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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.