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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
We did a night hike and a day hike in the jungle. Couldn’t see much during the night hike but we did hear two owls that only sing when the moon is out (partial moon that night) and heard what we were told were a couple of poisonous tree snake which made a clicking sound. CREEEPY!
The day hike was supposed to be in primary growth jungle which we expected to have such thick growth as to be almost dark. While it was interesting, it wasn’t that dark and no thicker than the rain forests we have seen.
We didn’t take a lot of pictures because it was just a mass of trees, vines, and bushes. We did climb to an overlook and rested awhile. And had to walk through a creek (in rubberboots) part of the way.
We did taste “lemon ants” which taste lemony and didn’t bite when we ate it
It seemed to me much longer than the 2 1/2 hours we were promised. In reality, it was more like 3 hours so just a bit longer. We were all very happy to take showers before going to lunch almost an hour late.
Dan loves to hike; I like to hike a lot. There is a difference between “love” and “like a lot” but still it is one of my preferred types of exercise. Our guide took us to the small town of Mindo, not far from Quito.
We paid $5 each for Dan and myself (guides are usually free) and rode a cable car from the parking area across a deep ravine and set out to see the Cascada de Reina, a waterfall. Of course it took much longer than the one hour each way and at one point I had given up only to find out I was less than 10 minutes from it! The trail wasn’t really steep or hard but we had gone about 2 hours at that point.
The waterfall is impressive due to the amount of water flowing through it. There are concrete stairs along side the waterfall so you can walk up but there was so much strong gushing water coming down the fall that I chose not to go up the stairs although Dan did.
On the way back, we stopped under a shelter and ate a late lunch of veggie ceviche: chochos (a nutritious and tasty white bean with a slight crunch), onion, tomato, and plantain chips and lime or lemon juice. It had been marinating for about 3 hours by then and was delicious however as we sat still the mosquitoes had found me so I headed back down the path, forgetting that I had Dan’s rain jacket in the pack on my back.
Of course it started raining and after debating, I decided to backtrack and get the jacket to him. I went most of the way back to the shelter before I met up with Dan and the guide. By then he decided he didn’t need his jacket so I got a lot of extra steps in.
All in all it was a pleasant day although it was clear that we needed to do more hiking. We tend to walk a lot in towns but not actually hike.
Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve is located a few miles from La Mitad del Mundo. It contains the Pululahua volcano which has a crater or caldera that offers a beautiful view. People actually live in the crater which is very rare!
Would have been nice to hike it but it would have been a long climb back up.
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.
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!
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.