Crowds in the Plaza de Armas
To say the least it was a long journey through Peru!
We started with a red eye into Lima from Panama City and then tried to book an early morning flight online to Cusco... that didn't work (3 failed attempts) and so we eventually found the sales counter and discovered that it was possible to buy tickets literally two hours before the flight. Short one hour flight and we arrived safely into the small, quaint city of Cusco. The day/night took a lot out of us so we more or less rested on the first day, found a local and close Cusquena kitchen to eat at... quinoa soup and the traditional lomo saltado and of course, steaming hot coca tea!
The next day we explored the city a bit. As it was Sunday not a lot was happening, however as we went into the main square (Plaza de Armas) there was a fiesta happening... a celebration of one of the saints. There was a lively parade complete with many traditional costumes, flags, local intstruments, dances and of course alpacas (some alive and walking, some stuffed and hanging off locals bags)! We headed off to the main museum and ruin
Gorgeous view of Cuzco
within the city, Qorikoncha (the sun temple of the Incas). We explored the ruins and the museum as well as the attached church of Santo Domingo (built by the Spanish on top of the Inca site). The day was quite beautiful and we got some great shots of Cusco city from within Qorikoncha and the history of the Incas is something remarkable!
The next day our main objective was to head to Peru Treks to finalize our payment for the Inca Trail hike. We decided we would do this later in the day as Chris had not slept well and a late morning nap was already required. We headed out around noon and went to the Regional History Museum in the city. It contained mostly 16th/17th/18th century art... a lot of which looked to be inspired by the Spanish.
Overnight Monday and early Tuesday morning was the turning point for Chris. Working off two hours of sleep, a severe bronchial cough with wheezing, low oxygen levels and high heart rate a doctor was required. A tourist doctor was fortunately available and came to the hostel to treat me. He was very thorough in his checks and diagnosed altitude
Our first taste of Alpaca meat!
sickness along with with possibly pulmonary edema. He said there was no way I could do the Inca trail and should head into the hospital for treatment. The diagnosis was severe altitude sickness provoked by fluid and swelling of the lungs, which meant my heart was working double time (120bpm when idle) to compensate for my lungs not being able to absorb enough oxygen. Fortunately the conditions of the hospital/clinic were excellent and the nursing care was phenomenal. We were both actually able to stay in the same room overnight... and with a steady IV tap, five doses of Dexacort, altitude sickness pills, my wife and God, I was back on my feet the next day!
Wednesday afternoon and evening we took it easy and toured around the Plaza de Armas... it was actually a beautiful day. The main cathedral had a lot of restoration being done so some areas were inaccesible, but we were still able to visit the church which is beautiful inside. We also toured around some of the local shops and vendors. That evening we had a relaxing and delicious dinner at a highly recommended Italian restaurant... cream soup, spinach ravioli (on par with Alioli)
and a side of glorious veggies.
After a good sleep for us both finally at the hostel we were able to get up early and head out to see some local ruins on Thursday. The first leg of the journey was to climb about 500 steps to the main raod and catch a local bus which took us to the furthest site, the ruins of Tambomachay (11km away from Cusco). We walked around these ruins which were relatively small but significant because they may have been a military post and/or spa resort for the Incan elite. From there it was a short walk to Puka Pukara (Red Fortress) which offered some beautiful lookout points into the North side of Cusco... again surrounded by the mountains. The next stop after about 4km of walking (through the rain... thank goodness for those raincoats) was Q'enko. These ruins were very different as they had a portion to walk through and it was covered... just like a cave. And inside the cave was what seemed to look like a massive King's throne made entirely from the existing stone/rock base. (This also provided a nice shelter from the continuing downpour!). Our last stop was
Amazing view of Cuzco.
the ruins of Sacsaywaman (referred to by the Cusquenians as "Sexy Woman"). These ruins are closest to Cusco city and we ended up spending almost three hours there. There was so much to see as the site covers a significant portion of land, complete with a massive auditorium style area, many agricultural plateaus, housing, and smooth hill-shaped rocks that you can actually slide down... we took some videos! As we descended from these last amazing ruins we managed to get some gorgeous sweeping views of the city, both from the Cruz Moqo and the Cristo Blanco (a large cross and statue of Jesus respectively, both located high above the city of Cuzco). We made it back to our hostel just before the rain came!
Unfortunately with all that happened to Chris we were forced to cancel the Inca trail trek. But since we paid we still had tickets to Machu Picchu and wanted to take advantage of that, so we scheduled the late afternoon train into Aguas Calientes (now officially known as "Machu Picchu Pueblo") on Friday so we could meet our tour group early Saturday morning. Friday morning we woke up early and packed our bag to head
Our view from the train as the sun set - beautiful!
to the collectivo in Cusco to catch the bus to Ollyantambo. It was a 1.5 hour drive, but another crazy one as our driver seemed to be competing for F1 racing... turns on the side of cliffs were taken at 50Km/h and oh yes, there was more speed bump passing! We made it alive into Ollyantambo and our first stop was to check out the ruins (a religious/ceremonial center for the Incas), beginning with about 200 steps this time. These ruins included incredible terraces, typical Inca niches and doorways, and the main attraction, the Sun Temple. After much exploring and some daring self-pics, we descended for a quick tour of the baths at the base of the ruins (the aqueducts the Incas installed are truly amazing) followed by lunch and a relaxing afternoon enjoying some coffee and waiting for the train. The ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calintes follows along the Urubamba river and offered us some gorgeous views of giant green mountains with snow-capped peaks in the distance.
Saturday morning we woke early in order to be at the entrance to Machu Picchu and meet our tour group as they came through and completed the trail. Thankfully we
The classic postcard view.
recognized the bright yellow Peru Treks t-shirts and met up with our guide no problem. After a 2.5 hour tour through the ruins, we were on our own to explore. It is impossible to explain in words the beauty and majesty of Machu Picchu, so we did our best to take as many photos as possible! We will just close the ruins recap by stating that although we were briefly conquered by Cusco's altitude we still managed to successfully soak up the Incan culture as well as experience today's lifestyle in Cusco City. UNESCO states that Machu Picchu is sinking by 1cm every year and there will come a time shortly that the ruins may be off limits. For those who have the ambition to see this amazing site, do so as soon as possible, as the opportunity may be gone before we know it. UNESCO's current suggested solution to no more visitors on Machu Picchu would be to build balconies or view points from adjacent mountains... which would also be an interesting persepctive, but there's something special about setting foot in the same exact place where the Incas once walked. The Incas were truly superb civil engineers to be
Every time this truck made a lap it picked up more people!
capable of building the city of Machu Picchu without any modern equipment on the top of the mountain and have it last over 500 years!
After returning to Cusco we had one more relaxing day that included market shopping, a stop at a local food fair/carnival, and of course the day would not have been complete without intense celebrations in the Plaza de Armas - the local soccer team, Deportivo Garcilaso, had won the big game that afternoon, and cars were driving circles around the main square, honking horns and waving flags. We joined in with the local paparazzi for some coverage of the celebrations before enjoying one last (extremely delicious) dinner in Cusco.
Finally, as the holiday season has arrived, we want to wish all of our family and friends a very Merry Christmas and Happy New year. We do hope to post another blog before the New Year while in Rio de Janeiro, but if not, know that we are thinking of you always and miss everyone very much!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Lots of Love, Liz and Chris
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