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South America » Peru » Cusco » Cusco
November 20th 2006
Published: January 8th 2007
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When we got home from San Pedro de Atacama, we had three days to prepare for our next destination (Peru), to plan out our remaining time here in South America, and to figure out our transition back to the states. We felt a little frantic.

We started making arrangements for schools, housing and jobs in Albuquerque. We decided to vacate our apartment as of December 1, giving us about six weeks to travel before flying home to Albuquerque on January 11 and 12. Our friends, Jeanne and Abe and Noah, are coming into Vina del Mar near the end of November and will be traveling across the border to Mendoza, Argentina. We decided to travel with them to Mendoza, from there we will go to Iguazu Falls at the Brazilian border, maybe go into Brazil for a bit, then head down to Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires we hope to visit some of the surrounding countryside and go up into Uruguay for some warm beach time. From Buenos Aires, the plan is to travel down to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, then up to El Calafate to see the famous Moreno Glacier. From El Calafate we will cross
CuscoCuscoCusco

colonial buildings and the rainbow flag
into Chile to go to Torres del Paine National Park, then down to Punta Arenas, then on December 29 leave Puerto Natales aboard the Navimag ship bound for Puerto Montt on January 1. We will then have about 10 days to travel up to Santiago for our flight out. To cover ground as quickly as possible, we have opted to fly (unless the distances between destinations are under 8 hours). But before we could get all these plans nailed down, it was time to leave for Peru.

It was November 10 when we flew to Cusco, Peru from Santiago, Chile. After having seen some PBS-type shows on the inkas and the Spanish, we were ready to see and learn more about the inkas. Our trip to the Atacama had also been a great introduction. And we were prepared this time with high altitude sickness medications.

The first few days we spent in Cusco checking out the main tourist attractions - the 12 sided inkan stone, the inkan walls, the fabulous colonial architecture, the San Blas church with its wood carving complete with the carver’s skull. The boys quickly became bored with museums, churches, and architecture. But the main plaza was a nice place to hang out. Theresa and the boys played tag in the plaza which is not typical for gringa mamas. The next thing we knew people were asking to take Ben and Ovie’s picture and then posing with them too. (Sort of a reverse on the usual picture of tourists with local children in traditional dress)

There were people everywhere selling stuff, even children selling postcards and finger puppets. The kids would watch us longingly while we played tag. Finally one evening they joined in to play, with about 10 kids in total playing tag. One boy was very hard to tag, so Theresa tried to distract him by pointing at something and saying “Mira, Mira” (Look, look). He then tried the same trick on Theresa by pointing at the hills and saying “Machu Picchu”. It was great fun and it was very, very difficult to stop the game when it became too dark to play.

We stayed at a hotel called the Ninos Hotel, started by a Dutch woman who came to Cusco and fell in love with the street children and wanted to help them. She now has 2 hotels from which
stone wallsstone wallsstone walls

our guide told us the walls are (from left to right) pre-inkan, inkan, and spanish (the worst looking too)
the proceeds feed over 250 children and provide schooling and health care. Our hotel had the “restaurant” at which the children ate, played games and hung out everyday. So everyday we would see a parade of kids come and go. Ben and Oliver, always lonely for other kids to play with, really wanted to join them in their games, but this was not allowed.

We are finding that our biggest struggles revolve around food. Ben and Oliver would rather starve than try something new. Things that sound familiar - spaghetti, pizza, hot dogs - are not always the same as back home. Luckily, we can usually start the day with a good meal - eggs - for breakfast, and even better, we found a place in Cusco that served French toast and pancakes (heart-shaped!)

We ventured into the famous Sacred Valley to go to the town of Pisac, and enjoy their market and their ruins. At the market, we all got sweaters for our trip to Patagonia. We went up to the ruins, which were bigger than we expected and became a very big hike for all of us. The bus ride back to Cusco was very crowded. Ben and Oliver were shocked to find that as children, they didn’t rank high enough to get a seat and they had to share our laps with our daypacks.

Finally, we went to Machu Picchu - definitely the highlight of the trip!! Cars and buses are not allowed up to Machu Picchu. You can either hike the Inka Trail or take the train to a little town called Aguas Calientes from which a bus takes you up the hill to Machu Picchu. We started early in the morning with the train to Aguas Calientes (the hike will have to wait for another visit). The surroundings were beautiful as the train snaked its way through this little valley. When we arrived in Aguas Calientes we decided we liked it right away - although it is very touristy, there are no cars. All you can hear is the roaring river. Upriver were the hot springs, which are probably pretty wonderful to enjoy after 4 days hiking the Inka Trail, but we found they were pretty wonderful for us too. Ben and Ovie had missed swimming more than we had realized.

We got up early again to catch the first bus into Machu Picchu. Now you could really tell we were in a cloud forest - foggy and jungly. It’s no wonder the Spanish never found Machu Picchu - it really is remote. The ruins were quiet and still as everyone waited for the fog to lift to get take in the view. We had a wonderful day at the ruins. The views were fabulous. Theresa’s favorite parts were the waterways and the unique and precise rock cuts.

Back in Cusco, we visited more ruins. Puca Pukara was a nice fortress with its views and red rocks, Tambo Machay was interesting with its Bath of the Inka, but by far our favorite was Sacsayhuaman. This ruin has walls that were shaped to look like a Jaguar’s head, you can make out the teeth in the ruins. We had fun pretending to be Inkas using our boleodoras (balls or rocks tied to the end of ropes and twirled at your opponent) against a Spanish invasion. There was lots of room to run around and there were a few caves or passages in the rocks that were fun to walk through too.

After our week in Cusco and Machu Picchu, we took a bus for Puno on the banks of Lake Titicaca. We decided to take a tour bus rather than the regular bus because it would stop at various sites on the way, breaking up the trip so the boys could run around. Well, the boys were totally bored with the tour and just wanted to hurry up and get where we were going. The bus stopped 5 times, and only 2 stops are of note:

At one village there was a typical Andean kitchen to look at. It consisted of one-room with a little bed, a stove, and a pile of alpaca and llama dung for use in the stove. But what was most interesting was that everything was built up on platforms under which lived guinea pigs and lots of them. Apparently, the guinea pigs eat up all your food scraps that you drop while you cook and when you get hungry, you just grab one off the floor and wring their little necks. They are considered quite a delicacy here and are even the main meal featured in the paintings of the Last Supper here. This is one meal we will not be trying. Of course, the boys loved catching the guinea pigs - the little babies were easiest, the older ones seemed to have learned that it was bad to be caught.

The second stop of note was our lunch stop. We ate outside in a courtyard where some local people had a few things set up for sale and there were two alpaca wandering about. After eating, the boys started running around, burning off all their energy. One of the alpacas spied Ovie and decided the running game looked like fun and wanted to join in - he jumped right on Ovie and brought him down. Of course, no one was hurt, although Ovie was a bit freaked out, but we prefer to think of him as bravely fighting off an attack alpaca.

Our bus went through the town of Juliaca - a real blight of a town. We aren’t sure why our tour guide even bothered telling us about it, it just made you notice it all the more. When we left Peru, we flew from this town, but we went straight to the airport and skipped a visit.

On our bus tour we made a new friend, Maureen, from Australia. When we arrived in the town of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, she joined us for dinner. A band came and played traditional music while we ate. Oliver really loved it - well, we all did!

There was a total mob scene in the plaza - music, loudspeakers, fire-crackers. We wondered just what we were in for in this town. But by midnight, all was quiet. Turns out, it was all pre-election campaigning. All the way through Peru, we saw election signs - essentially pictures of the different parties. There are so many here - Inka, potato, bean, corn, pot, #1, #2, horseshoe, heart, flower in a fist, panpipes, mother and child, broom, horse, llama, and many more that we can’t recall anymore. It was fun to look at how the number and variety of signs changed as you went from one village to the next. When we left Peru, it was election day, and you could see people lined up around blocks to vote or going about their business with a tell-tale purple finger. We met a nice Catholic priest on our trip to the airport. He’s been living in Peru for 40 years now and knows a lot about the locals. He told us that if you don’t vote, you are fined $180.00, a ton of money for most Peruvians. We wonder what their voter turnout must be like and what the ballot must have looked like with so many parties.

We end up hooking up with Maureen the next day for our trip to the famous floating islands on Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca’s claim to fame is that it is the largest lake in South America and it is the highest navigable lake in the world. The Uros people use the totora reeds in the lake to build floating islands (Isla Flotantes) where they have their homes. They also use the reeds to make their boats. Essentially everything in their life revolves around the existence of these reeds. To see these islands you have to hire a boat; we were trying to avoid a full-on tour boat as tours could get boring for the boys. So we got a slow boat out to the islands. We tromped around on the islands a bit, they have great lookouts (made of reeds) and we had a ride in their traditional boat (also made of reeds). The “ground” on these islands is soft and spongy and everything feels just a bit damp.

After our trip to the floating islands, we took a paddle boat ride in a protected area near the boat dock. Maureen was a good sport when the boys decided to take the boat past a fountain of mucky looking water and got her a bit wet. The paddle boats were cute, shaped like fish and pelicans, dragons and swans.

Puno has several different modes of transportation. Of course it has cars, but skirting around among the cars are “trici-taxis”. These taxis are bicycle rickshaws. We took one back from the lake to our hostel (which is more expensive than the reverse direction because going away from the lake it is all uphill). Puno also has motorcycle taxis, which are essentially motorcycles with an enclosed area in the back that seats two. It is a bit scary to be in these and zip through traffic as they goes through town.

The next day we wanted to go to the other islands of the lake, but the only way we could figure out how to do it, was to take a tour boat to the floating islands again. This turned out to be fantastic. We learned a lot more about their culture, we got to see their tools for cutting the reeds and we saw how they hunt the birds and fish.

We went on the Isla Taquile, a real island (as opposed to the floating islands) where the people still live with their language and traditional ways. It was interesting to learn that the men do all the knitting and knit caps are all the rage here - denoting your status in the community in various ways. You would see boys knitting while hanging out. The women did weaving and when they got married, they would cut off all their beautiful long hair and weave it into a belt for their husband to wear, but we didn’t see any shorthaired women on our visit.

So far the only Andean Condors we have seen have been as statues (the best one being in La Serena, Chile). We left Peru having not seen one condor. We really want to see them and keep wondering when we will.

When we flew back to Chile, we flew from Juliaca. The plane was delayed because it couldn’t land in Cusco due to fog. When we finally got to Lima for our transfer to our international departure, we were literally running through the airport with only 5 minutes to spare before take-off. Ben and Oliver are becoming more and more adaptable - first all the waiting for our late plane departure, then the running through the airport!!

It was a great trip to Peru - the people were very friendly and their Spanish was easier to understand than the Chilean Spanish. Peru is definitely on our list of places to return to!



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drinking at the ruinsdrinking at the ruins
drinking at the ruins

the inkas did not design this with llamas in mind...
train in Aguas Calientestrain in Aguas Calientes
train in Aguas Calientes

Orville, if you are reading this, we took this picture just for you!!
floating islandsfloating islands
floating islands

that´s the town of Puno in the background
isla flotantes traditional boatisla flotantes traditional boat
isla flotantes traditional boat

The ladies are singing a goodbye song. Can you spot Oliver on the boat?


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