Peru and Ecuador


Curious kids entertaining our train and hoping for some handouts.

The Peru and Galapagos trip continues with our final days in Peru. With my Fitbit registering a ton of steps and my knees sore, it was a relief to go by bus and train from Machu Picchu back to Cusco. The train had to stop a few times and we would see some locals asking for money. It’s always a reminder of how well off we are and how just a few dollars can make a difference to their day. We saw a local women who looked elderly and her back was bent pretty bad—probably from years of hard work.

So many of these people like to be self-employed. We met a few of them all over the Cusco/Machu Picchu region as they were friends of our tour guide. They called themselves names such as Diana Ross and George Washington. As a marketing professional, I can say I am impressed by this tactic.

Street vendor.

On the way and throughout the trip we would see kids and women in tourist areas with lamas, alpacas, and even baby sheep because they looked cute, dressed up to take pictures and collect money. We noticed the kids would get upset when they weren’t picked for the photo or didn’t get a U.S. dollar if another did. I got my photo taken with some kids who started singing a song. I asked our tour guide what the words meant and he said it was a drinking song. (See below for video of them singing.)

Coca leaves to chew on to help with the elevation were in a big bowl at the airport. I preferred the candy and tea versions.

Back in Cusco, the elevation was making me take deep breaths and hurt my lungs and head a bit. Our hotel was really interesting—it was an old monastery and each room had a lot of character. We took a tour around town to a cathedral and enjoyed a big party and parades going on around the main square. We saw military members walking with those old German type straight steps, guys dressed in cowboy outfits shaking beer and spraying it around, college groups dressed in black and white business clothes, and more. We were told there are so many “holidays” that get celebrated there were too many to count or know all of them.

We went to a lama/alpaca farm where they let us feed them. There were also demonstrations by locals who learned the tradition of weaving the wool and making the wonderful cloths they sell today. Baby alpaca is the first “shaving” of an animal and is softer, costing more. There were several breeds of both kinds of animals and all were fun to and interesting to see.

As we went through a beautiful church, we learned how the Peruvians really mixed their pagan traditions with Christianity. There is lots of that all over the world; however, I was somewhat shocked that they didn’t only observe old traditions, they still “worship” pagan symbols. At the risk of sounding judgmental—I’m surprised they can’t see the outright contradiction with the first commandment. For example, there was a stone from pagan religions that sits in a glass near the door. On Sundays, the people line up after service and put their hands on the stone and pray. The priests say “it’s just a door stop” but the people believe it’s more. There are other symbols including statues and paintings depicting Mary in clothes that are like triangles (mountain shaped and hiding her feet)—she symbolizes Mother Earth who they worship. And paintings of her pregnant that contradict the Catholic religion, but not Protestant. Throughout the trip we were told of many other pagan worship rituals that still happen. While a little disconcerting, it was a good lesson of their culture and I found their architecture and people to be quite beautiful.

Dad and I did our traditional shopping trip around town and then went back to rest before dinner and another very early morning wake up to catch the flight to Lima and then on to Guayaquil, Ecuador. We landed in Ecuador and took a short city bus tour. Our hotel rooms were big and we explored the main street around us—not really finding anything but banks, disease-welcoming restaurants, tiny mini markets, pharmacies, etc. Our next morning was brutally early and back again to the airport to catch a flight to San Christobal in the Galapagos.  Goodbye beautiful Peru and more on the islands to come!

 

 

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Two porters start out with huge packs on the Inca trail.

Our Peruvian adventure continued with a train ride through the countryside to Machu Picchu. Along the way we passed by the beginning of the Inca trail. This is the 28 mile trail people hike to Machu Picchu, but the entire “trail” is much longer and starts back near Cusco. In fact, the Incas actually created 24,000 miles of trails through South America. The people are more adapted to the elevation and can handle the hiking better than the rest of us. How they carried their stuff or walked on the uneven stones without hurting themselves is a mystery.

A few years ago, they had a contest to see how fast the porters who help hikers on the trail could hike it on their own. Usually it takes four days for hikers. The winner of the race got there in just over three hours. It’s hard to believe that considering how long it takes to run a marathon and this is up over mountain trails at eight or nine thousand feet. My dad and I were bragging/laughing that it was no big deal, because we hiked the Inca trail. (Okay, it was about 100 yards of a slight incline, but we were on it!)

The town of Machu Picchu Pueblo at the base of the mountain.

The ride along the river to the mountain was filled with gorgeous scenery and when we pulled into the town at the base of the mountain, I was amazed at the smells—good food cooking, all the hotels, buses, people, guys hauling drinks and supplies, and a market jammed with stalls of people selling lots of souvenirs. There’s not a lot of room in that valley and with so many more visitors showing up every year, it’s packed to the gills with entrepreneurs staking their claim.

A view of the winding road leading up to the mountain.

We got on one of the many buses making the loop up and down the mountain. I was glad the drivers were so experienced because the winding steep climb took my breath away. They had to be careful passing other buses and watching out for hikers who were walking up and down the mountain. Hardy young people for sure. Once there we checked into the one hotel with limited rooms located at the entrance of the park and then headed in for our first view of this magnificent archaeological find.

For some reason we had to show our passports to get into the park (but got another stamp)! Our guide Diego took us around the main part of the park and I was so glad to get views of the entire community. Most people only see the one “National Geographic” shot from the top. It’s amazing how big it is and how they were able to build out so many terraces down the side of the mountain. The people who lived here were the upper crust of the Incan society. Most likely the “court” of a King. In fact the people weren’t actually called Incas—only the King was the Inca. He had a house (a room that probably had a “bathroom” and a “bed” near the temple and his wives stayed in another house/room next to his.

A view of the community from the top.

The buildings had very deep foundations. They knew how to build solid structures to withstand earthquakes. And they built out the terraces instead of digging them out of the side of the mountain. There was an area with a number of loose boulders which was probably where they got all the stones to make all the buildings. On a hill in the community, they built what looked like a sun dial but was probably for ceremonies as sound traveled easily to the open plaza below where the people probably gathered.

A view of the terraces and the guard house.

After a nice evening with our tour group partners and some Alpaca steak for dinner, we got up early the next morning and hiked up to the guard house for that famous view. It was a brutal climb but worth it. We got a view of the sun gate, where the Inca trail hikers come through—at the very top of the mountain, and went on to see views of the surrounding mountains and the entire complex. Wow.

After stopping to pet an Alpaca, we went down some treacherous steps, where I twisted my ankle a bit, to the lower section of the community called the Temple of the Condor. They considered the condor part of their spiritual realm so this section was where they buried some people and also served as a dungeon for prisoners.

The guard house at the top of Machu Picchu.

There is a book written by Hiram Bingham, the explorer who with the aid of some locals was the modern discoverer of the ruins. The book was a bit dry, but the explanation of how he got to the site and some of the history of the Incas was very interesting. The fact that this site was hidden for so long is evidence of what a great defensive location it was during the Spanish conquest of Peru.

Upon leaving the park on a narrow path near the exit we hear some exclamations coming from behind us—look out—ahhh and hear a lot of running-type noises. When I turned around and saw everyone suddenly leaning into the mountain, I was more than a little surprised to see two Lamas stampeding down the path. I was even more shocked when the guard just up ahead at the exit stopped them and turned them back toward us. I got some video of them running back into the park (see below). Probably just as well, because all the stray dogs that hang out at the entrance (that I fed from the buffet in the hotel) might have been miffed at the intrusion. They were so laid back and would sleep right in the middle of the midst of thousands of people walking by.

Yay, bucket list check! Many years on the wish list, I waited until I was fit enough and glad I was since it was hard walking in high elevation. Also glad I did it now, as more restrictions are going into place. Now, back to Cusco and off to the land of Darwin.

The dogs hung out all over the hotel grounds and entrance to the park.

A lama at the guard house.

A Typical Inca door.

Ancient and modern stairs.

Ear itch.

Temple of the three windows.

A new across the plaza from the temple.

Across the plaza.

A view of the left side looking at Huayna Picchu beyond where a few hundred people a day climb the ruins.

Another view of the end of the plaza and residential area.

A view of the terraces and guard house.

At the base of the mountain.

Dad and I near the guard house at Machu Picchu.

The Inca trail that leads from the sun gate to Machu Picchu.

A view of our hotel from above. Our rooms are hidden by the trees.

A view of the main plaza.

A view of the gate house from below.

The storage houses.

Our first view of the park.

One of the stair cases leading down the mountain.

The trash cans looks like frogs.

A view along the river on the way to Machu Picchu.

The beginning of the Inca trail leading the Machu Picchu.

A Peruvian woman outside our train.

Some market stalls at the base of the mountain.

Me, mom, and dad.

View of Cusco.

Our Peru adventure continued with a very early flight to Cusco. At an elevation of 11,100 feet, the flight in was a bit scary. I could only see high snow-capped mountain tops out the window, which was disconcerting as we heard the sound of the wheels being lowered, meaning landing was imminent. A very steep banking curve brought us down to a strip that was completely surrounded by buildings. I was thankful when the plane came close to the end of the runway that there was a church there to break our stop if need be.

Bulls on the roof are a symbol of prosperity.

For the first few moments off the plane I felt really dizzy, but was able to adapt to the elevation a little bit better during the bus ride through a town crowded with houses half done and lots of wires between leaning telephone poles.  On our way up and out of town, we passed homes that had two small bulls and a cross on the roof. Evidently that is a symbol of prosperity. Many people take years to finish their houses. For one thing, they save up bit by bit for the parts and construct it over time. Also, once the house is done, they have to pay taxes, so there is little rush. They typically leave some rebars up to make new levels for kids when they grow up.

Our guides explained the culture a bit as we rode through the Sacred Valley. Peruvians have public schools but only some are lucky to attend the private schools that go all day. Others can only go half days—they accommodate everyone by having two shifts in the am and pm. Some of the universities are public but there aren’t a lot of openings. I always think of the USA as the melting pot, but all over the Americas we can see diverse populations and Peru is no exception. The original habitants have mixed with Spanish, African, Asians, Italians, and more.

Storehouses at Ollantaytambo.

Evidence of the vast agriculture can be seen all over the mountains. The Incas built terraces everywhere and stored up years’ worth of food in storehouses. There were ancient potatoes recently dug up that when treated and cooked were still edible. Some terraces are still in use as the Peruvians cultivate about 4,000 varieties of potatoes. The soil there is so varied and in fact some is similar to what is on Mars so they are doing some agricultural testing for the Mars missions.

Guinea Pig on a stick.

Some of the sights along the road through the small towns included rainbow flags—the ancients were rainbow worshippers, red flags on poles outside of some homes—which was a sign that they served Chicha or Corn Beer there, and painted advertisements on homes. The ads were mostly political signs for the recent elections. The people would consent to the painted signs because basically they needed their houses painted and could get it done for free. In random places on the road and on small fields, people were drying corn on blankets and they would store lots of corn cobs in chicken wire bins.

One town was famous for its Guinea Pigs. In many homes in Peru, they have a dozen or so pigs living in the house (which is usually just one stone room) and when dinner time comes, they pick the fattest one and cook it up. As we went through this town, outside a restaurant with Guinea Pig on the menu, there was a 6-ft. plastic statue of a pig and a woman holding a roasted Guinea Pig on a stick. I tried fried Guinea Pig at dinner that night. The closest I can describe it, would be like duck. It wasn’t too bad.

Ollantaytambo terraces.

Mom and I went on a tour to Ollantaytambo, a village near our hotel that was once the site of an Incan emperor and a stronghold for the Incas who were fighting during the Spanish conquest. As we started the tour, Mom got hurt on a step and cut her leg. Not to downplay her pain, but it was just a cut and the reaction from our group and the town officials, which was very kind and caring, was on par with a five car pile-up. Some police showed up and wanted to whisk her away to a local medical hospital of sorts. I thought maybe a bandage and some rest would be fine, so she hung out at a café and people-watched while we took a short tour. We saw how buildings had Incan foundations and doors, Spanish walls, and then modern materials toward the tops of the homes. The next day we all came back for a tour of the ruins.

The sun temple at Ollantaytambo.

The Incas built their sun temples high up on the hillsides. We took a long steep climb up the ancient stairs with lots of breathing breaks. The ruins were impressive as somehow they managed to get 50 ton boulders set in place with ancient earthquake-resistant building techniques. When the Christian Spaniards came, they made the locals toss some of the big boulders of the temple down the mountain and when they told the Incas to build a church there they said, “You should have told us that before the boulders were tossed.” So the church was built in the valley. The Incas had built their temples every 20 miles or so and once had a pyramid there that was bigger than the ones in Egypt.

Ekeko dances.

We ended the day with an interesting exhibition of dancing and storytelling. Peruvians tend to mix their Christianity with ancient pagan religions. One of the things we saw in the house and was also part of story/dance was this strange looking guy called an Ekeko which is the mythological god of abundance and prosperity. The people would place the statue in a prominent and comfortable place in the home and load it up with things like money and other symbols of what a person desires. These offerings are meant to bring wealth to the worshippers.

More about the deep rooted mixture of ancient pagan religions and Christian worship later after we return to Cusco from Machu Picchu!

Locals drying corn and potatoes.

Large Christ statue outside Cusco.

Looking down the terraces at Ollantaytambo.

Locals store corn.

Hillside outside Cusco.

Fried Guinea Pig

Guinea Pigs live in a local home.

A street in Ollantaytambo with a channel of water running in front of some homes. Stone steps act as mini bridges.

Menu highlights Guinea Pig and Alpaca which tastes like steak.

Siesta time on a local farm.

Guinea Pig is on the menu here.

Locals hanging out in front of a house painted with a political advertisement.

The Sacred Valley

 

 

 

Female police officers keep things moving at rush hour.

The Crowe family adventures continued in 2017 to a long-awaited (three years in the making) trip to Peru and Ecuador. Initial thoughts are it was beautiful, fun, interesting, exhausting, and worth the wait. I’ve never taken a Spanish course but found that all the Spanish we see in the States gave me enough to work with when needed. However, as usual, many people in the world know English at least a little.

So, day one we arrive after a very nice comfy flight into Lima. In the morning we grabbed a 30-minute cab ride into the center of town. It cost the three of us a whopping $6. I can only explain driving in Lima as a ride on the Tower of Terror. I was upfront for the action and took it on faith alone that we would arrive alive at our destination. Lane lines are merely suggestions and spaces between cars are measured in millimeters. Cars without dents are non-existent and cabbies have mad reflex skills. Good brakes and a horn are necessities. Also, the intersections were managed by female police officers. Evidently the ladies were less prone to corruption and don’t take crap from anyone, making them perfect for the job.

There is no metro in Lima—politics and infrastructure make it an impossibility. There are a lot of private busses and here’s the fun way it works. As the bus runs down the road, a guy on said bus yells out where he’s going and solicits prospective riders standing on the curbs. Then they pack the busses to the gills. They also have Uber there; however the low-cost cab ride didn’t incentivize me to look elsewhere for savings.

Church in Lima.

After touring through a cathedral and the central square, we visited the St. Franciscan Monastery and Catacombs. Since so many people needed to be buried in the limited consecrated ground (that they conveniently paid for), they would throw the bones from the older burials into pits to make room for new burials (we saw a lot of those bones and some mummies). There were hundreds of old/ancient books in the library. To our surprise they were left out in the open, unprotected to the elements. It was a beautiful place with hidden paintings under plaster and complex baroque-style artifacts.

For lunch, we walked around and found a Peruvian/Chinese place which we later discovered was very popular in Peru. A lot of Chinese immigrants had arrived there in the past and they would call people over to “come eat rice.” The Peruvians couldn’t understand them, they just heard the word “chifa” so the Chinese restaurants are now all called Chifa. We had potato/egg-like tortillas with chicken and meat. It was pretty good.

As we walked around the square, we saw a small protest going on. A number of police in their riot gear were there but it was peaceful and we saw them shaking hands with the protestors after. Evidently there is a lot of corruption going on with business and government leaders. Sounds familiar. We bought a few items from the locals and managed to negotiate a cab ride back to the hotel. The next day we started bright and early with a group tour to an interesting museum.

Some of the 45,000 artifacts at the Museo Larco.

The Museo Larco has 45,000 artifacts, dug up on an estate nearby by a private family. The objects were all from graves—funerary items to help the dead with all they need in the afterlife. They were a pretty advanced civilization and had beautiful pottery, textiles, and jewelry.

For lunch we went to a hacienda where they bred Spanish horses. We saw a little show and some dancing. The horses have a special gait—only one hoof touches the ground at a time. I got a little “pony ride” and then went on to have some pisco sours and munch on the buffet. I also tried Inca Cola, a yummy yellow soda and some Peruvian food, which is delicious.

A coffin carried through the streets of Lima.

Some sights we saw on our ride included communities that formed by squatters. In Peru, you can build a house on an empty lot (some of them had foundations built on old tires) and if no one tells you to leave after a few years (5 or 10), then you are good to go. After a while, neighbors form official communities. We laughed at a casino with a name that translated to “coin swallower.” And we also saw a coffin carried through a street, a couple of prisons right in the middle of the city, lots of car repair shops, and a lot of street entrepreneurs selling water, juice, and an assortment of crap to pedestrians and people in cars.

Dinner at one of the oldest homes in Lima.

After a tour through a gorgeous church and a walk through the town, we made our way to a one of the first homes built in Lima back in the 1500s. Descendants of the original family still own the home and it’s right next to the Governor’s Palace. The beautiful woodwork, very old furniture, and an open ceiling with a tree in the courtyard, were our backdrop for dinner. Our group heard a talk from a British ex patriot and a local Peruvian woman about their life and the local culture.

The adventure continues with a flight to Cusco, then on to Machu Picchu, and Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

 

 

 

These wonderful dancers entertained us during lunch.

The Spanish horses at the Hacienda.

Chinese restaurant–Chifa!

The church in the central square of colonial Lima.

Siesta time in Lima.

Guys sell water, news, and more to drivers.

Groups of kids on a school outing at the museum.

the Museo Larco.

Mom and Dad at the beautiful museum.

Life in Lima.

A shop waiting to open.

The houses were build on arrid land by squatters.

A house gets built slowly in Peru and laundry is done on the roof.

Pisca Sours, a favorite drink in Peru. Yum.

Training one of the young horses at the Hacienda.