|Having left wonderful Ecuador behind, we flew into Peru, heading straight into the Sacred Valley/Cusco area. We arrived there early morning on the 4th of July, silent internal fireworks glowing. Peru has been beleaguered by frequent strikes in the past year, as taxidrivers/busdrivers/etc clamor for higher wages, and campesinos (farmers) fight for land preservation. Strikes usually involve placing large stones in the middle of the roads, making them impassible. As there were strikes planned for that week, we had to quickly adjust our plans if we wanted to make sure to get to Machu Picchu. So we headed straight to Aqua Calientes, a town right at the base of Macu Picchu with natural hot springs, and accessible only by train (which was to be involved in the strikes). The train ride there was on a modern train with windows on part of the roof as well, giving great views of the incredible valley whizzing by. Alex was in rare form, giving long, detailed descriptions of his future life as rock star, then astronaut, etc.
Agua Caliente is basically just a tourist stop while waiting to go up the mountain. Tons of hotels, restaurants, handicraft stores, etc, but no real intrinsic charm of its own. The next morning we took the bus to the top of the mountain and climbed out onto the ruins of Machu Picchu.
We’ve all seen the classic picture of the mountain with the ruins up top, but it can’t come close to capturing the awe and breathlessness (literally) you experience here. Think Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the 7th hole at Pebble Beach, and you come close. The vistas are beyond comparison, and you can imagine the Incas standing here, thinking they are closer to the Sun God in spirit, as well as physical proximity.
The Incas were incredible engineers. They carved out these rocks and chipped away at them, placing them on top of each other with such exactness you cannot slide a sheet of paper in between them. The valley has had several earthquakes, so the Incas put this in consideration when building these walls. The stones have small protuberances and matching pits on the superior and inferior portions, so they fit together in grooves that are not obvious.
For whatever reason, the Spanish conquerors never heard about this place, so it was left to erode in peace until the early 1900 when an Englishman Hiram Bingham was led here by some locals. Two families were living here at the time. It has now been mostly restored, though the number of tourists visiting it is threatening the site. UNESCO, in declaring it a heritage site, advised no more than 500 tourists a day. At its peak, it is currently accommodating up to 6000 (!) per day. This year, a ban will come in place limiting it to 2500, so it will be more difficult to get a pass in the future.
The following day we spent in the town of Ollantaytambo. Had the facts of the strike been more known, we would have spent more time there, as it is an incredible place. Not only does it boast its own ruins, nearly equal in splendor to Machu Picchu, the old Inca town is still in full use. The streets, and many houses, have been continually inhabited for the past 500 years. We went into one house, and courtyard full of chickens and Guinea Pigs, where the family was living exactly as they did hundreds of years ago, with the same walls, water channels, etc. Incredible place.
With the strike in place, we spent 2 days in Pisaq, another charming little city on the Sacred Valley. We got a chance to escape for one of the days to visit some of the surrounding ruins and a salt flats. Again, could have stayed for more. This whole valley was so magical.
Cusco itself had something to offer, though after the Sacred Valley it fell a bit flat.
Off to Arequipa to the south where we had the chance to visit an incredible old convent, part of which was still in existence. Our threat to enroll Annika was never fully effective, but we still prod occasionally to keep her on her toes.
We had heard about the incredible nearby Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. So we spent a day driving out and back, 13 hours in all. It is really an amazing and meditative place, but having spent 5 hours to get there, and with another 5 to get back ahead of us, we were a tough crowd to please. If it were an hour away, I would say you have to see it. Unless you spent a couple of days there, though, I wouldn’t wish the mountainous journey there on anybody. Coupled with a driver who had an inexplicable desire to hug the cliff edge (going both ways- seriously, on the wrong side) and go excruciatingly slow on the flats, we were all a bit raw. Nice guy, though, and we made it out alive.
Then, finally, we took off to Lima- a city we had heard it best just to avoid- and fly in and out of. We had a chance to walk around one of the nicer areas (Miraflores) and eat some good local food (the Ceviche really is that much better here). Peter took off for a day to go Sandboarding, while Gillian and the kids toured around Lima, visiting catacombs with 25- 70,000 bodies.
Having heard about the thieves in Lima (and bus stations, in particular), Peter was very cautious with the small backpack he had with him. On the bus, the bag was by his feet the entire time. But that didn’t stop some SOB Limano from sneaking his hand under his seat and snatching his cellphone and camera out from under his eyes. Aargh.
Hence no pics of Peter sledding down the hills, or his terrified expressions as the Dune Buggy climbed straight up 5-6 story sand dunes, turn around sideways, and headed straight down them again. Think Great America without the pesky safety rail.
Off for our last country in the journey- Colombia.
Hope you are all well and thriving!