battle.
The site also served as a temple. A finely worked ceremonial center is at the top of the terracing. The stone was quarried from the mountainside 6km away, high above the opposite bank of the Río Urubamba. Transporting the huge stone blocks to the site was an incredible feat. The Incas’ crafty technique to move massive blocks across the river meant carting the blocks to the riverside then diverting the entire river channel around them.
On our return trip to Cuzco we visited the Moray ruins, the Salinas and Pisac for shopping.
At Pisac, we bought some beautiful alpaca rugs, wraps, ponchos and some cool dolls made in the image of those found at Inca sites.
Mike also took the opportunity to try Cuy, roasted guinea pig, which is a delicacy in Peru. The rest of us decided not to partake, finding it quite gross.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: my improved Spanish for bartering at the market
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- Ollantaytambo ruins; Keira- seeing the lamas at the ruins; Riss- shopping in Pisac was fun
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-nothing this entry; Keira- walking up the many steps at the ruins; Riss- not going totally crazy shopping in Pisac
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- “chewy cuy”, Keira- popsicles- love them; Riss- wheat free bakery goods
BEST CAMPING SPOT: did not camp but found a great hostel in Ollantaytambo, recently opened by 2 Peruvian women- “Kamma Hostel”.
Travelling always involves adapting plans as situations change. Our plans for our Machu Pichhu trip changed at the last minute due to Keira and I being sick with what we thought was 24-hour stomach bug.
Instead of taking “the back door” into Machu Picchu, which involves a long drive through the mountains to get to Santa Teresa and then to Machu Picchu, we took an easier route. We drove to Ollayantaytambo and took a 2-hour train journey to Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu town, which it is often referred to.
The train trip was beautiful following the river valley through the Andes Mountains.
We stayed 2 nights in Aguas Calientes so we could explore Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes has grown ten fold in size since our last visit. It is crazily busy. Tourism has escalated and now businesses are competing for the tourist dollar.
Aguas Calientes translates to “hot waters” and there are hot mineral springs in town, but after observing about 20 people sitting in a small swimming pool of water we opted not to partake. “Human soup” is not our idea of a relaxing experience.
The morning of our trip to Machu Picchu we decided to rise early to get there before all the crowds. However every other person had the same idea, and we were left waiting in a long line of about 100 people in order to get the 30 min bus up the steep road to Machu Picchu itself.
Machu Picchu is an Incan city set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. It was built in the 15th century and later abandoned. It is known for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar. Some of the buildings are associated with astronomical alignments. Its exact former use remains a mystery, but there are many and varied theories.
Machu Picchu is a truly amazing archeological site in an incredible location. It is breathtaking to see and wandering through the ruins as you get a sense of how life may have been for its Inca inhabitants.
Even though there are 2000 people on average that visit the site daily, it is so well organized that it does not feel crowded. We spent about 4 hours exploring the site, by which time more tourists had arrived. We were glad we had gotten up early.
For Mike and I it was a very different experience from 18 years ago when we hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. At that time we could hike ourselves carrying our own packs, it cost about $50 USD, we had the place to ourselves with only about 10 fellow hikers and there were not so many restrictions in place. Now you have to book 6 months in advance, there are 200 hikers per day, you have to walk with a tour group paying ~600-800 USD, they provide all meals and your tent is set up for you.
The Peruvian government with the increased numbers of people has put these restrictions in place in order to have some control. We have heard from hikers that the porters and guides have to carry all garbage out and have to show at each checkpoint their garbage separated out into recyclable and non recycles items. This is a positive thing, but it has taken some of the mystic and the adventure out of the trip.
We visited a butterfly sanctuary near Aguas Calientes, which was fun adventure for Keira.
We also were able to witness the festivities of the Virgen del Carmen, which involved a parade in Aguas Calientes. The Virgen is known locally as Mamacha Carmen and is a patron saint. The festival itself consists of lots of traditional and significant dances by people in awesome costumes. Many of these dances have ingenious choreographies that portray events in Peruvian history. On the central day, (July 16th) the Virgin Carmen is carried around the town in a spectacular procession to bless those present and scare away demons (represented by the Sa'qra dancers, who position themselves on rooftops and balconies).
Unfortunately in the next few days Keira and I got sick again. The symptoms pointed to Giardia, so we took an antibiotic and seem to be fine now.
We had heard from fellow travelers that they all got sick in Peru and Bolivia. We had been avoiding sickness as we usually cook for ourselves and seldom eat out. However with Lesley and Phil here we have been staying at hostels more, don’t have kitchen access so have been eating out. Talking with some locals in Cuzco, they reported that the restaurant owners don’t have any respect for tourists so don’t take care with meal preparation.
Eighteen years ago, I got a bad cold in Cuzco and got Giardia and history repeated itself again this time. I guess some things haven’t changed.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: first aid kit- Tinidozole treatment
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- seeing Machu Picchu; Keira-seeing Machu Picchu and the butterflies; Riss- seeing Machu Picchu again
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-the girls being sick; Keira- being sick, however getting to watch movies and staying in bed all day was great; Riss- being sick
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-,nothing significant this trip- Peru is a lot of rice and potatoes; Keira- probably something sugary; Riss- nothing
BEST CAMPING SPOT: no camping; expensive hotel in Aguas Calientes was right by the train tracks, noisy, no hot water
Lesley and Phil, our Scottish friends arrived on July 9th. It was really wonderful to see them, and we have not stopped talking since.
We stayed in an apartment in Cusco for a few days, so Leslie and Phil could acclimatize to the altitude, and so we could explore the sites of Cusco. We visited the Cathedral, the archeological museum, the Inca Museum and Saqsayhuaman ruins.
The cathedral is very elaborate and the architecture is an amazing representation of the Catholic Church at the height of its power. Paintings adorn the walls and ceiling, and the many statues are works of art.
The archeological museum houses many artifacts from the Inca and pre-Inca periods. The display is really interesting and extensive.
Saqsayhuaman ruins are the main Inca ruins in the Cusco area. They are the ruins we had previously visited for the Inti Rami festival. The name means "satisfied falcon". The fortress was the site of one of the fiercest battles between the spaniards and the Inca in 1536. The walls are made of huge stones, intricately positioned together. It is truelly amazing.
We also spent time preparing for our trip to Macchu Pichhu, which involved getting supplies, tickets for entry, and accommodation.
We also ate out in Cusco restaurants, which was to be a big mistake!
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: a kitchen to be able to cook
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike-seeing Lesley and Phil; Keira- playing with the lamas and patting the baby lamas around the plaza in Cusco; Riss- seeing Lesley and Phil, and spending time together.
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike- nothing this entry; Keira-nothing this entry ; Riss- nothing this entry
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- churros (long sugary donut like things with caramel inside, Keira- churros for me tooand soy milk ice cream; Riss- I must admit the churros
BEST CAMPING SPOT: no camping this blog; apartment was great as we could cook and hang out, however it was cold inside.
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.