The ancient city of Cusco and the wonders of Machu Picchu
09.02.2015 - 13.02.2015 17 °C
When booking this Galapagos tour we noticed that Celebrity also offered a four day land tour extension to Machu Picchu and Cusco as an option. Since we were already in South America we decided to take in the extension as well. Roy and Sue opted out of the extension as they have already visited Machu Picchu as part of another trip which they took. In all, 32 of us on the Galapagos tour opted for the Machu Picchu extension. We were delighted that we did. Both Cusco and Machu Picchu are magnificent examples of the ancient Inca culture and sadly also a terrible example of ethnic cleansing during those early colonial times as the Spanish did everything they could to wipe out the Inca culture and its symbols and replace them with the Spanish Christian values and symbols. They also stripped the country of every piece of gold they could lay their hands which included the desecration and destruction of any Inca religious sites they could find.
Leaving the ship on Sunday did not get our extension off to a very good start as we had some flight delays due to the weather in Quito. We managed to catch another flight from the Island of Baltra that eventually got us to our days ultimate destination of Lima, Peru by late afternoon. We stayed in Lima overnight and in the morning we flew south east to the city of Cusco which is way up in the Andes mountains and sits at an altitude of 11,200 feet. Since we were to return to this hotel in Lima again in four days we were able to re-pack and leave a bag at the Lima hotel with some of the clothes we only needed for the ship portion of the trip. We were able to get everything we needed into one bag and still meet the weight restriction of 20 Kg.
Cusco is in southeastern Peru near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes Mountain Range. Its population is about 435,000. It was the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire and is a World Heritage Site. Due to the high altitude the temperatures are fairly cool for this part of the world with a February average high temp of 18C and the low Average is 6C. Fortunately we had done our research and dressed for the temperature and the wet weather.
Upon our arrival we quickly checked into our hotel, grabbed lunch and headed out with our new guides for an afternoon of sightseeing including the obligatory Cathedral, the Main Square, Qurikancha Temple (Temple of the Sun), and nearby archaeological sites: Sacsayhuman (Saksaywaman) a walled complex built about 1100 AD by the Killke who also built an aqueduct, major temple and major roadways,
Our hotel in Cusco is a very large old monastery called the Monasterio that has been wonderfully restored. The rooms are beautifully done and tucked into nooks and crannies of the old Monastery.
The ancient city of Cusco nestled among the peaks of the Andes chain. The elevation of the city is a "breathtaking" 11,200 feet. Walking any distance up hill one can't help but notice the thin air. A number of folks developed head aches
Narrow little streets of the old city of Cusco dating back many centuries
Our hotel was an old monastery beautifully restored
The old chapel of the monastery is still maintained and used for functions
Inside the courtyard of the monastery with a 300 year old cedar tree in the center
Beautiful gathering room and bar just off the lobby of the hotel
The other side of Cusco. As the city has grown there is little evidence of planning as native peoples from the countryside have moved into the suburbs and set up what amounts to shanty towns on the outskirts of the old city - note the dogs, they run loose everywhere in the shanty towns but not the old city center
Group of dogs doing a bit of a dumpster-diving. Notice one is even on top of the dumpster
A Peruvian native leads a llama through one of the old Inca ruin areas
A common decoration mounted on the peak of many of the houses particularly in the country. The figures are indicative of a number of things in the household such as occupation, family history and good luck omens.
Inca ruins that overlook part of Cusco. You can see where part of the wall has been restored with smaller rocks. Note how the huge blocks of stone were notched to fit together. They are also sloped back into the hill. This helped them hold together during the frequent earthquakes in the region. One should remember that the Incas moved these stones from quarries located substantial distances from this site. Even more amazing they did not have the benefit of having invented the wheel when this settlement was constructed
Another example of major construction
Art being displayed in a Spanish built cathedral. The Spanish demolished an Inca temple that was located on this site and used the stone to build their cathedral
Note the protrusion in the stone at the left. that is how the Incas got their stones to fit together so well without any mortar. The Incas did not use any mortar in any of their major construction sites
The next day's adventure took us about 50 km into the Andes and the general area known as the Sacred Valley which was an ancient center of agriculture
Farming on the highland plateau, note the terraces
Black long haired Alpaca
Alpaca and llamas are probably the most common domestic farm animals
Native Peruvian woman weaving Alpaca wool to sell at a local craft shop
Different shades of Alpaca wool for use in the weaving. All dyes come from natural sources.
Examples of local corn and potatoes. Both very popular crops and they have many varieties of each. Their corn has very large kernels and is quite woody without a lot of taste
An amazing local market in one of the Sacred Valley villages. This market must have covered several acres and included everything from local crafts to locally made silver jewellery to paintings by local artists however I did not see anything made in China
An amazing example of ancient Inca farming community. The Incas practiced very intense farming on these terraces. Because of the very steep terrain here in the mountains they had to build terraces in order to farm the land. See the next few pictures for a better look
Note the terraces to the left of the picture. Straight across the valley you can see structures on the mountain side. Those are grain storage structures high up on the side of the mountain
Better view of the flat surfaces that were created when the Incas terraced the landscape
More grain storage structures on an adjoining mountain. Remember these are all built above the 10,000 foot level
During one of our lunch stops we were treated to a lovely horse show
We next entered the final phase of our trip, the visit to the ancient "lost" city of Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu, often referred to as the Lost City of the Incas, is one of the most famous examples of Inca architecture. The ruins, located in a lush jungle high (over 7000 feet up) in the Andes mountains, are believed to have been built in the mid-15th century. Lost in history, they were not rediscovered until 1911 by the American explorer, Hiram Bingham (1875-1956).
Bingham was not a trained archaeologist, yet it was during Bingham's time as a professor in South American history at Yale that he discovered the largely forgotten Inca city of Machu Picchu.
Bingham was fascinated by the prospect of unexplored Inca cities and organized the 1911 Yale Peruvian Expedition with one of its objectives to search for the lost city of Vitcos, the last capital of the Incas. On July 24, 1911, local farmer Melchor Arteaga led Bingham to Machu Picchu, which had been largely forgotten by everybody except the small number of people living in the immediate valley.
Machu Picchu has become one of the major tourist attractions in South America, and Bingham is recognized as the man who brought the site to world attention, although many others helped to bring this site into the public eye. The non-stop narrow dirt switchback-filled road that carries tourist buses way up the mountain to the site from the Urubamba River is called the Hiram Bingham Highway. Bingham was considered a bit of a rogue as well and it is thought that the Hollywood character "Indiana Jones" was at least partially patterned on Bingham and his various exploits.
For our trip to Machu Picchu we took a bus 45 minutes to the train station where we board the Hiram Bingham luxury train. The Hiram Bingham train cars are distinguished by their blue and gold colors and for warm and cozy interiors that feature elegant upholstery. Decorated in the style of 1920s Pullman carriages, each has been furnished in polished wood and brass with large comfortable furniture. This service has four cars, two dining cars, an open backed observation car with a bar and a kitchen car. The train has a total capacity of 84 passengers. The 32 of us formed the dominant group.
Dave getting ready to board the Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu
Ready for our delicious lunch on board the H.B. train
Our table mates for the trip, Pat and Hal from California. We had lots to talk about as Hal and Pat are both motorcycle riders and Corvette owners
The band playing at the back of the bar car in the Hiram Bingham train. The band knew everything from traditional South American folk songs to good old Rock'n Roll
Dave & Hazel standing at the back of the observation car.
The Hiram Bingham train took three and a half hours to get us to Aguas Calientes, a small village nestled in a deep valley below the citadel of Machu Picchu. The train dropped us off in the village in the valley where we board busses for the 25 minute switch back ride up the mountain to Machu Picchu. Only these locally provided busses and parks service vehicles are permitted to make the perilous journey up and down the narrow dirt road. When two busses meet it can be a major "thrill" as one has to back up until the back end is hanging out over the edge of the mountain. Guard rails are infrequent and more for decoration than accident prevention. It is no wonder you hear about south American busses careening down a mountainside with a load of tourists.
One of the busses making the perilous journey down the mountain
Looking down into the valley from the ruins in Machu Picchu
Terraces used for growing crops in Machu Picchu
Some of the restored ruins of Machu Picchu. This is a residential area and each stone house would have had a thatched roof. It is estimated that there were well over 1000 people living in this mountain top settlement
Notice how the thatched roof was fastened to the stone structure. This high in the mountains the winds can be very strong so the roof had to be securely fastened to the main structure of the house
More ruins of this highly organized ancient town
More ruins of this highly organized ancient town
Close up picture of the next mountain across the valley, Note all of the structures here. This looks down on Machu Picchu and the very adventurous can climb this mountain and look down on Machu Picchu. This is a challenging climb with two technical climb sections. Parks officials limit this to 400 climbers a day
The valley far below with a bridge crossing the river
Adjoining mountains as the clouds move in late in the afternoon
The guard house at the very peak of Machu Picchu. This section of the town is another fair climb further up the mountain so only the hardy or the foolish attempt this last push in the thin mountain air. Being young and foolish we both decided that since we were already here we might as well join the hardy and do the last few hundred stone steps to the very pinnacle
Looking out one of the guard house windows down into the valley
David standing about as close to the edge as he cares to go. The drop is about 3000 feet. Not a great spot to let the kids out to play
The view over the edge, this could be the short way down but we decided to take the stairs instead
We were off the mountain by late afternoon and boarded the Hiram Bingham train back to Cusco enjoying an elegant dinner during the trip.. Bright and early the next morning we once more boarded a plane, this time we were heading north and on our way back home via a stop in Lima, Peru
Back in Lima we settled into the lovely Country Club Hotel. A beautiful old hotel in a nice residential district of Lima.
Inside the lovely Country Club hotel
Typical street scene in Lima, peddlers everywhere selling everything from trinkets to ice cream treats in the very hot climate. Lima is essentially in the midst of a desert and along with Cairo it is one of only two world cities situated in a desert. Lima only gets about 2 inches of rain a year
Another peddler plying his wares in the midst of a busy downtown street
Pedestrian mall in central Lima, note all of the various styles of balconies
Typical South American central square
Presidential palace on one side of the square
There is a strong police presence all around the square. They are there to remove anyone who tries to set up a protest. Protests are legal but not in the main square. For a relatively poor country it seemed to be a lot of resources (there had to be 60 heavily armed anti riot squad types lurking discretely around the various buildings and alley ways) to be dedicated to keeping potential protesters from Presidential view,
Another side of the square is anchored by the ever present cathedral with lots of marble and gold - note the wooden balcony here too
Inside the cathedral
Inside the cathedral
Flower laden walkway to restaurant where we had lunch
More flowers at the restaurant
Last meal in South America - Dave catching breakfast on the outdoor patio at the Country Club Hotel.
Shortly after we headed out to the airport for our three hour flight to Panama City where we only had a hour before catching the 5 hour flight back to the cold at home in Canada.
This brings to an end our wonderful South American adventure. We hope you enjoyed reading about the trip one tenth as much as we enjoyed taking the trip. One of our tremendous joys in our retirement has been our ability to explore the world and learn about history and other great cultures. Exploring other cultures gives us so much more insight into our own culture and a much better understanding of our world and why much of it is the way that it is. Best of all it always reinforces our belief of how truly fortunate we are having been born in Canada and enjoying the things that we are able to experience from our very privileged perch in the world.
Our next adventure is a trip to China later this year. First we will be spending some time in Shanghai then a week on the Yangtze River in a river boat and finally a few days in Hong Kong before returning home.
Till next time
David & hazel