Peru – Ecuador – July ’07 –
OAT. I: Peru
Travel notes by Dan C. West,
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA
July 12, 2007-
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
July 13, 2007-
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
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 -
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
July 15, 2007 –
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
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
July 16, 2007 –
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 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
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
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.
The next stop was a woolen shop
(Alpaca, etc.) and we also did a jewelry factory and
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 –
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
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 –
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
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
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
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
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 –
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
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
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
I also visited the Archbishop’s Palace
(no longer used for his residence) full of religious art and surrounding a
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 –
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.