The Log of Moira

 

Southern Ecuador and Peru, including Machu Picchu (October 2006)

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These are mostly Susan’s remarks. Larry’s notes are indicated thus <Larry: blah blah blah.>.

 

<Larry: Again in this page, there is no sailing content. Our loyal sailing audience may want to wait for our Panama edition..>

 

ON THE INCA ROAD TO MACHU PICCHU

 

One of my travel goals has been to see Machu Picchu, high in the southern Peruvian Andes. The Inca empire ended up including southern Ecuador by the 1470’s, linked to the centers of Inca life in Peru by the “Inca trail,” and I wanted to see the northern Inca outposts before viewing the grand epic center at Machu Picchu.

 

Cuenca, Ecuador

 

City street, Cuenca, EcuadorThis segment of our journey begins at the northern end of the Inca empire, in Cuenca, at 8,315 feet above sea level in south-central Ecuador. The third largest city in Ecuador, it is considered by many Ecuadorians to be their most charming city.

 

We arrived in Cuenca after a 5 hour bus ride from Guayaquil <Larry: …after a 3 hour bus ride from La Libertad>. We traveled southeast from Guayaquil, heading steadily uphill through the clouds into the Southern Andean highlands until we reached Cuenca. We could feel the high altitude after our sea-level period on the boat, but our earlier stay in the highlands around Quito helped us acclimate, and we realized that if we took things easy the first couple of days, altitude sickness should not be a problem for us.

 

The Canari were an indigenous group that lived in the region before the arrival of the Incas. The city was first called “Guapondelig” which in the Canari language means “a plain as big as the sky”. The Incas conquered the Canari in the last part of the fifteenth century and built the city of Tomebamba over the Canari settlement. When the Spanish arrived in the mid 1530’s the city was rebaptized as “Santa Ana de los Cuatro Rios de Cuenca” (Santa Ana of the four rivers of Cuenca). <Larry: Note the short duration of the Inca dominance in this area. There’s something cosmic about the trajectory of the Inca story: thery were conquering everything in their path, rulers of all they surveyed, and BOOM!, here come the Spanish. Cuenca is a Spanish word meaning “basin” or “bowl,” a reference to the city’s location, cradled by a rim of mountains>.

 

The city is dominated by churches, many still covered inside with intricate carved wood, layered with gold leaf. There are many cobblestone streets, winding rivers, beautiful gardens, highly-detailed and colorful wooden doors, graceful ironwork balconies, and red tile roofs. City ordinances require red tile roofs in the small historical district located along the major river, and the rest of the city has pretty much followed suit. Red tile is seen as a sign of civic pride, adding to the beauty of the city. In some of the older neighborhoods Inca walls, channels, irrigation ditches and terraces can still be seen. But the Inca buildings which existed when the Spaniards arrived were torn down and the stone reused to create a city satisfactory to the Spanish tastes. So the Spanish elements of architectural heritage, common to their well thought-out urban areas were put in place: churches, beautiful houses, nicely placed plazas or squares, and colonnaded buildings facing the plazas. They help the city to thrive today. It is a very pleasant, livable city which pleased and enchanted us. <Larry: There was an excellent ethnological museum, funded—as seems to be typical in this part of the world—by the nation’s central bank.>

 

We stayed at the Hotel Santa Lucia which was converted from a private mansion. The hotel had lovely common areas and we were able to get an acceptable room in “the attic” <Larry: a modern annex> at a very reasonable price. The window of our room overlooked an unscenic parking lot and the backs of several buildings. The immediate area was also the home of a healthy rooster who liked to present his morning calls starting a 4:30am, continuing until 6:30am. It was one of the loudest roosters I have ever heard. The hotel was too full to move us and what could the hotel do anyway? So we learned to close the windows at midnight and sleep around the rooster’s calls. It was not until we arrived at the village of Agua Caliente in Peru, at the base of Machu Picchu, that we discovered a solution to roosters (see below).

 

One of the big industries of Cuenca is the “Panama” hat. When the Panama Canal was under construction (early 1900’s), Ecuadorian weavers started to export a white hat, tightly woven and very strong, made from fibers of the toquilla palm which grows well in the humid, hilly coastal region of central Ecuador. The hats are actually woven and semi-finished by Indian women in the hills around Cuenca. We visited one of the famous hat factories in Cuenca, Homero Ortega & Hijos, and toured through the entire post-production process of preparing the hats for sale once semi-finished hats arrived at the factory. Hats were made in a variety of styles, colors and quality. None of the colorful hats made for women fit my head…..our tour guide assured me that I had a big head so for $12 I purchased a fairly typical man’s white Panama hat with a black scarf tied around the middle. While we were there we watched another man purchase a beautifully-made hat for $500, which was placed in a nicely made hat box for him. I got my hat in a plastic bag, though the name of the factory was on the bag!

 

Additional photos from this trip can be found in our Photo Gallery and Moira’s Ship’s Store.

 

 

Parque Las Cajas

 

Parque Las Cajas, EcuadorAnother treat for us was the day we spent in the Cajas National Park, located about 20 miles outside of Cuenca at an altitude of 13,000 feet. We were able to hike through stark and startlingly beautiful terrain with many lagoons, beautiful flowers and pampas grass. The pampas grasses are considered a weed here, a short tough grass called “puna” that is the natural sponge to the Andes. These high-altitude areas have a fairly limited flora of hard grasses, cushion plants, small herbaceous plants and dwarf trees. This is wild, rough, stark mountain country. A guide must accompany you as you hike through the area. We began to understand the verticality of the Andes, which rise abruptly out of the plains, almost without foothills. The Rockies are tamer and older than the Andes. The Andes, the world’s second-greatest mountain chain, rise to over 6000m just 100 miles inland. Tropical they may be but the Andes have year-round glaciers above 5000m. Between 3000m and 4000m rich agricultural lands support much of the rural population, with at least half of Peru’s population living in these areas. It was here that the Incas developed a remarkable system of terraces to grow a variety of produce high in the Andes. Everything from rice to corn to potatoes was grown high in the mountains on terraces that seem to defy gravity and man’s ability to traverse these mountains. The closer we got to Machu Picchu, the more terraces we saw on the slopes.

 

One morning we spent touring the workshop and galleries of Eduardo Vega, a renowned Ecuadorian ceramic artist. He has his workshop and home on the hill of Turi overlooking the city of Cuenca. His work was full of beautiful colors and shapes typical of south American artists. It’s always stressful when we come across art we both like <Larry: one of our rules—can’t buy it unless we both like it. Another rule is we have to agree where we’ll put it.> because we have little room on Moira for such stuff. Vega had created some beautiful tiles with images of birds and fish and we bought several to hang on one of the bulkheads of the boat.

 

We were impressed with Cuenca. It is a lovely city with good infrastructure in place. There are three major universities. The city is popular with tourists, and has many international restaurants. There are many very nice homes in place and under construction both in the downtown as well as on the many hills surrounding the city. Roadways into and out of the city are being improved. The city seems to have little severe poverty or the shanty towns that surround Quito or Guayaquil. In fact, this city did not resemble the economic statistics of per capita gross domestic product set forth by the CIA information site and shared earlier in this narrative. We were able to talk to a number of folks about this including the best sources… taxi drivers in the city. It appears that Cuenca is a favorite for second homes by upper-class Ecuadorians. But even with that I assured Larry that there are probably not enough wealthy Ecuadorians to account for the quality and number of the houses. The other explanation we got that the general well-being of the city is the result of remittances from Ecuadorians who live temporarily or permanently aboard, mostly in America or Europe, particularly Germany.

 

We met a great many Germans in Ecuador. One German woman told us that the German government sponsors many Ecuadorian students at German universities, providing them with full tuition to come. When you look at the CIA fact sheet it does mention that the GDP does not include remittances from abroad which can be as much of half of the GDP. Amazing but it does begin to explain a city like Cuenca. So if any one wants to build a lovely house in a perfect climate and an attractive city with friendly people, you have an amazing opportunity in Cuenca, Ecuador.

 

Additional photos from this trip can be found in our Photo Gallery and Moira’s Ship’s Store.

 

The Incas in Ecuador

 

Ingapirca, EcuadorThe linkage to the Incas came with our visit to Ingapirca, the major Inca site in Ecuador. Ingapirca is located along the once well-traveled Inca trail and is believed to have been a stopping place for messengers between Quito and Tomebamba, another one of the early names for Cuenca. One theory is that the area was used as a garrison whence the Incas exercised control over this northern part of their empire. Some archaeologists believe that the main structure at Ingapirca, an elliptical platform known as the Temple of the Sun, had religious or ceremonial purposes. This building has some of the fine Inca stonework including trapezoidal niches and doorways that are hallmarks of the Inca’s work. Only recently has the area been protected by the Ecuadorian government. Before that protection occurred many of the stones were removed to be reused by builders of buildings in the area. There is some belief by experts that the Incas themselves destroyed the buildings to keep them from falling into the hands of the Spaniards. <Larry: The Inca stonemasons “builded well.” What they put up, didn’t come down unless it was torn down, or the earth subsided beneath it.>

 

The Incas were amazing. Their empire lasted only 100 years. Near the end the then-current Inca chief divided the empire into two for his quarrelsome sons. Twenty years later the Spanish arrived. <Larry: European diseases moved faster than the Conquistadors. One Inca king died of smallpox 20 years before his people had their first military contact with the Spanish.> The Incas had no written language but were builders of tremendous skill and variety. They had well developed cities of 50,000 inhabitants with irrigation, running water, and sewage removal. Their society appears to be rigidly divided by birth and skills. To keep control of the subjugated populace there were three rules: no stealing, no lying, and no laziness. Violators were punished by being thrown off a high cliff. The religion tied the culture to the Sun , the Moon, and the Condor. Because of the importance of astronomy to their religion, they produced structures which allowed the Incas to time the solstices and the seasons for planting. <Larry: Because they could predict the solstices and equinoxes, they could claim to control them, and who’s going to revolt against a ruling class that can take away springtime?>

 

Additional photos from this trip can be found in our Photo Gallery and Moira’s Ship’s Store.

 

After Cuenca we returned to the boat in La Libertad for several days of relaxation at home and to be sure our casa was in good shape.

 

We did not use a travel agency on these jaunts. We discovered that local travel agencies could not sell airline tickets for immediate travel…they had to sell tickets seven days in advance. But they could and would give much information about air travel if you chatted with them in their offices. This was not like calling American Airlines. We did find the internet helpful. The airlines of Ecuador and Peru are very modern, comfortable and on time. Some routes still serve food! The airports in both countries are new (built or rebuilt in the last ten years). So it was a pleasure to travel by air in theses two countries. The process of checking luggage is less intense than in USA but it seemed fairly secure and we always found our luggage waiting for us at the other end.

 

Lima, Peru

 

Jealousy balconies, "Archbiship's Palace", Lima, PeruThe next step in the Inca expedition was Lima, Peru. Lima, founded by the Spanish in 1535, has no claim to be an Inca ruin though there are excellent museums <Larry: funded by the central bank> regarding the early history of Peru including the Inca within the city, and there are pre-Inca pyramidal temples in several locations within the City. The museums were particularly good. Again the government, as in Ecuador, was spending money here trying to provide protection and interpretation of the artifacts gathered. Lima was featured in Gourmet for August 2006, and I was determined to tour this quite lovely, large city (nine million of the 27 million Peruvians live in Lima).

 

We flew to Peru from Guayaquil on Peru’s national airline, Taca. We were picked up at the airport by a taxi arranged by our hotel and transported to the Hotel Antigua Miraflores in the attractive Miraflores suburb of Lima. The hotel is a converted mansion with attractive lounges and rooms which were comfortable but plain. The hotel was recommended by Gourmet as a Budget option. It was in a residential area but retail was scattered about so the area was pleasant to roam about. We could walk to a recommended restaurant for dinner in perfect safety. Downtown Lima from the perspective of the tour guides on the bus tours and Lonely Planet was not very safe. We think this is a left over sentiment from the “Shining Path” (sendero luminoso) terrorist period of the 1980’s. At one time in the terrorist era, the downtown was controlled by the “Shining Path” soldiers. They were finally put down by the government. The tour guide was strongly in support of the government position and said that people are no longer fearful of coming down town. Still, most tourists spend their time in three suburbs of Miraflores, San Isidro, and funky Barranca.

 

Lima is not high-rise. The tallest building is 34 stories constructed of concrete and looked like a Darth Vader tower with deep scars over the exterior. This is earthquake country and I suspect the higher cost of building high-rise just does not pay off in a country which meanders between third world and first world standards. Most of the taller buildings are 12 to 20 stories, many of these in the suburbs. Throughout the city there are 2 or 3 story residential buildings. In the good areas of the city these homes are very well-constructed, well-decorated, and look to be very pleasant places to live. In other areas the buildings are of the same height but look rundown and without maintenance.

 

This city has more color than most, perhaps in compensation for of the climate. The Humboldt current comes along the coast in a northbound direction, cooling the city and bringing “June gloom” for six months of the year. It keeps the city a cool 65 degrees (F) from June to December, when the sun comes out and the city warms up slightly as the current is pushed south of Lima and a southbound current takes over. <Larry: So you’ve got six months of gray on gray. How do you relieve the visual boredom? With paint in intense colors.>

 

This city is big. There are many retail stores of American origin. There are many casinos, though not organized and clustered as in Las Vegas. Many modern shopping centers have lots of “power type retail,” what in the States would be Circuit City, Computer World, etc. The downtown has a number of older buildings that remain, in Spanish-colonial-Moorish style, and with wood or metal “jealousy” balconies, were build originally by the Spanish to give their ladies the opportunity to look out on the city without being seen by the rabble. <Larry: The photo is of the “archbishop’s palace.” Note the balconies, which are called “jealousy balconies.”>

 

<Larry: There is a substantial commercial port, which we did not visit. The rest of the city is perched on relatively high cliffs, overlooking the Pacific. The effect was rather like Santa Monica or Torrey Pines in California. As at Torrey Pines, there is an active hang gliding community. We watched several of them swoop and glide while we had lunch one day.>

 

Peru seems more racially diverse than Ecuador, and the people taller. Overall the city is more first world than third world. The per capita gross domestic product is 50% more than Ecuador but that does not include the remittances of Ecuador. The suburbs give the impression of nearside Chicago in the 1970’s: mostly residential high-rise (12 to 15 stories), youthful, active, lots of retail, a stylish and happening place. We enjoyed the restaurants here, very good with much ambiance. We went to restaurant Huaca Pucllana which was not only sophisticated with wonderful Peruvian and international food, but also overlooked the pre-Inca ruins which were floodlit at night giving the impression of Rome with its floodlit ruins. We became very fond of the Pisco sour, the national cocktail, much like a whisky sour but made with “Pisco” brandy which is delicious and 70-80 proof. One drink changes your attitude quickly.

 

Additional photos from this trip can be found in our Photo Gallery and Moira’s Ship’s Store.

 

Cusco, Peru

 

It was time to move up the Inca trail to Cusco, Peru. As we tried to make reservations we found that the small hotels we called were full for one or more of the nights we Street scene, Cusco, Peruwanted. After discussing this for some time with the front desk at our hotel in Lima we discovered that the month of October and particularly the week we wanted to travel to Cusco and Machu Picchu were the time of the annual trek of high school seniors to these areas as part of the senior-year acculturation. We had thought that we would get one night settled by a reservation and then try to find a small hostel recommended by a cruising friend. But when I saw so many hotels filled I figured that we had better get space reserved even if we stayed in a different place each night, which is how it turned out. We were fortunate to find the Peruvian hotel chain “Casa Andina” who were able to accommodate us in different hotels in Cusco and one in the Sacred Valley, which we would not have seen but for the dearth of available hotels in Cusco. <Larry: The Sacred Valley is a couple of hours drive outside of Cusco. As it turned out, the Sacred Valley is also close to one of the train stations that get one to Machu Picchu.> The internet was invaluable here. We got on to the Casa Andina website and worked away at trying to make hotel reservations at the different hotels Casa Andina owned. We were getting nowhere because none of the hotels could help us for the entire 5 day stay. Suddenly an instant messaging window opened in the Web browser: the hotel had an instant messaging system to help tourists trying to make reservations. With much messaging we were able to make reservations at different hotels scattered throughout the Cusco region but in the same chain. So we saw different levels of accommodations from middle of the road to high end rooms, and we did get reservations.

 

Cusco is a beautiful city, once the foremost city of the Inca Empire. It is also the oldest continuously-inhabited city on the continent. Close to the city center, the Inca influence is dramatic: massive Inca-built walls line the city’s central streets and form the foundations of both colonial and modern buildings. The cobbled streets are narrow and thronged with modern-day descendants of the Incas. We now could recognize the distinctive mortar-free stone construction of the Incas. Often stones are irregularly shaped, but each will fit like a glove to the next stone and so forth. Beautiful and skilled work was repeated again and again. The work reminds me of the Pyramids of Egypt and the pyramids of Mexico such as that accomplished at Teotihuacan.

 

Cusco is built around several plazas, the largest of which is the Plaza de Armas. In Inca times, this Plaza was twice as large as it is today and was the heart of the Inca city, much as it is today. There are colonial-style buildings all round the Plaza, with colonnades protecting retail shops from the sun. Second stories on these buildings are usually restaurants where you can enjoy cool drinks and watch the happenings of the plazas. The main churches and government buildings front on the plaza. The churches in Peru still retained the Spanish heritage of covering much of the wood with gold but not as magnificently as in Ecuador.

 

Religious procession and icon, Festival of San Blas, Cusco, PeruWhen we were there we watched the celebration of the festival of San Blas. The entire town turned out, with many schools, civic organizations, unions, etc. in a parade before the local leaders of the town, both civil and military. The striking thing about the parade was that all who participated did some kind of “goose step” as they passed in front of the leaders, even little kids lead by their parents, often the mother. There were many colorful banners and large paper maché puppets 12 to 20 feet high We had seen the start of this pageantry at the Plaza San Blas in the morning. Men in purple capes carried out of the Church of San Blas on their shoulders a heavy platform on which was a figure of Christ. <Larry: The platform had its own lighting and stereo system built in.> The platform was carried to the center of the Plaza which had already been prepared by thirty to forty men and young boys, who had created a mural on the ground with crushed flower petals brought to the site in burlap bags. Shades of the Rose Parade but all done in the open plaza. There were several prayers and songs and the platform started its journey to the Plaza de Armas where we saw it again in the afternoon. While I was watching this process, a woman approached me with a basket of purple brooches made of paper and paste, with a long purple ribbon attached. She pinned one on me and then told me in Spanish that I owed her eight dollars. Though amazed by the price and too flabbergasted to take it off and return it to her I paid up and enjoyed my brooch the rest of the day. When residents saw it they smiled and nodded probably thinking that this tourist was a true Catholic like one of them. I belonged for a little bit and liked that.

 

Sacred Valley, Pisac Village and Ruin

 

North of Cusco and 66 meters lower than the 3326 meters of Cusco lies the Sacred Valley, a large, pleasant, and sheltered valley that the Incas used for agricultural purposes. We went there because Casa Andina hotels could provide us with a hotel reservation for the night at their new, lovely hotel called Casa Pisac Inca ruin, PeruAndina—Sacred Valley. They also provided us with a free transfer from Cusco to the hotel, which took about 45 minutes. <Larry: And free WiFi!> The ride through the mountains gave us views of the very vertical snow-capped mountains of the Andes, and the chance to visit the Inca ruin of Pisac. <Larry: Another striking discovery on the road to Pisac: the preferred medium for new construction of upscale houses in this area is—get this—adobe! We saw many new homes going up along the road, some with quite fine construction standards, of this most basic of Central American materials.> At the hotel we hired a taxi to take us to and from Pisac. The taxi driver was the father of the hotel manager. Pisac was about a 45-minute drive from the hotel on pretty good roads. The road took us past the village of Pisac, which is the major trading and market town in the Sacred Valley. We went through on a Saturday, and the town was full of folks from small villages up to 50 miles away, who had brought hand crafts and vegetables, not to mention the pigs and llamas. The streets of Pisac were blocked with the market stands so on the way to the Pisac ruins we traveled on the streets outside of town. Coming back we could see some of the market areas as people left in trucks and cars for their villages.

 

The Inca Pisac citadel sits high above the village on a plateau with plunging gorges on all sides. Our taxi took us up the hillside. From where the road ends it is a 45 minute walk along narrow, cliffy paths to the ruins. Vertigo affects me and this trek was bad for me but as long as I could touch Larry I could maneuver and go on. The walk was worth the effort because the ruins still show the hallmarks of the Inca construction. The mortar-free masonry forms the walls of this former ceremonial center with its trapezoidal windows. The Inca irrigation system still works throughout the ruins, which are spread out along the side of the mountain. We did not get everywhere but saw enough to appreciate the progression in grandeur from Ingapirca to Pisac to Machu Picchu.

 

By 4:30pm Larry was intent on going back to the taxi which was a good thing because the clouds were darkening and night comes fast in these mountains.

 

Additional photos from this trip can be found in our Photo Gallery and Moira’s Ship’s Store.

 

 

Machu Picchu, Train or Trek

 

Cusco is the main point of departure for Machu Picchu. Travel to Machu Picchu is only possible by train or on foot. The train leaves on a regular schedule from Cusco to Agua Caliente, the village at the foot of Machu Picchu. The train makes several stops, including Ollantetambo, at about the halfway point. Because we were in the Sacred Valley, we caught the train at Ollantetambo. There are three classes of trains run by Peru Trains on this line. The Peruvians ride the cheapest train and the least comfortable. <Larry: The so-called “local train” is in fact reserved for locals: one must show a Peruvian ID to board>. There are two tourist trains: the one we rode was a Vistadome with very comfortable seats and food service like the airlines. The train round trip was $105 <Larry: because we picked up the train at the halfway point on the way up, a full round trip from Cusco would have been a bit more.> The other option the “backpacker special,” which we did not see. It is without the Vistadome and the seats are less comfortable but the backpackers take it because it is about half the price of the train we took.

 

Snowy Andes at Ollantetambotrain station on way to Machu Picchu, PeruThe ride itself is through beautiful, vertical mountain territory. The scenery along the way is spectacular and awe-inspiring. The Rockies do not prepare you for the beauty and ruggedness of the Andes. There are several Inca ruins along the train right-of-way, terracing and small fortresses, which are generally inaccessible except to those adventurous souls walking along the Inca trail. There are four-day and two-day trek options through the mountains to Machu Picchu. The steep Inca trail is the original superhighway of the Incas, and goes through several mountain passes at altitudes which reach 15,000 feet. Trekkers camp along the trail in tents carried by porters who accompany the trekkers, though some of the campsites have simple three-sided shelters. The train passengers waved to the trekkers and vice versa as we passed, but I think neither side understood the other. I was glad to be on the train. Had I been 25, maybe I would have chosen differently. I might point out that the Peruvian government is trying to reduce the number of trekkers on the Inca tail by imposing high fees (around $220) for each trekker and requiring that all parties regardless of size hire a guide to accompany them. No more than 500 trekkers are allowed to enter the trail per day. In the high season (the northern summer) there are that many going through. The trekker’s trail ends high above Machu Picchu, looking down on the ruins and entering Machu Picchu at the sun gate called Intipunku.

 

After about two hours on the train we reached the village of Agua Caliente. As the train pulled into the station, we noticed a very fine-looking restaurant attached to the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, at the edge of the train station. We tried the restaurant later and were pleased with it: it was very good, and we went back another evening. We had tried to stay at the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel but there was “no room in the inn,” rather a good thing for us actually because the price was about $300 per night. We stayed at a couple of smaller places at $50 to $70, both with balconies overlooking the fast-flowing river going through the town.

 

The first night we did not go to the top of the mountain. We caught our breath given the altitude and enjoyed the restaurant. <Larry: The next day we did see one woman carried out of Machu Picchu on a litter, apparently a victim of altitude sickness.> The next morning at 7:00am we were on our way. This timing got us to the entrance to Machu Picchu as the sun was coming up the mountain side and the whole area of the ruins was still covered by a light haze of early morning fog and dew. <Larry: One can gamble and take the “first bus” an hour or so earlier, guaranteeing a chance to be at the ruins at first light. The gamble is that what one may actually see at first light is the fog. We chose to sleep in.> The bus round trip <Larry: some people ride up and walk down> to the mountain top was $12 per person and the entrance fee was $26 per person. The bus ticket shows a picture of the ruins and a silver Inca warrior on the face side; on the back side is a message from the mayor graciously acknowledging the tourist’s visit, commending their expenditures on behalf of the village, and telling all to call the village “Machu Picchu, not the mistaken name of Agua Caliente”! As we rode up the mountain side on the bus we passed through dense tropic forest with a misty feel of the rain forest that it is. Orchids grow throughout this forest. As the bus takes one up the mountain one is again impressed with the verticality of the area. Machu Picchu is on the top of a magnificent mountain and is surrounded by dozens of other mountains, many higher than Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu, Peru

At the entrance to the ruins we could see nothing other than the entrance and pay station, and the fog. We hired a guide ($20 per person, the going rate) at the entrance who agreed to give us three-hour tour of the ruins. His English was good enough. This was his fifth month as a guide and he was enjoying the experience. He was fascinated with English slang, for example why we say “God bless you” when someone sneezes. From the entrance the guide took us to a sitting area overlooking the ruins as he began his introduction. At this point we still could see nothing because of the heavy fog. As the guide was speaking (and I was listening to him) Larry nudged me and I looked over the ruins to see the mist lift and show to us the beauty of the full ruins of Machu Picchu. It was as if a curtain had been drawn up on the first act of the play for Machu Picchu, a wonderful, inspiring revelation of the magnificent pile of Inca rock.

 

Machu Picchu was built where it was because the Incas saw an Inca face in the shape of an adjoining mountain, and the head of a condor in another. When pointed out by our guide I could understand what the Incas saw. The top of Machu Picchu also had its own quarry from which the Incas gathered the stone with which they built the city. <Larry: Our guide made much of the point that the Incas never cut rock from the mountain, which would have been a violation of the sacred peak. Rather, they used and shaped the loose boulders they found on the mountainside.> Much rock still remains in the quarry, waiting for the next time the Incas come to life. At the beginning of the tour we saw the still-functional Inca aqueduct system which kept the site of Machu Picchu with its 5,000 inhabitants supplied with mountain water and provided for the ceremonial baths and the many fountains throughout the ruins. Because of our visits to Ingapirca, Cusco, and Pisac we were familiar with the classes of masonry from highly finished and exact polygons of stone to more casual masonry with rubble fill. Varying levels of residences exist, with the royalty at the highest level and the housing for the labor force partly down the mountain side. The quality of masonry varied to suit. Large terraces for agriculture run almost vertically down the mountain side.

 

This site showed the familiarly of the Inca with astronomy that allowed them to predict the seasons through shadows falling at certain locations on certain stones. <Larry: The Incas showed a remarkable ability to think in four dimensions. One stone casts a condor-shaped shadow when the sun is at a certain angle.> There are temples to the Moon and the Sun, sacred plazas leading to the principal temple where the high priest of the Incas resided and did his magic. The Central Plaza links the temples, the centerpiece of which is the carving of the head of a condor, the natural rock behind it resembling the bird’s outstretched wings.

 

The ruins were remarkable. It was awe-inspiring to consider that the Incas built these structures without any of our construction equipment and ruled a large complex empire at the same time. They were a remarkable, rugged people.

 

<Larry: There’s a certain irony to the fate of Machu Picchu. The Incas abandoned Machu Picchu and fled to a jungle stronghold when the Spanish got within 60 miles or so of Machu Picchu. But the Spanish never subsequently discovered Machu Picchu! The sanctuary remained unknown to all but a few local Indians until 1911. Another irony is that the Incas considered gold to be a decorative metal, and placed no monetary value upon it, yet the Spaniards in their rape of the Americas toted off galleon after galleon of the stuff.>

 

A note about Agua Caliente. This is a small town built along a boisterous river and it is the point of entrance to Machu Picchu. All supplies come in by the train system as do the non-trekker tourists. The town is almost a tourist tee-shirt emporium but with some interesting features. It does have natural hot spring/baths which give the town its name and can be visited by anyone interested. A day spa has been constructed around the hot springs, and suits and towels are available for rent at small shops as you get to within a block or two of the springs. There is a large mercado with some beautiful hand crafts but there is so much pressure to buy that it is disconcerting to spend much time there. The merchants should all back off and I think the net profit would go up steeply. The main street had many restaurants, all of which looked pleasant and small enough to be mom and pop places. Each manager was always out front telling all who passed about the good food. We often ate lunch in the place of the friendliest and most persuasive manager. The meals were good and all these small restaurants seems to be able to serve good pizza cooked to perfection in wood-fired ovens. Interesting… who taught them that skill? It seems unlikely that many Peruvians eat pizza. Now to be sure the tourists are mostly from Europe and North America, but the economic model in this town must have an interesting history. Unfortunately I didn't have time to interview the Mayor.

 

Town of Machu Picchu resolution prohibiting roosters from crowingThis small town thought enough about its tourists to control roosters. The town council there has passed an ordinance that roosters are forbidden from bothering children, tourists, and mothers of newborns with their crowing! The responsible party to oversee the execution of this ordinance was the owner of the rooster. We did not hear any roosters in this town! <Larry: The ordinance is remarkable in another respect. South of San Diego, people seem incapable of grasping the concept of “noise pollution.” It appears incomprehensible to Latin’s that anyone else should care or be bothered by any noise that they make. So this action by the city council of Agua Caliente is exceptional.>

 

This town is strong and tough… that Inca spirit lasts a long time.

 

Additional photos from this trip can be found in our Photo Gallery and Moira’s Ship’s Store.

 

 

The Coda of the Trip

 

We took the afternoon train back from Agua Caliente to Cusco, and spent the night at another very nice Casa Andina hotel. <Larry: One remarkable characteristic of the train trip into Cusco is the result of a tall cliff or escarpment on the south side of the city. Trains into or out of the city from that direction proceed forward until it seems that they must collide with a blank wall. They stop, are switched to another track, reverse along the slope, zigzagging up or down, and repeat the process multiple times, rather like a cross-country skier traversing down a steep hillside.>

 

In a last walk around Cusco we found a store/museum which sold native-made Peruvian crafts, called the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. The craft store had beautiful crafts and a interesting exhibit on the various crafts of the country. Native weavers gave demonstrations every day. They seem to be making progress with the group of artisans they have sponsored. With a similar agenda in Lima is the Bridge of Hope, a “fair trade” project. Supported mostly by the sale of handcrafts and the Presbyterian Church, it is project which works with over 150 artisans in 20 different groups from the poor rural areas of Peru. Its goal is to retain the craft skills of Peru, to teach the craft skills, and to help those practicing the crafts to escape the poverty of rural Peru. The interesting thing to me was the opposition of these groups to the Free Trade Agreements underway between the US and the rest of the Americas. We had heard of this opposition as well in talking with Ecuadorians and Peruvians, not to mention the same antipathy in Central America. While I have not heard good arguments on either side I was struck by the antipathy at something that is generally well-accepted in the US (although I don’t forget Ross Perrot’s vigorous opposition… the union opposition I assumed as they seem to be opposed to so many things). The Lima group has a good web page at www.fairtradeperu.com

 

The planes land and take off in Cusco in the early morning because the winds often build up too much for safe flight in the afternoon. So we flew from Cusco to Lima the next morning at 8:00am, and Lima to Guayaquil the following day, followed by the now familiar three-hour bus ride from Guayaquil to La Libertad and home to Moira.

 

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