Return to the USA

American Flag, Google

We flew from Cusco, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador and spent the night with Tracey McGuiness, aunt to niece Bonnie Craemer’s step children. She had graciously had us spend a couple of days with her before we went to Peru and had offered to take us to the airport which is 10 minutes from her house for our very early morning flight out of Ecuador to Miami.

We arrived in Miami and then took a plane to Orlando where Pat Maloney, Dan’s sister, met us. It felt so good to be back on American soil where we could speak English to everyone and drink the water. (Fun fact, we didn’t see any water fountains in our Latin American travels because you don’t drink the tap water there!)

I flew back and forth to San Antonio to help with some things for my sister, Marsha, while Dan stayed with Pat and helped do some stuff on her house.

When we finally bid a sad farewell to her after over 2 weeks, we headed to Kennedy Space Center.

View of control room exhibit, Kennedy Space Center website

We only spent one day there and could have easily spent another day.  We went to the E. O. Wilson Biophilia Center after visiting friends in Tallahassee.  This is a preserve that is has a 100-200 year plan to return the area to native plants and animals. We had a pleasant private tour and got to see an endangered Gopher Turtle.

We drove to Alabama and went to The Legacy Museum and the National

Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. These facilities are very close to each other and they are informative, thought provoking, sobering and very intense to visit. Even writing about them several months later, I feel touched almost to tears. The museum is extremely well done and I encourage you to visit it if you get close to Montgomery.

Memorial compliments of museumandmemorial.eji.org
Mountain carving is huge! A person can stand inside the horse’s mouth.

From there we went to Georgia where we met up with our niece, Bonnie, and stayed there several days. We took Bonnie and the 3 kids to Stone Mountain. That’s an amusement park/historical civil war site. After having been to the museums in Montgomery, it was very poignant. Did you know that more people died from disease in the civil war than from battle wounds? We enjoyed several activities there, especially the dinosaur show.

Front row: Bonnie, Finn, Astrid, Dominic, Dan, Lindie
Finn, Astrid (facing away), and Dominic in front of animatronic dinosaur
Elvis Presley’s birthplace

After a couple of more stops along the way (including a very quick stop at Elvis Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo, MS) and the restored ironclad USS Cairo ship in Vicksburg, MS, we finally made it to Austin. Can’t say how great it was to see Mitchell, Nicki, Bre, and Beth, not to mention a lot of friends. Beth rode back to Colorado with us stopping at the Abilene Zoo for a private tour with Krista Rader, Heritage Museum (cowboy museum) in Hobbs, NM, Carlsbad Caverns, Roswell, and the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. She was with us for about 2 weeks, some of it in Denver at the Children’s Museum and Dinosaur Ridge and Red Rocks area.

Bre came for another two weeks, during which time we could finally move back into our home which had been rented out. We spent time in Creede seeing a number of plays/activities (9 to 5, Wizard of Oz, Barefoot in the Park; Ms Sherlock, a backstage tour, and an improv). Bre had a great time there.

Now we are settled in, happy to be back in Durango which had a major forest fire this summer about 10 miles from our house. Fortunately the fire fighters were able to handle it with no injuries, deaths, or loss of structures!

Now we stay busy with Lindie working out almost every day and Dan spending lots of time volunteering with the Solar Barnraising folks. And time with friends. Winter is here and hopefully we get a good snowpack this year. We’ve had a little snow so far and frost many days now.

Rainbow Mountain

While the Rainbow Mountain in Peru doesn’t compare to the Danxia Landform Geological Park in China they are still stunning. At 17,060 feet I think this was the highest place we went to…and we hiked almost an hour from the parking lot to get there! Slow but steady, no problems, thankfully.

Some people get up in the middle of the night and ride to the base of the mountain and hike up it. We chose to ride to the nearest parking area to the mountain which is about 3 hours from Cusco. As we rode to the park, we passed a roadside stand that the bus stopped at and a few people bought snacks.

The colors come from goethite or oxidized limonite (a brownish coloration), the bright yellow color may be due to iron sulphide, and  chlorite or copper make the green color.

Some people had gathered rocks and made a couple of carens to celebrate their getting to the mountain or perhaps for more spiritual reasons.

It is windy and cold that high (and rain threatened not far away) but the indigenous man and woman we saw wore sandals with no socks. When I asked the man about it, he said he didn’t have the time or money to go to town to get better shoes and socks.

The woman who ran the rest room by the parking lot (complete with water!), told me she had on 6 or 7 layers of clothes, including 3 skirts, a slip, and leggings. The skirt was a heavier, coarser material than I had expected. I won’t say she was warm but she didn’t seem unduly uncomfortable.A few people chose to go to the nearby higher formation but Dan and I passed on that. Not a lot higher but maybe another 100 feet or so.

 

Qorikancha

Qorikancha, also spelled Coricancha, Koricancha, and Qoricancha is a large Inca temple in Cusco. Supposedly this temple which was built in the 1500’s had walls covered in gold as well as gold statues. All of which the Spaniards took when they saw it.

This is a large example of the precise engineering that the Incas were capable of. The stones were precisely carved on site (stone chips and dust were found when they were restoring the building). The smallest block is less than the size of my thumbnail.

You can look through the window in one end room through to the next two windows because the windows are so precisely constructed. The walls are all the same thickness as well.

And as with so many other Inca buildings, there is a place where you can see the sun rays through an opening during the solstices.

During the restoration when a stone had to be remade because it was damaged or missing, the artisan did something on the stone to indicate it was redone. You can see the nubs on a few stones in the photo above.

Qorikancha is on the left of this photo.

The gardens are beautiful. There is a large grassy lawn as well as many varied blooming plants.

Arequipa

Cement plant on outskirts of Arequipa

We took a bus from Puno to Arequipa. Initially the ride was beautiful and verdant but as we got close to Arequipa, it became dry and brown. Those of you who know me, know that I like “cool and green” places. Not hot, hot cold, not brown. (OK, I put up with the dry cold in Durango but I’d rather be in temperatures from 60-80 F.)

In spite of the dry conditions, we enjoyed Arequipa for the few days that we were there. We were the first guests at our Air B and B apartment and were greeted with a gift basket! They wanted to give us gifts when we left as well but we were already packed to the gills so we politely declined, explaining that there was just no room.

Remains of Juanita in climate controlled glass cube. Picture from Trip Advisor

We visited a number of places while we were in the area. The Museo Sanctuarios Andes is an interesting place (no pictures allowed) outlining the history of the Andean locals and displaying the remains of a young Incan girl who was sacrificed around 1450 and preserved in the icy area until a volcano erupted and caused her remains to be dislodged. More info on her here.

The Santa Catalina Monastery is a mix of an active monastery (now housed in a new building) and the well preserved original monastery. The walls are thick to keep a more constant temperature. Originally, the young women who joined the group brought their servant(s) with them so that they had a fairly comfortable room and the conveniences of home. At one point in time, the servants were no longer allowed and this made for quite a change for these women who had never cooked, washed, etc. on their own! The view from the roof of the building is wonderful.

We did a private tour of a local quarry and also a small canyon one day. The quarry had a “building” carved into one wall, beautiful work. In another section, we saw where two workers were dislodging large rocks for carving and another showed us how he makes the building stones. Dan gave it a try…hard work and slow for the inexperienced worker. The experienced worker could carve a stone in 10-20 minutes.

Next we went to Quebrada de Culebrillas or Ravine of Broken Shingles. This is a narrow, not very long ravine that starts shallow and quickly gets 20-30′ deep. In it, you can see some petroglyphs from long ago. This area has been declared a national Cultural Heritage.

The highlight of our time in Arequipa was Chivay and the Condor Cross. The trip from Arequipa to Chivay was a few hours and then we spent the night. We were with about 10 or so other people, all men and women in their twenties who worked together and were on a holiday (although they couldn’t tell me what the national holiday was!). We spent the night in Chivay, a small remote town with beautiful outdoor statues. The tour included meals and a dance show that night.

The next morning we met early and drove to the nearby Condor Cross area where you can watch condors soar on the currents. We did see several but they were quite high up so there isn’t a good picture of them. Still it was a lot of fun.

We left Arequipa by plane, one of our few flights during our travels. Even though the city of Arequipa is larger than Cusco, the Cusco airport is much bigger because so many people fly in to see Machu Picchu.

Trains in Peru

Peru rail from Cusco to Puno

There are two main train companies in Peru, Inca Rail and Peru Rail. Both are clean, comfortable and modern. Of course there are varying levels of service and amenities. The relatively short train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (about 1 1/2 hours) goes through some lush, beautiful areas, often along the river.

The longer train from Cusco to Puno (Lake Titicaca) goes through a long valley for 10-12 hours. It is scenic in a different way however to break up the monotony, they have some staff play music, do local dances, and have a fashion show (merchandise for sale, of course!). The food was excellent on this train and you have white table clothes, wine, etc.

While trains are more expensive than buses, they are faster and more comfortable and still relatively affordable. The train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes was under $200 each way for the two of us and from Cusco to Puno, $450 for the two of us, including meals and entertainment.

The trip to Aguas Calientes is much lusher and (IMHO) more beautiful but we enjoyed the trip to Puno as well.

Puno

Puno is 12,556 feet in altitude and we could feel it as we climbed the two flights of stairs to our room…but by the time we left about 5 days later we had much less trouble. It is a well kept town with a pleasant pedestrian walk with lots of designs in the street. The town is situated on Lake Titicaca which is one of South America’s largest lakes and the world’s highest navigable body of water. Bolivia is across the lake from Puno but we didn’t go there.

Design in street.

Reflections of Puno:

  • For about $1 per page, someone who can read/type will write a letter for you. It seemed to be a very good business as there was often someone at one of the tables dictating a letter.
  • Funerals are a big deal, we saw a couple and they include music and a procession.
  • While we didn’t have any problems with thefts, one of our favorite restaurants had straps to tie your chair.
  • Getting money was expensive, the most expensive on our trip. You could only get a small amount at each ATM and the charges were high.
  • Fun Tee shirt we saw for sale with a play on the concept of “kamasutra”.

We did only a couple of things in Puno because Lindie has under the weather. We both went to the Uros Islands and Dan also went to the Sillistani tombs. Sillistani is a pre-incan cemetary.

The Uros Islands was one of our highlights of our entire travels, up there with Machu Picchu! These islands were interesting for two reasons:

  • The were literally created from blocks of sod with reeds in the lake and tied together until the reed roots grew together to make it a solid block. These “islands” float in the water and are anchored at one point by a pole and rope.
  • The locals who live on each of the islands, about 6 families per island, have found a way to retain their culture and make a living by sharing their lives with tourists.

For a reasonable fee, you take a boat out to the islands where you are greeted by some of the local women. Getting off the boat onto the island is a surprise because the “land” is covered in reeds and is mushy in places. The locals are constantly harvesting and renewing the reeds that cover the area.

The women seem to primarily make artwork where they use the chain stitch to tell the story of their family. The men create the island, maintain it, and make/sail boats made of the reeds.

Their homes are small one room buildings made of…reeds, of course. They cook outside on open fires however they had added a solar panel to each home so that they no longer need to use candles or oil lights inside. Fire had been a major issue so they are safer now with the solar electricity. Roofs are made of reeds tied together and when it rains, they often leak…surprised they haven’t changed to a more solid type of roof.

I’m not sure how many islands there are now but I did read that in 2011 there were about 60 islands with a total of about 12oo inhabitants.

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Cusco

Dan resting on the way up a steep area. Note the ancient adobe wall and stone foundation in the background.

Cusco was founded in 1100, probably making it the oldest city we visited. It is high, 11,152 feet and probably has close to 500,000 people. We were there briefly before we went to Ollantaytambo and then a bit longer after we left the Puno/Arequipa areas. Like many towns in Latin America, it is built on steep land.

Red car parked while unloading. Larger white truck must wait until the car moves.

One thing we saw very quickly is that the old parts of Cusco has very narrow streets. That wasn’t surprising but what was strange is that these old streets are two ways! This makes for very interesting traffic, lots of horn honking and frustration until one person gives up and backs up out of the way.

We went to a very interesting Inca museum and did some sight seeing. Sadly, most museums don’t allow any photography so we have little record of what we saw.

Note the beautiful skirt worn by the woman holding the lamb.

We didn’t see this often but it was not uncommon for an indigenous person to earn money allowing their picture to be taken. This one has a 2 week old lamb and a 2 month old llama.

Despite what the sign says, you are going to take a train or hike the Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu. They take you as far as possible by car but then you still have to take the train the rest of the way. (Don’t you love the spelling of the word “by”?)

Here you see some people in costumes representing some of the figures in the Aguas Calientes stone carvings. (Sorry it isn’t clearer, this event was going on as we passed in a taxi or bus.)

All of the buses I remember in Latin America have a driver and someone to collect money. In this case, the woman has her daughter riding along. While she was good for her age, 3?, she was bored and climbing all over. Not very safe but I am sure the woman didn’t have an affordable choice for day care.

There are many stalls and people walking around selling crafted items as well as this beautiful mural.

 

 

Ollantaytambo Part 2

When we left Aguas Calientes, we took the train back to Ollantaytambo. We wanted to see a few more of the ruins and the general area before we left the Sacred Valley. We enjoyed walking along the sidewalks with ancient stone walls built 500 years ago.

Our new best friend

We went on a tour to see some ruins up in the mountains. It was about a 15 minute hike from the car to an isolated area that was once a training facility for the Incas. Now there are a few partial buildings and some llamas grazing in the area. We didn’t see the owner of the animals but there was a young German Shepherd there to guard the animals. He was very friendly, I guess he could tell we weren’t going to hurt the llamas. He followed us partly down the mountain when we left.

Private, impromptu market

When we got down the mountain, the guide told us to wait and he’d go get the car. We didn’t realize we were being set up to have our own, private market! We saw these two females walking down the road with big bundles on their backs. As soon as they got to us, they unslung the bundles and put out their wares. We bought one thing from each of them. It was quite fun except we found out one of the females was 7 years old. Why wasn’t she is school???

We rode to another area where the indigenous welcomed people to their village. There had just been a village meeting so there were a lot of people milling around in their local dress. We talked to one man and he joked that the beaded strap on his hat was for his wife to pull him. The guide told us when to pay a small sum (the equivilent of a dollar or less) for the photos and when not to. Not sure what his criteria was.

I’d been curious when babies started to walk because they are in the slings so much of the day so I asked one mother about this. Children don’t start to walk until age 2 since they aren’t spending as much time crawling, kicking, and moving when they are in the sling.

On the side of the mountain, seemingly in the middle of nowhere this woman weaves by herself for hours.

We saw one lady weaving on the side of a mountain. She was all alone, working away. In the village we also saw people weaving. I would think that it is very hard on their backs to sit on the ground for long periods of time weaving.

Dyes are made from plant roots, leaves, seeds, and berries. The colors are beautifully bright and they wear their clothes with much pride.

Cow grazing on terrace.

There are ancient terraces almost everywhere you look. It was not uncommon to see cows or llamas grazing on one of the tiers.

Roofs often have a little bull on the top which is thought by the locals to bring good fortune to the house. It was fun to see them.

Here are a few more pictures from the area.

Machu Picchu

It is difficult to explain the feeling when you arrive at Machu Picchu. After 14 switchbacks on the bus, you are discharged into the parking lot. Until you go a little way past the ticket stalls, you can’t see the ruins. But once you get where you can see them, they are everything that you ever imagined or saw in a picture.

When they commercialized the area, they were careful to preserve the actual ruins and surrounding area so that you can have an inspiring view. And it is truly inspiring! While the ruins are not that high, 7,972 feet, about the same as the Blue Spruce RV park where I am typing this post, they are on a peak and there is a lot of openness in the area that is awesome in the fullest sense of the word. I felt on top of the world.

People have asked us what our favorite place in our travels was and this place is it for me, hands down.

Even though thousands of people visit the ruins every day, we were fortunate to come on the end of the low season so it never felt really crowded. Currently, 2500 people are allowed per day to this UNESCO World Heritage site, split between morning and afternoon entry. You can find tickets on several sites online, about $70 per person (Peruvians are less). The bus was $25 per person, round trip.

If you are adventuresome, there are 500 people allowed to hike the 4 day trail to Machu Picchu each day. The hike requires a guide and is a bit expensive because you are well fed and there is staff to carry the tents, tables and chairs, food, and sometimes some of your own gear. The days are sometimes a bit challenging but the lady I spoke to about her experience was delighted (and amazed!) that she had done it.

Pictures can’t really share the sacred, awe-inspiring experience but they will help.

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The architecture is typical Inca with no mortar needed to hold the stones together. You can even put a level on the stones and they are level! The stones were carved on sight and workers have to work continuously to keep things in good shape. And of course, there were llamas roaming freely…ignoring the tourists that invade their home.After we looked around the ruins with our guide (optional but recommended), we hiked up to the Sun Gate. Not a really long or hard hike but longer than I expected. LOL

Sun Gate altitude 8,924 feet.

Beginning of the path to the Sun Gate. That’s me with the red backpack.
Intipunku or Sun Gate image compliments of www.theonlyperuguide.com

Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters)

Aguas Calientes is tucked away in the mountains

Aguas Calientes is the nearest town to Machu Picchu. The only way to reach Aguas Calientes is walking several days or by train (2-4 hours from Ollantaytambo or Cuzco). Once you get to Aguas Calientes, be prepared to walk up and down hills. The distances aren’t that far but they are fairly steep.

Typical stairs in Aguas Calientes.

The people of Aguas Calientes have done an amazing job of making this a pleasant place to stay near the iconic Machu Picchu. The town is almost Disney Land clean. They have cute recycling containers like in the posting for Ollantaytambo. They also have dozens of beautiful stone carvings in the huge boulders and rock hillsides of the town. Here are a few of the carvings. Most of them are at least 6′ high and 4 or 5′ across!

Just as there are no roads to the town, there are no roads in the actual town. There is one very short paved section at one end of the town where the Machu Picchu buses load (and turn around). This means that everything comes in one the train: people, food, water (remember the water isn’t potable!!!), materials, etc. Once they arrive, they are manually unloaded from the train and put on small carts and hauled up the hills. The men who do this (I didn’t see any women hauling carts) must be very strong since they are loaded down. Many of the pedestrian “streets” are sloped or have ramps along the side of them for the carts.