Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu

I like travelling with Mom.  I arrived at the airport and a driver was waiting for me with a big sign that said “Will Smith” (can you imagine what other people thought as they walked out?).  He whisked me into a Mercedes and dropped me at the JW Marriott Lima where bellmen scurried to shuttle my backpack from the limo to the ocean view room.  Mom’s time getting to the hotel was considerably more difficult than mine.  She was supposed to arrive five hours ahead of me so when I was told at check in she had not arrived I was fairly confused.  They said an American Airlines flight out of Miami had been cancelled but I didn’t even know what airline she was on.  I combed the internet and eventually found there had been a loud bang on the flight and the cabin started losing pressure.  The pilot tried to fix it via satellite but it didn’t work so they returned to Miami.  She somehow managed to talk her way onto another flight and ended up arriving at 6am instead of 5pm the previous day as planned.

We headed out the next morning for Cusco, the jumping off point for Machu Picchu.  We spent a day in Cusco to adjust to the altitude since the city lies at 11,000 feet.  To fill the time, we toured the Inca Museum.  I’ll bet you can guess what sort of stuff it had.  Next we went to the Museo Arte Pre-Columbiano (or MAP).  It was the most impressive museum I’ve been in on the trip.  It had all sorts of ancient Indian artifacts and they were immaculately preserved.   

Incan wooden carvings


Wine cups


Armed museum guards with bulletproof vests


We had tried to book the Inca Trail hike two months in advance but it’s become so popular that you now have to have at least three or four months notice so we took the train instead.  The ride was quite nice and we joked about the difference between the classes of this train travel versus the ones I had been booking.  The ride was nice and some great scenery along the way.

Birds eye view of the train station from Machu Picchu


We headed straight for the buses which wound up a ridiculous road for about a half hour to reach the entrance.  Our tour guide was interesting but he was a little too interested in the science stuff.  He wouldn’t shut up about the astrology and engineering aspects of the sight.  He did, however, do a good job of hitting the highlights of the place.

Entrance view of Machu Picchu


See how the Incas laid the city out


The mountain over my head is Waynapicchu


The citadel used to house 800-1000 people in it's hayday


Looking down from the Sun Temple


The Sun Temple


Looking towards Waynapicchu


Notice the joints?  They carved each stone individually to fit


We spend some time hiking to the Inca Bridge and the Sun Gate.  Neither of the hikes was very strenuous.  The Sun Gate was interesting because it gave a flavor of what it would be like to hike the Inca Trail.  Most hikes are timed to cross through the Sun Gate at sunrise to catch their first glimpse of Machu Picchu.  I’m going to have to come back and do it sometime.

Mom admiring one of the llamas on the way up to the Inca Bridge


The Inca Bridge


The terraces from the Inca Bridge route entrance


Hey ya


Mom's turn


I'm lucky I didn't fall off towards oblivion


MP and the road from the Sun Gate


MP a little closer from the Sun Gate


Top of the world


Our second day in the park we decided to step it up a notch and hike Waynapicchu peak, the tall, steep mountain you see next to Machu Picchu on all the pictures.  It was a 70% grade and the trail was a little daunting at some points but the view from the top was worth it.

Can you see my Mom in the middle of the picture?


View from the summit


Enjoying the view


Mom said she felt pretty good so we decided to tack two and a half hours onto the hike and set off down the backside of the mountain towards the Great Cave.  The Great Cave wasn’t so great but the hike there afforded some great views. 

Descending towards the Great Cave


The not so Great Cave


Some of the jungle greenery around the cave


Look at the crazy plants growing out of vertical rock


The train ride back that night was a little more eventful than the previous day’s.  For starters, we were delayed while crews removed boulders striking workers had placed on the tracks.  Once we got underway, they announced that July 15th happened to be some sort of Peruvian holiday and one of the conductors came bounding out dressed head to toe and danced up and down the aisles to typical Incan music.  Once he had done his jig the overhead speaker announced they were going to put on a fashion show for us.  Sure enough, the techno came on and the other two conductors strutted their stuff down the aisles in the latest fashions from Alpaca International.

The Cusco Express pulling out of town


This guy's mask freaked me out so much I almost bought one


 The Catwalk


Taking a bow


The next day we took a city tour, which hits the highlights of town.  It was interesting at the time but less than memorable.  We did, however, get to see a lot of interesting local people. 

A local family


Gotta love how this kid is carrying his lunch


Local ladies making garments out of alpaca wool


Mom and two little girls that were carrying around a baby goat


Mother daughter knitting team


Sacsayhuaman (pronounced Sexy-Woman) Ruins


One of the painting at the Sun Temple


Mom's conquest of the mountain


The Cathedral of Plaza de Armas by night


We spent our last day in Cusco on an excursion out to Pisac and Ollantaytambo.  Maria Christina was our guide and did a great job.  Our first lecture was on the difference between alpacas and llamas.  Alpacas have straight ears and their tails curve down.  Llamas’ ears curve inwards and their tails up.  Also, alpacas are used for meat and fur while llamas are more like pack mules.  She did say that if you put even one pound over 90 on a llama’s back they will refuse to move.

Suri Alpaca


KA Hair Project Pledge


Baby llama, he was actually pretty ugly


Feeding a llama


Vicuna, the most expensive fur in the world ($900 for a scarf)


The Pisac ruins were impressive but I’d recommend doing them before of Machu Picchu.  Maria gave us a rundown of how they used the mountains as tombs for commoners.  She also said that there are still areas of Peru that perform human sacrifices.  The farmers believe if they had a bad crop season Mother Earth was hungry so they dig a hole, give a homeless person food and a lot of drink, and then bury them alive.  

Pisac Ruin Terraces


Another view


Overlooking the Sacred Valley


The holes are tombs


We headed into Pisac to check out the market and wound up in the middle of one of the festivals.  The first dance was one that portrayed the locals.  The music was very smooth and the dances were well coordinated.  Next a bunch of guys in ugly masks with huge noses came out.  They were supposed to represents the Spaniards.  They all had beers in their hands and sloshed around the dance floor.

The lady dancers


She was having such a good time dancing with the big girls


Their timing was a little off


The locals trying to catch of view of the festivities


The arrival of the Spanish


The little girl's dance partner


Well, hello there Spainard


On the way to Ollantaytambo Maria gave us some coca leaves to give us energy to climb the ruins there.  She told us we had to ball them up and chew them for twenty minutes.  At 20:01 the leaves were out the window and on the road.  Ollantaytambo had some interesting carving on the side of the mountain (think Mt Rushmore without modern tools). 

Maria Christina's coca lecture


Tastes great


See the face?


We got scolded for taking this picture, you're not supposed to climb on the ruins


The Water Temple


We flew back to Lima the next day and walked around Miraflores for the day.  Back at the hotel I took advantage of the free internet to IM with Lauren who had Katie, my little sister, over for dinner.  Katie has many classic comments and chalked another one up when I asked her what the two of them we up to that night.  She said "Just hanging out on the edge of cuteness".  No idea where she gets this stuff.

Anyway, after three months on the road I was ready to fly back to the states for some good ole fashioned American efficiency.  Thanks for all the thoughts and encouragement along the way.  Sorry for flooding your inboxes the last couple months.  If anyone has plans to head across the pond anytime soon, drop me a line, most European destinations are a short ride away from London.  Travel on.