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Although we transited though Lima twice, we really did not see any of the city.
We flew from Santiago to Lima, and then directly on to Cusco. Cusco was the Incan capital. It was the center of their world, so they called it the naval of the earth. It sits in a wide valley 11,000 feet up in the Andes. Getting there we flew over hundreds of sharp treeless peaks covered in dark green velvet with creases marking the ridges and occasionally a narrow white thread of a meandering footpath. Off in the distance were mountains capped by cloudy white glaciers.
The Inca conquered Cusco, which was built in the shape of a puma, with the castle, Sacsayhuamán, as its head, including, apparently (we never saw this) a zigzag stone wall for his teeth. Cusco has retained an old world feel with narrow winding cobble stone streets and stairs up and down the hills and quaint buildings and courtyards all around. But I don't think you can see a puma in the city plan anymore. The central square below, the Plaza De Armes, was the absolute center of the world and was apparently the heart of the puma.
There really are lots of women in their traditional dress, not just those involved in tourism. I love the hats!
This is the large Incan site that overlooks Cusco. Like most things to do with the Incas, no one is quite sure what the purpose of this structure was. There are some who say is was a fortress which could have housed 5,000 Incan soldiers. Others argue that the stone masonry is too fine for this to have been a purely military site. And of course the Incas, though so advanced in construction techniques and other things such as astronomy, had no written language, so they have left us few clues. Instead of writing their history, there were historians, who memorized their history and told it like storytellers. The Spaniards recorded these histories, however, there is a continuing question of their accuracy.
It is known, though, that the last Inca - Manco Inca - made his last stand for Cusco against the Spaniards here. He held the place for 10 months before fleeing into the jungle to the town of Vilcabamba, where the Spaniards eventually caught and executed him.
The Sacred Valley
Just over the hill from Cusco is the Sacred Valley, so called because the river running through this valley is called the Urubamba, which means Sacred River in the native Amerindian language.
We stopped off at a tourist farm and weaving operation. We loved the animals, though we still have trouble telling the llamas from the alpacas. We could tell the vicuna apart!
Here is a guide that might help you. We were interested to learn that they are close relatives of the camel.
There are hand dyed alpaca yarn. Their dyes are all natural: herbs and seeds and bugs found locally.
This is a huge Incan ruin, complete with many terraces. There is also a huge cemetery here; the Incas were buried in caves which were bricked up with stone. Treasure hunters have broken open all the caves, so if you glance at the hillside what you see is many many small holes in the side of the mountain.
This musician was around the corner when we arrived, but his beautiful melodies were echoing off all the mountains.
The music was so lovely, we bought one of his CDs!
Some of the original town of Ollantaytambo is still lived in. It is remarkable to see the fine aqueducts built throughout the city. No one need have walked more that a block to a running water supply. There was also a religious or ceremonial site built on the side of the mountain overlooking the town.
At our hotel in Ollantaytambo Anika was intrigued by the flowers:
From Ollantaytambo we took a train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. There are only two ways to get to Machu Picchu, along the Inca Trail or, as Yannis calls it, the more relaxed, Inca Rail. We chose the latter.
Machu Picchu was "discovered" in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. Upon arrival he met two families living in stone houses on the site and was given a tour by a local 10 year old.
However, Machu Picchu remains a mystery. Here are some of the questions that people are looking for answers to:
1) What was the purpose of this city? There are only 200 small structures thought to be appropriate for living, meaning there were probably not more than 1000 people living here. Yet, there were enough terraces in and around the town to have fed far more people. There are also a disproportionate number of religious or ceremonial sites in the city.
2) Who lived in the city? Originally it was thought that the city consisted of mostly women, based upon the size of the skulls found there. However, the Incas were a small people, so this is no longer felt to be reliable. So who did live there?
3) Why did the Spaniards never discover this city? They sought out cities just like Machu Picchu to satisfy their need for gold. Furthermore, it is clear that Machu Picchu was never completed. There are large stones, probably intended as altar stones, laying near a religious site, amongst other things. It is also clear from the architectural techniques used that building was begun less than 100 years before the Spaniards arrived in Peru. So had they abandoned the city before the Spaniards came? If so, why? Had they done something to annoy the Inca, whose wrath turned it into a ghost town and wiped all mention of it from the Incan oral histories? Or was it always a secret city, known only to the most privileged and thus not mentioned in oral histories?
Look at the way the stonework has been carefully built around the existing stones.
As seen from the Sun Gate. People go out of their way to be at the Sun
Gate at sunrise. Those walking the Inca Trail arise at 4 a.m. to get
there! And others walk up from the main sanctuary as soon as it opens at 6 am. to
get there. And yet, Yannis did not observe anyone who waited long enough
to see Machu Picchu in the full sunlight. They watch the sun rise and then
begin hiking down to the main site while it is still in deep shadow.
In order to hold a torch this stone was very carefully shaped and carved.
This stone sits in the "observatory." It is thought to convey positive energy, which Anika is trying to absorb. I am inclined to believe it, as Anika was actually enthused by Machu Picchu, rather than calling it another pile of old rocks, as she had done at the previous sites we visited...
There were three animals which were thought by the Incans to have religious significance: The Snake was responsible for things below ground, the Puma was responsible for things on earth and the Condor was in charge of the sky. When people died, it was the Condor who took control of them.
This ceremonial site in the heart of Machu Picchu was built to represent a condor. The part on the ground is carved to resemble a condor head, while the structure above was the wings. You can walk right through the condor and up a narrow staircase behind it. There is an altar in this narrow area.
A llama watching out over Machu Picchu.
The hill overlooking Machu Picchu (meaning "old mountain") is called Waynapicchu (meaning "young mountain"). The top of Waynapicchu has more ruins on it.
Since you can climb it, we decided we should, though Anika elected to stay home.
It turns out that you have to sign in and out of the trail to Waynapicchu. This should have been our first clue that this trail might be more than was advertised. Also, there are only 400 people allowed up each day. We were 400, 401 and 402 - they took pity on us. They also stagger people on to the trail, so we waited in this long line. (The trail begins at the thatched gate.)
And just when we couldn't see anymore stairs there was this cave. I wandered around a while, and finally concluded that I need to go through it.
On the other side of the mountain there were more stairs.
And eventually there was this crevice to climb through and a ladder on the other side to take us to the very top!
Our only refreshment at the top - a very mushed York Peppermint Patty from Oma and a tangerine. Talk about planning ahead (though they do discourage you from bringing food into the sanctuary)...
And getting down was worse than getting up! At least we weren't breathing heavily due to the altitude, but now vertigo came into play!
It was a very worthwhile hike, though I wish I had known what we were getting ourselves into. Thankfully, Anika had elected to stay behind on this adventure. She is very scared of depths and would not have enjoyed the climb back down.
We stayed in a hotel with a beautiful garden filled with lovely birds in Aguas Calientes. Here are a few of them:
Getting back to Cusco
Here we are on the return trip to Cusco in Peru Rail. We didn't realize that there would be entertainment on board. We had this fellow, and a fashion show, using the two stewards as models.
From Cusco we took a long weekend trip into the Bolivian jungle.
Then we returned to Lima in preparation for out flight to Ecuador
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