A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Sue McNicholas


sunny 24 °C

Sunday, April 6, 2014.

An early start to the airport for 5 a.m.
We arrived at St. John's airport without any snags, Eldon, Amy who has been visiting for the last wonderful week, and me. Check in was smooth, as was the first leg of the trip to Halifax, where Amy parted our company, on her way to Chicago. We will see her next at her wedding in Toronto this summer. Our milk run went to Montreal then to Toronto, but then, we got to fly horizontal. Boeing 767 from Toronto to Lima, Peru. I was able to try out those pod-like beds in the front of the plane. It was great for a long flight, though I’d better not get used to it.

Eldon parting ways with Amy in Halifax

The "pods" were a great way to sleep away most of the flight to Peru. And we were served better than Air Canada's usual lunch!

23 hours after leaving St. John's, we arrived in Lima, Peru. We breezed through customs and immigration and snagged a cab to our hotel, Miraflores Lodge. All was locked up in the quaint little place when we arrived at 2 a.m. local time, but a sleepy voice greeted us: “Buenas Noches, Bienvenida”

The next morning we explored our little hotel and the neighbourhood. We have just one day here, so we set off to walk around Miraflores (Spanish for: Look at the flowers). Miraflores is known for its shopping areas, gardens, flower-filled parks and beaches. It is one of the upscale districts that make up the city of Lima. Apparently, due to its safety, far more hotels are found here than in Lima City proper. This little district of just under 100,000 is bustling: Mad drivers! Bad drivers: horns are honking all the time. Pedestrians hop onto the crosswalks before the walk signal - a bit scary with the crazy cabbies everywhere. The roads have mostly public busses and cabs: few motorbikes and almost no bicycles. For a place with a warm climate, we found that shops opened late and that people didn't seem to be on the go as early as we expected.

Breakfast in a cosy spot at Miraflores Lodge overlooking the courtyard.

As our hotel had once been a private home, it has many extra touches such as the 100 year old stained glass window of a lady in the courtyard. Another window depicts Machu Piccu.

We chatted to the hotel owner and learned that Miraflores has far more hotels and is more popular because it is a much safer area than Lima centre 10 km away. This little 16 rooms this hotel had gone up in value from 185,000 Soles (approx $70,000) to 2 million soles in the last 5 years.

We found some beautiful old municipal buildings, built in Spanish style, and a lovely park in the centre of Miraflores. From there, we took a tour on one of many double decker tour busses. We drove around the city for an hour and got a feeling for its flavour including a visit to the pre-Inca ruin remaining in Miraflores. We found that the ocean was less than 1 km from our hotel, but not easily accessible. We visited a swanky park and shopping area built overlooking the ocean 100 meter below. We strolled the parks and looked in some shops, then decided on an early night. We will fly early tomorrow morning to Cusco, which is the starting point for a trip to Machu Piccu.

A stroll around Miraflores allowed us to see lovely buildings such as the church: Iglesia Matriz Virgen Milagrosa Church in Miraflores
You can have a look and listen inside it if you wish. You will have to copy and paste this link: "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T0HgGsN2LI”

Along the seawalk in the Miraflores district are six miles of parks, and below is a shopping complex called Larcomar.

The first thing you'll notice about Larcomar, a multilevel entertainment, food and shopping megacomplex, is that you cannot see it from the park.

The view from a balcony in the swanky shopping complex - no easy way to the beach.
Larcomar has breathtaking ocean views, which you can enjoy from numerous restaurants offering Peruvian fare, while watching the sun set on the Pacific.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 09:31 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

CUSCO, ancient capital of the Inca Empire

overcast 22 °C

Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

…… mad traffic heading for the airport in Lima. Vehicles drive very close and squeeze between each other, even when they do not have the right of way. This makes for noisy driving as every driver appears to think the solution to standing still is to lean on the car horn! Surprisingly, we arrived without incident at the airport.
We took a local flight to Cusco, which was the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire. It is in the Andes mountains and 600 km south-east of Lima. We found a cab from the airport and soon we were weaving up a very narrow cobblestone street right to the end. Vehicles do this or back down the street to exit. We didn’t see any hotel, but parked outside part of the long high wall that flanked both sides of the street. A small obscure doorway lead into a luscious courtyard that was our hotel! We were greeted and given a nasty tea that we quickly threw away. Cusco has an altitude of 3,400 meters, and thus causes altitude sickness for many of the visitors. We later learned that one treatment for the headache and sleepless nights caused by the altitude is to drink a tea made of coca leaves, or to chew a leaf rolled into a ball and placed on the back teeth. Coca is a mild stimulant, appetite suppressant and altitude sickness cure. Cocaine can be extracted from these leaves. (Also one of the early ingredients of Coca Cola until 1903 when it was removed from its formula, and caffeine substituted as its stimulating ingredient.)

A rather austere entrance to our hotel in Cusco.

It opened up to an inviting courtyard and lovely room with a balcony.

About our welcoming drink! There is a better way to enjoy it.

The streets were steep....

....and narrow.

A cheerful employee led us to a beautiful room with king bed, an inviting courtyard and a view across the hundreds of red tile roofed houses on the surrounding hills. RumI Punku Hotel, like many others, is hidden in the wall of a winding narrow street. This is Peru's major tourist town - grown up to 500,000 in the last 20 years due to tourism. There are markets and shops everywhere, jam-packed with knitted and woven goods, leathers and carvings and silver jewelry. There are so many people trying to make a living out of it, but the sellers in the market are not pushy. "No, gracias” gets a smile from the shop owner, unless you linger on and look. The centre of the city is heavily populated, very dense with all units running into each other making a solid wall of residences, shops, cafes and banks.

A narrow walkway from our hilly perch down into the town.

The bright colors are popular. Natural dyes were used until around the 1930s, when synthetical dyes were introduced. Due to demand, there has been a revival of the traditional methods of producing wool and dying it.

Authentic goods are produced by hand by the local people.

We strolled out through the streets seeing many interesting buildings, traditionally dressed locals and a great array of shops. Many shops were tucked into the walls that lined the streets, with a bright array of woven and knitted wares. We enjoyed looking at these and searching for a place to have supper and enjoy local foods. Cuy appealed to me (see below!) An hour of wandering around brought us to Plaza de Armas. It is a large square flanked by municipal buildings, shops and an impressive Spanish style church. Here we were bombarded with invitations to take tours, to buy trinkets and to spend our money ..."Fleecing Square".
Arriving in Plaza de Armas.
This is a beautiful square with the smell of flowers, flanked by wonderful older buildings.

We enjoyed the sunshine in Plaza de Armes watching as a father entertained his children with feeding pigeons and allowing them to touch the birds.

It was time to leave the Square and head up towards our hotel.
Along each narrow street, there were goods to buy.
More narrow streets, and many little shops.
We found traditional crafts and old methods, but Visa was here too!
Cellphones too!

A locally made purse caught my eye.

Eldon and I found a table runner to bring home. The young lady was happy to make a sale.

The steep side streets, with their cafes and local flavour beckoned us and we wandered till we found a place to enjoy some Peruvian food.
This local dish is available only in the Andes. Cuy translates as Guinea pig.

Thousands of tourists walk the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu each year. They congregate at Cusco before starting on the two-, four- or five-day journey on foot from Kilometer 82 near the neighbouring town of Ollantaytambo and walking up through the Andes mountain range to the isolated city. We arranged to get to Macu Picchu by vehicle rather than on foot and to set out early the next morning.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 02:37 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

MACHU PICCHU, an amazing place in the clouds.

overcast 18 °C

Wednesday , April 9th.

At 4:30 we heard our wake up call to start out for Machu Picchu. The cabbie, pulled up outside as we finished breakfast. Following this was a bus, a train and yet another bus. We travelled for 5 hours before we reached the entrance to Macu Piccu, where we were greeted by our guide, Hector, and another couple from London. It was a dull cool day as we walked along the trail to Machu Piccu's entrance. Hector told us the history of this ancient place as the sky was just starting to brighten.

Our man, Hector, was passionate about Machu Picchu.
It is a cool dark morning and the mist is promising to burn off soon.

Machu Picchu was built and inhabited from 1450 to 1540 apparently as a residence for the emperor Pachacuti and his cronies. It has a very large number of terraces, built for retaining the integrity of the land and the buildings, for growing crops and keeping animals. It is considered a feat of civil engineering for its time, providing water canals and buildings made entirely of rock.
Machu Picchu is behind us, and towering over it is Huayna Picchu. According to local guides, the top of Huayna Picchu Mountain was the residence for the high priest and the local virgins. Every morning before sunrise, the high priest with a small group would walk to Machu Picchu to signal the coming of the new day.

These terraces go from the base of Machu Piccu, 450 metres below, where the Urubamba River encircles the mountain on 3 sides.

When the Spanish conquistadores invaded Peru, they sacked Cusco and thus supplies from this city no longer travelled to Machu Picchu. This would account for the fact that Macu Picchu was deserted by the Inca people and it became overgrown and untouched for hundreds of years. Hiram Bingham, an American historian came to this area in 1903 looking for El Dorado - the lost city of gold. Pablito Alvarez, a local 11 year-old Quechua boy, led Bingham up to Machu Picchu. Some Quechuas were living in the original structures at Machu Picchu. Once he visited and spent time studying the area which was completely overgrown and thus hidden from view, he returned home to raise support and money to start excavating. Macu Picchu ’s rediscovery is credited to him. The site was officially recognized in 1911 following its excavation. It is claimed that over 90% of the site and buildings are entirely original, built 500 years ago for the privileged class.

Our first clear view of Machu Picchu shows many of the residences in the foreground.
Heavy rains in this area necessitated the sharp peaked roofs which were thatched.

A trail from Cusco also supplied the needs of Machu Piccuh’s inhabitants, who numbered between 300 and 1,000. In addition to stone buildings with high peaked rooves on this site are stone structures, lined up with the summer solstice and with the winter solstice so that a bright band of sunlight on the first days of each solstice burns through the openings and cross the centre of one altar. Animal and plant offerings were made at the Altar of the Condor. Other flat bowl shaped structures collected water that allowed observation of the reflected overhead sky, and it is easy to imagine Inca people sitting around one of these structures in a small courtyard, observing stars on a bright cool evening 500 years ago.

This trail is the original one from Cusco. The four day hike from Cusco enters Machu Piccu at this spot.

The high peaked residences were thatched. On the right, with curving walls, is the Temple of the Sun. An altar is in its centre.

The sculpture carved out from the rock bottom of the sun temple is interpreted as water mirrors for observing the sky. There are two such structures, close together, sometimes referred to as "Eyes of Pachamama" (Mother Earth).

The Archaeological evidence shows that in this area people practiced agriculture since 760 B.C. In the 15th century Incas started building a city of stone, without the aid of wheels or iron tools. The structures were built with a technique called “ashlar”, stones that are cut to fit together without mortar that not even a needle can fit in between the stones. Machu Picchu was built between two fault lines. This location also frequently received heavy rainfall; this meant that land and mud slides in the area were also common. More than 600 terraces were built to prevent the city from sliding down the mountain. Inca walls had numerous design details that helped protect them against collapsing in an earthquake.

Mortar was not used in building these walls. Stones were balanced and tightly fitted together.
270_mp16.jpgDoors and windows are trapezoidal and tilt inward from bottom to top; corners usually are rounded; inside corners often incline slightly into the rooms; and "L"-shaped blocks often were used to tie outside corners of the structure together. These walls do not rise straight from bottom to top, but are offset slightly from row to row. Machu Piccu is 2,340 meters above sea level and the best example of Inca engineering.

More recent threats have appeared in the way of tourism. In the 1980s helicopters were permitted to land in the central plaza, and campers stayed at the site overnight. Now these practices are not allowed and the number of tourists has been limited. Between 1912 and 1915, Bingham excavated treasures from Machu Picchu—ceramic vessels, silver statues, jewelry, and human bones—and took them from Peru to Yale University in the United States for further study, supposedly for a period of 18 months. As of November 2012, the third and final batch of thousands of artifacts were returned. La Casa Concha (The Shell House) located close to Cusco's colonial centre is the permanent site where the Yale University artifacts are now exhibited.

Would you like to imagine this scene with a helicopter pad and overnight campers (spray painting?) And how about a McDonalds? ...me neither!
These fellows do stay overnight.

Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.

Time to pack up and head back up to Cusco.

We had a 5 hour trip ahead of us when we descended from Machu Picchu. Our ride from the steps of our hotel by taxi, bus, train which included a light meal, and bus once again, then our entrance fee for Machu Piccu and our helpful guide Hector was reversed as we headed back UP to Cusco. It was a bit pricey but really first class. If you can spare $350 U.S. per person, you will go in style and not regret it. There are cheaper tours and cheaper trains, but Viatours executive option was an excellent choice. You can check out their webpage: http://www.viator.com/tours/Cusco/Machu-Picchu-Day-Trip-from-Cusco/d937-5243MP1DAY Their description of our choice is: The Vistadome option is a comfortable way to journey to Machu Picchu. Departing from Poroy train station, located approximately 15 minutes outside of Cusco, you'll enjoy beautiful panoramic windows to make the most of the spectacular scenery and allow for fantastic photo opportunities. A delicious light meal is served on the way. (We were served breakfast going there and a lunch coming back - complimentary, with proper silverware on a linen tablecloth.) We arrived back at our hotel at 8 p.m.


Back to Lima.....

Before heading to the airport, we walked around Cusco. Steep little streets! We squeezed against walls as traffic came up over extremely narrow cobblestone streets. Once checked out of hotel, we found a taxi to the airport. "One Travel" airline ticket booking gave us some trouble - we’d better book elsewhere before we have an airline ground us. Arriving in Lima, our cabbie said $40 for a ride to Mila Flores!!!!! Get real! He quickly said o.k. to $20, which considering his terrible driving, was plenty. (We knew the going rate was $20 - $25 - and he was definitely on the lower end of skilled drivers - a real cowboy!) We didn’t have a hotel, so we dropped off our luggage at tomorrow night’s hotel and went for a walk around the neighbourhood. We checked out about 8 hotels, all but 2 were full, settling for one a block away - pricier and not as nice as the one we stayed in before. We set out on foot to see more of the city. People here are well dressed, and we saw few tourists. The parks and government buildings are quite attractive, and the city is clean. Lima doesn’t seem as safe as Cusco - every bank has an armed guard standing outside. Public transportation is well used, and there are plenty of buses. This is a modern bustling city of 8 million people with a selection of all that you may wish to look for.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 01:43 Archived in Peru Comments (0)


sunny 25 °C

Friday, April 11th.

A lazy day in Lima. We had decided to spend the day looking around the city and then taking an evening tour of Lima on a double decker bus. The tour advertised: Panoramic view of the Historic Centre of Lima. Folkloric music and dance show from the three regions of Peru. Buffet dinner boasting Peruvian and international food. And if that didn't convince us, then flattery might! ....."This service has been especially thought out for the most sophisticated tastes". Oh my, that must mean us!

We walked to the park in the centre of Miraflores, and climbed aboard. We were requested to use our seat-belts on the top of the double decker bus. Soon we realize that this is because leaves and branches hang over the streets and often swish over the tops of our heads. We spend about an hour and a half driving towards the centre of Lima and viewing many of the historic buildings.

A twin double decker Mirabus left at the same time as we did.

The Government Palace of Peru was the house of the Peruvian government headquarters, erected in 1535, has been through many alterations. The current structure was built in the 20th century in Baroque Revival style, and is the residence of the president of Peru.

Cathedral of Lima (right), and the adjoining Archbishop's Palace, were originally built during the 1600s. The Archbishop's residence sports the intricately carved wooden balconies that make the downtown cityscape unique.

Then we pulled up the Sheraton Hotel and were ushered into a small dining room with a large stage. An attentive young lady welcomed us, brought us to our seats and offered us a complimentary drink. Pisco Sour is the local drink of Peru and we decided to try it. It was lemony and not too sweet. It is a drink that is distilled from grapes, and appeared to have a nice kick. We were invited to help ourselves to the beautifully presented food. We were seated at a small table directly in front of the stage, where we sipped our drinks and enjoyed the tasty buffet. Later we relaxed with coffee and the stage started to come alive.
We are seated in grand style, close to the performance area.

As I mentioned, ....in grand style.

The first number was sung by a sultry jazz singer backed up by her 7 piece blues band. Saucy Spanish dancers in white peasant dresses followed. Such a variety of acts, sultry songs and lively dances followed. Costumes changed and one team of tall elegant dancers replaced shorter native Peruvian dancers. The music and the styles of the dance changed completely with each number. The final act was amazing and very acrobatic. Three typical Peruvian men dressed as clowns, came on to the stage, each brandishing large pair of scissors in one hand. As discordant music started each made an energetic display of sumer-saults , splits and spins across the stage all the time clipping rapidly with their oversized scissors. This dance is apparently a traditional one in which contestants dueled with each other until one was incapacitated. There were two full hours of amazing entertainment without a break. When finally the curtain fell …..( Oh, I forgot: 3 men were chosen from the audience and cajoled to enjoy the final dance. Eldon was a good sport, and spent his 3 minutes of fame on the stage in Lima!)

The evening's entertainment started with a re-enactment of Inca history.

The TONDERO'S choreography is inspired from the movvement of birds. It is danced barefoot and with hankerchiefs.
It is very lively: just look at the video!

TONDERO originated from the north coast of Peru as a mixture of Spanish, Gypsy and African slave expressions.

ZAMACUECA, "The National dance of Peru” A flirtatious and romantic dance, symbolizing courtship. Couples use hankerchefs and eloquently avoid physical contact.

The DANZA DE LAS TIJERAS (scissors dance) is an original dance, in which two or more dancers perform in turns, doing explicit moves and challenging steps. The Scissors Dance is from the south of the Andes, in Peru and dates from the time of the Inca, but contains Spanish influence. Accompanied by only violin and harp, the dancers use the two halves of scissors as castanets. Earlier in this performance we watched an amazing act in which our dancer lies on his back and JUMPS !!! JUMPS ON HIS BACK!!!! In the following video, you will see something else: IMPOSSIBLE moves by one of the dancers.......

Upon the arrival of the Spanish, priests tried to ban the dance as the work of the devil !

DIABLADA is a dance characterized by the mask and devil suit worn by the performers. Traditional in the Peruvian Puno department, the dance is a mixture of religious theatrical presentations brought from Spain and Andean religious ceremonies such as the Llama llama dance in honour of the Uru god Tiw (protector of mines, lakes, and rivers), and the Aymaran miner's ritual to Anchanchu (a demon spirit of caves and other isolated places in Perú).

The entertainment over, we wandered back to the tour-bus and drove back to Miraflores, where we left the bus and then walked through the warm evening streets, back to our hotel.

The tour is a wonderful deal.

Mirabus tours ……...http://www.mirabusperu.com/english/index.html



Just a relaxing day looking around the city. We enjoyed the sun, sitting in the courtyard; we walked around the city and bought a kid's novel in Spanish for me to read; we spent time in the supermarket observing a spectacular array of fresh fish of many species, on ice and unusual fresh fruits and vegetables. At supper time, the streets became very busy and the local busses were jam-packed. We made our way back to our hotel for an early start tomorrow, when we will meet our group who will be travelling south to look at a local gold mine.

Like sardines in a tin at rush hour

Posted by Sue McNicholas 18:31 Archived in Peru Comments (0)


sunny 28 °C

Sunday, April 13.

We stayed last night at the Ibis Hotel, as we had a breakfast meeting here at 7 a.m. We walked downstairs to the cafe, and met the first of our crew: Manuel and Andre. Operations manager and CEO of Esperanza Mines. Later we met others who are also involved: Ana Cecilia, from Lima and Andy, from Costa Rica. Bob finished up the crew, travelling from in the U.S. More to meet up with us tomorrow. We ate breakfast and learned a few things about the trip we would be making over 700 km south, along the Pan-American Highway, to visit a gold mine and to see how it operates.

Our bus was comfortable and air conditioned. ........notice the little "taxi" beside it?
This taxi is a common site in Peru. Each driver decks out his taxi in a very original style.

A comfortable 24 seater bus awaited us, so we piled on our luggage and set off on our day's drive to the town of Nazca. We sat stodgily for a while, but soon the ice melted and we chatted and learned each other's stories. We were going to be together for the next three days, and every one was all set for a relaxing ride, and why not get to know our companions?

Along the way we we stopped for a break at a roadside stop where bread is baked in traditional mud ovens with burning embers. We spent some time watching the process. This is a busy stop with many customers who break their journey to line up to buy this piping hot crusty bread.
Ten ovens with coals glowing in the side of each one.
The bread rolls are popped onto a wooden paddle with speed and expertise...

...and slipped off onto the floor of the oven

Having stretched our legs, we continued on again and watched the scenery. The terrain is extremely interesting. Leaving the city we travelled through a wild array of landscapes. The height of buildings decreased, then the density.

Several miles of this was followed by flat sandy land, and lush areas where I could see rows of corn ready for harvest, and later large vineyards with grapes growing on raised trellises.

Plenty of corn fields whizzed past us.
You can't see grapes here, but the vines are growing along the trellises - leaves in the sunshine and grapes hanging below the canopy of vines.

We continued on, trying to identify the crops we saw growing in the fields, until finally, the land became flatter and rather barren. At one point, we saw hundreds of dung brown and pastel coloured cubes, which represent squatter camps next to a large gas plant. Later, the landscape changed to desert scenery with dunes that you would imagine in the Sahara.

This squatter camp went back as far as the eye could see, and followed the road for some kilometres.

Lots of dry sparse land.
Lots of desert.

We stopped in a town called Huacachina, near Ica. The sand dunes there were massive, and I was not surprised to find Sand-buggies for hire to ride the dunes! We found a little oasis in the centre of Huacachina, and sat at a lovely restaurant that boasts age and elegance. We were seated there overlooking an oasis and nibbling on local fare.

The oasis in the middle of the desert - central Huacachina.

A cool place to stretch our legs and to look at the action on the pond behind us.
Enjoying lunch and the good company in Huacachina.

A bit later we piled back in the bus and planned to brave the next 5 hours of good roads, bad drivers and great company. We rolled on for a few hours, and our next leg of the journey brought us right by the ocean. Soon after this, we turned to the east and headed inland. This is when the terrain changed to a moonscape! This area is considered to be desert.
It was growing dark as we came across a tower where we could have a better look at the Nazca lines on the ground.

We approached Nazca, and right through the Nazca Lines - you know the ones: drawings on the earth of some 70 animal and plant figures that include a spider, hummingbird, monkey and a 1,000-foot-long pelican. These cannot be appreciated from the ground, but flying over them reveals these pictures, which have been studied and speculated to be lines made by people of other worlds, or at least to be of symbolic and magical significance. We arrived at the site of some of these mysterious lines and climbed up a rickety tower to look, and were impressed with the drawings.
Shadows were getting long, but we were able to see some of the lines that made up these unusual line drawings.
This drawing is of the tree, consisting of a central trunk with radiating branches and a series of roots.
Illustrations of the very large drawings made in the sand in the Nazca desert.
The Nazca images make attractive designs and souvenirs.

If you fly into Nazca, you will be able to see several other line drawings, such as humming bird, condor and spider. Some of the images are as much as 200 metres across. The Nazca Lines were scratched on the surface of the ground between 500 B.C. and A.D. 500. The geoglyphs depict living creatures, stylized plants and imaginary beings, as well as geometric figures several kilometers long. They are believed to have had ritual astronomical functions.

As it grew dark, we climbed back on the bus and went towards the town of Nazca, where we stopped for supper. A lot of k's covered today, and a few hours after dark, we were in our hotel in Nazca. Here we met a couple from Quebec who were travelling for a year with their 8 year old son - Jinny, Martin and Vincent. Tomorrow we will continue our travels with them. We checked in and headed off for bed, as we will start on the last leg of our journey, beginning at 7 tomorrow morning.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 20:51 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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