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!

 

 

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.