Bob and Kathy's Peru Trip - Feb 1-16, 2001
Click on the blue links below to view photos from our trip. Note: I've removed some personal references from the text, and deleted people's last names to protect anonymity.
Before we left, Kathy told our receptionist at work, Trish, that if we get kidnaped by terrorists she should send Russell Crowe to save us (we saw just the movie "Proof of Life" a few weeks ago).
01 Feb 2001 Thursday
Well, I'm writing this entry from the jungles of Peru. I decided, unlike other trips, to keep a journal of each day.
Yesterday, Kathy and I flew from Minneapolis, where the high temperature was about 25, to Dallas. We had a three-hour layover in Dallas where we met several people from another tour group called OAT, which stands for Overseas Adventure Travel. From Dallas, we flew to Lima, Peru. We got there around 12:30 in the morning, went directly to our hotel and went to bed.
Our trip is broken into three parts, ACEER. Amazon and Cuzco, in that order. Today after breakfast in the hotel, we met the other people in our group for the first leg of our trip: Frank and Margaret, Marilyn and Sewell. We went back out to the airport and flew to the city of Iquitos, which is pronounced "A Key Tose".
From Iquitos, we boarded a bus which took us to a multi-passenger speedboat. The boat took us on a ninety-minute ride down the Amazon. We saw interesting people and villages along the way. We finally came to an Adventurama lodge on an Amazon tributary. We took a nature hike for about an hour, then we came back to the lodge and had some leisure time. We ate a good dinner at 7:30pm. After that, we went on a night boat ride up the stream into the jungle. So far we've seen lots of wildlife, mostly birds. We also saw a small snake in the trees, plus frogs and toads.
The lodge was nice, even though I expected more primitive conditions. There was no electricity, and therefore the showers were cold. The boat landing led up to a large lounge area which also had items for sale other than beverages: T-shirts, blowguns, gourds and so forth. Like all the buildings of the complex, it had a thatched roof made of palm leaves. At night, we had a live group play music on local instruments in the lounge area before dinner. From the lounge, a long bridge over the tributary river led to the dining room where we ate our meals. The dining hall was long and narrow.
A small set of stairs led from the dining room to the sleeping quarters, which were small and cramped. The beds were somewhat small, and had square mosquito nets surrounding them. There were a couple of small bookshelves in the room, and a couple of small stools. We had to leave our luggage on the floor when we opened it up.
There were lots of pet parrots, macaws, toucans, and other tropical birds there. The toucan was very friendly, and was even a bit of a pest, getting into people's rooms and things and trying to snatch food.
There are also lots of bugs here, especially mosquitoes, so we are using lots of DEET. At one point, our guide found a praying mantis.
02 Feb 2001 Friday
Today, Kathy got up at 6:00am and went on a nature boat ride, which I chose not to go on. Among other things, she saw some of those giant lily pads.
We ate breakfast at 7:30am, packed our bags and got back on a boat. This time the boat took us downstream about another hour. In reality, we went downstream (toward Brazil) from the Amazon to the Napo river. From the Napo, we went to the Sucusari river. Then we went up one of the tributary streams. From there, we walked through the forest about an hour until we reached the ACEER facility, a research center in the middle of the rainforest, which is where we are now. It's very hot and humid. The temperature is 85 degrees, and extremely high humidity, making it very uncomfortable.
The ACEER facility is similar to the Explorarama lodge. The rooms are a little bigger, but the rest of the room is the same. The ACEER lodge has a very limited supply of electricity: There are two electric fans in the dining hall and four electric lights. These are run off of batteries with a generator that charges them when necessary (which isn't often). There are also two small refrigerators for pop and beer, probably propane powered. But ACEER only has one combined room for dining and other recreation, with four hammocks tied to the rafters.
The forest, however, is beautiful with an incredible variety of plants. It's very peaceful here. This afternoon, we took the canopy walk for the first time. Basically, there are more than a dozen platforms high up in the trees here. The highest one is platform nine, which is 118 feet up in a tree. Between the platforms are rope bridges which consist of a whole bunch of aluminum ladders bolted together with ropes every four feet and fiber meshes tied up to steel cables. Needless to say, walking from tree to tree on these flimsy ladders is a little bit concerning!
At night we went on a night walk in the forest. The first cool thing we did was to walk to a certain area of the forest where there was a special tree. When we turned off our flashlights, the forest floor was aglow with tiny points of light. Looking down at the forest floor was kinda like looking up to the stars in the night sky, a truly spectacular sight. As it turned out, the glow was caused by some kind of chemical or biological reaction to the dead leaves of the tree. The more dried and decayed the leaves, the brighter they glowed. It was cool.
Later in the walk, we found a hole in the middle of the path and our guide pointed out that the hole housed a tarantula. He coaxed the spider out of its hole with a twig for a few seconds, and it was pretty cool.
03 Feb 2001 Saturday
Today we went up to the canopy again, and other than that, there's not much else to do here in the ACEER. Kathy loves it up there. There are lots of birds, insects and lizards here. We saw two different types of lizard living at the top of the canopy. I had hoped to find other critters around here, like monkeys, which I've heard from a distance but not seen.
In the afternoon, it rained a long time. I suppose that's okay, since it is a rainforest and all. The rain prematurely halted a trail walk we tried to do in the afternoon, but at least it cooled off the stifling heat of the jungle. For being the rainy season in the Amazon, we've been pretty lucky. This is the only event that's been canceled due to rain.
The food has been very good, but it has a recurring theme of rice and baked beans. We've begun kidding Sewell because he says he could eat rice and beans every meal. We've had pasta with red sauce, pasta with white sauce, fried fish, and baked fish, plus lots of other accompaniments, such as fruit and bread. Tonight we had some stuff that looked and tasted a lot like blueberry pie filling. I asked our guide, whose name is Besilio, what it was. He said that it was actually made of a strange kind of purple corn! He asked the cook to fetch the mix from which it was made, and it was amazing. It really was a powdered mix that was made from corn.
You can tell that Besilio loves his job as an Amazon guide. There was a limit of four people per platform in the trees, and three on any one walkway. Often, he hung back on certain platforms and just peered intently into his binoculars, looking for birds. He was always trying to be as quiet as possible. A group of O.A.T. travelers walked through the canopy walkway, made all kinds of noise and scared off all the animals, and Besilio and the rest of us just cringed. And they expected to see animals? Go figure.
Tomorrow, we make the three-hour boat ride back to Iquitos, then we board our boat for the Amazon river cruise.
04 Feb 2001 Sunday
It rained almost all night long, but the rain stopped in the morning. That meant our mile-and-a-half trek back to the boat was through muddy paths. We got to the boat, which was parked at an Adventurama outpost lodge. Like the other Adventurama lodge, this one had pet parrots and other birds, and Kathy spent a long time playing with them.
We rode the boat to a land-bridge portage through a small Peruvian town where some kids were playing with a turtle. We took small three-wheeled motorcycle taxis to another smaller boat on the other side of the land bridge. Only two passengers were allowed on the taxi, so we had to take three taxis for the six of us in our group, a fourth taxi for our luggage, plus a motorcycle for our guide.
We all got into a smaller boat, which had problems. The engine kept sputtering and giving us grief. The frustrated boat driver (who looked about 25 years old) stopped the boat about six times, each time taking off the cover of the outboard motor, pulling the spark plugs, adjusting the carburetors, and trying to get it to run better. Meanwhile, we were passed by water taxis, fishermen and other river people.
None of us seemed worried about being stranded in the middle of the Amazon river. I said, "Look on the bright side; we'll get to see Brazil!" Finally, the driver went back to the motor and our guide drove the boat back to Iquitos. I'm assuming that the motor's choke was sticking open and once the driver held it in its proper position, it ran fine. Anyway, we got to Iquitos in one piece.
We boarded another small boat which took us to our cruise ship, La Esmeralda. The ship is nice, especially compared to the primitive conditions of the ACEER. We have electricity, real plumbing, cold drinking water and hot showers. We even have free laundry service. Our new guide is Roland, and he's quite a character compared to Besilio, who was very good.
05 Feb 2001 Monday
After a long ride on a skiff, where we saw a hawk, a tree iguana, a wild toucan and other birds (and hanging bird nests), we went to see an authentic Amazon Shaman. He was cool. He's the only shaman for a 120-mile area.
His appearance was interesting. Before I met him, I tried to envision what he looked like, and my visualization wasn't too far off the mark. He was old. We were told he was 87, which was easy to believe. He wore what looked like a top hat with a baseball brim, entirely made of cardboard. Under the hat, he had very short gray hair that covered his whole head, which matched my visualization perfectly. He was very animated, standing and walking around. He was very able-bodied and full of life. So full of life, in fact, that he was on his fourth wife, who was pregnant, and he had dozens of children. His oldest son is being trained as his predecessor.
The shaman's eyes were very deep and set far apart, and I could tell they were clairvoyant eyes. He scanned his audience with those eyes, no doubt checking out our auras.
He had multiple bottles of liquid, one of which was supposedly ayahuasca, a powerful hallucinogen. Our guide ceremoniously explained the different liquids and what they were used for. Then the shaman sang a couple songs, and blessed us by blowing smoke on us through his pipe in reverse. In other words, he lit his pipe then he took turns blowing through the pipe's chimney, forcing smoke through the mouth piece, while blessing us. Although the shaman spoke many languages, he spoke to us in Spanish, and our guide acted as translator.
He also answered questions. I asked him how often he left his body. He said that it was dangerous, so he only did it about three times a year. I asked him if the danger was because of spirits and nonphysical beings and he said yes. I also asked him how old his son was, who is to take his place as the shaman. He said that son is 33 years old. Someone asked how often he needed to go looking for medicine in the rain forest to replenish his supply and he said every two weeks. He also said that he can't find the right materials nearby, so he has to travel a long distance to find them. His son takes him to these places, and the old man teaches him the various plants.
When we left the shaman, we noticed five small cute children near the shore. They were grooming each other, picking bugs off one another and, someone said, eating them. We got into our boats and started back to the main boat. Within only a few hundred feet from shore, we noticed a bunch of river dolphins. Some were brown, but the older ones had turned pink on their backs. The other kind of dolphin was the black dolphin, and they looked more like the dolphins I'm used to seeing in zoos.
It started raining again, so there's not much to do on the ship. I really don't mind though. It's relaxing.
The cruise ship we're on, La Esmeralda had some problems with the main engine. We stopped for about an hour. Our day-boat was sent out to meet with another boat that was dispatched from Iquitos several hours earlier. After about an hour, we were on our way again.
At night, we went up to the covered top of the boat where we listened to our resident musicians (including our guide who helped) and downed a few Pisco Sours, which is a local drink. Pisco is Peruvian brandy, and although I don't like brandy as a rule, these Pisco Sours are very good. They're a lot like a traditional margarita.
06 Feb 2001 Tuesday
This morning has been slow so far. I got up at 6:30am to watch birds on the upper level. The problem is, there weren't any birds to see. Then the ship pulled over to the side of the river, supposedly because our sister ship, La Casita, was having engine problems and we were hanging back to make sure she wasn't stranded. We've been parked here on the side of the river for several hours now.
As we were sitting here, a huge log jam was being pulled down the river by a tug boat. The trees in the log jam were enormous. Some of the logs looked five to six feet in diameter. Roland said the logging was illegal, but "what can they do about it." The people need to live, and that is one way they do it. He said that the rainforest was being chopped down at an alarming rate. Every minute, he said, a soccer-field-sized area of rainforest gets chopped down, and if they don't stop it, there will be no more rainforest in twenty to thirty years. My thought was, since the Amazon rainforest generates 70% of the world's oxygen (or something like that), what are we supposed to breathe then?
Roland also gave us a little insight last night after dinner concerning how the local villagers live. He said there are only four cherished commodities here in the Amazon: Salt, Matches, Kerosene and Sugar. The salt is used to preserve food, since they don't have refrigeration as a rule. The matches and kerosene are obviously for fire, heat and cooking. The sugar is just for flavor. The rest of the daily needs and foods can be found here in the jungle. They eat a lot of fish and tropical fruit. We've seen an occasional pig, chicken and once in a while a cow or a goat.
At meals, we always sit with someone different, so we get a chance to talk with everyone on the boat. Usually we talk about other trips we've been on, or are planning. We talked to several couples about our wanting to plan a trip to East Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. One couple was very pleased with the Africa trip they took with our current travel company, International Expeditions. Another couple said their trip was excellent with U.T.C., which stands for United Travel or something like that. Everyone seemed to agree that Abercrombie and Kent was not worth it: Too expensive, too many people crowded on sightseeing vehicles, and too impersonal.
We took our day-boat through a tiny black-water river back to a local village. On the way, we saw lots of wildlife, including parrots, macaws, and lots of other birds. When we got to the village, the people were friendly. They were Spanish-speaking. It was a small village of maybe five families and I think he said 38 people total. The village was called Jesus of Peace village (in Spanish), and they were supposedly Catholic. They had lots of children. I counted about eight boys and probably fourteen girls. Our guide, Roland, acted as translator again. The kids sang a song to us in their roofed outdoor school area. Then we sang two songs for them, "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat Gently Down the Stream." Not too impressive, but it was fun making friends with these people who were so used to being alone and not seeing visitors.
They had a few trinkets for sale, so to support the local economy, Kathy and I bought a maraca and a necklace. The people there seemed very happy and very friendly. This was clearly not a tourist trap like so many Kathy and I have visited across the world. These people were clearly not used to seeing visitors. The adults eyed us suspiciously, and the kids were very curious. I'm sure they thought we were a curious lot. And surely they'd be right.
After lunch we went on another long excursion. We took the skiff (day boat) back into a blackwater swamp, so called because tannic acid leeches into the water turning it black. We spotted a fresh water cayman. It looked like a crocodile to me. After that excitement, we went fishing for piranhas. Kathy caught one and so did I. Most of the people on the boat caught one, but a few did not. The fish were kept and eaten by the ship's staff, we were later told.
After that we went looking for more wildlife. In addition to all the species of plants and flowers, we saw four different species of monkey today. I don't remember them all, but I remember three: Black Saddle monkeys, Squirrel monkeys and Dusky Titi monkeys. We heard the noises of howler monkeys too, but we didn't see them. We were told that this area has a lot of one variety of monkey that has a red face and white hair, but we didn't see any of them today. We also saw a large number of different bird species, but I don't remember many of them because I'm not that interested in birds. Lots of macaws, parrots, herons, black vultures and lots of birds with weird names like the hoatzin. We also saw a turtle sunning itself and another cayman.
07 Feb 2001 Wednesday
We got up early and went onto the day boat at 6:30am to have "breakfast with the dolphins." We traveled in the boat for a long time until we reached an oxbow lake, which is a lake that's only accessible to boats during the rainy season when the water is high. At the lake, we stopped and ate breakfast, which consisted of two homemade Peruvian "Egg McMuffins." We had coffee and orange juice too. There were a few dolphins in the lake, but not many. What we did find at the oxbow lake was a huge flock of cormorants as well as a few egrets. When we drove to their tree, they all took off in a big flock. We took several pictures of them.
After breakfast, we boated over to a shelter where we took a potty break. There was an extremely long boardwalk above the swamp, and I walked as far as I safely could, which was at least a half mile, maybe longer. The boardwalk continued on, but the beams underneath were starting to make cracking sounds, so I turned back.
Back at the stop, there was a tarantula at the peak of the covered shelter. On some of the fencing, there was a baby praying mantis. We had seen a bigger one earlier in the trip, but this one was up close and personal.
The shelter also had lots of lumber, much of which was a purple-colored wood that was extremely beautiful. I asked if it was purple-heart or perhaps rosewood. One guy told me it was some Peruvian name I didn't recognize. Another guy said it was mahogany. Our guide said that it was not mahogany because it's illegal to cut mahogany trees in the rainforest. He gave it some other weird name.
When we left, we hit an area where the black-water stream entered the white-water river. There were tons of black dolphins and pink dolphins swimming around.
When we got back to the La Esmeralda, I decided I was tired of sitting in the uncomfortable day boat, so I opted to stay on the ship and skip the afternoon day trip.
08 Feb 2001 Thursday
This morning, just after I got out of the shower, Kathy came back in from the 6:00am morning trip and told me to get in the boat so we could see a tree sloth that was near the ship. So I got in the boat and we took it a couple of hundred feet away from the main ship. In a nearby cecropia tree, a sloth was sitting. It was very cool. With our 24X binoculars, we could see every feature of its small face. Way cool.
Today we also visited another village.
09 Feb 2001 Friday
Two of our group of 16 had to leave the boat and were taken to the hospital in Iquitos. Apparently the man, Ray, was on a blood thinner. He developed a nose bleed and they had problems getting it to stop bleeding because of it. Luckily, we have two doctors (anesthesiologists) on board, Grace and Linda, who were able to help him immediately.
We went to a village where the local "Riveranos" had set up a small market. I bought two small blow-guns, and Kathy bought a woven basket. There was a cute girl there who had a pet pigmy marmoset (monkey) on her shoulder tethered by a small rope. We asked her his name (in Spanish) and she said Jose or something cute like that. Afterward, we played volleyball with the local kids, and that was fun. Roland told us we could go swimming in the Amazon. He said there weren't any piranhas there, but he was the only one brave enough to swim.
We went to a small city where we walked around. We saw a market where people were selling their vegetables and meat. Always interesting to me.
At night, we ate our final dinner, the captains dinner, on the ship and had a little ceremony.
10 Feb 2001 Saturday
Anyway, we took yet another boat ride this morning, looking for wildlife. According to Sewell and Marilyn who have been keeping track, we've seen exactly 101 species of birds, and remarkably, this number matches what Roland came up with when she asked him to check off which species we had seen. We've also seen about five different species of monkey, plus a couple of caymans, plus the snakes. We even saw a small anaconda. Actually, Kathy saw it, but I didn't.
We arrived in Iquitos in the morning, disembarked, and boarded a bus. We took a very short bus tour of the city. After that, we went to a tourist market in Iquitos, where we saw some interesting things. One vendor had two sloths in his booth (not caged) that were happily eating. Our guide asked us not to patronize vendors who do that because it encourages them to take animals out of the wild and disrupt the rainforest. We also saw two little children playing with the smallest boa constrictor I've ever seen; it was about fifteen inches long. Kathy bought a wooden bowl there. She also bought a pendant that looks like a "Tumi," which is an Inca ceremonial knife. It's also one of the "treasures" from the game Tikal that we sometimes play. There was another vendor who had bags of dried shredded roots that were labeled "Ayahuasca" but I doubt whether it was the real thing. I didn't ask the price.
After the market, we ate sandwiches on the tour bus after we arrived at the airport.
Favorite quotes from Roland, our Amazon guide: "Wow! Lookadat! Macaw!" "What a day! Perfecto!" He was also occasionally fond of pointing out a particular marsh bird that has the nickname, "The Jesus Christ Bird" because it uses its webbed feet to walk on marsh plants and it makes it appear that it's walking on water. Sometimes he would jokingly say, "Jesus Christ!" even when there wasn't a bird present. Roland seemed very concerned about preserving the rain forest for generations to come. He seemed to understand the necessity of not damaging the rainforest. On our final dinner, he gave us a "certificate" and asked us to repeat a vow to help preserve the rainforest. On the other hand, it was hard for me to tell if he was being 100% sincere. When he saw people poaching or illegally logging, he almost seemed to look the other way, sometimes explaining to us that the local people were very poor and still had to live so he understood their need to do these things in order to survive. He even tried to defend the "slash and burn" technique of clearing the land and using it for farming, claiming that the rainforest was quick to reclaim the land after it had been exploited by man. He said it was no good for farming after a couple of years anyway, because most of the land's nutrients are leeched into the river during the rainy season.
I think the most disturbing sight was when we disembarked the boat in Iquitos. As we exited the ship, we saw a huge crane pulling enormous pieces of a tree that had been cut. The tree was somewhere between five and six feet in diameter, and probably hundreds of years old. It was a sight to be mourned.
We boarded our plane and flew to Lima. In Lima, we had a bus tour that covered a couple of the parks and such, like the lover's park on the coast. In the park is a huge modern sculpture called The Kiss. It inspired some of our group. We also visited one small museum that used to be the residence of some rich people, and their wonderful house was converted into the museum when they died. It contained wonderful pieces of art, mostly religious.
We ate dinner at a fancy restaurant. After dinner, we went back to our hotel, Las Americas, and said goodbye to half of our party. Among those who left us were Frank and his wife Margaret, plus Grace and Linda. Our party was now down to eight: Kathy and myself, Sewell and Marilyn, Rick and Barb, and Steve and Carol.
11 Feb 2001 Sunday
This morning we had to get up very early (3:15am) so we could get ready to fly to Cuzco where we spent one day before going to Machu Picchu. Our flight left at 6:30am. From Cuzco, we took a tour bus through the Andes and into the Sacred Valley until we got to the small village of Yucay where we checked in to our hotel. The hotel was beautiful and quaint, but the rooms were made of brick so every noise echoed badly. They had converted a water fountain into a flower planter.
Our new local guide here is Edgard.
The first thing we did was drive to the small town of Chinchero. When we got off the bus, we visited a mom and pop "factory" where we bought a water pitcher that filled in the bottom without spilling. The pitcher and other pottery items were made here and painted by the local artisans. We also bought a very brightly colored (mostly red) table cloth, which are also made there and dyed by hand. Then we visited a local market. The people of the area were selling their produce, meats, spices and goods. It was pretty cool. Some people had vats of special non-alcoholic "beer" but we didn't try any.
We got on the bus, and drove to the village of Ollantaytambo, where we changed busses because the bus we were using couldn't handle the rough and rocky road ahead. On the new bus, we drove around hairpin turns on perilous cliffs with a raging river below, until we got to the village of Willoq. At Willoq, it was raining but the village people came running down from the mountains to greet us.
We were taken inside a local woman's home. It was a small one-room hut, probably thirty by fifteen feet inside. The floors were dirt. At one end of the hut was the kitchen area where there were pots and pans and cooking utensils. On the other side were tiny individual beds for sleeping. It was very dirty. In one corner, under the bed was a small bunch of guinea pigs, which we were told was a future meal. They are not pets, they are a delicacy. This woman had three kids, but the only one I saw was the one she carried on her back. We got good pictures.
We were told that the women are more important than the men in their society and pretty much run the household. They also tended the children, minded the animals, tended their local fields, and also wove shawls, blankets and table cloths to sell to the tourists. Despite the fact that it was raining, dozens of women laid their goods on the grass for our shopping convenience. They stood off to the side so that we wouldn't feel pressured to buy anyone's goods but to treat them fairly.
On the bus, we brought with us huge gunny sacks full of baked buns, which we later distributed to the children, who were running around everywhere. After we gave bread to the children, we gave three loaves to each of the women there. Men were nowhere to be seen. We were told that the men were off working, and many of them worked as pack-mules, carrying luggage for tourists and so forth, which was much more profitable than farming. The men stayed in towns far away for the week, so they didn't see their wives and children very often.
Edgard told us that Peru has a lot more women than men. He said that there are six women for every man in Peru. He said "I've got just one. I don't know who got my other five women." (He is married).
Despite the fact that farming was not economical, all the fields around the Urubamba valley are planted with corn. We were told that corn was exported to other countries and other areas of Peru. Most of the local people have their own little plot, and the corn they seem to enjoy have huge kernels, like the "corn nuts" snack, but these people eat them on the cob. Also, the sides of the roads (and railroad tracks I might add) are dotted with people's bulls, llamas, alpacas, pigs, chickens and so forth.
We took our bus back down the treacherous mountain back to the town of Ollantaytambo, where there is an archaeological site. We walked around the site and got a lecture from Edgard, then we went back to the hotel. After dinner, we went to bed exhausted.
12 Feb 2001 Monday
Today, we got up early and took the tour bus to the train station. Then we took the small, cramped train to the town that's closest to Machu Picchu. There are only two ways to get here: by train or helicopter.
We checked into our hotel, the Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel, which is very nice. We're in the middle of the "cloud forest" which means it's pretty wild out there. The hotel grounds are like a garden, and we were told that they had the largest collection of orchid varieties in Peru.
After breakfast, we walked through a short vendor area, until we got to the bus stop. The bus took a long time to arrive, and it was raining the whole time. The weather here at Machu Picchu is very weird. It's the rainy season, we were told, and it went from sunny to raining about five times today. The bus took us up an enormous mountain little by little over windy, twisty roads, hairpin turns and perilous cliffs (like yesterday, only worse). The scenery up the mountain was absolutely breathtaking. There's no other way I can describe it. It reminded me a lot of the three gorges in China or of the mountains of Guilin China, but actually I think it was even more beautiful than that. It is truly the most beautiful place I've ever seen in the world, and I've seen a lot of this world.
When we got to the site, there were very high quality (clean and well-outfitted) bathrooms, but they cost a half a "Sole" per person. The "Sole" is the Peruvian money, and it's about 3.45 Soles to one dollar.
Once inside the archeological site, we were stunned at how beautiful and vast the site was. Outstanding. We got lectures from our guide, Edgard, in various locations within the site. When we got to one location, I saw a ritual bath area and it had a carved stone seat that matched perfectly the image I got last night when I was falling asleep. It was right outside the main temple of the sun. We got pictures of it.
The site was very cool. Our lectures were very good, and the scenery was outstanding. Pictures don't even come close to doing this place justice. Because this is the "off" season, there were not many tourists to compete with, which made it all the more enjoyable. By the time I left the site, there was hardly anyone there.
After we got on the last bus down, we noticed a little boy dressed in a red native costume yelling goodbye to the bus. When we rounded the first corner, we noticed the same boy was waiting at the side of the road. This time, he yelled "Adios." Apparently he took the steps down the mountain and beat the bus there. The next turn, there he was again, once again yelling "Goodbye." He proceeded to do this the entire way down the mountain, meeting us on the road before our bus crossed the steps going down. When he got to the bottom, he ran in front of the bus, across the raging river, and down to the corner. Then we stopped and he got on the bus. Again, he yelled "Goodbye" and "Adios" and we all gave him money because we were very well entertained.
Kathy and I are planning to go back to the site tomorrow. We need to be back down the mountain by 12:30, and it's a twenty minute bus ride, so we won't have an excessive amount of time tomorrow. Tomorrow we're on our own, which means we get to explore and possibly meditate. I'm looking forward to it.
13 Feb 2001 Tuesday
Kathy and I went back to the Machu Picchu site again today. We took the 7:30am bus in, and it was wonderful because there were almost no tourists there at the time. There were maybe five or six small tour groups walking around and a few individuals, but that was it. We wandered the site, exploring all the places we didn't see yesterday. It was very cool.
The coolest place there, I think, is the temple of the sun and its accompanying rooms. There are also a couple of rooms around and underneath the temple. There were a few roped off places I would have loved to visited, but I didn't. Kathy and I even took a few minutes to sit on a particular carved rock. I closed my eyes and tried to meditate a little bit, but there was a fellow tourist there and she apparently wanted to talk instead. I let her talk to Kathy, but I wanted quiet time. We finally did get our chance to meditate a little bit, when we lay down on a huge rock near the trail up to the top of the nearby mountain (an optional hike we chose not to do). I didn't have any unusual experiences there. Perhaps I was just tired from the walking or from the thin air, but I didn't really have any spiritual experience there.
We came off the mountain around 11:45 and rejoined the rest of our group, who oddly decided not to go back to the site today. All in all, Machu Picchu was a wonderful site speaking strictly from an archeological point of view. In fact, as good if not better than Tikal in Guatemala. However, from a spiritual point of view, it was a wash. After lunch, we drove back through the sacred valley to Cuzco.
Kathy wasn't feeling good today. Other members of our group have taken turns being sick for a day, and now it's her turn. She even threw up. In fact, she skipped shopping and dinner. I went to the buffet and got her some chicken soup, some bread sticks and chocolate mousse. She felt a little better later in the evening. I hope I don't get it tomorrow.
As for shopping, Edgard took us to a guitar shop where Steve, one of our group, wanted (and got) to buy a small mandolin-like instrument. Then we took two taxi cabs to a shop where they sold Alpaca wool goods (blankets, sweaters, etc.) I was more interested in some reproduction paintings that were Spanish looking and quite religious. For example, many showed angels (complete with wings) dressed in conquistador outfits, and holding rifles. Despite liking these paintings, I didn't want to buy any without Kathy's input. Instead, I bought some cheap pagan idol reproductions for our bookcases. (Besides books, our bookcases contain representations of God from all cultures of places we've visited). Apparently the Andean/Inca people (Quechuas, pronounced kay-chuas) used to conquer other tribes throughout South America, then they would make them part of the Inca empire by stealing their god-idols, taking their priests or shamans hostage, and incorporating their gods into the Inca religion. Thus, the Inca people had lots of different idols and gods before the Spaniards came in and forced them to submit to Christianity. After the conquest, the idols were destroyed, their sacred ancestor mummies (which were taken out and paraded on special occasions) were buried. Not much is left of the culture after the Spanish got through with it. They melted down their gold statues, bracelets and everything to satisfy the king of Spain's greed.
Tomorrow, we're supposed to see three archaeological sites and maybe a church. I'm looking forward to it.
14 Feb 2001 Wednesday
Kathy feels much better this morning. Whatever this virus is, it is short term.
After breakfast, we walked to the church across the street from our hotel. Inside the church was the remains of the Cuzco temple of the sun. Apparently, the Spanish destroyed the temple of the sun and built a monastery there. At some point, the site was excavated and partially restored. All that remains are some of the stone walls, some of which were at a perfect 15 degree angle. We were told that in 1650, there was a massive earthquake in which 70 percent of the buildings were destroyed. The 30% that survived were Quechua (Inca) buildings because they were engineered so well. There was another massive earthquake in 1950 and once again 70% of the buildings were destroyed. Anyway, all that remains today is about four small rooms. The complex was surrounded by Inca walls, and from drawings they can tell that it was originally triangular. At the tip of the triangle was the temple of the sun, with a curved wall, much like the curved wall that remains at Machu Picchu. Unlike Machu Picchu's temple, however, this one had a large niche which housed a large gold disc that represented their main god, the sun. Apparently the Quechua's had many gods, including Mother Earth, but their main god was the sun. The Inca (The king of the Quechuas) was considered the son of the sun, and therefore was worshiped as a deity. Because of this, Kathy and I both thought that an image of the sun god was probably the best representation of the Quechua culture, and therefore we talked about buying some sort of free-standing sun-god. Throughout the trip, we've kept our eyes open for an appropriate figure to buy, but we never saw anything of the sort.
After the church our driver, Rudy, picked us up in the bus and drove us to the main cathedral. This was a magnificent building, very highly decorated. Unfortunately, the cathedral was under construction, so we couldn't see the whole thing.
Our guide told us that he wanted to take us there to prove that the trip was not entirely one-sided. Their culture is influenced by Spanish as well as Quechua cultures.
After the cathedral, we ate lunch at a restaurant near the cathedral, where we watched musicians perform.
After lunch, we were taken by bus to see an archaeological site called Sacsahuaman (nickname sexy woman) that contained three levels of huge walls. We were told it was a place of learning, like Quechua University, but it was also the site of the last stand of the Quechua people. Apparently there were 5000 Quechua soldiers, and the Spanish had a tiny force of 300 soldiers. The Inca gave the Spanish leader two days to leave. After two days, they were still there. The Inca gave the Spanish another two days "or else." After two days, the Spanish still had not left. The Inca challenged the Spanish leader to hand-to-hand combat; the stakes were two more days. The Spaniard won, so they were given two more days to leave. After six days of extensions, reinforcements came from a huge Spanish army that just got through conquering Equador or something. With the reinforcements, superior weapons, superior armor and horses, the Spanish were able to conquer the Quehua people. The field we visited was apparently littered with dead bodies. It was a bloody battle. It pretty much marked the end of the Inca era for Cuzco and its people.
The battle field marked the official end of our tour of Cuzco by Edgard. Kathy and I spent the rest of the day (and evening) shopping. At the end of the day, just as we were getting ready to walk back to the hotel for dinner, I spotted a perfect sun-god image for our mantle. It is hand-carved made from serpentine schist stone. The vendor wanted $80 for it. I offered him $40, but we finally agreed on $65.00, because Kathy really fell in love with it. It weighs a ton.
15 Feb 2001 Thursday
We got up early, ate breakfast and proceeded to wait in the hotel lobby in Cuzco for several hours. Apparently, there was so much fog, the authorities weren't letting airplanes take off or land in Lima. After several hours, we were finally taken to the airport. On the bus, Kathy gave Edgard a hard time. Several days ago, Kathy asked him about when we were going to eat Guinea pig and he said we had plenty of time, and not to worry. Now that we were at the airport, Kathy never got her Guinea pig, which is supposed to be a delicacy in Peru. At some point, Edgard disappeared into the airport, and he returned with a roasted Guinea pig! This poor animal was gutted and roasted whole, so it had its head, teeth, claws and so forth. When we saw the poor beast, Kathy and I laughed long and hard. Kathy and I tried it, and it tasted just like chicken. The other people on the bus were appalled. Edgard took the carcass over to the bus load of Smithsonian group travelers, and they were apparently even more appalled. They made such a fuss that Edgard was laughing for a long time. Kathy and I gave him $5.00 for the Guinea pig and the entertainment. It was well worth it.
After a long time of waiting, we finally went into the airport and boarded the plane. The plane, however, was still not allowed to take off. After a half hour of waiting, they allowed us to get off the plane and wander around the airport. I bought a bottle of Pisco, from which is made Pisco sour, a popular alcoholic drink here in Peru.
Favorite saying from Edgard, our Cuzco guide: "No way Jose." He was very proud of his heritage, and he should be.
I got back on the plane, and after some time, the plane finally did take off, but it was about six hours late. Once we were back in Lima, we were picked up by Robert, the first guy we met here in Peru. I gave him a hard time about never sleeping because we've seen him working at all hours of the day and night.
We were taken to our hotel, the Las Americas, where we stayed before. Our first challenge at the hotel was to find our luggage that we checked when we were in Lima before. That went pretty smoothly and it was delivered to our room. The second challenge was to locate the laundry we had dropped off when we left Lima. The people at the front desk asked the people in housekeeping, in the laundry service and the bellmen, but no one seemed to know where our laundry was.
Our entire group was scheduled to go on a tour of the "Gold Museum" which is basically a private collection of Inca and pre-Inca culture antiques. Sewell and Marilyn decided not to go. Rick and Barb decided to go jewelry shopping. Steve and Carol weren't feeling good, so they didn't go either. So Kathy and I were the only ones to go on this tour. Our guide was Ana Sophia. We had to leave for the tour before the hotel found our laundry. The museum was very cool. It contained a lot of gold artifacts. It also had several mummies and trophy heads (the pre-Inca pagan tribes would collect heads of the people they conquered, sometimes carrying them around their waist to display how fierce they were.) There were also several pagan god idols and other artifacts.
Upstairs was another huge collection of guns, knives, armor, spurs and other things. This place was crammed with stuff, just like House on the Rock. My favorite upstairs item was the world's smallest handgun, which was about one inch long, and had a tiny test tube with tiny bullets.
After the museum, we went back to the hotel. By then, they had found our laundry and had delivered it to our room. It was packaged all nice and pretty. My blue shirt was cleaned, pressed, folded, packaged, wrapped in cardboard supports and wrapped in plastic just like a new shirt in a clothes store. Kathy and I had hoped to get back to the hotel in time to clean up, get dressed, and have a drink before dinner, but because the tour and traffic took longer than expected, we had to skip the drink.
Then we went out to dinner with our traveling companions. We went to a wonderful seafood restaurant here in Lima. We got all dressed up for it, and it was great. It was at the end of a pier, with waves crashing underneath us. I loved my dinner, which was sea bass, but Kathy was a little bit disappointed with her chicken. We were, however, delighted that International Expeditions paid for the fancy dinner, including Pisco sours and white wine. We toasted and talked about future travels. The only down side was the heat and humidity which made it uncomfortable. After dinner, we returned to our hotels (Sewell and Marilyn were staying at a different hotel) and said our goodbyes.
16 Feb 2001 Friday
This morning, Kathy and I got up and went on another tour that we had booked when we were in Lima several days ago. We were picked up at the door and took a short bus ride south of Lima until we hit an archaeological site, Pachacamac. It was an old pre-Inca city in the middle of the desert. Pilgrims came from all over South America to consult with the oracle, much like the Greeks did in Delphi. The pre-Quechua inhabitants worshiped a wooden idol god that the city was named after. This idol represented the supreme creator of all things, and the idol was feared by everyone in the society, that is, until one of the conquistadors threw the idol on the ground in disgust. They stopped worshiping the idol when the feared reprisal never happened.
Apparently, the Quechua civilization conquered them and incorporated Pachacamac in their pantheon of gods, and took over the city. The complex was pretty big; we had to drive to various pieces of the site. That was partially due to the intense heat of the desert beating down on us. The site was interesting, and it included several buildings, including a main pyramid-like temple and several administration buildings. This was next to the pacific ocean.
The desert was hot, and the ruins were very deteriorated, and that kept Kathy and me from enjoying it as we might normally enjoy an archaeological site.
After the site, we were taken to the Marriott hotel where we had a fabulous lunch. The most remarkable thing about this lunch was the desert. I had a desert-cup filled with what at first appeared to be pumpkin pie filling and whipped cream. But it wasn't whipped cream, it was more like a sugary meringue, only better. It wasn't pumpkin pie filling either, it was some weird unidentifiable substance that tasted very good. I actually tried two varieties of this desert, and the cream in one of them tasted like freshly baked bread!
After lunch, we walked over to the underground shopping mall that was built into an ocean cliff. The shopping was boring and we didn't buy anything. We walked back to the Marriott where we were picked up for the second half of our tour, which was a city tour of Lima and the old town. The tour was good, all in all, but we spent too much time riding on the bus with our guide saying things like, "To your right is the most beautiful balcony in all of Lima. It was built in colonial times." and not enough time getting out of the bus and exploring. We were brought to a cool cathedral, and given only 20 minutes to explore! This cathedral had a small museum, and also the tomb of Pizaro, who was the main conqueror of Peru. We were also taken to a Franciscan monastery and got to look around. We were even taken down into the crypts of the church and visited rooms with large boxes of bones. It was cool, but not as cool as the crypts of St. Stephen's church in Vienna where the rooms were filled halfway to the ceiling with bones from the black plague.
After the city tour was over, we went back to the hotel, took a brief potty break, and then walked to Kennedy park which was one block from our hotel. There were lots of people gathered there for a Friday night, including performers, artists and a tiny circular arts and crafts area. We didn't buy anything, though.
We ate dinner, then went back to the hotel, packed, showered, and were picked up at 10:50pm to go to the airport.
17 Feb 2001 Saturday
Our flight was delayed again, so we spent a long time shuffling through lines in the airport, which was crowded and hot. We boarded the plane around 3:30am, and took off around 4:00am. The plane, however, was air conditioned and therefore nice and cool.
Favorite Spanish spelling: Pancakes are pronounced the same, but are spelled "panqueques."
All in all, we've had an excellent vacation. Peru was very friendly and hospitable, perhaps only surpassed by Greece for comfort and friendliness. I guess Russell Crowe will have to wait until our next vacation.