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.

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 Signs

If you walk from Aguas Calientes towards Machu Picchu or the museum or the hikes that some people take, you pass a work area on the outskirts of the town where the stone blocks are being carved.  There are a series of very nice signs.

Huayna Picchu (Waynapicchu)

Huayna Picchu is a mountain peak that is seen behind many of the pictures of Machu Picchu. After reading reviews that it wasn’t that long or hard, we had bought tickets to hike it the day after Machu Picchu (only 400 people per day can get tickets to climb it). By the time we went to the Sun Gate, 8,924 feet (an elevation change of about 950′) I decided I didn’t want to hike Huayna Picchu the following day. The altitude at Huayna Picchu is also 8,924 feet.

Dan went and said it was a good thing that I didn’t go since there were very steep steps/rocks to climb that would have been difficult for a shorty like me.

Ruins built into left side of the mountain; steps to the peak in the middle of the mountain.

His comments about Huayna Picchu? Awesome! Steep! Surprised to find ruins at the top…it would have been a lot of work to get the stones up there. Incredible view. Here are some pictures from his hike.

One of the locals in the area.

His advice is that although tickets are sold to visit Machu Picchu and climb Huayna Picchu the same day (because you have to go through Machu Picchu to access the trail to Huayna Picchu), it is best to separate the two activities over different days if you aren’t a youngster. This means buying a second ticket just for Machu Picchu if you want to spend much time visiting that famous site.

Ollantaytambo

We flew from Guayaquil Ecuador to Cusco Peru using airline miles. From there we took a bus to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo is a small, sleepy town that is less than 2 hours by bus from Cusco and a more reasonable altitude of 9,074 feet above sea level, it has lodging, restaurants, a few tour guide businesses, and not much else. It is level in most of the town although 5 minutes away you can start a climb to some ruins.

We stayed in a relatively recently remodeled hostel with a lovely courtyard. The room itself was in good condition except the floor wasn’t level (interesting in the middle of the night) and the entrance door is about 5’ high. I didn’t have to duck to go in and out but Dan did.

As with most towns, there is a river that runs through Ollantaytambo. The difference in this river is that it goes through a series of open culverts which are less than a foot wide/deep. This makes it quite rapid. The water is crystal clear and safe for bathing but not drinking.

We started up one path and ran into a guide who was hoping to run into someone like us who would like to hire him. We did and walked up a fairly steep path to some ruins that had been a lookout in times past. From this point you could see the start of the Inca Trail and we actually saw some horses coming back from the trail (I think it is 2 days by horseback but 4 days hiking).

We enjoyed the town enough to return to it after we went to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.

Jipiro National Park

Located in Loja, Jipiro National Park is a relatively small area for a national park but quite enjoyable. Geared to children, we enjoyed many of the whimsical structures and the promotion of multiple cultures. Not quite sure why the cultures were chosen but interesting all the same.

Parque National Cajas

Near Cuenca is the Cajas National Park.  According to WIKI, the name “Cajas” is derived from the Quichua word “cassa” meaning “gateway to the snowy mountains”.or “caxa” (Quichua:cold). It has also been linked to the Spanish word “cajas” (boxes). We took the bus from the terminal, the same route we would later take to Guayaquil and got off about an hour later at the park entrance.

Lake we walked around
Some of the trail was a bit tricky; Lindie in the middle

I don’t remember the exact height where we went around the lake which is relatively flat but I believe it was about 13,000 feet.

Lindie and friends

The day was somewhat overcast so it wasn’t as pretty as it could have been (probably greener at other times of year as well) but we had an enjoyable hike by the lake and saw some interesting flowers.

Interesting flower by the lake

Then caught the bus back to Cuenca.

View of the valley

Pumapongo Museum

The Pumapongo Museum is a free museum dedicated to the development of Ecuador in general and a lot of information about the indigenous people as well. The museum has a main building as well as partially excavated grounds directly behind the museum.  There is a small area for live birds on display too.

Not only is there no charge to go into the museum, I never even saw a donation box!

There are wonderful small dioramas showing life for the indigenous and early settlers. They are so detailed that they even show plants growing on the roof of a house…something that you do see sometimes even today.

Most of the museum is only in Spanish which we can read mas or menos (somewhat) but occasionally there was English.

There is a section of money. Originally things from nature were used as money, shells and such. Later coins and then later paper money were used. Starting in 1830, the Peso was used. The Franco was used from 1856-1871. Then they used the Peso again until 1884 when the Sucre was used until 2000 when they went to using the United States dollar because the sucre had been so devalued.

Today although we mostly see paper bills of $5 to $20 and the presidential dollar coins as well as other US coins, there are still occasional Ecuador coins that we receive in change, but not often.

The archeological site has ruins from the Inca Kanari civilization. I couldn’t find much online about the museum and archeological site (guess that is the down side of a free museum) but I did find this. If you are interested in more, you can do an online search and find bits and pieces about the area.

This is a sacred area below the museum and archeological area.

In the lower section there is an area of sacred corn that was planted as well as information on various medicinal plants and other plants which are used in the area.

There was a final area with a few birds in cages. Not all of them were named. The two most interesting to me were this blueish/greenish bird  (unnamed) and Black Chested Buzzard Eagles which are much larger than they appear in this picture.