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Machu Picchu

Return to Iquique

16 December 2005

An early start today, we took the bus with "Flores" to Tacna where we were supposed to connect with an Ormano bus at 1400 for Iquique. This bus did not exist - though the station manager told us it had caught fire! So we took a collectivo over the border to Arica then took another bus to Iquique. At dusk the desert outside the window looked almost white it was so pale. There was a huge valley, very steep with a green ribbon running through the bottom where a river must have been. We arrived in Iquique at about midnight. Though we had a wonderful time in Peru, we were pleased to be back on board our lovely Sapphire.

15 December 2005

roast alpaca Tintin view A lazy day today in Arequipa. We wanted to come back here as this is the least touristy town we have visited as well as being very beautiful. It is a great place to relax. We had lunch as an authentic Peruvian restaurant called Sonccollay on Plaza de Armas where Kev finally tried the chicha - then made the mistake of reading about how it is made (chewing on maize....). We visited "La Compania", a colonial Jesuit church which, in keeping with those in Cusco, was splendidly ornate. We spent the afternoon looking through the craft and jewellery shops and topped the day off by returning to Sonccollay for a fabulous meal of stone oven roasted alpaca, followed by real chocolate for dessert. After the meal Kev announced that he was returning to a more sensible diet..of beer, whisky, wine and rum!

Puno and Lake Titicaca

14 December 2005

Uros islands peru_boy kev steering Puno markets We walked through the local food markets today and saw more varieties of potato than I knew existed. There were also lots of different cereals for sale, including the delicious quinua. We decided to take a short trip to the Uros Islands. These floating islands were built by the Uros people who began their unique way of life centuries ago in an effort to isolate themselves from their aggressive indigenous neighbours, as well as the Spanish in later years. The people on these islands now speak Aymara. The island's construction is incredible. They are made from reeds and are some three metres thick. They take about two months to build and last about eight years before sinking. The people here make a living through fishing, hunting (birds) and nowadays, through tourism. There are five species of fish in the lake, three native and also the introduced species of trout and king fish (which, predictable enough have started to decimate the native fish population..). The people build fabulous boats out of reeds too; these take about a month to construct. The islands are anchored using eucalyptus poles and when the people fancy a change of scenery, they simply weigh anchor and tow their islands away. There is a primary school on one of the larger islands and about 20% of the children carry on to high school and university in Puno. Actually, the population on these islands in growing. Due to the reed construction of the islands, fire is a genuine hazard. For this reason the Uros people rely heavily on solar power. Rheumatism is also a problem for the older residents as the core of the islands is damp. Though very touristy, the islands were incredible and well worth a visit. During the afternoon we took the bus back to Arequipa. As we were driving along I was confused to notice that the surrounding mountains seemed to be covered with snow - in the middle of Summer. Soon we realised that this was deep hail. Before long the bus broke down and as we were stuck in the desert, with no light or power and with the driver bashing the engine with a large spanner, the bus hostess calmly announced that there was "..nothing wrong with the bus. We have stopped because it is too cold.." Unbelievable!! Fortunately we were on our way again soon enough and arrived in Arequipa again late that night.

13 December 2005

Puno Taxi Puno Market We left Cusco today to take the bus to Puno. After having been stung when we arrived we knew enough to refuse the taxi driver's quote for a ride to the station. We arrived in Puno at about 1500, checked into our hotel and wandered into the town. At 3830 m above sea level, Puno sits on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. We found some excellent craft shops in the town and I was amazed (and delighted) when Kev suggested buying some beautiful Peruvian blankets and rugs...finally I have converted him! He also bought a fantastic alpaca jacket. We went to bed at about 2300 and were a little unnerved to feel the room shaking; this was our first seismic tremor!

Cusco, The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

12 December 2005

At Machupicchu Machupicchu stonework unexplored Machupicchu Peaks of Machupicchu Machu Picchu! We were up at 4.45am today to catch the vistadomme train to Machu Picchu. Four hours on the train and 30 minutes on the bus later we arrived. Machupicchu is actually the name of the larger peak under which the lost city nestles. The tranquil beauty of the ruined walls is further enhanced by the lush, imposing mountainous landscape by which it is surrounded. UNESCO declared this a Cultural and Natural Patrimony of the Humanity in 1983. The city is located significantly lower than Cusco at 2400m above sea level. Our first view over the city was just mesmerising. It is no wonder the city remained undiscovered for centuries. The surrounding mountains are almost vertical and the tropical vegetation is pretty much impenetrable. This city is shrouded in mystery. The citadel was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham who had been looking for the last Inca stronghold. (This was not it, though he did discover Vilcabamba another time.) He was led by a local boy to this site which was at the time covered in tropical vegetation having been abandoned centuries earlier. The city was built in around 1450 and abandoned around 1500 - before the Spanish reached this part of the world. Before construction began, about 20 years was spent in planning and preparation. No one knows why the city was abandoned; theories z range from famine to attacks from hostile people. The city was only about 65% complete before the Inca and his people left. What is known is that this was a centre for worship. The quality of the stonework on the temples was vastly superior to that of the residential buildings. Incredibly, though the site has been cleared, very little underground excavation has taken place. UNESCO plans to clear the remaining 30% of the site which remains buried in the undergrowth in about ten years. This might help to answer some of the many questions this awesome city raises. Many of the artefacts that have been found here are now in the USA as Peru does not currently have the necessary museum facilities. We visited the Temple of the Sun and saw the incredible stonework of the Royal Tomb. There is also a large Andean Cross which was used for astronomy. To these people, the Winter Solstice was the most important day of the year. We saw representations of the condor, puma and snake which the people believed represented the three stages of life. The Runa people believed that after death the spirit left the body and then returned to the place of death / burial 500 years later. The Incan ruins here are simply breathtaking. When we visited there were only a few hundred people there though in the high season, visitors often number in excess of 2500 each day. UNESCO has warned that the city can support no more than 500 each day. We were a little surprised at the apparent disregard with which this incredible city was treated by many of the visitors who insisted on standing on the walls for photos and wandering though restricted areas etc. Our guide was a Quechuan man (these are the native Andean people) and he showed us that the Quechuan language is very similar to Japanese. (There was a Japanese couple with our group who could understand him perfectly when he spoke his native language.) He explained that many of the local people still worship the mountain and the seasons much as their ancestors did, though many are also Christian. Our guide said he believed that the Andean people were not poor, they simply lived differently. (By western expectations, these people are materially poor.) Unfortunately, the current life span of these traditional Andean people is about 45 years as opposed to the life span during Inca rule of over 60. Our guide said this is largely due to alcohol. Our four hours on the train back to Cusco passed quickly as the (very good looking) train staff put on a fashion show modelling the most gorgeous alpaca clothing..priced at about ten times the prices in the surrounding towns and markets.

11 December 2005

markets kebab Pisac Terraces Pisac ruins Today we visited the Sacred Valley. Our guide explained that the Inca was the ruler / king of the Runa people. (So it is not correct to refer to the people as the Incas.) As soon as we left Cusco it became obvious that still many people live very traditionally in the Andes. We visited the wonderful markets at Pisac where the quality of the handicraft was astonishing. In the market were handmade alpaca sweaters for less than £4 each and beautiful ceramics and jewellery. (We think it is a disgrace that these people cannot get their excellent products to markets in the west where people pay significantly more for products of a much lesser quality.) We saw various buildings with a pole at the front from which was suspended a red bag / banner. This is how the people advertise the Chicha is for sale. (Chicha is an alcoholic drink brewed in the Andean region as it has been for hundreds of years - made mostly from maize). We saw lots of maize and potato crops. There are hundreds of species grown here. We noticed on top of many houses two little ceramic bulls with a cross between them - this is a real mix of Andean and Christian religion. The bulls symbolise fertility of livestock. We visted an Incan citadel above the town of Pisac on a triangular plateau with steep gorges on all sides. The views of the Urubamba river below were breathtaking. The many agricultural terraces were built to act as large greenhouses as the rock walls absorbed the sun's heat. They were also used to acclimatise crops. We saw the sun temple and the astronomers' house. Many of the buildings constructed by these people were earthquake resistant - they shaped windows to be more narrow at the top than the bottom and used angles to reduce the devastating impact of earthquakes. The architecture was truly astonishing. The Inca fortress overlooking the town of Ollantaytambo was incredible. The town itself was carefully planned by Runa people and has been constantly inhabited since the 13th Century. This fortress marks the site of a rare Spanish defeat in a major battle at the hands of the Inca. It was to this fortress that Manco Inca retreated after his defeat at Sacsayhuaman (by Cusco). The Spanish with a large number of other native people gave chase but were showered with arrows, spears and boulders from above. To seal the victory, Manco Inca then flooded the valley using previously prepared channels. The Spanish were bogged down and slaughtered by the Inca's soldiers. (The Inca's victory was short lived.) This place also housed an important Inca temple and the remains of the Andean Crosses can still be seen, though these were mostly destroyed by the Spanish. The fortress was built from stones quarried several miles away on the other side of the river. To transport the stones across the river the people built channels to divert the flow of the river during the dry season. Towards the end of the day we stopped at Chinchero where we visited the church and more wonderful markets. Kev indulged in an Alpaca kebab! (We have found that the food in Peru is delicious though the alcohol is very very expensive.) On the way back in the bus we caught sight of a huge glacier at the top of the mountains. We could not believe our eyes as we were well into the tropics.

10 December 2005

Theresa at Cusco Cusco Pub altar Last Supper This was our first day in Cusco and we set about booking our trips to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Cusco is a very pretty city but far too touristy. It is not possible to walk ten paces without lots of people (adults and children) trying to sell something. They do not take no for an answer and eventually give up saying "maybe later" to you! I have never seen splendour in my life like that in the cathedral in Cusco - utterly amazing. There are several large altars made of solid silver with lots of gold brocade decorations and magnificent art work throughout. There is a large painting of the Last Supper - the main meal is a guinea pig which is an Andean delicacy. We walked past the Inca walls on which the modern city of Cusco stands to visit the Museo de Arte Religioso. The art work was magnificent and the museum itself stands on the site of of Palace of the Inca Roca. There are lots of Australian tourists here. One little boy who was trying to sell pictures asked me what I thought of John Howard and whether I ate kangaroo. Then he got annoyed because I did not buy his postcards.

9 December 2005

Desert house Peruvian desert We took the bus to Cusco today. We were surprised that we had to pay bus station tax before we could leave. The bus was a two storey bus with large seats and we were seated right at the front on the top so the view was great. We drove through the endless desert until we saw the first waters of Lake Titicaca. Lunch remained uneaten on the bus as we were served mostly raw chicken! We arrived in Cusco at 2200 and after being fleeced by a taxi driver we went straight to our B&B..


8 December 2005

Santa Catalina catalina artwork We arrived at our B&B "La Casa de Tintin" at about 0530 and went straight to bed as we had not slept during the night. After a couple of hours sleep and a hot shower we went to explore the town. We had lunch at a great crepery and then visited the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. This was founded in 1579, just 40 years after the Spanish settled in Arequipa, and is the finest example of Arequipan colonial architecture. When founded, only the wealthiest nuns were welcome here and they often brought their servants with them. The convent is still used by nuns today though there are only about 30 there, it opened its doors to the public in 1970. The buildings and grounds are really very beautiful as is the huge art collection housed within. Arequipa is known as the "Ciudad Blanco" as many of the original buildings are made from white sandstone. We had a coffee overlooking the Plaza de Armas and then visited the Catholic University which houses "Juanita". Juanita is the oldest and best preserved example of human remains from the Andean part of the world. She was a young girl who was sacrificed during Incan times on the summit of volcan Ampato over 500 years ago. Our guide was very well informed. She explained that to the people during those times the mountains were gods who needed to be appeased. There have been many remains found on the Andean peaks and she explained that these can be accurately dated. A main reason for human sacrifice was to ward off drought - the cycles of sacrifice have been shown to tie closely with the El Nino weather patterns with which we are now more familiar. The sacrificial people were usually children and had been chosen by the age of about two when they would leave their families to be raised in Cusco. They needed to be physically perfect, beautiful, and pure. It was believed that after sacrifice, they would become god like themselves. With the remains found in the mountains were often found parcels containing the umbilical cord of the person who had been sacrificed. These were used for medicinal purposes - which is interesting when one considers the implication of the cord for stem cell research today. The people also believed that life was very cyclical so were usually buried in the foetal position. Although Juanita was only 12-14 years old when she died, she was over 150cm tall. We found this surprising as many of the Peruvian people are relatively short. The guide told us that the people were much taller 500 years ago - before the arrival of the Spanish. There were a lot of artefacts in the museum all preserved perfectly. We learnt about the method of sacrifice - fasting followed by drinking chicha which was intoxicating. Then some people were simply abandoned on the mountains, or in the case of Juanita, were hit hard on the head and died immediately. We learned that the alpaca was bred by the Incan people from the vicuna and the llama was bred from the guanaco. Our guide told us that the guanaco can drink sea water if fresh water is unavailable. Before dinner we wandered through the shops where we saw some beautiful artefacts.

7 December 2005

Smuggling We were taken in a collectivo for an hour to meet the bus. My heart sank when I first smelt then saw the bus! We had lunch in Arica at a truckers station and then crossed the border. It was funny to see the aduana searching everyone's luggage at the border whilst two steps behind them were Peruvian women selling goods from the duty free zone in the town of Tacna. I noticed the flag was flying at half mast and asked a policeman why this was. he explained that five policemen had been killed on duty. We then arrived in Tacna where we took another bus to Areqipa. The bus was very crowded (mostly with ladies smuggling many layers and bags of clothing out of Tacna) and cramped and the night's journey to Arequipa was a long one as we stopped at about four customs points. The officials spent a long time searching the bus - I think because of the many women on the bus smuggling clothing. The bus ride to Arequipa was about seven hours and there was no toilet - at every aduana station the women from the bus ran off into the fields to relieve themselves.