Monday, January 30, 2017

On the Way Home

Yesterday's post was supposed to be the last one for this trip, but some inspiring things happened this morning that I just can't leave unmentioned.
It started at breakfast this morning. Our favorite waiter, Jesus, stopped by to chat as he usually does. He tells us he's sad to see us go and does so by name. Then he presents these to us.
Its a brass llama and all the fixings for some Piso Sours.

Next, getting on our first flight home I pull a ligament in my knee trying to get our carry-on bags up the flight steps. We sit next to a sweet nun who has me pull up a pant leg and apply witch Hazel to my knee. 

Now we're checked in to our airport hotel in Lima and can't wait to catch our flights home tomorrow!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Exploring Cusco - Day Three

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. 25 days into our 28 day trip the dreaded stomach bug has hit me. It looks like the Immodium we brought along has it under control. But just in case, I decided to stay in the hotel this morning and take some pictures.

We've probably stayed in over 200 different Marriotts during various travel adventures and a handful of those were their top-of-the-line J.W. Marriotts. The ones in Rome, Dubai and Shanghai have been the most memorable.  But none of them can top this one right here in Cusco. It's certainly the oldest. This building was originally an Augustinian monastery built by the Spanish in the early 1600's. By the late 1900's it was a bakery.  Marriott bought the property and refurbished/rebuilt it to standards imposed by its historic significance. As the pictures below will show, the transformation which took place between 2010 and 2013 is nothing short of amazing.
 Front Entrance on the corner As you come in the entrance, fresh flowers
 Entrance courtyard Reception with 3D gold and crystal mobile
 Antique art from another monastery Fireplace and lounge. Great piped in music but couldn't find the subwoofer. Xthe 
 Piano lounge with easy chairs Bar area
 "Relaxing" Pool connected to the spa Preserved Inka and pre-Inka walls displayed on the lower level
 3rd floor loggia behind the arched colonnade shown on the right Courtyard and fountains
 View from the windows on floor -2. Nothing but the original monastery wall is seen View from our suite

By afternoon I was brave enough to venture out and visit a pre-Columbian art museum.

Pre-Inca jewelry made of solid gold.

We are always amused by the llamas and this one was no difference. The sign refers to perros (dogs) so the llamas think it's OK to do or go wherever they want.
It's time to go back to the hotel for one last supper and start packing for our flight tomorrow.  I hope everybody enjoyed our blog.

Cusco - Day 2

We decided to take a walking tour of Cusco. It's SO much more commercial / touristy than anything else in the Inca Valley. 
These folks stand around all day in their best Quechua outfits just to pose for pictures for 50 cents. They are irresistible to Patrice when it comes to taking pictures.

Note the sidewalk in the background. They are incredibly narrow in this old part of town. You can see how people walk single file.

Here are some other street scenes.  

 Many of the homes and businesses have courtyards and they encourage you to wander in and look around. Or, in some cases the courtyard is a restaurant.
Just like other places we've seen, Cuy is a delicacy here.

Apparently, it's the skin that is the tastiest part of the Guinea Pig. There's not a lot of meat on the carcass.

 We stopped for a coffee break on our way to the San Pedro market. It was up on a hotel balcony overlooking a pretty square. No less then 20 street vendors selling everything from artwork to alpaca sweaters to shoe shines dropped by our table.
Sure it was annoying, but we realized that everybody's got to make a living too.  
 Our goal is to reach the San Pedro Market. It's the big market where all the locals shop. And it's conveniently on the path of our walking tour.  Here are a number of pictures from inside the market.
 Here's one of many entrances. We didn't see this  until we were on our way outThe market has a lot of fresh stuff, including flowers 
 Lots of inexpensive fresh food. Looks like chicken is the specialty 
 Every kind of jugo (juice) you can imagine We saw some fruits we'd never seen before
Here's Patrice and the artist buying some artwork for a friend:

 All those Inca artifacts had to end up somewhere. Besides the ones that Hiram Bingham (discoverer of Machu Picchu) took back to the U.S., many of them ended up here in this History Museum.

Today is our last full day in Cusco. Tomorrow we start our journey back to North Carolina.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Our First Day in Cusco

On our first day in Cusco, we're moving pretty slow. It's another 3500 feet higher than the Inca Sacred Valley. We checked into a fantastic hotel, the J.W. Marriott.  More about that in subsequent posts.
We set out Friday morning to explore Cusco. We spent most of our time in the main square, Plaza de Armas. 
As you can see this square is huge. These pictures show you various aspects of it. The last one was a small balcony where we all had lunch.  It is so nice that they don't allow cars in the square during the day. The rest of the streets are pretty narrow and so are the sidewalks. 
We walked about half a mile up hill to the San Blas square, shopping all the way. 

This picture is of an existing Inca wall we saw along the walk. There aren't Inca ruins in Cusco because the Spaniards built their houses on top of the Inca walls. Look how tightly these stones fit together.


Friday, January 27, 2017

Exploring Ollantaytambo

Hernan picked us up in Huaran as we said goodbye to our glass-walled house there. We headed west in the Inca Valley to explore Ollantaytambo.  Along the way we spotted these weird cylindrical objects hanging from the mountainside.
Here's a closer look:
Apparently you can pay to spend the night dangling on the mountainside. Each of these is fully equipped with a bed, toilet and sink.  OK, on to Ollantaytambo.

If you think, as I did, that exploring the Inca civilization is doing nothing but looking at ruins, you'd be wrong. The Inca city of Ollantaytambo is alive and well. And their Quechua descendants are still living there. Here are a few street scenes:
 Our Guide Hernan shows us how they have added a 2nd story The old Inca water system still flows here
 Business goes on here. They allow motorcycles for convenience Front doors need little bridges to go over the water sluice
 Here's the ever present trapezoidal Inca doorway looking out over their terraced planting field Men and women carry 50lb sacks of corn from nearby fields through the
 site to trucks waiting on the other side.
 After exploring the old part of town we caught some lunch and Patrice ham'd it up by hoping into the driver's seat of a nearby Tuk-tuk:
After lunch we headed for Cusco, our last stop on this trip.
You can see how quickly the weather changes in the mountains and the glaciers.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Digging Deep into the Culture of the Inca and their Modern Day Descendants the Chechuans

One of the great things about having a great guide is that they listen to you, know where to take you, and know whom to contact to get you into see what you want to see.
 Our guide Hernan is that kind of guy. Here he is showing us the map to the Inca ruins and terraces at Pesac. To digress for a moment, our goals were to dig deep into the various Inca sites in the Sacred Valley and to better understand their culture by studying them. You'll see why, by the end of this post, why we think he has really accomplished that.

We started the day at Pesac.

Pesac is known as an Inca village and for its' terraced mountainside.  Here's what's left of the village more than halfway up the mountain:
And these are the terraces. At this point we're about 2500 feet above the valley floor.
 From here our guide has a bit of a surprise for us. All he tells us is that we are going to a llama ceremony. So we get back in his car and start driving up another mountain. By the time we arrive, we're glad we've been taking our altitude medicine. The altitude is almost 14000 feet.

 It turns out Hernan and his friend were both porters on the 4 day trek on the Inca trail. (Turns out that some people are crazy enough to hike there on the authentic trail instead of taking the train like we did)
His friend is a Quecuan, the people who are the direct descendants of the Incas. He and his family have been living up in the mountains since the time of the Incas. They are part of a collective that owns 500 acres in the mountain. They grow about 30 varieties of potatoes here.

Here is the family:

 They are incredibly gracious and welcoming. We are given to understand that this tradition dates back to Inca times. Our visit started off in their dining room; first with ceremonial outfits then with tea and potatoes.

While we were having tea our host explained their way of life. Incredibly, they still farm their 500 mountainside acres by hand. Remember that this work is shared by the community of families that make up this collective. 

Here is his plow which he's made in the Inca tradition complete with llama leather straps and Eucalyptus handle.

 I asked why they didn't use a tractor and the answer was that the fields were just too steep to make it practical.

 Note that the dining room has a dirt floor too.

These people have a very simply life. They all wore sandals made from car tires. They make their medicines from plants on the mountains and yet they have few cancer or heart problems; most live well into their eighties.

But what hit home the hardest was how happy they were. This was the most moving event of the trip and a HUGE wake-up call for me.

Here's the obligatory group picture:
Right after this picture it was time for the Llama Ceremony. And a cold wind and rain started. We trudged up several muddy hill trails to a high corral. We were told that our outfits were woven so tight that they were waterproof and I would have to say they were right.

Then all the llamas are herded into the corral.
Clearly one is the "Alpha-Dog" llama. He's the one with the brass bells around this neck.
Next we are all given coca leaves and asked to blow on them to offer them to both the llamas and the heavens. After that we chew on them.
 First of potion of coca leaves and corn beer are mixedNow it's time to bring the ceremony right to the llamas
 The llama's mouth is pried open And he gets to chug a potion of coca and corn beer
 His ears are pierced (he's calmed down by the corn beer at this point) Then the ceremonial ear-rings and tassels are inserted
 Then finally we all sprinkle the potion on the rest of the herd. 
 Obviously, this is not a show for tourists. We just happened to catch itBut we are thrilled with are guide for arranging it 
We buy a few woolen things from them and say our good byes.
On the way home we pass through a town that's famous for Cuy. That's Peruvian for Gerbil. As you can see, they sell them on a stick.