Other photos of Peru



ITINERARIES: #1) Lima, Tumbes; #2) Lima, Iquitos - see: AMAZONIA

#3) Lima, Cusco. Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley (Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Urubamba), Cusco, Puno

June-July 2004


We shuffled off the airplane like a couple of zombies. At 11,000 feet Cusco took some getting used to. After a two-hour nap, Lou quickly adjusted to the altitude, but Joan awakened gasping for air for a week after we arrived and had difficulty hiking at high altitude throughout five months in the Andes.

Cusco is the longest inhabited town in the Americas and a UNESCO World Heritage City. Its red-tiled roofs nestle in a valley surrounded by ancient ruins. Yes, it's touristy - its many charms pull travelers like a magnet. Even so, it's easy to enjoy the city's friendly people, comfortable hotels, good restaurants, haunting music and colorful handicraft shops. Best of all, it's the best place to arrange trips to nearby Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. (Photos below show indigenous people in the valley village of Pisac.)



While in Cusco, we lived for a month in the home of a warm and friendly Peruvian family with four generations under one roof. During meals we worked hard at communicating with them, but they found our Spanish very amusing for some reason. Although they speak a little English, they were sternly warned by Jesus not to use it with us. (No, this wasn't a warning from heaven - Jesus is the director of Amigos non-profit Spanish school where we had excellent conversation lessons with Techi for three weeks.)



Cusco's main festival is Inti Raymi, held annually on June 24. Along with 100,000 others - mostly Cusquenos - we huffed and puffed up to the Inca ruins of Saqsayhuaman on the hilltop 1500 feet above the city. Poor Joan. By the time we reached the fortress at 12, 500 feet, she was dizzy and nauseated. We went home immediately, and watched Inti Raymi on television. Sigh. The colorful ceremony itself was impressive, even in the rain. It went from impressive to awesome when the Inca poured some chicha (beer brewed from corn and fermented by spittle) on the ground to honor Pachamama (Mother Earth.) At that exact moment, the  sun came out for the first time all day and a brilliant rainbow curved over the heavens behind the Inca. It was almost enough to make us believers! (Below, Joan is standing in front of the fortress of Saqsayhuaman; the Inca is the one on the right.)



We spent one afternoon watching a procession of saint and virgin images being carried out of the cathedral, around the main plaza and off to their home churches - part of the Corpus Cristi celebration. The large images dressed in fantastic embroidered robes with halos of silver and gold are 200-300 years old. 20-40 men strained beneath the burden of each image, shouldering up to 200 pounds per man. The statues dipped and swayed along streets packed with rapt Cusquenos as the men staggered for a block or two before being relieved by another crew. It would take as much as three days to reach the farthest home churches.


Until about 1650 the Incas ruled this area and held a similar procession at the winter solstice, in which 13 royal mummies were paraded around the same plaza. When the Spaniards conquered Cusco, they transformed worship from the "pagan" Inca religion to Catholicism by destroying the mummies and substituting a procession of 13 saints and virgins. Slick move!



Lou trekked the four-day Inca Trail to the fabled lost city of Machu Picchu with a small group of six travelers - plus a guide and 12 porters. The trail is about 30 miles long and goes over three high passes, one of them almost 14,000 feet. The guide told Lou that at 70 he was the oldest of the more than 3000 trekkers he had guided on this trail. The 11-mile first day (with a 4100 foot net elevation gain) was tough for Lou because he began the trek with two hours of sleep, a horrible head cold, a broken tooth and a touch of altitude nausea. (Joan's note: Other than that, he was fine!) But Lou did as well as most of the others in his group, and insists that anyone in reasonably good condition can make the trek. The trail is "littered" with Inca ruins all the way to Machu Picchu. Each day the scenery is more dramatic, the vistas more stupendous, the Inca terracing more graceful, the mountain walls steeper, the river valley deeper.




The trekkers reached the Sun Gate just before sunrise on the fourth day. At first, they could see nothing but white clouds below them, but these suddenly opened to reveal the mysterious city with the dark rock of Wayna Picchu looming behind. Magical! (After the trek was over, Lou climbed Wayna Picchu - the steep trail goes up the left hand side of the mountain.)


Unfortunately, Joan has had a lot of difficulty at high altitude - beginning with our trek in Nepal in 2001. Reluctantly, she took the scenic train ride and met Lou at Machu Picchu just as his trekking group arrived at the ruins. To save yourself a lot of hard trekking, you can take this "virtual trek" to Machu Picchu:



Along the way between Cusco and Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley - no longer than 40 miles as the condor flies - has lots of interesting sites. It's surrounded by snow-capped mountains with the Rio Urubamba running through its midst. We shopped in Pisac for colorful weavings at its Sunday market; on another morning we climbed all over the Inca citadel ruins high above Pisac. Below us were picturesque terraces on incredibly steep slopes still farmed today. We did more climbing at Ollantaytambo, a massive Inca temple-fort, and then explored the interesting Inca-planned city at its base. One of our favorite lodges - a charming compound of cottages called Las Chullpas near the town of Urubamba - was a short hike from the Salineras (below) geometric salt pans covering the side of a mountain. These huge salt terraces have been farmed for over 500 years.


Joan got "chicken-skin" at Moray. She calls it her Machu Picchu, because - although it's not as impressive at the famous ruins - it may be more significant. Legend says the Incas are descended from gods who arose from Lake Titicaca. However, their great civilization was actually made possible by Moray - where 100-foot natural depressions in the earth have an enormous temperature range of about 25 degrees (Fahrenheit) from top to bottom. The pre-Incan people used the depressions as agricultural experimental stations - creating circular terraces in them to figure out how to grow potatoes at high altitude. The resulting abundant potato harvests fed the large population necessary to produce a great civilization.

The day we visited Moray was dark and rainy. We'd been in a nearby village with other volunteers, teaching English to Inca Trail porters. By late afternoon it was raining hard, but two poncho-covered porters led a few of us over a muddy, mile-long trail to the ruins. We arrived just before dusk and peered down in wonder at the birthplace of a great people. More than Machu Picchu with its familiar sights and hordes of tourists, isolated Moray was an awe-inspiring place for Joan. (For a sense of scale, notice person just to the right of the center of the depression!)


Another great pre-Incan civilization flourished for hundreds of years  just south of Peru near La Paz, Bolivia. We poked around the Tiahuanaco archeological site near Lake Titicaca one day wondering about the people represented by the megaliths and other stone-works. Three of the four heads pictured below look horrified, depressed or sinister, while the fourth apparently doesn't understand the situation.

Other photos of Peru

From Peru we took a bus into BOLIVIA




GUIDEBOOKS:  South America Handbook (Footprints); South America on a Shoestring; Peru (both by Lonely Planet); Exploring Cusco by Peter Frost

BACKGROUND READING:  The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness by Peter Matthiessen; Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham


First-time travelers to South America can ease their culture shock by following the well-established "gringo trail" - Ecuador (Quito, Galapagos, Cuenca) and Peru (Lima, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu.) With more time, add Bolivia (Lake Titicaca, La Paz, Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Sucre.) The best time to visit the Andes - especially for hiking - is in the dry winter season: June, July and August.


We usually travel independently, but have had excellent experiences with these three tour companies:

ENIGMA: Treks to Machu Picchu and train/bus tours of Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Unlike some tour companies, Enigma treats its Inca Trail porters well.   www.enigmaperu.com

ELDERTREKS:  Small group (no more than 16) "soft adventure" tours to exotic areas of the world, including the Galapagos, Peru and Patagonia in South America, for those age 50 and over,. (Note that this is NOT Elderhostel.) www.eldertreks.com


ADVENTURE LIFE: Offers tours of the Galapagos and other areas of South America.  www.adventure-life.com




Joan and Lou Rose     joanandlou@ramblingroses.net