Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thursday, Jan 31st, Aguas Caliente, Peru

The dilemma of going to Machupicchu (MP) is that it really challenges your vocabulary.  The easy answer is to take good photos and hope they are truly worth 1000 good ones.  And I hope I have some of those.  After we returned today, some of our group had a discussion about places we'd been to, and how they compared with what we'd seen today.
 Most agreed that great ruins bring with them some of several characteristics which add to their worth.  These are story, location, and degree of construction difficulty.  The story of the civilization which built them is pretty important, and has probably weighted the more well-known societies with higher scores than they deserve.  It's easy to have fun visiting a ruin if it was built by somebody you know, and it looks like something you're familiar with and have appreciated before.
Structures built by those with no written language, where its design and function isn't clear, start off with a challenge to our acceptance.  In the case of MP, however, it's partly because it represents an outpost high in the Andes, many miles from the traditional coastal heart of the Inca Empire, that we are given the opportunity to explore the depth of the evidence and our imaginations.  It's because we have to work harder to discover the clues that we find it so exciting when they fall into place well.
The location of this site would make anything built on it a work of wonder.  Far up a powerful tributary leading to the Amazon, on 8-9 000 foot vertical granite mountains, the construction design alone qualifies it for our top list.  Demonstrating the precision seen in most other Inca temples, its carvers and stone masons produced stone joining techniques unmatched for hundreds of years.

So the builders in the Mayan, Egyptian, and Khmer worlds probably made superior architectural facades, and it didn't hurt that we could read their stories in them.  But they were all in flat flood plains, where transportation of materials, and housing of workers, was easier.

While my vote for the most mind-blowing feat of early man still goes to the 28,000 year-old cave drawings in Lescaux, France, I can put Machupiccu (the locals spell in as one word) up there in the top five.   


ps.  Still working on getting a faster wifi so you can see the beauty of this place.  Got them up, click on Machupicchu.  More posted att Machupicchu 2

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday, Jan 30th, Yucay, Peru


Flying from Lima to Cuzco was even more enjoyable than I imagined it would be.  Short flights in the U.S. usually don't get the newer planes, and I thought we get a large puddle-jumper delivering cargo with room for some passengers.  TAC airlines, part of the LAN airlines network, uses AirBus 320's that were right off the delivery room floor.  Very comfortable seats with top notch entertainment systems (USB plugs in the seat back?), and a large selection of recent movies, television, and music. The fight attendants seemed like they were having fun, and helped make our flight very pleasant.  Did I mention that we had to leave our hotel at 3:30am to get to the airport and wait for a 6:30am flight?  

Our fears upon hearing that this was the rainy season in Cuzco were that our sumer clothes would be tested.  We knew we were in for an altitude challenge, but climate change was not in our plans.  Fortunately, though cloudy and windy, our day went much easier than the weatherperson predicted.  We'll see what February has in store for us.

Met at the Cuzco Airport by our new driver, our tour guide (Pablo) and our new local guide (Anna Maria) we were driven down from 11,500 feet at the airport through the city to the relatively lower (9,000 feet) elevation town of Yucay in the "Sacred Valley of the Incas".  Along the way, we stopped at several ruins, saw lots of locals in their colorful dress, and wound through beautiful agricultural lands.  It is amazing how fertile and green Peru is, especially when you get into the Andes.  

Arriving at noon at the Casona de Yucay, we decided to try to catch up on the sleep we missed out on this morning.  Casona is beautiful, and the rooms are spacious and quiet.  The mountains and countryside around us are stunningly gorgeous ( I have to find some different adjectives.  You guys must be getting bored by these repetitions).  At 2pm, we met at the hotel restaurant for our briefing by Anna Maria, who gave us the shocking news that Pablo's wife had suffered a heart attack and he was rushing back home.  Not to worry, she said, she would take over temporarily to ensure that we all could continue uninterrupted on our journeys.  With nothing we could do but hope for the best for him and his family, we discussed the itinerary for the rest of the day.

Ollantaytambo is a terrific preparation for Machu Picchu.  Containing architectural elements from six pre-Inca groups in this area, and just enough stirs to climb, the site was strenuous and challenging.  Viewing mind-boggling vistas, and gaining a deeper understanding of the skills and achievements of 2, 000 years of practice, Anna Maria coached us through a hard afternoon of paced climbing and lecture.  

The sheer engineering feats necessary to drag stones this size down from quarries at the top of an adjacent mountain range, across the Urumbamba River, us long ramps to the top of the site, and then shape them into jig saw pieces to construct this temple is really hard to imagine.  What kept me going up the mountainside was that, at every height, there was something more amazing to see and learn. 

But it was a hard climb.   It gave all of us a serious wake-up call on how much we will be able to accomplish at Machu Picchu tomorrow.  As we've got two days to visit the most popular site in the region, the trip tomorrow will help us make decisions on how well our bodies have adjusted, and how hard we want to push them.  I don't know who's more capable right now, with my now four-day Pizarro's revenge and Pat's knee being tested with every step up or down.  The good news is that there is plenty to see on the site and in the area without climbing to the temple.

And to make our day even more frazzled, the wifi doesn't seem to want to upload photos here at Casona.  It's getting late, and we need our sleep if anything like what we imagined would happen at Machu Picchu .... is really going to occur.  Wish us luck, and I'll inundate you with photos when we get to our next hotel.  
ps. Had some success on Thursday,  Here are some from Wednesday's adventure



Tuesday, Jan 29th, Lima, Peru


We met up with our tour group today, and once again Adventures Abroad has found some great partners to join us on our adventures.  Mostly Canadians as usual, they're seasoned travelers with interesting backgrounds.  Several have friends who live in the S.F. Bay area, with one in Petaluma.

We've gotten to know about half of them well, having had lunch at the same table or sat close to them on the bus.  We've begun to share travel stories, and realized that we've been to some of the same places.  We even share trips with the same guide (Jonathan, who took us to Egypt and Kenya), and found out he got married in December to the assistant guide on that trip.

Today's journey took us by bus early through Lima to Lover's Beach, where I was able to check out the hardy folks weathering the Antarctic Current to catch some small waves near a pier.  The Current also brings a consistent fog bank which creates really wet summers for residents near the beach, and depresses housing costs.  Better to be inland a mile or so, especially near the four private golf courses.

Lima has an economic growth rate almost unrivaled in the world (at least 6.8% over the past five years), and has significantly strengthened their middle class.  One of the indications recently has been the sold-out rock concerts for international bands which have bypassed Argentina and Chile for Peru.  

Passing by two of the estimated 300 pre-Inca ruins in the city which have been damaged by development, we saw huge temples constructed of adobe clay bricks which have survived everything but development for 2,000 years.  At anywhere else but one of the driest cities on earth, rain would have washed it into a pile of mud.

The Raphael Larco Herrera Museum was our first prolonged stop this morning.  A private collection of 45,000 pieces from all of the major civilizations in Peru, it was assembled from the ceramics, textiles, metals, and jewelry reclaimed from those stolen from sites all over Peru.  For almost 100 years, it has also stored the materials found by ranchers and developers working the country's vast landscape.

  It also has come to present the largest collection of Moche art, including their extensive erotic art.

Lima's Plaza de Armas was our next stop, where we were in time to watch the arrival of the Romanian President at the start of a 2-day official visit.
We walked through the Monestary of San Francisco, and its extensive catacombs, where the bones of 70, 000 residents who died between 1535 and 1820 are stored.  The construction costs were partly subsidized by wealthy residents who sought key placements underneath the alter.
Finally, we traveled out to the very private Hacienda Los Ficus to watch a presentation of Peruvian Paso horses, and have an excellent dinner on their grounds.  Here is an excellent post which describes what we experienced (Los Ficus).   Before dinner, Pat photographed me riding one.

To view the entire 234 photo collection taken today (it's only going to get bigger as we head for Macchu Picchu), click on Tuesday in Lima.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monday, Jan 28th, Lima, Peru


We just met our guide, Pablo, who will be accompanying us for the rest of our Peru adventure, as well as Bolivia.  At dinner here at the hotel in Lima, he explained that we'll be joined by 12 Canadians for our stay in the highlands around Cuzco, and then most of them will be departing to the Galapagos.  Three of our group will travel with us to Bolivia, and then on to Quito in Ecuador.  We'll meet a new guide, for the remainder of the trip to southern Ecuador, the Amazon, and Galapagos.

The finish of our visit to the Nazca lines included seeing the Ballestas Islands, and the Paracas National Reserve.  The low tourist season meant we weren't fighting crowds at either place, and they were well worth the effort.  We were treated to yet one more Nasca line on a large sand dune on the Paracas Peninsula (the Candelabro), dating to 200 B.C.  An alternative theory is that it was altered by San Martin, a Mason and the guy who declared Peru Independent in 1822, because of the similarities in their graphic designs.  I'm thinking early sandboarders.

The mass of bird and seal colonies at Ballestas were pretty impressive, and the surprise were the penguins.  It was very cute when they four of them descended the cliffs from their rocky perch to leap into the surf.  I'm sorry the photos of the moms and pup seals didn't turn out, as we couldn't get very close and I'm still wrestling with my camera's focus options at mid distance.  Our captain maneuvered our launch to quite a few key points around the islands, and we were able to take it all in for over an hour.

The National Reserve also provided us with a clear demonstration of how Paracas got it's name.  "Para" means rain, and "cad" means sand in the local Quechua language.  And this peninsula's sandscape is immense.  The wind has sculpted beautiful designs, and its colors are gorgeous.

We were also treated to a geology lesson, observing 40 million year-old sea shell and petrified wood fossils in the sand, and some awesome beaches.  Paracas culture is one of the earliest in Peru, and many sites are being preserved here in the Reserve.  All in all, a great adventure on the way back to Lima.

To see all of the photos taken today (actually, there's a lot more, but I can't subject you to my indecisions over deleting them), click on Paracas and Ballestas Islands.   

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday, Jan 27th, Ika, Peru

The photographers amongst you will recognize the phenomenon when the automatic focus wants to focus on the window between you and what you really want to focus on.  That's the reason that there are too few good photos of the wonderful Nazca lines we flew over this morning.

The Astronaut
Don't get me wrong, I should have taken it off of autofocus, set it for infinity, and just took the shots.  It's a learning experience.  The ride was great, and we were completely blown away by how many figures and designs there were to see.  Our pilot was very talented, and our guide extremely knowledgeable.  The area we covered was huge, sighting figures on mountain sides and flatlands.

Afterwards, we visited a museum founded by an Italian (there all over here) containing more Nazca pottery, and then drove to a Bodega to learn how they make Pisco ( a popular brandy drunk everywhere, and made from distilled wine (we're in a plentiful grape region).

We drove to Huacachina, a public oasis surrounded by some gigantic sand dunes full of dune buggies, sand boarders, and tourists having fun.  Families and lots of young people in love were oblivious to two old people also in love.  Thank another Italian lady who promoted the resort, and helped it become a pubic treasure.

Finally, our driver (Romero) and guide (Marco) drove us across lots of uninspiring desert to the province capital city of Ika, and to Las Dunas Resort.  It's a destination resort in an upscale neighborhood in Ika, containing most everything the aspiring Peruvian family wants for the summer.  I got to play golf on a short 7-hole course, slide down an awsomely twisting water slide, and we've had two well-prepared meals.  Our room overlooks the pool and restaurant, and our deck could be reached from the first tee (if we weren't using pitching wedges, and pulled the ball). 

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Ika, Peru

Saturday, Jan 26th, Nazca, Peru


The desert south of Lima is the northern stretch of the Atacama desert found in northern Chile.  So if you were to find the adventure we took to Chile and Argentina two years ago, you'd see scenes that look very much like what we saw today.  This place gets about 30 minutes of rain a year, and it's hard to imagine it could support a dozen civilizations spanning at least 5,000 years.

Our bus ride took seven hours from Lima, and it's the first time the we've been on a bus which contained a urine-only toilet.  Boy, was I happy to arrive in Nazca province.  On our afternoon tour,  Brady guided us through the remnants of the occupation of Nazca by five civilizations.  We had seen the beautiful pottery found at the main mountain ceremonial site, but walking it with Brady was particularly inspiring.  It's walls demonstrated mud-brick, river rock and mud, and clay-brick (without forms - fingerprints were found on them) levels.  In addition to 600-year old pottery shards, original corn stalks and cotton could be found along the path.  

But what impressed us the most were the innovative underground wells and aqueducts introduced a thousand years earlier by the Paracas which still nourish the Nazca agricultural and urban area from their 34 wells.  Designed to tap into the runoff from the valley's surrounding mountains, the knowledge needed to incorporate both advanced recycling systems and elevation protection measures is mind-blowing.  They are truly the lifespring of Nazca.  On the way back to the hotel, we got to meet Don Roberto Calle Benevides, the premiere Nazca potter, who still uses the traditional non-wheel techniques, and whose father pioneered archeology research into pottery development in the early 20th century,

This evening, we attended a very impressive presentation at the Maria Riesch Planetarium, describing her life-long work on the Nazca lines, and bringing us closer to understanding the who and why of what we'll see tomorrow.  We're going up at 9am in a two-passenger plane to look around, and I'm including here some photos I took at an exhibit which stood outside the Planetarium.  What may surprise you (it did us) is how many of these lines are not the well-known figures (monkey, hummingbird, astronaut), but straight lines and geometric figures.  

To see all of the photos taken today, click on: Nazca.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Friday afternoon, Jan 25th, Lima, Peru

Today, we almost made it to two good museums.  We actually did get to two museums, but one of them sucked.   Don’t believe a word of what is written on page 61 of the Footprint Handbook on Peru, Bolivia &Ecuador, by Ben Box, and Robert and Daisy Kunstaetter.  The Museo de la Nacion is a large waste of time (and I’d say money if it wasn’t free).  I hope someone got the number of the truck that packed up all of its collection and left.
We did get to see a great parade out in front.  Very well done dance numbers and costumes.

Across town, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Argueologia, and Historia is spectacular.  A little hard to find, but once you’re there, you never want to leave.  I thought I understood the span of design in this region’s pottery.  But from 2628 BC to 1500 A.D., groups of coastal and highland potters created almost every known vessel – decorated with every animal and scene.  A not just carved into the side of the pot.  They integrated the animal or object into the pottery. And the technique survived over two thousand years.
That’s amazing.  Most pottery schools last a couple hundred years, about the lives of most civilizations.  But one can’t help but admire the quality and consistency of the pottery on display at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Argueologia, and Historia in Lima Peru.   

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Lima Museums


Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Morning, January 25th, Lima

Walking through the park on a warm summer evening, kids playing on swings and climbing structures, parents socializing, and teenagers sneaking kisses on benches, it’s clear that Peruvians are interested in having fun.  And it’s not even the weekend yet. 
Cafes, restaurants, theaters, and night clubs line the park boundaries in Miraflores, the upscale tourist district in Lima.  An almost full moon hangs just above the Cathedral, and the sounds of a choir echo from the entrance.  A double decker tour bus, parked in front, is just leaving for the 7pm City at Night run. 
We find our way to pizza street, a moniker denoting a collection of restaurants satisfying a very western crowd’s comfort needs.  Ours advertizes Peruvian food, and we order seafood plates with too little shrimp and whitefish, and too many potatoes and french fries.  But the local beer is great, and we watch Australian Open tennis highlights and Barcelona soccer on the surrounding big screens, while pan flutes and guitars serenade our ears.
Our first night in the capital goes well, and we’re very glad to be able to enjoy a slow pace in a friendly neighborhood.  If the tour which begins tomorrow is similar to others from Adventures Abroad, it’ll not be a vacation, but a well-designed educational immersion, leaving little time for rest.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thursday, January 24th, Lima, Peru


It's 8:30am on Thursday in Lima, Peru.  We're in Room 312 of the San Agustin Exclusive Hotel in Miraflores, preparing to catch up on the sleep we missed out on last night.  The photo to the left is southern Utah on our way to Miami, where we watched endless re-runs of Hillary Clinton getting angry at some Republican Senator while waiting for the flight to here.  I am constantly amazed at how there aren't more bizarre outbreaks of cabin-fever on long flights.  I was certainly close to going bonkers.

We'll rest, and then probably see some of the town.  Our tour doesn't start until tomorrow, and we flew in early to make sure flight delays wouldn't impact getting started.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

One of the lessons we learned about travels is to plan to leave the day before you actually leave.  That usually gives you a day to remember all the things you forgot to do or bring, and makes your departure go a whole lot better.

Tomorrow morning, we leave for Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.  So today was such a free day.  Our travel skills are improving, so we got to spend part of it touring three programs of an agency on which Pat is a member of the Board of Directors, as well as the Treasurer.  It's Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County.  Few rewards are greater than being able to see and talk with the people whose lives are being assisted by programs you help bring about.    Here are three are particularly successful, and should be expanded to serve more children and parents.