Peru – Ecuador – July ’07 – OAT. I: Peru 

Travel notes by Dan C. West, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA 

July 12, 2007- Thursday 

AA flight from Philadelphia to Miami, then an AA flight to Lima, 2 hours late, of course.  Terrible meal – tepid tea.  Lima airport chaotic at 1 am in the morning.   Tour director (Roberto) said that AA had canceled its flight the night before!  Long wait for four others (Jim and Dennis from Sugarland, TX and Fred and Barbara from New Haven) while they waited for their luggage.  Finally in bed at 2.  Hotel is clean and adequate, not fancy:  San Augustin Exclusive on Calle San Martin 550, just off Av. José Larco (a main shopping street). 

July 13, 2007- Friday 

Breakfast at 9 (I’m allowed, by SCW, no uncooked food and no dairy products).  Briefing by Roberto Durant.  We met Steve and Bonnie from San Antonio, Herb from San Diego.  Brief walking tour in the neighborhood, lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Av. José Larco is heavily traffic’d.  We got on a bus for a tour of the city with a local guide name Sheila.  We drove through Miraflores, around the city hall, along Av. Pershing to the National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History facing Bolivar Plaza.  Here we saw, with Sheila as guide, a wonderful collection of pre-Inca societies artifacts: furniture, paintings, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics, weapons, etc., all from excavation.  We proceeded through a working class area to the “downtown,” the oldest part of the city past the Bolivar Hotel and the financial district to the Franciscan Monastery and church (1546).  Inside we saw an impressive cupola or dome made of cedar wood w/o glue or nails, an amazing library of 25,000 books dating from the 1600’s to the 1900’s, the cloister that is open to the public (another is reserved for the monks who still live there) and a gorgeous sacristy with much gold decoration that has recently been restored.  Then we toured the “catacombs” where there were piles of human bones that were interred there beginning in 1546.  Back to the cloister to see impressive frescoes and tiles.  Then, into the church, filled with many side chapels and decorated with more fresh gladiolas than I’ve ever seen in one place before. 

Back in the bus we drove to Army Square which is surrounded by the President’s Palace, the cathedral, the archbishop’s palace, government offices and other imposing buildings. 

Dinner that evening was at a place close to the water (the Pacific Ocean) called Ocucaje.  The food was served buffet style.  It was good and typical Peruvian.  The reason we went was to see the dancing by young people who wore various costumes and performed dances from various districts and regions of the country.  One I noted was Huaylas.  Another was called the “scissors dances.”  The young men who did it were acrobats as well as dancers.  As SCW was sitting in a chair next to the stage, she was asked, by dancers, twice to join them (along with other people in the audience).  She acquitted herself well.  This was a lovely show.  The young people were attractive, their dancing was excellent and the costumes were spectacular. 

July 14, 2007 - Saturday 

Taking another member of the group with us, Herb Bernstein (a retired architect from San Diego), we took a taxi to Huaca Pucllana.  This is a pre-Inca temple that has been excavated right in the heart of Miraflores. The excavation is continuing and, in addition, reconstruction of parts of it is ongoing.  The whole thing is made of millions of sundried bricks made on the site.  It was a place for human sacrifice.  It is 1700 years old, took 250 years to complete, was begun in 500 A.D.  Excavation began in 1967.  Two other very large sites have been identified, related to this, but not yet excavated.  About 100 priests lived and worked there. 

From there the three of us took a taxi to the Larco Museum.  Founded in 1926 it is in a colonial-era mansion surrounding a lovely garden which is built atop a 7th century pre-Columbian pyramid.  It contains exquisite ancient Peruvian gold and silver and a total of 45,000 classified archeological objects.  We had lunch in the lovely restaurant looking out on the garden. 

Another taxi ride took us to a (tourist) market area close to the hotel. 

Dinner that evening was at the Cafe de la Paz. 

July 15, 2007 – Sunday 

The flight to Cusco was at 9:45 so we had to be ready for departure from the hotel at 7:30 am.  There was a long line for check-in, another to pay the airport tax and a third for inspection.  Most everyone in the very crowded Lima airport was on the way to Cusco (to see Machu Picchu which was recently voted one of the seven wonders of the world).  People have to fly because it’s a 20 hour drive by bus or car on very winding roads. 

We were joined this morning by others who’d done a pre-tour trip to the Amazon River area.  They were Herbert and Suzanne and her son Grant, all from Naples, FL and Barbara and Elmer from Longmont, CO.  We now comprised 14 plus the guide.  Fred and Grant are smokers! 

The flight was on Lan Airlines, a Chilean company.  It was very nice, on time, lovely snack, hot tea, and a beautiful, efficient flight attendant.  We were collected by a bus and driven to our hotel, the San Augustin El Dorado on Av. El Sol.  Acting on emphatic instruction from Roberto we immediately lay down and rested before lunch which was at La Cava de San Rafael.  As we ate a group of 4 musicians entered and played for us Andean tunes (guitar, drums, flute, banjo or ukulele).  We had Matte de Coca (herbal tea recommended to help with altitude adjustment).  The food was good and dessert was rice pudding.  Sidney bought a tape of the music. 

We walked to the main square, called Army Square.  Cusco vies with Mexico City as the oldest city in Latin America.  It was founded around 2000 B.C. and is a world Heritage City.  It was pre-Inca till 1200, Incan from 1200 to 1500, Colonial (Spanish) from 1500 to 1821 and Republican since. 

The Dominicans had the job of Christianizing the Incans.  We visited La Merced Monastery and saw the museum (paintings, vestments, a large gold monstrance) and the church.  Peruvians prefer “native” or “indigenous” (not “Indian”) when referring to those who were here before the Spaniards.  We learned that the Incans were beardless and there is almost no humidity in Cusco, where the altitude is about 11,000 feet. 

July 16, 2007 – Monday 

As we emerged from the hotel there were gathered on the sidewalk a group of vendors (souveniers, postcards, etc.) who were apparently attracted by the bus which had stopped at the curb for us.  This was to be a recurring pattern everywhere we went. 

We went first to the Central Market, inside a huge shed, arriving before 8:30 as many sellers were still setting up their booths (though it opens at 5).  Roberto told us this is not yet a tourist site so we were oddities.  It was fascinating.  Produce, meat, many kinds of bread, dried stuff.  We learned there are 4,000 varieties of potato in Peru and 150 varieties of corn. 

Regaining the bus we drove past the city hall with its lovely fountain in front.  Our driver, expert at dodging traffic, was Enrico.  We learned the population is about 200,000 and that Cusco is the 5th largest city in Peru. 

We arrived at the National Archeological Park known as Saqsaywaman.  We beheld a large open area bordered on both sides by excavated remains of Incan religious structures.  We learned this was an area for pageants, rituals, etc.  The Incan empire began about 1200 A.D.  They were known as “children of the sun” (they worshipped the sun as the highest diety).  They took control of the whole Peruvian valley and expanded till they were 20 million people and comprised all of what is now Chile, Bolivia and Equador as well as Peru.  They were 5 times bigger in land mass than the Roman Empire. 

They used religion to help subjugate people.  They simply assimilated other religions by allowing them to continue and declaring they were all part of the Incan religion with the sun at the apex. 

The area in which we stood was a giant temple with huge blocks of stones that had been moved on long rollers (no wheels) by 20,000 workers and set in place in several rows of zig-zagged pattern to resemble lightning. 

We looked across the plain to structures on the other side and saw a perfectly aligned stairwell that was excavated just 13 months ago.  At the top of the complex we explored we saw the foundation of a huge water tower (water is scarce).  This is just 13 degrees south of the Equator.  There are only two seasons:  the rainy season from November to April and the dry season from May to October. 

We climbed down to the plain again and walked over to see a giant condor (largest bird extant today).  In danger of extinction the U. of Cusco is trying to save the species by raising them in captivity and then releasing them when they learn to fly.  This one was a juvenile and he was perched on a stone roost.  He is brought out each day for tourists to see but he cannot yet fly. 

Next we went to another archeological site which had been a smaller Incan ritual site.  There are 300 such sites around Cusco.  A man named Enrica Puma – a priest of the Andean religion – performed a healing ritual for us.  He speaks a language called Ouetcha.  He had us sit in a U facing him and on the ground before him was a blanket with a paper atop it.  On this he placed many objects:  cotton, candy, crackers, dried meat, beans, cereal, Llama fat, moss, Anise, rice, coca leaves, gold leaf, silver leaf, confetti, etc.  This was wrapped in a special way, he spoke a blessing over it, then asked each of us (to whom he had earlier given three coca leaves) to offer prayers for ourselves or others. Each one stepped before him, he held the offering, wrapped in a blanket, over our heads then passed it all around our bodies while repeating prayers.  After he’d done this for each he removed the package from the blanket and placed it on an open wood fire as a sacrifice to his gods.  It was done solemnly and reverently. 

As we left the site a young woman close by was removing potatoes from a bed of coals she’d covered with earth.  They were baked perfectly and were delicious. 

Then we had lunch, a home hosted meal.  The hostess was a woman named Evelyn who was helped by her sister-in-law and a babysitter.  She had four children:  Jalel, Rodrigo, Fabracio and Dora, a one year old.  The meat was baked Guinea Pig.  At the very end a fruit was served called chir moya.  Delicious. 

The next stop was a woolen shop (Alpaca, etc.) and we also did a jewelry factory and showroom. 

The final stop of the day was the Temple of the Sun in the heart of the city and which is now a monastery called Convent of Santo Domingo.  Before the Spaniards converted it to a monastery and church this was the most important Incan temple in Peru.  In 1950 the monastery roof collapsed and during the reconstruction Incan walls that had been hidden were exposed.  So now the place is a combination church, monastery, cloister, colonial museum, and a museum to the original Incan temple with several areas restored to that time. 

We ate dinner that evening at Incanto on Calle Angosta. 

July 17, 2007 – Tuesday 

We took a bus first to a point where we stopped to look and take photos (elevation = 12,300’ – the  highest point of our trip) and then through Urbamba Gorge to Ollantoytombo which is the train stop where we switched from bus to train.  I loved the little narrow gauge train (two cars) that proceeded along the Inca Trail winding through tunnels, next to a river, often slowing for the bends or a crossing, blowing its whistle a lot.  It’s part of Perurail (government owned).  Two young people acted like flight attendants helping to stow buggage, showing us to our seats and serving a snack and drinks from a cart. 

We reached Machu Picchu, dropped our bag in the hotel, had lunch in a local restaurant, and got on a bus that took us up to the city  (“the lost city of the Incas”).  It was discovered, buried under forest overgrowth in 1911 by a Yale archeologist Hiram Bingham.  He excavated many tombs and took hundreds of crates of bones and artifacts to Yale where they yet remain after nearly 100 years (the Peruvian government is suing Yale to have them returned). 

We walked through much of the city – a stunning sight, stepped along terraces on the side of a mountain.   We would walk or climb then stop for commentary by Roberto, who studied archeology in college, who has done much research, and wants to claim lineage from the Incas.  He believes the city was first established by a pre-Incan people, used as a place of refuge as the Incas were trying to flee from the Spanish, and at another point, simply abandoned for an unknown reason (disease, lack of food?)  We saw the palace of the chief of the city, the Palace of the Princess, the ritual baths, the main fountain, the Temple of the Sun, houses, communal rooms, an astronomical site, gardens, etc.  The buildings were constructed of stone and covered with thatched roofs.  There was an underground water system, terraces for growing food and flowers, storage areas for grain, etc.  What you see are the walls of bldgs., roofless, except for a few where the roofs have been reconstructed to show you how it was done. 

It is a wondrous site and you keep trying to imagine what it was like to live here on the roof of the world, surrounded by amazing mountains on every side. 

Our hotel in Machu Picchu was grandly named the Presidente, but it was very basic:  small room, tiny bath.  I slept well, Sidney not at all.  We had dinner that evening at a place close to the Square where a festival was being held – lots of music, eating, drinking – on into the night. 

July 18, 2007 – Wednesday 

Roberto gave us options for times to leave and for 3 separate hikes out from the Machu Picchu ruins.  We opted for a 7:30 departure and option #1 which was a mile long hike up the Inca Trail from the ruins to a place called Gate of the Sun.  It was challenging for me, especially the steps.  I wasn’t sure I could make it all the way and urged Sidney, Roberto and Dennis (whose partner Jim had turned back) to go ahead as it appeared I might have to turn around about 2/3 up.  But, by stopping often to catch my breath and going slowly, I made it.  The vistas in every direction made the climb worth it.  Intebunker (Gate of the Sun) is about 9,000 ft. high.  The view down upon the abandoned city is breathtaking.  The surrounding mountains are too.  The city comprised about 300 acres and contained about 500 people before it was mysteriously abandoned.  We sat and stood for a half hour or more just drinking in the views. 

The climb down was equally difficult though not as taxing.  One has to be very careful where your feet are placed.  The stones are uneven and often the step down is long.  We reached the bus stop and entrance at 11:30 and the village in time for our lunch at To To’s House at 12:15.  As the bus descends from the ruined city to the village below young boys, 10-13 years old, in Incan costumes, run down steps set into the mountain and as the bus goes past in its hairpin turns they wave and yell.   Just before the village the driver opens the door and lets the kid on so he can collect his tips. 

While we ate from a lovely buffet with many Peruvian dishes a group of 5 musicians played and then Roberto had a birthday cake for one of our group, Herb B., who was celebrating his 75th. 

The Perurail train stopped close by and we left precisely on time at 1:20, for the ride back to Ollantaytambo.  On the way the young people who were the porter and the two attendants first served us drinks then modeled Alpaca sweaters which they then offered for sale. 

In Ollantaytambo we dismounted the train and got on our bus.  Before we left the village we got out at the central square and walked several blocks so Roberto could show us something of life in such a village. 

Then, along the road back to Cusco we stopped at a Chicheria (bar, café, gathering place for farmers), sampled the corn beer and sat on crude benches in an adobe structure with a dirt floor.  In an adjoining room were pens for rabbits and Guinea Pigs (to be eaten). 

Continuing toward Cusco we stopped in a pottery factory, Seminario Ceramics. 

Back in the same hotel in Cusco (which had stored most of our luggage).  We ate at a pizzeria, Marengo, on Regocjo Square.  It was excellent. 

July 19, 2007 – Thursday 

I did not sleep at all the night before.  I feared it was something I’d eaten or drunk.  Sidney decided I had simply overexerted in the Machu Piccho climb on Wednesday.  My heart was off (sinus rhythm) so I elected to stay in Cusco and rest (which proved successful).  

Meanwhile Sidney went with the group on a bus to Pisac.  They stopped to see a Llama farm then they toured pre-Incan ruins that had been excavated.  They had lunch in the town, did a walking tour and then toured a lively, colorful and large market. 

Late in the morning I felt better and walked out, headed for the cathedral.  On the way I saw a large demonstration, a march throughout the city.  A guide told me it was a crowd of poor people who hawk food and souveniers, etc. on the streets.  The regional government is trying to stop the practice and they were protesting.  Tourists are approached at every turn by people selling textiles, dolls, postcards, by boys wanting to shine shoes or clean windshields and there are many beggars. 

The cathedral was built by the Spaniards (as was almost every church you see). It is not to my liking, gloomy, Baroque, many chapels with life-sized Madonnas richly dressed, lots of gold and silver leaf.  Very ornate.  The young woman who served as guide (churches now charge an admission fee) and expected a tip was very knowledgeable and pleasant. 

I also visited the Archbishop’s Palace (no longer used for his residence) full of religious art and surrounding a lovely cloister. 

When Sidney returned we walked to Nazarena Square and visited the new (newly established in an old building) Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. Exquisite! 

Across the square is a former monastery that has been converted into a lovely hotel with a very good restaurant.  We booked a table for dinner overlooking an elegant garden with a fountain in the middle.  It is the Monasteria Hotel.  We had the best meal of the trip so far. 

July 20, 2007 – Friday 

Roberto decreed a very early (i.e. 5:30 am) departure.  Sidney slept little.  The clock went off at 4, bags outside at 5.  I’d had some intestinal upset during the night so breakfast for me was light.  The scene at the airport was barely controlled chaos.  Flights had been canceled the day before because strikers had set dry grass on the edge of the runways afire causing heavy smoke and low visibility.  So many people who should have gone out the night before were there with us.  Long lines to check in, pay the airport tax, and get inspected.  Still, the flight left and arrived in Lima on time.  A bus ride to the hotel and long naps for us, to try to recoup from too little sleep the previous two nights. 

We walked to the main park, close to the city hall and the cathedral.  We visited a new supermarket, an innovation here, and bought bread, crackers for snacks.  Back to the hotel to rest some more before dinner (the last in Peru). 

It was at a place called Costa Verde.  After we ate I did prizes and awards and praised Roberto. 

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