Jan and Stephen's trip to Peru
May 1 to May 30, 2006
Click on Camera to see Pictures
We start our 28 day Peruvian adventure
in Lima, which was founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro.
Lima is a city of 8 million people, where a third of Peru's
population resides. We arrived Tuesday night about midnight after a connecting flight
from Houston, and headed straight for the bar and our first
pisco sours as
a pleasant wind-down from a long day. The next day we walked though the
where our hotel is located in Lima's nicest area, getting oriented and finding
stores (battery for the pedometer, bottled water, and SIM card for the GSM
cell phone - gives us a
local Peru phone number), and previewing
Las Americas Hotel is very nice and has wireless internet in every room - except
for some technical reason, Steve found it only works in the stairwell so
we work out our emails in the room and he vanishes into the stairwell to
Lima is warm just now, the air seems polluted - one feels it in one's eyes, throat and nasal passages. The ocean is about 1/2 mile away. So far we've eaten the hotel's lavish breakfast buffet and a 4 pm snack at Cafe Cafe - very nice coffee and desserts and some good looking lunch dishes too. And tasty French fries. Remember that the potato originates in Peru & they've had centuries to figure out how to cook it.
According to our tour guide, unemployment is 40% in this city of 8 million, with most of the people unemployed coming from the highlands, families of 10 persons, hoping to seek a living in Lima. For our part, we ate at crowded and lively restaurants (and this isn't yet the high tourist season), where the food was universally good and saw little evidence of the poverty or crime that is associated with Lima in guide books and State Dept. warnings. Most of the news here is about the upcoming Peru presidential elections, and we saw little news about the US and Iraq (except on CNN).
On May 4th we went to the historical center of Lima. It is unfortunately for the most part a very drab city, with even the major squares with Pizarro's palace & the greatest cathedrals uninspiring - impressive in their size but poorly landscaped. We visited four cathedrals, all from the 1500 & 1600's but rebuilt several times after major earthquakes. They were quite interesting with some fabulous carved wood choir stalls, dazzling gold leaf, some quite amazing statuary, and catacombs. Following the downtown walk we were dropped off at the beach for a tasty lunch (Cafe Cafe again, Larco Mar branch), then went via cab to Huaca Pucllana, a pre-Inca "Lima People" site in the middle of Lima that is being excavated. We walked more than 7 miles today - 14,500 steps.
On our last day in Lima we visited the National Museum - very nice exhibits about all the cultures in Peru that existed and evolved before the Spanish came. Lovely crafts, beautiful fabrics. Although the Spanish destroyed everything they came in contact with, recent excavations have found a plethora of items that are on display. We also visited the Gold Museum (no photos allowed). Although this private collection it is almost on all tours, Frommer's Guide says that all the 7000 historical items in this museum are probably fakes - reproductions. Nonetheless, there was a lot there to see and too much to really absorb.
May 6th -We are at the Lima airport for an early morning (7am) flight to Trujillo and we are delayed (1) as the airport is fogged in, and later (2) because of an equipment malfunction. We have learned a new Spanish word, Demorado - delayed. Wish we knew earlier as we left our hotel at 4:30am!
To understand why Peru is so interesting is to understand all the cultures with their distinct customs, and even body types, that have existed in this country. From 800 BC there were Chavin, Moche, Nazca, Wari, Chimu and the Inca to name the major groups. All these cultures were different and existed over different periods of time, and all very warlike and aggressive except the Chavin, who had no soldiers. They had a cult centered around the San Pedro Cactus, which is hallucinogenic. The Inca were the last with a short lived but huge empire, conquered by Pizarro and disease in 1532. All these cultures left evidence of their existence in cities and temples and artifacts. Unfortunately the Spanish invader's obsession with gold and total disrespect for the native culture led them to destroy everything, stripping gold from temples and digging for artifacts buried with the dead. Peruvians have only recently began to value their own past, and only quite recently have archaeologists began to uncover and conserve the physical remains of Peru's long history. We are just beginning to see the highlights of Peruvian culture.
We are here at the seacoast city of Trujillo to see the remains of the great Chimu empire, a 500 year old culture that was conquered by the Incas after a bloody 10 year war in about 1470. Chan Chan was the largest pre-Columbian city in South America. We went to Huanchaco beach to see the reed boats the fishermen have used for hundreds of years, the plentiful sea life being a major reason for the prosperity of these cultures. We also visited a 1500 year old Moche temple. The Moche culture predated the Chimu. We visited a fascinating ceramics museum, the Casinelli. Since these cultures had no written language, a great deal of what is known about them comes through these ceramics, which show hunters, priests, diseases, musical instruments, animals, vegetables and fruits, rituals and sexual practices. We also got to know a neat Biringo, a Peruvian Hairless dog who came with us on our tour of Chan Chan, with his special treat being a swim in the reservoir where he joyfully chased splashes in the water from thrown stones. Along with the genetic hairless mutation, they also have only a few teeth in the front of their mouths, and maybe a molar on each side in the very back. They are very warm to touch, and have been depicted on ceramics for several thousands of years.
We took a
comfortable first class bus for three hours to
Chiclayo, following the
seacoast, and we saw in every village the same sun-dried mud-brick home
construction which apparently suffered very greatly from the
rains in 1982-83.
On our tours in Chiclayo, we really began to understand how all the pyramids were built - using sun dried mud bricks. This all worked well for the Peruvian builders until the weather shifted - we were were told that the Humboldt Current was replaced by El Nino causing massive rains in these areas that got little rain in the past and all the mud bricks just sort of melted in the rain. The pictures you see are the "after" pictures, as most all of the pyramids deteriorated greatly with the rains in 1982-83. The Incas in Southern Peru used stone and that's why their cities still survive to this day.
We started our tour with an hour’s drive to the Túcume complex, with 26 adobe temple pyramids, which was begun by the Sicán culture around 100 AD, taken over by Chimú, 1300’s, and in the next century by the Incas when they conquered all of Peru and beyond. Archeologists had closed part of the site due to the discovery of a priest’s burial. What you are seeing is huge piles of mud brick rubble, damaged by rain. It takes a real stretch of the imagination to visualize all the people living there and the originally brightly decorated temples, small man-made mountains when you stand next to them.
The Temple at Sipán, of the Moche culture (the one with the Decapitator god we mentioned before) about 40 miles from Túcume, was quite interesting to visit. When a king died, he was buried with hundreds of small clay pots in the shape of human figures to serve him, complete with obvious but not the oversized genitalia we've seen elsewhere, for fertility in the afterlife. The Moche culture sacrificed prisoners when available, but also considered only the very high-ranking of their own people fit for sacrifice. Because it wasn't practical to sacrifice 100's of your nobles, they substituted clay figures and only sacrificed a few others very close to the king to be buried with him.
Today we took a
6 hour bus
drive from Chiclayo (on the coast about 80 miles from Trujillo) to
Cajamarca, traveling from zero elevation to cross a pass through the
mountains at 10,500 feet and then into town at 9000 ft. elevation. There
were lots of switchbacks at the end of the journey and some magnificent
scenery. We took some Siroche pills, purchased over the counter in a
Lima pharmacy, and these worked just fine. We also drank
tea which is supposed to help with altitude, and had no problems.
Cajamarca is a charming small city in a very pretty setting surrounded by hills, and is the place where Peruvian history was changed when Pizarro and 160 men arrived in November 1532. Pizarro met Atahualpa at the “Baños del Inca”, later ambushed and kidnapped him, held him for a fabulous ransom of silver and gold plate and artifacts (melted down into ingots), then executed him. Our Lima guide said of Pizarro: “A conqueror but not a hero”. Cajamarca’s Inca masonry is gone, but the Spanish colonial heritage remains in beautiful churches and an old hospital.
We made a day trip up the mountain to an area called Cumbe Mayo. It is a beautiful natural spot with fascinating rock formations, which were the result of volcanoes. It is also interesting for the present agricultural practices, and for pre-historic canal building. This site straddles the continental divide, and the natives 1000 BC dug a canal to bring water, which flowed naturally from rivers to the Atlantic Ocean side of the mountains, to instead flow to the Pacific Ocean side down into what is present day Cajamarca. They also left petroglyphs, some of which match Chavin culture petroglyphs, inside of rock overhangs that were used as shelters for the canal builders. This was a strenuous hike for us, at more than 11,000 feet and for about 5 1/2 miles but it was both beautiful and interesting.
After a morning looking at the pretty historical section of Cajamarca, we decided to visit the Inca Baths. The guidebooks who advise "take a taxi" don't say that the young driver might be insane and get into a road race in traffic with another taxi on the way, raising the Kornberg blood pressure a bit. Anyway the Baños del Inca is a complex of gardens and pools with thermal waters at 165 degrees. The Inca Atahualpa received Pizarro and his men here, perhaps being curious about them, and was famously betrayed and held for ransom, and later executed by the thankful Spaniards. We got a private bath for an hour and had a lovely soak in our own big hot tub that filled up through a three inch pipe with the water temperature controlled by huge red and black handles.
|May 12-13||Arequipa||We flew to
having made our connection in Lima with a few minutes to spare - just enough
time to hit the Dunkin' Donuts counter for something tasty for the
airplane since we missed yet another breakfast due to an early start.
Leaving was in retrospect pretty funny. We were so
dingy from lack of sleep and altitude that our brains refused to function
and we packed and closed up our suitcases, only to open them again - twice
more - for things sitting right in front of us we couldn't seem to see that we'd forgotten
Arequipa, founded in 1540, is the second biggest city in Peru, and suddenly after almost two weeks of little to no English at the hotels or restaurants, (keeping our phrase book very handy ) and being the only "gringos" in sight, we are in a city with many tourists, mostly from Europe. And basic English is spoken a lot. It is a city built of "sillar", a white volcanic stone and is extremely attractive with beautiful colonial churches and architecture. Good restaurants abound.
In the Museo Santuarios Andinos we saw the famous "Juanita", a frozen mummy found extraordinarily intact at 20,000 feet. She is one of about 14 found so far, a child sacrifice (a girl, 12-13 years old) of the Incas to propitiate the gods in times of draught or earthquake. To see her actually frozen in a glass case in front of our eyes was rather depressing, as is the notion of sacrificing children to appease a mythical sun god. The museum also has amazingly intact very sophisticated 500 year old textiles, an extraordinary small figure with perfect ornamental feathers, and other offerings left at very high altitudes with these mummies.
We visited the fascinating Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a Dominican convent founded in 1579. You will see many pictures of this extraordinary religious monument.
|May 14-16||Colca Canyon||We take the long drive to
Colca Canyon, climbing a pass 15,740 feet and dropping down into the Colca
Valley at about 11,800 feet. It is a very scenic area, as you'll see
from the photos. We are staying three nights at the Colca Canyon
Lodge, which has its own thermal hot springs. At night we could soak
in the hot pool and watch the spectacular milky way and the
appear in the sky. This was a rare and special experience.
We are early in the season, and there are not many tourists here, although
at night, the dining room is full with tourists who stay in other hotels. Stephen took a 6 mile strenuous up and down walk (about 820 feet
ascending) with a local guide to a nearby village, called Yanque. Jan got
exhausted and turned back after the first 2 miles, which was all uphill.
The next day we repeated the ride on horseback and Jan got to see the "colcas"
under the bridge. Nothing was open in Yanque except for the single
mini-market, but Steve was able to get warm Fanta sodas for the
walk back to the lodge. The town square was pretty deserted even at noon,
and most of the houses were stone and mud brick. Nothing romantic here.
Yesterday we spent about 7 hours on mostly dirt roads, first going to Cruz del Condor in the deep part of the Colca Valley where there is an overlook from which the condors start riding the thermals, cruising lazily around and around until they catch a high rising thermal, and then they disappear overland looking for carrion to eat. We were fortunate to see many condors - perhaps 12 - and they kept us entranced for more than an hour. Our guide says we were very lucky - sometimes it is 10 minutes and they're gone. I (Jan) watched them through binoculars and saw them turn their heads to look at the crowd of perhaps 60 people lined up on the overlook to watch them. I fantasized that they were counting to see if there was a good crowd. Steve said they were just checking to see if someone dropped dead and they could have lunch. Some came as close as 30 feet to us as they swept by. From the over look it was a pretty jolty 5 hour drive out to Arequipa. We were in a small Mercedes bus, probably as good as you'll get, but we were really tired by the time we arrived. We stayed overnight in Arequipa, where we sent the last email from the now familiar Internet cafe near our hotel.
|May 18-19||Lake Titicaca||
Early this morning after yet another 5 am wake-up - Peru is going to make early birds of us yet, but not without a lot of whining and bitching, - we flew a short 30 minute hop to Juliaca, then an hour's drive to Puno, with a stop at some very old Colla and Inca burial towers on the way. Our hotel, the Libertador, is the nicest in Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca with a lovely view over the lake. Wireless Internet in the room again. Of course it's not to be found conveniently at the table, but it does work in the hallway entrance inside the room so we can sit in a chair there to write to you.
We took a cab into Puno for dinner, having another superb Peruvian pizza at a downtown pedestrian mall, that was jammed with mostly young people on a Friday night. Then we saw a nice cafe with the usual amazing display of cakes and pies, and went in for tea (McColin's seems to be the local teabag tea, delicious) and indulged. Peruvians make a terrific cakes and pies. And pizza. They give you chile sauce to drip over it, and also a combo of garlic and cream to put on. Yum!
Lake Titicaca has long been considered a sacred place - Viracocha, a creator deity, made the dark world light by bringing the sun, moon and stars from the lake and placing them in the sky. The elevation here is more than 12,460 feet, and the lake is the world's highest navigable body of water, and covers more than 3,315 square miles. It's a huge lake, with many many acres of reeds growing in the shallow areas. The Uros Indians -- a very peaceful and gentle people -- use these reeds to make floating islands, since fleeing the warlike Collas and Incas. They apparently were left alone on their islands, probably because they had nothing anyone wanted. The floor they walk on, their homes, their boats, their cooking fuel, and some of what they eat are all supplied by the reeds.
|May 20-23||Cuzco I||
This morning we take the
Andean Explorer train for the somewhat jolty but quite
interesting 10-hour ride to
Cuzco with gourmet food and waiter service. In
Cuzco we settle into our
comfortable hotel, the
Casa San Blas. It's on a hill so hiking up to it is a bit of a
challenge, but not as much of one as it would have been a couple weeks ago. The San Blas area
is considered Cuzco's most picturesque and atmospheric neighborhood, and has
some nice restaurants. We are a scenic three block walk from the
de Armas through streets having some of the finest remaining Inca stone
We took a city tour that visited the Plaza de Armas, Le Catedral, and a number of nearby Inca sites.
The next day we took an all-day
trip to two Inca sites northwest of Cuzco. One is an Inca agricultural
experimentation station near the old village of Moray. A natural bowl in
the earth is ringed by 15 terraces, with intense differences in climate from
top to bottom, in essence producing a variety of micro-climates to test the
best places to plant various crops. The amazing thing is how carefully it
was constructed to make it a thing of real beauty. It is unique in the Inca
world. One would be tempted to assume it had a spiritual significance, but
no altars were found, and no burials.
We took another all-day trip to the Sacred Valley. It was once, and still is, a very productive agricultural valley near Cuzco, the Inca capitol, and had a major temple called Ollaytaytambo. We drove for an hour or so to the town of Pisac, where we were able to spend an hour in a very fun and large market where we had a few relaxed bargaining sessions for souvenirs. It looked like any third world market in the world - a maze of small stalls, most selling the same exact things, and where one stopped and shopped was a matter of some instinct or unconscious observation of the seller or the goods that led one to stop at one stall and not another. Steve and I have gotten pretty good at bargaining, sometimes playing "one who wants it, and one who doesn't" - in order to save $.60. Sort of pathetic isn't it? After that we had a nice buffet lunch at a hotel in the valley, then went on to Ollataytambo which was an Inca temple of the Sun on top of agricultural terraces, and on the hills opposite were granary storages and a soldier's guardpost.
|May 24-25||Machu Picchu||
have seen many interesting and even astonishing sights here in Peru,
Picchu is truly a special place. Part of what makes it so amazing is its
setting - it's at around 8,000 feet but the environment is almost tropical
so all the surrounding mountains are covered with vegetation. Not big
trees, like pines, but small slender trees around 6-8 feet in height, and a
lot of shrubs, and broad-leafed warm-weather plants like banana trees, and a
sort of orchid that grows on a tall slender leafy plant.
Our second day at Machu Picchu we decided to hike up Wayna Picchu. That epic struggle can be seen in our photos, along with the llama fight that we witnessed when we came down.
|May 27-28||Cuzco II||
Back in Cuzco again and re-settled in our comfortable suite at the Casa San
Blas, we are sorry to find we are near the end of our trip. We take a
very fun horseback ride above Cuzco, have some enjoyable meals and talks
with fellow travelers, wander about Cuzco's picturesque streets, and do some
shopping at the Indian market and some of the local stores.
|Lima & Home||
We fly to the Lima airport, which has wireless Internet throughout. We were supposed to have a 10-hour layover here, with a midnight departure, which we thought we'd use to put together a last email or two covering Machu Picchu and our last days in Cuzco. We got one email out using the computer's battery, but had to wait until the Continental Airline counter opened around 10 pm before we could get our tickets and get into the departure lounges where there were electrical plugs. Meantime we consoled ourselves with some quite good airport food and Happy Donuts dessert and coffee.
Some time after entering the departure lounge, it was announced that due to fog the airplane that was to take us out had to land in Pisco - and we sat up all night trying to get a little sleep, eventually leaving at around 6:30 am. Of course we missed our connection in Houston, and due to delays there due to thunderstorms, were unable to fly out until 8:30 the following evening. We eventually got home after about 36 hours of travel, around 1 am. Our long "vacation" was over. It is without a doubt the most physically demanding "holiday" we've ever taken and we think maybe a month of R & R at home will get us rested.
Much of the country is amazingly beautiful. Many advanced, artistic, well-organized cultures flourished here. Peruvians are friendly, gentle people who are more than willing to work with us with our limited Spanish. We've certainly seen a lot of amazing sights here on this interesting and memorable trip- time to come home and back to our quiet lives, review our beautiful photos, and build this web site. Adios Peru!