kb - cool with mist and rain
02/09/2009, Machu Picchu, Perukb
2,350 meters = 7,709 feet
Its finally here... we are heading off today for the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. None of us are sad to leave the high altitude of Cuzco - its been really tough to get used to and it knocked both Mum and myself out for an afternoon and night while we were in Cuzco with shortness of breath, headaches and generally feeling absolutely buggered. Lets hope that going down about 1000 feet will be enough to us back to normal and ready for the climbing at Machu Picchu - 3000 steps around the main site.
We have organised to do a day bus tour of the Sacred Valley, taking in the Pisac Market and the ruins at Ollantaytambo. As we head out towards the Sacred Valley from Cuzco the scenery is amazing - as it is everywhere out here. We hit the highest point at around 4000 meters soon after we leave Cuzco and after that thankfully we start to head down. We are here in low season, which is basically warmer (around 20C/68F) and more rain. It is the greenest part of the year and there are wildflowers everywhere - they are only out for 2 months and they are a highlight of our tour through the Sacred Valley. Its beautiful, with amazingly high mountains plunging into deep valleys that follow rivers. The valleys and the mountain sides are dotted with lots of little Quechua villages, which are the local population who have been living and farming out here for hundreds of years. These are hardy people, they farm right up the side of the mountains in terraces and given that we are having trouble walking up a normal city street, they move around with packages strapped to their back that would be the same weight as them with no apparent problems. All the women carry their children on their backs, we have seen some kids up to 4-5 being carried around - its impressive - no designer prams out here!
We hit the Pisac market - lucky for us there are only about 20 tour buses... our guide tells that in high season there can be up to 400 or 500 buses crowding into the market. Unfortunately we did find the markets a little too commericalised so we didn't do any shopping there, just wandered around and checked things out.The other big part of the day was the ruins at Ollantaytambo, which were pre-Incan. After climbing 500 steps to get up to the ruins and nearly collapsing along the way we were treated with a great view of the town of Ollantaytambo. Some of the stones up here are huge and they were shifted from a quarry on a nearby mountain - quite a feat, these folks were prolific builders. We also walked a very small portion of the Inca trail as part of the ruins, the trail is closed for the month of February for maintenance so there were no trekkers going through.
The tour left us in Ollyantaytambo, we had about 4 hours to kill before catching the train to Machu Picchu, so we spent the time shopping and taking in the town. Its a nice little place, with really friendly locals and we were on the train before we knew it. We arrived into Machu Picchu around 10pm and organised for a 4.30am wake up call so we could get an early start at Machu Picchu. The train from Cuzco arrives at around 10am and most tourists hit the site around 10.30am so we had decided to get an early start to spend some time out there without the hordes.
We boarded the bus to Machu Picchu around 6am. The trip up took about 30 minutes on the bus through a very windy road up the hill, the only way to Machu Picchu is via train and then bus, there are no roads in. I was really surprised that we were in the middle of what they call a "cloud forest" but looks pretty much like a jungle to me. The vegetation is thick and lush. We arrive at Machu Picchu and its covered in fog, which is another reason why its low season, its tends to have a lot of rain and cloud cover at this time of year. As we head into the site Jeff and I separated from Mum and Dad, we had decided to go our own ways today and just take it at our own pace. We headed up to Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock to catch our first look at Machu Picchu, the mist is still rolling over in waves and as we get to the top of the hill we are greeted by a herd of Alpacas who live at the site. Nothing doing at this point the main site is still covered in mist so Jeff and I decided to hike out to one of the outlying sites - the Inca Bridge - while we wait for the mist to clear. There are not many people around at this point and as we head out along the track I start to imagine how it must have been back when they were first clearing the site. The jungle is incredibly thick, we are spoiled with a cleared path that was built by the Incas. They built stone paths thought the jungle, some of the path is against a sheer drop, I'm getting a little vertigo just looking over the edge. The Inca Bridge itself allows the path to continue across the face of a cliff - its hard to capture it in a picture - as with all of the site, the pictures are amazing and they don't do justice to the grandeur of the site - its breathtaking.
As we arrive back at the main site the mist magically clears for us and we get our first look at Machu Picchu - just like a postcard and definitely worth the wait. Its all green ceremonial squares and stone ruins, clearly laid out in the form a city. We headed down the main ruins and looked around and then came across Mum and Dad, who were equally amazed and enjoying themselves. Jeff and I had been trying to decide if we would climb WaynaPicchu, which is a mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu and has another small ruin at the peak. Its a tough climb normally and with effects of altitude its brutal. Only 400 people per day are allowed up so we need to go in the morning if we are going to do it. We decide to give it a go and set out and of course about 10 minutes into the hike (it should take about 1 hour of climbing to get to the top) it starts to pour with rain... Ah well we are committed now, that's what raincoats are for anyway and we press on and on and on... its tough going over slippery rocks up about 1000 feet. We make it to the top in one piece and then its a scramble around the ruins, they are built on the top of mountain and are very steep. We are surrounded by mist and fear that we wont get a view of Machu Picchu, most of the folks who we met coming down hadn't seen the ruins at all. Luck is with us and once again the mist clears and Machu Picchu comes into view and as cliched as it sounds the pain of the climb fades away, we are almost 1000 feet above the site with a birds eye view. We spent about 30 minutes up there clambering around, its steep up there, these people must have some mountain goat in them, which I clearly don't. I had some moments of terror on the slippery rocks but its all ok as long as you take it slow and are careful.
We spent the rest of the day checking out the ruins, all of us loved it, definitely a highlight of our trip as expected.
Cuy, otherwise known as Guinea Pig!
jT - 11,126 ft or 3,200 m !!
02/06/2009, Cuzco, Peru, South America
So on our second day in Cuzco, we had hired the taxi driver to take us around the city's Incan ruins. We were still having issues with the altitude, so we took it slow. The first stop was Saqsayhuaman (it sounds like Sexy Woman) meaning Puma Head, which is a fortress right above the city center. When Cuzco was established, they laid out the city in the shape of a Puma, with Saqsayhuaman as the head. Not allot of the fort remained, as the Spaniards stripped out the stone to build much of Colonial Cuzco. The view was pretty good, and the remaining stonework was finely done and massive, sitting on the hill.
After three more smaller sites, including a small hunting fort on a hillside valley and a temple with ceremonial fountains, it started to rain. We decided it was lunchtime, so our driver Lucas, took us to the first restaurant that looked expensive and would feed him a free lunch :) Very common in most countries for the guide/driver to get lunch when they bring in a group of tourists. We had all decided to at least try the Cuy, or Guinea Pig, that locals rave about. We had soup first, and it was excellent. For the main course, they brought out a whole BBQ'ed Cuy. Little feet hanging off a savory looking BBQ'ed skin. Little teeth digging into a bright pepper, with little black eyes burned into the hide... looked YUMMY! Hmmmm so after a photo shoot with the Cuy, we let them take it back to the kitchen to 1/4 it for us to eat. Kirsty and Leigh each got half of the front, while Bill and I got to eat the butt. Gamey, it how i'd describe it. Not allot of meat, and didn't quite see what they were raving about. But we ate it. Don't think anyone at the table will order it again.....
By the way, I had kinda believed that the Cuy was related to the Tapir, and told everyone that. But the next day we saw a display of Cuy at the Pisac market... hmmmm.. exactly like the ones people keep as pets!
City of the Puma... Cuzco, Peru
jT - 11,138 ft or 3,395 m !!
02/05/2009, Cuzco, Peru, South America
Altitude: 3,395 meters =3D 11,138 feet
Flying from Lima to Cuzco was a short two hour hop, but the scenery in the last half hour was amazing.... The Peruvian Andes were pushing up through the clouds. Some peaks snow capped in blinding white, as the dawn glinted off of them. Steep valleys would drop away at dizzying speed to gather in the bottom as a roaring river. We banked for a landing over a high valley that stretched for miles. Dotted with mountain lakes and terraces of farming on impossible hillsides, we flew over Cuzco and banked in for a landing.
On the ground, we quickly gathered up our luggage, ready to start exploring this ancient capital of the Incas. Kirsty and I were joined by Bill and Leigh, Kirsty's parents, for the next month of travels. As we trudged to the taxi rank, I could feel the effects of the altitude. Lifting luggage just seemed to sap your strength. Lucky we planned two days in Cuzco to acclimate to the altitude! We picked a taxi driver, and were taken a few miles to downtown and our hotel by Lucas. He was a chirpy native Incan that chatted away at 7am, and told us history and names of places as we arrived at our hotel. Small cobbled streets stretched between impressive stone walls; these were only punctuated by small doors and gates of solid wood.
The Incan's had settled Cuzco and built most of the buildings and network of trails in about 100 years. Massive stones were used in the walls, with a great precision of craftsmanship. The original walls have very fine gaps between the stones and each stone has been worked to fit with the stones around it. When the Spaniards conquered Cuzco, they tore down much of the Inca work, looting temples and destroying fortresses to re-use the stone (Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus). In many cases, the Spanish built on existing Inca foundations. As a result, some walls in Cuzco have up to three layers of civilizations apparent, with the bottom-most being Pre-Incan, then Incan with their large and perfectly fitting blocks, and then finally the Spanish colonial stonework which tended to be smaller stones with heaps of mortar in between.
The old town where we stayed was a labyrinth of narrow cobble-stone streets with alleys and lanes blending together. La Residencia del Sol was recommended as our hotel and it was a very pleasant place to use as home base. Within two blocks of the main plaza, the staff did many things above and beyond what you'd expect for a modestly priced hotel, including: coca tea on arrival, bag storage while going to Machu Picchu, and even having the bags back in your room on return from Machu Picchu! A very pleasant place to stay. Across the street was a beautiful church, Iglesia de Santo Domingo.
We started to explore Cuzco with breakfast right around the corner. It was only 10am, but we had been up and about since 3:30 to make the early flight. In a small hole in the wall, it opened up into a warm family restaurant serving traditional Peruvian foods. We all opted for the deep fried Pork with potatoes and local corn that has huge kernels. All very good and washed down with our first taste of Inca Kola, which tastes like a slightly sasparilla flavored cream soda. The food was good and basic, just what we needed to get us going and was only about $3 per person. Afterwards we roamed up toward the main square to buy our Tourist Tickets for most of the sights around Cuzco. This ~$40 ticket allowed visits to sixteen sites, being a blend of museum and Inca ruins. Map in hand it was time to explore, but after one museum we we had only walked two blocks and the altitude was seriously affecting us, Kirsty and Leigh especially. So it was time to return to the hotel for a siesta. I was feeling ok, so I left Kirsty to rest and sleep and went off to slowly explore a bit more of Cuzco.
It's funny that so many locals see you as a walking ATM. You cannot leave your hotel without being constantly being offering Alpaca hats, scarves, painted pictures, photos of natives with their Alpacas... all available, but it will cost you Soles (Peruvian money)! Pushing and not wanting to take no for an answer, the main tactic was to ask, and ask, and ask... and if that wasn't successful you would get puppy-dog eyes and a pleading voice in part English, part Spanish. We did our share of shopping, but it did get old quickly. The polite "No Gracias, no nessisito" in the first few days turned into a firm "NO Gracias" by day two. Bill and Leigh were picking up Spanish quickly, and being Australians they quickly shortened it to "NO GRAS!" :)
The first night, we didn't veer far from the hotel, and found a little pizza shop just over the alley. It was only a small restaurant, but it crammed in a few tables and a full pizza oven. We ordered pizza and calzones, with Bill getting his own special cheese and bacon calzon! The food was VERY good. The pizza maker spoke some English and after finding out Kirsty was having altitude problems, he rocks over to the corner and pulls a few leaves off a small plant. He then proceeds to stick it in Kirsty's face and asks her to inhale deeply (unlike President Clinton, grins)... then he tips off her hat and rubs the herb over her face and thru her hair! You'd never see a western pizza chef be that bold! But the aroma did have some helpful attributes, and Leigh and I also took some to sniff.. so we got pizza and a free medico! Thus ends day one in Cuzco.
Baxters in Lima with a Llama
02/04/2009, Lima, Peru
Love how quickly the Baxters fit into a new culture... "No Gras!"
Bievendios Bill & Leigh
kb - Cool when Cloudy with hot Sunny Patches
02/03/2009, Lima, Peru
Welcome to South America Mum & Dad! I cant believe they are finally here after months of planning and counting down. Its great to see them again after all this time and they have kindly brought us a lot of much needed supplies - most of it was boring things for the boat... but very importantly they have helped restock our larder with sauces, spices, twisties, tim tams and mounds of Cadbury Chocolate - muchas gracias! We will be happily munching on our passage across the Pacific (if things last that long!).
We met them in Lima, Peru and spent a couple of days there getting them over jetlag, sightseeing, catching up, oh and dodging a small demonstration (thankfully it didn't turn into a riot). On the first morning after our arrival Jeff headed off to have his hand looked at by a local doctor and I headed off with Mum and Dad to do some sightseeing while we waited for Jeff to catch up. We went to the main square downtown - Plaza de Armas (Plaza Mayor) - which turned out to be the highlight of Lima. Sitting in the taxi in the most god awful traffic any of us have seen since Vietnam and very much more scary on the driving front. Red lights, stop signs, actually any type of traffic signals are defiantly optional here, as is stopping for anyone until they are a millimeter in front of you and then slamming on the brakes as hard as you can - we had a couple of very near misses during our time in Lima, I was glad to get out there without being in a prang. Horns on the other hand are compulsory - and must be used frequently.
It took us 45 minutes to drive to Plaza de Armas (we walked back to the hotel in less than 30 minutes later in the day) and as we headed down to the square traffic around it was at a complete standstill, people were out of their cars, reading newspapers, they weren't going anywhere anytime soon. As we approached the entrance we could see all the streets leading to the Plaza were barricaded, with riot police in full gear standing behind them, but there was a small queue and people were being let through so we joined the queue to see if we could get in. All the local folks had a special pass but we were let through by the guard no problems - are we that obviously tourists??? As we wandered down the street there was no traffic around and hardly any people - very weird feeling for what I'm sure is normally one of the busiest parts of town. We could hear chanting coming from one of the other entrances and could see everything from tanks, to the bomb squad to very menacing looking Dobermans - eek! Dad was eyeing the nearest rubbish bin to see if he could fit in if anything dodgy started to happen (I can tell you now there is no way but it would have been funny to see him try). The Palacio de Gobierno, which is the presidential residence, was where all the action was at and it looked like there were some visiting dignitaries that were the cause of all the security. As we settled into a café to wait for Jeff and have some lunch (serving sizes in Lima are HUGE), cerveza and pisco sour (the national drink - that is very tasty - a winner) the barricades were taken down and things returned to their normal frantic self.
Next stop, was La Catedral de Lima, which dominates one part of the square. It was amazing, one of the most beautiful cathedrals I've been in and it also had a fascinating museum in the back that showcased some of the relics, clothes and paintings of the cathedral. We also got a look at the sculls and bones of the archbishops of past in the tombs - an interesting view that's for sure.
The next day we headed out to the Museo Larco, which had some amazing pottery, right through from thousands of years ago to more recently with the Incas... they also had an interesting erotic display... lets just say they have a pretty high opinion of themselves! The gardens were stunning, almost like an Oasis tucked away in the middle of Lima. After that we went to the Huaca Pucllana, which is a pyramid ruin that dates back to AD 400. Ok so we learned that there is a lot more history here in Peru than just the Incas, which is what you mostly hear about.
Our final night in Lima we decided to go into Chinatown - which is on the biggest in South America. Jeff and I haven't had good Asian food for months, its almost impossible to come by so we didn't want to miss out. We weren't disappointed. We went to a restaurant recommended by the driver from the hotel and it was divine - exactly what you expect Chinese food to be like. Yummy... We all turned in for an early night, we have a 3.30am wake up call to get us to the airport in time for our 5.40am flight to Cuzco - ouch!