peru 1994 part 3

Peru - 1994 I n t e r n a t i o n a l
J o u r n e y s

Travelog-Part III

We left the Royal Inca at 8:30 a.m. by bus, we had planned to spend two nights so we packed what was needed for two nights and stowed all our luggage. One thing about the Royal Inca that I'll never forget is the curious "bread-like" odor -- to me it always smelled like bread was cooking there. We drove out of Cuzco through lots of hills and into gently rolling farmlands. Small brick farmhouses dotted the landscape with cows and donkeys. The people seemed well off. We passed through small villages, in one of these villages our bus paralleled an Inca wall and its irrigation ditch, obviously hundreds of years old. The irrigation ditch remained functional as water still flowed through it. This is what is amazing about Inca construction, it is so durable that it is better than modern construction.

Our bus finally reached a train station where pandemonium erupted. The train had three cars, A, B, and C, ours was C. Dozens of vendors had crowded around the train selling blankets, hangings, and fruit. Anne was bargaining for a wall hanging even as the train left the station, she bought it for $32. As we proceeded from the station, the tracks paralleled the Urabamba river, which had huge rocks and quite a few rapids. However, it did not appear raftable here because of the size and number of rocks. We passed between very steep mountains with sheer Andean clifts. At first these had little vegetation and were quite bare. However, as we decreased in altitude, more trees and other vegetation appeared, bromeliads clung both to the rocks and to the trees. We were entering a high tropical jungle very different from Cuzco. The temperature began to climb. I cannot say enough about the majestic mountains here, they are very steep, and the dense vegetation makes them almost impenetrable. The train ride was a couple of hours long. We did pass a few small villages, each with a water tower and usually tourist amenities, such as a small hotel or shop. The train was very well-kept and uniformed attendants sold snacks and soft drinks.

At last, the train slowed and we pulled into Machu Pichu station, surrounded by high mountains. We retrieved our bags and walked through the gauntlet of sellers to the bus station. From here, a bus leaves for the top of Machu Pichu. We noted the Inca terracing on the surrounding mountains, barely visible because of its height, but we could see no sign of the fabled city. After waiting in the crowded bus station for 15 minutes, we boarded small white buses, each holding about 20 people for the ride to the top. The 30-minute ride up was one of the most incredible of my life. It was on a switchback dirt and gravel road, not very steep, but extremely bumpy. It seemed that the bus had absolutely zero shocks, you could feel every rock squash your spinal cord. Going up, from one side you could look down at the train station and Urabamba, and from the other side you saw only the side of the mountain. One did note that the road was only slightly wider than the bus. I don't what they paid these bus drivers, but it was not enough! I found that my stomach was upset after this harrowing ride.

Finally, about 1:00 p.m., we pulled up in front of the large Machu Pichu Hotel and found a huge line of people waiting for lunch. They have both an outdoor lunchroom for visitors without reservations and also an indoor restaurant for those staying in the hotel. The food is excellent. They don't allow any food to be brought up here, so they have a captive, hungry audience! The scene from here is impossible to describe adequately. In the background, smooth, highly sculptured mountains rise up on all sides, covered in dark green vegetation. Then, if you look down, you see several deep valleys, where you can see the train station, villages, and rivers. But the valleys are on several sides, not just the Urabamba. Closer you see the huge number of high rock terraces and buildings built by the Incas. We got the keys to our rooms, took a walk, and then had lunch about 2:30. I had some very good spaghetti and custard for desert. After lunch, Hosea took us on a walk through the village. He pointed out the irrigation channels cut through solid rock, some were only a few inches deep but obviously used to carry water for planting. Elsewhere, the Incas had used the natural layout of rocks to efficiently build walls. There were large numbers of rooms, something like a palace. Some of the houses were perched right next to a precipice overlooking the valley far below. These houses had strong air flows through their windows. Most rooms had one to three windows. The number and variety of the structures in Machu Picchu is incredible. There are courtyards that resemble stadiums. Even though we had reached the highest part of the city of Machu Pichu, we could see terraces that were even higher. What was amazing to me was that if you tried to go outside of the cleared area, you found yourself in impenetrable jungle, except for the rock-paved Inca road leading back to Cuzco over the hilltops. Some tour groups take this road through the mountains, with native Peruvian porters -- stay out of the way of the porters, they will run you down! Thus, Machu Pichu has lain under thick jungle for hundreds of years until cleared during this century. Most terraces at Machu Pichu were cleared but not planted, although they had begun to put some ornamentals there. The soil here is black and fertile. We went to the Hitching Post to the Sun, a ceremonial site possibly for predicting the seasons. A large carved rock seems pointed toward the sun. The wind was very strong there. Hosea pointed out that certain points correspond to winter and summer solstice positions from the Hitching Post. After the walk, we rested, explored the hotel, then had a very nice fish dinner at 7 p.m. in the inside restaurant of the hotel.

We were planning to climb the mountain behind the city during the next morning. This mountain was a few hundred feet higher than Machu Pichu with steep steps leading up to its top. To the right of this mountain, across the valley from the train station, one can see another tall mountain with an Inca flag flying from the top. I would guess that they had a hell of a time getting that flag up there!

Thursday

I rose at 5:00 a.m. for a hot shower and the climb. However, it was foggy and raining. We waited for the rain to stop because it was considered dangerous to climb the steep steps if they were wet. But rain continued until about 9:00, even after then it was quite foggy, you could not see the other mountains for the fog and the clouds. Hosea led most of the group up to the highest house at Machu Pichu. Because of the rain, I had left the video camera. When the rain stopped, I decided to trek back to the hotel to get the camera. By the time I got back, I could not find our group, so I just walked up the Inca road leading out of Machu Pichu. Anne continued with Hosea and they went to an Inca bridge that was very spectacular. About 11:45 we all got in line for lunch. We had beef and noodles which were very tasty. After lunch we boarded the buses again for the 30 minute ride down the mountain. This switchback road presents an opportunity for enterprising kids who can take a straight path down the mountainside instead of navigating each switchback. So, they suddenly appear at the side of the bus, yell as loud as they can and disappear into the underbrush, only to appear at the next switchback down the road! At the end of the journey, the bus stops and the kids get their reward, $ from the passengers!

From the bus station, we had to carry our bags a considerable distance down the train track to the Machu Pichu Pueblo Hotel, a French establishment. Fortunately, the hotel staff had prepared a refreshing drink for each of us as we entered the lobby. They even had a wooden fire burning! Each hotel room was sited separately along rock paths with lush tropical vegetation. The rooms had high ceilings painted yellow and black wooden beams. Each room made use of a natural formation like a rock for some purpose. Our room had a natural rock used for a table. The floors were brown terrazzo. There were no TVs, who would want a TV here with the Urabamba below and Machu Pichu above! That afternoon we walked through the village to a natural hot bath. However, the baths were very crowded and not so clean. Afterwards, everyone gathered in the bar overlooking the beautiful Urabamba and shared travel stories until dinner at 7:00 p.m. A Peruvian band played for us throughout dinner, which was a real treat. We had a really delicious blackbean soup and curried chicken served in a pineapple. Each serving had a flower on the pineapple and every flower was different. For dessert we had apple pie! By 9:00 we were in bed and getting ready to go back to Cuzco, and then on to Lima.

Friday

We were headed to Cuzco today, Saturday in Lima, and then Sunday to Atlanta! At 9:30, we reluctantly left our beautiful hotel and boarded the train again. We walked down a steep path right to the train tracks where a small covered shed lay. Here, of course, we found the usual purveyors of trinkets for tourists. One man on our trip had become famous as a real softheart because every time a kid had something for sale, he could not resist it. So, he bought some more stuff from insistent girls even here. Once on the train , we traversed our route through the mountains along the mighty Urabamba.

Then we reached our bus which was to take us to our next destination. This was the last stronghold of the Incas against the Spanish {Ollante]. Here, one could see very wide steps stretching up a mountainside to some massive ruins which proved to be quite important. In the other direction, one could see what appeared to be rectangular windows high up a mountain. This was said to be an Inca granary. We ascended the steps for several hundred feet until we came to some really huge rectangular cut rocks, perhaps 15 feet long and 5 feet square. What was amazing was that these monoliths had been brought across the valley below from another mountain! One could observe this because the color of the giant cut rocks was a light sand color, totally different from rocks on this mountain. This site was built at the very end of the Inca empire and many of the structures were unfinished, therefore, one could see how the rocks had been split from the nearby quarry. I recall that one person up there was a mason and he said he had never seen stonework with the quality of the Inca workmen. Apparently, the Spaniards had never taken this site. The road up to the top [the one used to drag the massive stones] had been destroyed to make it unusable to the Spaniards. After this visit, we headed back to our bus On the way back we stopped at a little country restaurant where they had a natural brick oven. Here we had a native Peruvian lunch with supergrain cereal and corn. Then we reached Cuzco and the Royal Inca Hotel for the last time. Again, the merchants were waiting for us at the front door. Anne and I had a suite that night, it had two floors and the bed was in an attic, but it had a balcony that looked out over the central square of Cuzco. We had fish again for supper!

Saturday

We got up at 5:30 to make the 8:00 flight to Lima and say goodbye to our guide Hosea. The flight was on time and spectacular as we passed the snow covered Andes. Upon landing we found that Lima was very different from terrain encountered previously on our journey. First, it is a large metropolis of seven million and very crowded. Second, it is by the Pacific Ocean. Third it has American style restaurants, such as Pizza Hut and McDonalds! However, like the rest of Peru, there is no pollution control on its automobiles, so be prepared to breathe smoke. Lima has very strange weather. It was not hot there, but the sky was constantly gray. You could not see any blue sky and you could not see any clouds. We were told that the sky is like this most of the time in Lima. Also, it virtually never rains in Lima. We drove past our hotel, found that it was full and went to another hotel, the Aristo, on La Paz Avenue. From it we could easily walk to many types of restaurants and shops that we had not seen in days. Lima seemed to be a prosperous city with broad avenues and many parks. We passed several mansions with high walls and obviously large homes. On our tour of Lima we went to the Museo del Oro. Here, a rich family had accumulated a huge cache of gold objects that were from the Inca and pre-Inca [Mocha] times. The amount of gold here is just about impossible to imagine, there were masks, rings, breast plates, etc., displayed in many rooms. It was astounding. We stopped at a central square where there were beautiful pictures of many styles for sale. I would have liked very much to have brought some of these back home but we didn't have the space. In one square there was a terribly crowded small section of outdoor vendors selling books. On the way back, we stopped at an ice cream shop and had some very good ice cream with Milton and Jorge, who had been with us the entire trip. We went back to the Aristo, had our dinner, then walked around our area for a while and came back for our last night in Peru.

Next morning we got up early for a quick breakfast and the drive to the Lima airport. We went by the Pacific beaches but no one was on them because of the pollution. Arriving at the airport, we said our good-byes to Milton and Jorge and got ready to see Katey at home. We had a Faucett flight to Atlanta. This flight was interesting as it paralleled the snowcapped Andes, in fact, flying north up through Peru, one can see that the mountains are actually higher than the altitude at the plane is flying, which was perhaps 28,000 feet above sea level! When we hit the Miami airport, we ordered hamburgers and french fries to experience American food again. Arriving in Atlanta, we were very glad to find Katey had returned from supercamp o.k., but homesick. This had been a fabulous journey!

Travel Company: International Journeys

Guides:
On the Amazon River: Alfredo, naturalist [Spanish father, Indian mother, spoke Quecha],
George, tour director on Rio Amazonas,
Victor, younger understudy of Alfredo.

In Cuzco and Machu Pichu:
Hosea, Spanish origin, Maria

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