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.
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.
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.
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.
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. You can view pictures here.
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.
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.
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. Cusco Art
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alausí is a small town between Baños and Cuenca. We wanted somewhere to stay to break up the long bus ride between the two cities.
Nestled in a valley in the Andes mountains. It’s altitude is 7,696 feet and in 2001, the population was around 5,000 people. There are lot of indigenous people there and it was enjoyable to see them when we walked around town.
The town itself is doesn’t have much else for tourists than the train although we had a very enjoyable evening talking with a retired couple from Germany. They have done tons of traveling and talked about some of the places they recommended, especially Africa and Europe. Not likely to get to either of those places but you never know with us!
The Devil’s Nose train is likely another governmental project similar to the Tren de Libertad to Salinas that we took a month or so ago. The scenery is beautiful along the way.
The Devil’s Nose train takes track that was extremely challenging to build, climbing more than 500 meters (more than 1,500 feet) in 12 kilometers (7.2 miles). This was accomplished by having zig zags in the tracks where the train backs up in an area and changes direction because the brakeman throws a switch on the tracks!
The ride itself is not that long, about 30-45 minutes each way. On the way there, we stopped briefly for pictures of “Devil’s Nose”. The mountain looks to some like the pointed part of the nose of a person laying down. To me, not so much.
The second stop has a modern covered pavillion, cafe, and museum where the indigenous people perform dances, sell crafts, feed you, and explain some of their culture. Although their actual work day is fairly short (2 performances of maybe 30 minutes each), they walk 2 hours per day TO work and 2 1/2 hours back home. That’s dedication!
One of the men spoke fairly good English and he explained a number of things about their culture. Their hats and women’s colored necklaces indicated that the person is married although there was one of his friends there without her colored bead necklace on and he couldn’t explain why since she is married (and divorce is not part of their culture).
This tool is hooked over the neck of two oxen or other animals. If they are equally strong, it is placed symmetrically over their necks however if one is stronger than the other, they can vary where on the tool it is placed to make the pulling equal between the two animals.
The animals are trained to auditory signals using this tool. They shake it with different noises to indicate whether the animal should start or stop.
This is a press to get the juice out of sugar cane.
The entire tour took 2 1/2 hours and was $22 each for seniors or $33 each for other adults. Very affordable and worth it in our book.
The Shiripuno women decided that while their men go off and do whatever they do during the day to work that they (the women) should be paid for what they do anyway. With this in mind, they developed a simple program where they show how they make some food with yucca and sweet potato, do a little native dance, look at an incredible rock, and then hopefully sell some trinkets. Sounds hokey and the young German tourists who were at the lodge and leaving that day made it sound pretty lame.
In reality we enjoyed it. Yes, it is touristy but it was still interesting. We learned some things about this culture listening to the Spanish speaking woman who ran the event and talking with our English speaking guide from the Lodge.
Unmarried girls and women wear blue outfits like you see in the above picture. Married women wear blue and red outfits. The more traditional outfit is seen in this picture but we saw a woman in blue pants and a red top to indicate she was married as well. All unmarried women, of any age seemed to wear the outfit this little girl is wearing.
First they made a couple of things, one a fermented drink and the other something with sweet potatoes. Note how they shredded the sweet potato…you will see this is tool is from the root of a tree in the jungle walk post.
The little girls of the village participated in the making of yucca and sweet potato dishes and the dancing. They were so cute in their outfits and helping their mom.
I loved watching them imitate their mom.
The rock! This is an incredibly interesting rock. In the lower right (as you look at it) of the rock is a little “door”. While it is solid, the tone is distinctly different when you hit this area with a rock than if you hit just a foot or so away. Empty sounding like it is an entrance.
A number of different animal shapes can be discerned on the rock: serpent, puma, bear, and others. What can you see? (Hint: Serpent, Alligator, Tortoise, Piranha, Toad, Cougar(Puma), Charapo (noidea what this is), Boa, Dolphin, Capybara, Monkey)
There is an area to the left of the rock (as you face it) that again has a hollow sound when you hit it with a rock. They call this the window. It isn’t really easy to scale the front of the rock but there are stairs built partway up the back. Dan went up the front and I stayed down and took his picture.
And there was a parrot in the rafters of the exhibit area that chimed in while they were singing and dancing. What fun!
Our guide took a part of a flower that I would call part of the bird of paradise family but it really isn’t. He put it on our noses. Funny looking beak!
He also opened a seed pod from this plant and used a stem to break up the inside into a paint and painted our hands much like the indigenous women/children who spoke with us.
The handmade jewelry items for sale were pretty typical of what we have seen in other places although there were dried leaves for tea and spears/knives as well.
This is a village of about 50 families, about 250 people. The kids do go to school from age 5-12. They are working to get more education but it is hard since that is usually in town and these very rural folks are very poor. Sometimes they have relatives with whom the youngsters can live for more education and the family sends money as they can for this.
While it is humid here, it isn’t as hot as I expected for being in the Amazons. The river we heard the night before is a tributary to the Amazon River but that is many miles away. There are fewer bugs here than I expected as well. I’m not getting eaten alive, here at least…hurray!
All in all, after much trepidation, I am enjoying myself in the jungle. It isn’t as hot, buggy, and filled with bugs as I expected.
OK, I wrote that above sentence and then almost immediately the mosquitoes and bugs found me! I should never have written it and tempted fate. I ended up with over 50 bites, mostly on my arms but even under my clothing and in my hair. UGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!