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.

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

Vilcabamba

Very pretty exterior of church on the town square

We spent my birthday at a small town near Loja called Vilcabamba. We had heard it was a town with a lot of expats and that it was a quaint town. I found it pleasant but not that interesting a town.

River

We did take a nice (except for the mosquitos) long walk along the river.

Apparently there are a lot of people from South Korea in the town, thus the Korean looking characters on the restroom at the tourist information office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many people does it take to paint a stripe on the road? Apparently 4 lot when you do it by hand.

It is common in Ecuador to see dogs that are on roofs of houses. They bark at everyone but seem to know it isn’t a good idea to jump down.

Lovely ride by bus

Loja

Town square has huge, 4 sided monument

Loja is a fun city of almost 200,000 people at about the same altitude as Durango. We spent a few days there and enjoyed it all.

Highlights of the city which was founded in 1548:

We did a city walking tour by a company that had only been in business less than 6 months. The owner is very ambitious, starting the company in his mid 20’s, a few months before graduating from college. He has researched his subject well and we enjoyed the tour.

Leaf design in corner of church
Building with leaf design near roof

Most interesting were stories about the Jews who were among the early residents, shaping the town. There was a statue to one of them and he said that the leaf design in a Catholic church and on some buildings was Jewish in origin. I had never seen/known about this but perhaps it is so.

Man places his order for herbs; window rotates so that he can receive his purchase without direct contact with the nuns.

There is a monastery where the cloistered nuns have no contact with those who are outside the grounds. To earn money, they grow herbs which are sold via a rotating window to prevent contact with their customers. The medicinal herbs are very popular with the locals.

Ouch, that has to be tough on his neck. Look Ma, no hands.

People frequently carry very heavy loads on their heads. I would think that would be tough on their necks!

Random picture of a car in front of a more modern church; we couldn’t figure out how it got where it was parked.

Fun bridge that literally has sides of a bus mounted on the bridge!

Have wheelbarrow, have a chair!

Special parking for pregnant women next to handicapped parking.

Tile plaques are mounted on walls on streets in historic area.

Ingapirca Ruins

I had heard that the Ingapirca (Inca Wall in the Quechua language) Ruins, a couple of hours outside of Cuenca, were worth visiting and it’s true. Originally settled by the Cañari indigenous people, they were invaded by the Incas in the late 1400’s. Eventually they intermarried and got along, not requiring the Cañari to give up their culture which exists today.

Cañari stone work on the left, Inca stone work on the right. Image compliments of ancientorigins.net

The location of the ruins has been used by different peoples over the eons. When the Incas arrived and conquered the Cañari, they built a town over the existing settlement.  The Cañari  used random shaped stones and mud or something to hold the stones in place while the Incas used rectangle stones (often squares) and didn’t use any mortar to hold them in place.

Some highlights of the ruins and the day:

  • There are a number of burial tombs, including one that was of an important female who died and had 10 followers surrounding her in the grave to go with her into the next life. Apparently those individuals were chosen for this “adventure” and took some poison and were all in the fetal position.
Grave is under the flat round stones on the right. Image compliments of ancientorigins.net

There is a large stone marking the burial site as well as many small smooth stone directly over the grave. The large stone is lined up exactly with a pathway and on the summer and winter solstices, the sun shines directly on the stone as it rises on it during one of the solstices?

  • The Sun Temple rises high above the area and is the only oval shaped sun temple built by the Incas. This reflects the Cañari influence. The temple is aligned halfway between two mountains which are 24 KM apart. On good days they could use reflective metal to send messages to the temple and then pass them onto the next mountain. On days without sun, a runner would go from one mountain to the temple to pass on a message and another runner would take the message onto the next one. This would happen repeatedly as needed.

    Sun temple is large round building in back center of photo. Drainage is visible in straight and curved lines in foreground.
  • The Sun Temple was built over a very large stone which was considered sacred by the Cañari. This stone is no longer visible because of the temple structure.
  • On top of the Sun Temple there are two identical rooms which are back to back. They each have 3 small alcoves where the sun shines through the door opening into the corresponding alcove to indicate the solstices. There is also one larger area where apparently a mummified priest’s body was kept and could be seen by the current priest during ceremonies.
  • We had an English speaking guide who I’m sure is from the area, and probably Cañari based on his passion for the history and events. He taught himself English over the last 5 years and did an excellent job. The most interesting guide we have had yet!

    Guide passionately explaining some history.
  • The entrance fee to the park is $2 per person and no charge for the guide however there is no charge for seniors…what a deal!
  • This is one of the very few places where we have seen signs in Quechua (pronounced ketch you wa). This is the native language of many people in Ecuador and Peru.

    No smoking sign in Spanish, English, and Quechua
  • It was a full day event to get there and back via 3 buses there and one bus and one taxi back. We left at about 8:10 in the morning and didn’t return until about 7 that night.
  • Our hostess, Miriam, went with us which helped to navigate the buses immensely. She had never been there before and enjoyed herself as well. She took the Spanish version of the tour.

Old Town Quito

View of Quito from Basilica del Voto Nacional

The current city of Quito was developed over the ruins of indigenous people. This was known previously and when they started excavation for the subway, they had to temporarily halt construction while they retrieved relics.

According to WIKI, The historic center of Quito has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas. Quito and Kraków, Poland, were the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO, in 1978. On March 28, 1541, Quito was declared a city and on February 23, 1556, was given the title Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de San Francisco de Quito (“Very Noble and Loyal City of San Francisco of Quito”).

In 1884, Basílica del Voto Nacional church construction was begun and Pope John Paul II celebrated the first mass there in 1985. While largely completed, if you look, it is subtle but there are missing statues and probably other things that have never been finished. Starting in 1895, there was a  tax paid by Quito citizens for its construction. It was 3 cent or per cent (not sure) tax on salt to help defray the cost of this structure. (The currency at that time was a “sucre”and $1 was 25,000 sucre at today’s rates. That tax is no longer in effect but imagine having to pay tax on a church building if you aren’t of that religion (although at the time the country was largely Catholic). If you are interested, there is more info on the Quito churches and pictures here.

For a couple of dollars we could tour the church and go up across the inside part of the roof and then outside. Dan who loves heights was in his element and he went up the open stairs to the top viewing area while I stayed on the lower level; I was outside and quite high up and not comfortable but I was there.

The view from either place was beautiful. You could get a feel for how large Quito is. People have started cutting down trees and building up the mountain. Across one area, you can see a hill called the Panecillo. That area has always been a poor area because when the Spaniards came they made the poor servants/slaves live up the hill and they settled the flat areas which were easier to navigate. I’m sure someday these shacks will become valuable and developed by the wealthy.

House formerly owned by one family. Sisters side is on the left of the picture, brothers on the right.

One unique building in the Old Town was originally owned by a single family. At one time, this two story, block long building was willed to a sister and brother. The sister remodeled her section and made it quite attractive while the brother kept his part very austere. You can see the differences today. In both areas, note how thick the walls are, about 3’, to keep the temperature comfortable in the building.

Later the church bought the building and now leases out various areas to vendors, restaurants, etc. Dan enjoyed having his picture taken with a mime totally covered in gold.

When the indigenous people built the town originally, they didn’t not use square or rectangle blocks. These skilled workers cut blocks to fit like a puzzle. Later the Spanish recut some of the blocks to exert their power and remove that reminder of the locals.

Not to be outdone however, there are subtle reminders of when the slaves were doing construction; they put their own subtle mark. There is one building with a row of cherubs on the top. If you look closely, you will see that all of the cherubs are draped except the end one who has quite an erection. But it isn’t something that is easy to notice, even when you are looking.

In the St. Francis church, instead of a statute of a slave holding up the pulpit on his back, you see that it is 3 Spaniards. No idea what happened to the artisans if/when their creativity was discovered but I doubt that they were praised by the Spaniards.

 

Street of the Seven Crosses

As would be expected, the churches are very ornate. There is one street informally called the street of 7 crosses; you can see a cross outside each church. We didn’t go into all of them but we did go into a couple. One, Compañía de Jesús (160 years in construction,beginning in 1605), is purported to have 7 tons of gold leaf on the walls. At $1300 per ounce, that is $291,000,000 in just gold! We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside (they think that the flash from cameras is oxidizing the gold) and we didn’t but this website states that I could have taken pictures since I was planning to write about it in our blog. They got permission and their pictures will give you a good idea of how it looks.

While the photo was snapped quickly and isn’t very good, I loved the name of one store. Maní is Spanish for peanut and one store was named “El Super Maní”, a play on “superman”. Cute

In a gift shop, Dan got a kick out of seeing a chess set. One set of players was Spanish conquistadors while the other side was indigenous people. (We don’t have room for such things so we just took photos instead of buying it.)

Pasto and Ipiales, Colombia

Mopa Mopa Vase. Each strand of color was individually added. The process looks like making taffy with the plant sap being stretched and pulled. Once it is the right consistency, color is added. Then it is rolled into thin sheets where it is cut into strips and each piece is pressed into place with a hand tool.

One of our last stops in Colombia was the small town of Pasto, less than 2 hours from Ecuador. We were only there a few days and we saw a few interesting things.

Below are a couple of pictures from a night parade right outside the gate of our apartment. It was church related; can’t tell you anything more than that. Here are a man and a woman on stilts and below that a float.

 

We took a walk one day and there were cows grazing on the meadow by this large apartment building. In Colombia you can tell small towns by medium sized ones when apartment building like this show up. This one is on the edge of Pasto, about two blocks from where buildings are built side-by-side.

Beautiful view of the area. Many Andean mountain cities and towns are like this, where the city suddenly ends and fields appear.There was a place on the river close to where we stayed where a number of people hand washed their laundry on the river. I took a quick picture of them but can’t find it. We were surprised because it was inside the city limits. We heard about a business where a washing machine is delivered for under $5 and then carted to the next place.

We went to a house built in 1623. This is the oldest restored structure in the town. It was especially interesting to Dan with his construction/restoration background but I enjoyed seeing the old tools and the newly made wooden sculptures, boxes, and wall hangings. One thing they talked about was Mopa Mopa art. The best way I can describe it is that they make something akin to vinyl from resin which is  colored and cut into shapes and then applied to almost anything (wood, metal, ceramics) as a decoration. More pictures below when we went to the local store where they actually do this.

The Blacks and Whites Carnival is held every year in early January. We missed seeing it but we went to the museum where they house a lot of the old floats. These floats are not flower decorated floats…they are made of a paper mache base with fiberglass applied and then painted. Each float can be up to 50 x 60 feet in size and intricately designed and painted. They take about 4 months each to make and their is stiff competition for the first place prize money. Keep in mind how big these floats are when you look at the gallery.

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Mopa Mopa Art is amazing! Watching the gentleman apply to filmy color and looking at some of his art work it is hard to believe it is done by hand. Here is more info on the process although you will have to use a translate program if your Spanish isn’t up to par.

Las Lajas Sanctuary in nearby Ipiales was built on the location where  in 1754 a young deaf girl reported seeing the Virgin Mary and the girl spoke for the first time. The bridge for the Sanctuary crosses a river and is incredibly beautiful. The cathedral itself is stunning. All along the path to the cathedral and past it people have added various plaques, probably thousands of them!

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At the Sanctuary we met Juan who is from Bogota Colombia and traveling by bicycle to the tip of South America. He has pretty good English and we bumped into him the next day at the bus terminal in Ibarra as well.

From the Sanctuary we took the cable car up the steep hill and caught a taxi. We paid the driver to take us to the cemetery which is across the border into Ecuador. More on that in another posting but here are a few pics from the cable car.

 

 

 

Cathedral Basilic De Manizales Church Tour

See that round doughnut looking area about 3/4 of the way up the steeple? That is where we went after climbing the circular stairs!

I don’t like heights; Dan does. He heard about a tour of one of the churches in Manizales and it sounded interesting. I didn’t realize most of the tour was going to be outside…on the roof and steeple!

We went on the tour in the evening because that is when the next one was. There were 20-30 people in the tour which was in Spanish. They talked about the history of the church. I had previously commented to Dan about how many stained glass windows there were but I was way off on the count. There are actually somewhere around 150 windows (I forget the exact number and couldn’t find it on the internet. The church took 11 years to build, largely because of needing materials. The steeple is 106 meters (347 feet) tall and we were almost at the top when we were out on the small area that surrounds the steeple. It is the tallest church tower in Colombia.

After viewing the inside of the church we went upstairs and could look down on the service that was being conducted. Then we watched a short video about the church and then the “fun” began.

Daytime picture of people on tour outside on roof. Picture from Nomadicniko.com

We went up some stairs that were lit but not always well. Then we went outside along the roof in an area that was caged in but still scary, especially since it was night. I was ready to quit but when I saw the stairs below I could see that they were not really hard to climb, just lots of them.

Lots and lots of stairs but it was a very sturdy metal staircase that was installed a few years ago.
View from the observation deck.

The view was beautiful once we got out to the observation area. There were enough people in the tour that we circled the steeple and had to wait while each person/group took pictures so we were out there at least 15 minutes.

 

Christmas in Colombia

Typical nativity scene with a village; crèche is in upper left of photo; most of the sheep have real wool on them

I’m not sure what a traditional Christmas is in Colombia. Certainly the lights in the parks (especially Medellin) and decorations on some houses and lots of nativity scenes in public spaces and homes.

Nativity scenes aren’t just a crèche with the baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph. They were almost always very elaborate, even having sheep skin on the small plastic sheep in the scenes. The nativity scene in the church in Jardin is about 50’ long…I couldn’t even get the entire scene in a photo in panorama mode! Scenes show an entire village with houses, animals, sometimes people, and of course the Wise Men and the crèche scene.

The family we are living with for 12 days is probably lower middle class. The almost 3 year old boy is really intelligent and well mannered. They have a small artificial tree with decorations and lights and lights around the door and window outside but no gifts under it.

While Santa Claus is discussed in passing, there was no attempt that I could see/understand that he would bring gifts. The little boy fell asleep earlier than usual and slept through the firecrackers, drums, etc. in the street.

This morning he received a gift or two, no wrapping paper. We gave him a set of 6 small plastic construction trucks (cost less than $4 total) which he seemed to enjoy. He also received a remote controlled car and a scooter and a plastic truck. Again, no wrapping paper.

There were people in and out all day which is not much different from usual but maybe a few more people than usual. The family left a couple of times for an hour or so. I had understood someone was barbecuing a pig but I never saw any evidence of it and they ate a modest meal here.

We also gave the parents a small box of local chocolate and $100,000 pesos (about $33) to help towards a new pair of glasses for the mom (her frames are broken and the lenses seem to be delaminating or something odd so she gets headaches wearing them).

Dan and I don’t normally exchange gifts so we didn’t this year. We did go for a walk for about an hour through an area with coffee, plantain, and bananas and amazingly ended up at a place where we knew that had a homemade cable car between the town and the mountain. l will be doing a blog on that soon.

Mostly catching up on blogging. Internet is just slow enough that uploading images is an ordeal and very slow but I am making progress, am now writing and about to post early December!

All in all, it was a nice quiet day. I was surprised that many stores and restaurants were open, something about a “store day” and everything will be closed on Wednesday. The mom also said that everything in Medellin is closed today and people come here to shop.

Since I had no expectations, it was a nice day. Much quieter than yours although the boy did get rowdy from time to time.

Mary’s tree in Marizales

The place we stayed with in Marizales after we left Jardin still had the house decorated with a 6-7′ artificial tree with ornaments and ribbons and other decorations on the walls. My guess is that they had a Christmas more like what you would see in the USA.

Guided Tour of Panama City

People getting ready for a parade in downtown Panama City. Band members and men in costumes. Guide, Luis, in the foreground.

On the second we went on a guided tour with Luis. It was the first of (at least) 4 days of celebration of separation from Colombia in 1903. (The canal construction was restarted shortly after the separation.) There were lots of festivities and closures of businesses and tourist places as a result.

We didn’t actually go to any of the parades however we walked around the area where many participants were getting ready to march. There were lots of students in their school uniforms, marching bands in their uniforms and women dressed up in beautiful costumes. Men had much more simple traditional outfits with the shirts outside their pants.

View of the city, Pacific Ocean and the Bridge of the Americas

On the tour we went to the highest point in the city, Ancon Hill (named after the first ship to go through the Panama Canal when it opened in 1914). We parked and walked uphill in the heat and humidity but fortunately there was a lot of shade on the way.

Bahá’í temple is built with 9 points and the star in the foreground has 9 points.

We went to a Bahá’í temple high on another hill. It was a simple but inspiring design and felt very serene there. It is one of only a small handful of temples. It was very serene and sacred feeling.

Various images from Panama City.

Parade participants