Lima (April 4, 2008)

Our last morning in Peru :-(. We went for breakfast and again spent an hour talking to Angelo and getting a virtual tour of downtown Lima and its history. He gave us all kind of interesting details about all the places we were going to go visit. We then took a cab to Plaza de Armas in downtown Lima. The Plaza is a beautiful square with the Government Palace, the Cathedral, and other great buildings. When we arrived, the changing of the guard at the Government Palace was going on so we watched it for a while. It was really hot that day. After the changing of the guard, we went for a walk around the square and the area. We made our way towards Santo Domingo church but could not see much because it was during mass. Santo Domingo is home to the remains of Saint Rose of Lima, Saint Martin de Porres, who was the first black saint in the Americas, and San Jaun Masias. Since we couldn’t really visit it, we decided to go for lunch. We had some chicken Peruvian style, it was really good. After that, we made our way to the San Francisco church where we had a guided tour.  The tour was very interesting and gave us a lot of great information.  Built in 1674, the yellow church is considered the best example of the “Lima Baroque” style of architecture. The carved portal would later influence those on other churches, including the Iglesia de la Merced.  The central nave is known for its beautiful ceilings painted in a style called mudejar (a blend of Moorish and Spanish designs).

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Lima (April 3, 2008)

That morning, we woke up around 9:00 am and walked to our B&B for breakfast. Even though we were staying at a hotel two blocks away, we still had breakfast at our original B&B. After breakfast, we talked to Angelo the owner, who gave us some very useful information on the city and historical facts. We then headed out to walk around around Mirafores which is the neighborhood that we were staying in. We were headed towards the ruins of Huaca Pucllna and went through the Petit Thouars market on the way there where we spotted places to come back to for shopping. The Huaca Pucllana ruins are ruins of a 5th to 8th century AD ceremonial and administrative centre of pre-inca Lima culture. The pyramid of small adobe bricks is 23m high. We took a tour of the ruins which was very interesting. Our tour was given in french. On the tour was another couple. The girl was from France and the guy from Lima. We started talking with them during the tour and found them very nice. At the ruins, they also have a small zoo with Alpacas, lamas, guinea pigs, and the Peruvian hairless dog also called “hot dogs”. They are called this because their body radiates heat. Due to the dogs higher body temperature, the owners of these dogs used to use them to warm their beds before going to sleep. The visit to the ruins was very interesting. Once again, we saw a culture that was able to build structures that have survived numerous major earthquakes while buildings that are built today can’t. The only bad thing with the tour is that we were exposed in the sun and we ended up pretty sun burnt. It was a bit frustrating because we had been so careful up to now.

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Puerto Maldonado to Lima (April 2, 2008)

That morning at breakfast, we told Freddy that some money and our swiss army knives had been stolen. He seemed quite mortified and went to talk to the rest of the staff. We got out stuff ready and went down the rugged path one last time. Before we got in the truck, Freddy explained to us that a young man who had an accident with a brain injury, was working at the lodge for a few days as part of his rehabilitation and had been stealing. When we got back the office in town, Tatiana was very apologetic. She said they had searched the young man and found the money and the knives and gave them back to us. The priest running the shelter also came to offer him apology.  After we left the office, we went to the market to do a bit of shopping, went for ice cream and them made out way to the airport.

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Puerto Maldonado (April 1, 2008)

This morning, we were woken up in the early hours of the morning by the torrential rain. Just the sound of the rain was impressive, try to add thunder and lightning while you are in a little straw hut and you have the full effect. It was kind of cool. As a result of the rain,  the description of the day will be pretty quick. It rained most of the day and we just chilled… We read, slept a lot, of course went for breakfast and lunch. Roger and I watched the Motorcycle Diaries in bed that morning on our Itouch – what a great movie.  After lunch, the four of us played dice with Freddy.

In the afternoon, the rain stopped and Roger went on a jungle walk with Freddy.  He didn’t see many animals as it had just stopped raining but was impressed with how dense the forest was.   When he came back, Kevin and Roger went down to the pool while Melissa and Marjorie sat on our longchair on the deck chatting and appreciating the magnificent view of the jungle. That afternoon, Melissa realized she was missing money in her wallet. So we all decided to look and see if anyone else what missing anything. Kevin realized he was missing his swiss army knife and after a while Roger realized he was missing his too. It really sucked! We were the only guests there and we were in the middle of the jungle so it tends to limit the number of potential suspects… We decided to wait until breakfast the next morning to talk to Freddy about it and just enjoy our last night there.

That afternoon, we had a few drinks on the deck overlooking the jungle. We then went to the bar to have some Pisco Sours.  The Pisco Sours were great.  We ate another great supper and then played cards for a while (well until we had lights as we had electricity only from 5pm to 10pm.)

All around, despite that we didn’t get a chance to visit much of the jungle because of the rain, we enjoyed the day as it was the first day since the start of the trip where we really just hung out and relaxed.

Puerto Maldonado (March 31, 2008)

We had to get up at 4:00 that morning (I know, yet again another early rise). But as they say, the early bird gets the worms. Speaking of birds, this is why we had to get up early that morning. Ever heard of Macaws clay licks? Well, neither had we. Macaws and Parrots in the Amazon rain forest come in flocks to the clay river banks to lick the clay early every morning. The clay appears to detoxify the nasty poisons in their diets of seeds of rain forest trees and vines. It is pretty cool, except you have to make your way there for 6 in the morning.

So we jump back into the pick up truck at 4:30 am and back onto the very rugged path to get out of our lodge territory. We then drove along the road up to someone’s house on the river bank and got into a boat. After some driving on the river, we stopped along the clay cliffs and waited for the Macaws to come and lick. I have to admit that we were all a bit sleepy… So we waited for a bit and they slowly arrived. It was pretty neat. Freddy was telling us that some days a few hundreds come and it is very impressive, and other days they don’t seem to show up at that particular spot. So we had an average day, saw a bunch of them but not hundreds.

We then drove down the river and zoomed by the town of Puerto Maldonado where a girl was waiting for us with warm lunches for the afternoon. We then stopped in the middle of the river to have breakfast on the boat: coffee, tea, great lemon cake, buns, butter, jam…it was great. We then made our way to the Tambopata Reserve and the entrance to Sandoval Lake. There is a 5km trail to get to the lake. Because it was the end of the raining season, they got us some rubber boots. I think before we saw the path we thought it would not really be needed. Well, did we ever need them! A good part of the path was pure and deep mud. I can tell you that in the humid heat of the jungle, dredging through mud for 5km is quite the workout.

Despite the difficulty, it was a pretty cool walk. The trees and the vegetation was impressive. We finally made it to the banks of the lake and it was really beautiful. We got into a canoe and started going around the lake. The lake has a few giant otters (up to six feet long) but unfortunately we did not see any. We did see some beautiful birds as we paddled along the banks of the lake.   At one point we got off the boat to walk up to a lookout where we had a nice view of the lake. After rowing a bit more, we stopped again and Freddy told us we were going to have lunch. We were walking down the path when Freddy told us we were having lunch right there. We looked around and there was this huge amazing tree with roots zooming around everywhere. It was really cool. So we climbed up some root and set up camp. Our lunch was chicken and rice cooked in a banana leaf. It was really delicious. Quite a cool experience! After lunch we went back to the canoe and continued our way around the lake. After a while, we saw a caiman, a type of South American alligator, just peering out of the water. Freddy spotted him which was impressive as the caiman only had his eyes out of the water. Freddy then says let’s paddle towards him. Kevin and Roger seemed pretty into it, meanwhile I was wondering whether it was a good idea… Turns out, he seemed more scared than us and just swam away. We however get pretty close to him. The forest around the lake was really cool as the trees on the edge seemed to be growing right out of the water. We saw more birds and turtles. We slowly paddle our way back to the path. We were so excited to be back to the mud… Again, the walk was challenging but cool. We saw some leaf cutter ants crossing the path with their load. We also come upon some lizards. At one point we saw an anteater which was really cool.  He was up in the tree, using his snout to eat ants and mites.  Even though we felt sorry for ourselves having to walk through the mud, guys pulling carts full of bottle and food kept going past us to bring them to a lodge by the lake. It seems like the most difficult job ever! These guys were just dripping sweat.
We finally made it back to the shore and we were quite happy to see our boat. We jumped in exhausted from the walk and the heat.  I think we were all very much looking forward to getting back to the lodge to relax and maybe wash the layer of sweat and mud off ourselves. Of course, just as we were about to head back, the boat motor doesn’t  start.  And we were way down river from where we picked the boat up.  So we waited in the hot sun hoping that the driver and Freddy managed to fix it.  After about 40 min. they got it working and off were were.   We made our back up river then took the ride back to the lodge. We then had a well deserved rest in the long chairs on the deck of the lodge.  After supper we played some games. While we were playing, Marjorie went to the bungalow to go to the washroom and came face to face with a huge spider on the door of the bathroom. It was quite the traumatic experience.  She had to open the door to get out but it took her a while to gather the courage to move towards the door (of course, the other option was staying in the bathroom with the spider…). So she opened the door as the spider jumped towards her. She jumped out, closed the door and bolted to the dining room to get Roger. Roger came back to the room to dispose of the spider. He was making fun of Marj for being so freaked out until he actually saw the things and it took him 5 minutes to actually kill it!

After a long day, we headed to bed around 11:00 pm.

Cusco to Puerto Maldonado (March 30, 2008)

Today we flew to Puerto Maldonado which is a city in the Amazon jungle. We grabbed a cab for the airport and then hung out there till our flight. The guys had a beer since it was the afternoon somewhere else in the world… (even though it was 10:30 am there) The flight was pretty cool as we were flying over the amazonian rain forest. We could see the river meandering.

From Cusco, we had reserved a three nights/four day package at a jungle lodge called Estancia Bello Horizonte (www.estanciabellohorizonte.com). We had a guide assigned to us for the full four days. Our guide Freddy, his assistant and the driver came to pick us up at the airport in a pick up truck. We were wondering where everyone was going to sit until the two guides jumped in the back of the truck. We made our way through town to their “office” and checked in with Tatiana. The lodge is run by a priest from Switzerland who has been in Peru for a long time.  He runs a shelter for children and single mothers. They now have three businesses to support the shelter and which also give jobs to the young adults: the lodge, an ice cream parlor and a library. After we checked in, we went for ice cream. It was very good and neat to see all the different flavors made from local fruits.

To get to the lodge we had to cross the river Madre de Dios, drive for an hour on a dirt road and then drive 5 km through the jungle. Each step was an adventure. First we took the “ferry” across the Madre de Dios. Road. It is hard to describe – it is best to look at the pictures for that one… The boat was essentially a small wooden platform. We all got off the pick up truck, they put two planks on the side of the river and the truck backed up onto the two planks and right onto the boat.  It was pretty impressive. Once we crossed the river, we started the hour drive out towards the lodge.  On this leg, we were thinking that the road was really lousy.  This was of course until we pulled off the road to head towards the lodge which was 5 km off the main road into the jungle.  Now that road was lousy.  Because it was the end of the raining season, there were huge craters on the road.  Inside the truck, we were bouncing all over the place. It took a good half hour for 5 km! On the plus side, it was lush and beautiful and we saw a whole bunch of the beautiful big blue butterflies called Morpho. We eventually got to the lodge which was very pretty. There were bungalows that overlooked the jungle below.  Each bungalow had a bedroom and a bathroom.The view was great as you are on top of a hill and you can see pretty far. There was a dinning room hut as well as a bar area. When we got there, we found out that would be the only guests for our 4 days there.  It was just us and the staff.  Sweet, our on jungle lodge all to ourselves.  Once we relaxed a bit on the hammocks,  we went for lunch which was very nice.  They served us some chicken along with some fresh fruit juice from jungle fruits.

After lunch we decided to go to the pool which was a ten minute walk through the jungle.  Freddy our guide brought us there.  The pool is great.  Because we are in the middle of the jungle, the pool didn’t have any electricity.  It was a fresh water pool supplied from a natural source.  The sun kept the water temperature nice and comfortable.  As it was hot, we really enjoyed the swim.  There was even a little slide to slide down on into the pool.

After the swim, we headed back to the huts.  By this time, it was getting close to sunset.  As we mentioned in another post, the sun sets every night around 6:00 pm.  The guys had a beer and the girls had a Pisco Sour and we all sat on the patio in front of Kevin and Melissa’s bungalow to stare out into the jungle.  It was really something to see.  While the sun was up, you could hear all kinds of birds in the jungle.  The second the sun set, all the birds went quiet and the crickets all came to life.  It was like someone turned a switch.

After relaxing for a good hour and a half, we went to the dinning hut for supper.  Once again, it was great.  After eating, we went back to our bungalows and chatted for a while.  It was once again not a late night as we were getting up at 4:15 am the next morning to head out into the jungle.  Early to bed, early to rise…

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Machu Picchu (March 29, 2008)

Another early morning as we woke up at 5:00 am (I know, getting up early again but how many times in your life are you going to be at Machu Picchu??). We had a quick breakfast and went to the bus station to grab the first bus at 5:30 am. Of course we were not the only ones, there was a pretty big line up already. Thankfully, they lined up buses and we got on the third or fourth one. As you may be able to see on the pictures, the road to Machu Picchu is very windy. And it was pretty early in the morning… I think a few of us were feeling a bit queasy. We arrived at Machu Picchu at around 6. We took a small path and went above some of the terraces to a promontory called the Watchman’s Hut. From here, you have a great view of the Inca city with the mountain Wayna Picchu in the background. It was really cool and we spent about three hours just taking it in and taking pictures. We also had a little friend with us visiting from Paris, Minivenz, with whom we took pictures of along the way. You can check out his website at www.minivenz.fr which have pictures of his visit in Canada and and his trip to Peru. While we were taking pictures of him with Machu Picchu in the background, two Japanese ladies were killing each other laughing and then shyly asked if they could also take a picture of him. It was really funny. We spent quite a bit of time just sitting on the terraces and taking it in. Every once in a while Roger would go off and listen to tour guides to get some extra information. Of course that wasn’t the best idea – who sends the guy with the not such a great memory… The joke was that Roger would come back saying: “I don’t know, something about Incas and stones”. Anyway, between reading the book and listening in on the guides, here is some information on Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is an Inca site built around 1450 situated on a mountain ridge. It was abandoned during the Spanish conquest. For centuries, Machu Picchu was buried in the jungle, until Hiram Bingham, an American Historian from Yale, rediscovered it in July 1911. He had heard rumors about a lost city and found some locals who brought him there. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the new seven wonders of the world.

Kevin was saying he really wanted to climb up Wayna Picchu, the mountain on the other side. They only allow 400 people a day to climb up. It look high, steep and scary. Melissa and Marjorie were like “Have fun you guys”. I think the guys thought the girls were sissys but they did not care. So Kevin and Roger started their ascension while Melissa and Marjorie went to explore the ruins, armed with the book and their ears (as in listening to other tours). They managed to understand a good part of the back ruins but ended up completely lost in the front part of the ruins. So after about an hours of exploring on their own, which was a lot of fun, they decided to go back to the entrance and get their own guide! Enough with the free loading :-). As soon as they started the tour it started downpouring. But the show must go one so out came the rain jackets and umbrellas. The girls were pretty worried about the guys on the steep path under the rain but thankfully were able to do quick therapy on each other (that’s the advantage of being two psychologists traveling together :-)) and enjoyed the tour. The tour was a bit short because they had to meet the guys at 11:00. It still was pretty informative. The tough part was trying to remember everything to tell the guys after.

Meanwhile, on Wayna Picchu, Roger and Kevin started the accent to the top. The sign at the entrance at start of the climb said that it would take between 45 to 60 minutes to climb. Ha, there was no way that it was going to take them that long so off they went. While the climb was pretty tough, after climbing at 4000 m at Lake Titicaca, this was certainly much easier. It was a hot and tough climb but they made it to the top in 32 minutes. Not bad for a couple of old guys… And wow, was it ever worth it. The view from up there was stunning. From up there, you were surrounded by some amazing mountains and you could look down on Machu Picchu. Many pictures were taken and they also relaxed for a bit after working so hard to get up there. Once the rain started, they decided that they had better head down. What was most challenging both on the way up and on the way down was the steps. These steps were built 500 years ago and as one American put it “The sure aren’t up to code…” Despite the rain and some slippery rocks, they made it down safe and sound. They were even early for our rendezvous.
Once we met the guys, we brought them on our tour of the ruins, except we kept on getting lost trying to find places such as the Condor Temple and the Royal Palace. The front ruins can really be confusing… We also didn’t remember everything she told us so we had to make things up along the way. I don’t think they noticed because we can be pretty creative (or maybe they did notice because they did not give us a very good tip…). We then brought them to the back ruins where we had a lot more info and at least knew where we were going (between our tour and all the other ones we listened to). I am pretty sure they were impressed then. After we were done exploring the ruins, we went back up on the terracing to hang out with the lamas and take it in. The scenery is so beautiful it was really hard to actually leave. We left at around 3:00. It was crazy to think that we almost spend 9 hours there, it sure did not feel that long.

We took the bus back to town and we were pretty starved and exhausted. We went to find a restaurant but actually sat down at two restaurants and then left because they did not have the deals they had told us they had for beer. You have to understand that after a long day like that, beer is certainly important! We finally picked one and it was quite good – a few beers later and some Peruvian specialties, everybody was feeling more energized. We then headed back to the train station to take the Vistadome back to Ollantaytambo. The comfort was not quite the same as on the way back. We had less space and Kevin was pretty squished. But at least we got some entertainment. First, we got some folkloric dancing with a funny looking guy wearing a mask, and then we got a full blown fashion show – yes a fashion show in the train! The woman and man serving us the food modeled a whole bunch of alpaca wool sweaters for us. It was absolutely hilarious, cat walk, blue steel look, the whole deal. We were killing ourselves laughing.

We arrived in Ollantaytambo some time after 6:00 but we still had an hour and half cab ride to get back to Cusco. It occurred to us as we were in the cab that driving at night trough the mountains on not the best roads was not the smartest move. It was pretty scary and stressful. We had no seat belts in the back so we hooked arms and held on tight! Kevin was in the front which was probably more scary as we only had one headlight… Once we got to Cusco, we went back to our hotel and relaxed and went to bed as we had a pretty exhausting day.

Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes (March 28, 2008)

That morning, we spent some time blogging while Kevin was finishing up at his conference. In the late morning we grabbed a cab to go to Ollantaytambo, which is a town about 60km Northwest of Cusco. It was from Ollantaytambo that we were catching our train to Aguas Calientes (the city just outside of Machu Picchu). The cab ride was an hour and half ride. While Kevin was talking to the driver, we realized that we payed too much for the cuy in the touristic restaurant (which we knew already, but what can you do?). The cab ride was another interesting one (which one isn’t in this country?) On the way there, we pulled into this little town and the cab driver turned off the highway and started on a small road. I think we were all wondering what was going on and whether we were going to ended naked on the side of the road (best case scenario). Our cab driver took a short cut through the mountains. Although it got a bit scary at times, looking down the cliff, the scenery was absolutely breath taking. Roger was in awe and trying to take pictures along the way. The cab driver was very nice and stopped a couple times for pictures. He even pretended to take off and leave Roger there after Kevin asked him to. It was pretty funny. Oh, I almost forgot, as we came around a bend in the road we had to stopped as there was a guy on the road and a whole bunch of tree trunks in the middle of the road. I guess a guy was cutting trees above us and throwing them down. It took a few minutes of the guy franticly making signs to his friend to stop with his arms and then he had to remove all the trees one by one. For a few seconds there we were wondering if we were going to backtrack on that small windy road.

We ended up getting to Ollantaytambo in good time, even with the photo op and the tree trunks. The first thing we did was to go get our train tickets that we had reserved by internet before we had left. Ollantaytambo is an attractive little town at the foot of some spectacular Inca ruins and terraces. We had a bit over 2 hours and a tough decision to make as we were all starving: eat or visit the ruins. We found a compromise and had a quick sandwich and spent a bit over an hour in the ruins. It was SO hot that day. We had a lot of fun just walking around the ruins and taking pictures. It is the place where the Inca emperor Manco Inca was able to defeat the Spanish in a battle. The finely cut rocks and plantation terraces were very large obstacles for the conquistadors to surpass, and the fortress was also used by Manco to conduct successful attacks on Francisco Pizarro.

We then went to catch our train. We took the Vistadome to Aguas Calientes which is the city where you sleep at the bottom of Machu Picchu. The vistadome is a very nice train with panoramic windows in the ceiling so that you can see as much of the beautiful scenery as much as possible. It was very nice and we even got a meal. When we arrived, we went to look for a hotel right away. Thanks to Melissa’s, who had done a good job looking at their travel book in the train, we found a hotel right away. Second stop was to buy our entrance tickets to Machu Picchu for the next morning as we where planning on getting there very early. We also went to the bus station to get the bus tickets for the next morning. All this being done, we felt we deserved a drink so we found a terrace with a 4 for 1 deal for drinks. While having our drinks, we checked our travel books to see where we would be eating that evening. We saw that there was a French Peruvian restaurant that was highly recommended, so we decided to check it out. It was Called Indio Feliz and is run by a French guy and his Peruvian wife. It was a very good 3-course meal. We also had some nice wine, a must with a French-style meal. After the great meal we headed back to the hotel to catch some shuteye as we were getting up at 5:00 the next morning (funny but it seems we are getting up early pretty often on this holiday!).

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Cusco (March 27, 2008)

Today was another day that Marjorie, Roger, Melissa checked out the sites as Kevin was at his conference. After a busy day yesterday where we visited many sites inside Cusco, today was our day to venture outside of the city. The first stop was Pisac. Pisac is about 1 hour outside of Cusco and we had two different ways to get there – via a local bus or a taxi. Well, being the adventurous ones that we are, we decided to go with the more interesting option and take the same bus that the locals do. We weren’t exactly sure where the bus was leaving from but eventually found the so called “bus depot” behind some metal, shady looking fence. After paying the 80 cents bus fair, we were off. The bus was filled with a mixture of locals and “gringos”. The bus ride was a good old fashion white knuckle ride. The majority of the trip there was on a small road with huge cliffs. The bus driver was driving way too fast and of course, there were no guard rails to protect us. One little slip up by the driver and we would have been over a 500 foot cliff. Oh well, nothing like a bit of adventure. That why one travel right?

We made it safely into town we set out to visit the Inca ruins that Pisac is famous for. Our options were a 2-hour hike up the hill or a 10 minute ride up. In an effort to visit as much as possible, we took the taxi option. Honest, it wasn’t because we didn’t want to climb for 2 hours. :) This was our first real visit of Inca ruins and wow, was it ever beautiful and impressive to see. The ruins overlooked a beautiful valley and the scenery was amazing. Just as we started a visit, a guide approached us to offer his services. He seemed knowledgeable and the price was decent ($5.00) so we decided to go for it. It ended up being a great idea as he gave us all kinds of great explanations.
Pisac’s Inca ruins were divided into 5 main areas – military, agriculture, religious, storage facilities, and an Imperial Palace. The main Sun Temple is in amazing shape and showed the impressive Inca masonry . Vast agriculture terraces are still there and looked liked they had been recently built despite the fact that they’ve been there for 500 years. While visiting, you can see holes in the hillside that were used as tombs. None of us were really experts on Inca construction and were amazed to see how well built the buildings were. It was also equally impressive to see how they built water channels to transport water for baths as well as agriculture irrigation. The channels all still work.

After visiting the ruins, we took a taxi back down into town. Pisac other main attraction is the local market. It is one of the most famous markets in South America. Hundreds of stalls were set up with the locals selling a wide variety of textiles, carvings, jewelry, pots, ceramics as well as other items. The market runs 3 days a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays). The busiest day is Sunday when many people from the neighbouring towns come in to go to church and visit the market. We visited on a Thursday. Because it wasn’t the high season for tourist, the market was pretty quiet.

We went for lunch at a local restaurant where the owner cooked the empanadas that we ate outside in a stone oven. Needless to say, they were great and really hit the spot after walking around for 3 hours in the heat.

After doing some shopping (where Melissa bought a t-shirt for Kevin and Marjorie bought a beautiful silver necklace and pendant), we set off to figure out how we were going to get back to Cusco. Our initial plan was to take the same local bus back. However, when we arrived at the place where the bus was leaving from, we realized that there was a long lineup of school kids waiting for the bus.

After being approached numerous times by a taxi cab driver, his persistence finally paid off and Melissa entered into the negotiations (in Spanish) to figure out how much it would cost us to get back to Cusco. After a tough bargaining session, the price was set at 5 soles for each of us (about $2.25). Now all that was left to do was to find a 4th person as he didn’t want to make the hour and a half trip without a 4th person. He put us in the backseat of the taxi and started walking around the area trying to find another passenger. At one point of time, he brought over two other female tourists who promptly figured out that 5 people in a space for 4 people wouldn’t work (nice try buddy…). After about 10 minutes he finally found a 4th passenger – in comes in a grandma. We thought ok, we off. But a few seconds later, the hatchback opens up and in comes in 2 more people who sat in the trunk area with 2 bags of potatoes. Our little entrepreneur taxi driver was able to get 6 people in his taxi – not too shabby. We found it pretty funny. It felt like we were in a movie.

We asked him to drop us off on the outskirt of Cusco so that we could visit Sacsayhuaman (or as it is known to the tourists as Sexy Woman as it sounds almost exactly like the proper pronunciation). Sacsayhuaman is considered by some of as one of the best monuments that mankind has ever built. It sits on top of a hill and offers a magnificent view of Cusco. While many stones have been taken from the site over the years (some used to build houses in neighbouring Cusco), it still has impressive walls and ramparts. The main rampart that faces the open square has 25 angles and 60 different walls. It is thought that the form of the rampart with all its different walls and angles was to represent the teeth of the Puma. What is most impressive about the walls is some contains boulders that weigh up to 145 tons! These, like all the other stones found on the site, were taken from a quarry that was found 3 km away. Can you imagine transporting a 145 ton boulder for 3 km?!!? Each stone fits perfectly together and still stand despite the fact that no cement or mortar was used. Some reports say that it took between 20,000 and 30,000 people 60 years to build Sacsayhuaman. While we could on and describe more about Sacsayhuaman, a great writeup can be found here:

http://www.world-mysteries.com/mpl_9.htm

After visiting this impressive site, we took a taxi into town. We met up Kevin. He had spent the day visiting potato farmers as well as a potato park where the Peruvian government was producing seed potatoes for many of the different varieties found in Peru.

That evening we went for a local Peruvian delicacy – Cuy (or as it is called in English “Guinea Pig”). Some people believe that eating Cuy can prevent and even cure cancer. With credentials like that, we were certainly not going to give up the opportunity to eat it. We went to a restaurant that is supposed to be known for its Cuy. We ordered it prepared two different ways – fried and roasted. When they came out, the head was still on and for presentation, they put a pepper in its mouth as well as a tomato as a hat. After a few pictures, off our Cuy went to be cut up for us. Kevin, Marjorie and Roger all had some Cuy (Melissa doesn’t eat red meat) and we were all pleasantly surprised that it tasted really quite good. If you think about it, here in North America and in Europe, people eat rabbit. How much different is a Guinea Pig?

After supper, we headed back to our hotel. Every evening, as we walk back, we are asked many times by people if we wanted to buy different products like touques, scarves, finger puppets, and sweaters. On this fine evening, we were approached by a young finger puppet vendor (about 10 years old). While most times we say a polite “No Gracias”, this little salesman was very persistent. He started chatting with Kevin and discovered that we were from Canada. Kevin decided to start asking him what he knew about Canada. And let me tell you, he knew as much about Canada as a lot of Canadian do. He was able to answer all kinds of questions, and in particular the different Prime Ministers we had in the past. When he mentioned that he knew that Kim Campbell had been the first female Prime Minister between Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien, we were amazed to say the least. How could a 10 year old kid selling finger puppets in Cusco know a fact that many Canadians wouldn’t even know? He claimed that he learned it in school but we suspect that it was something he learned from other tourists. Regardless, it was a very impressive display of knowledge/memory. We quizzed him on a few other countries and he knew many facts about them as well. Needless to say, we bought a number of finger puppets from the little guy.

After being amazed by the young salesman, we headed back to the hotel to get a bit of shut eye.

Cusco (March 26, 2008)

While Kevin was busy presenting at the conference, Melissa, Roger and Marjorie spend the day discovering the many wonderful sites in the city of Cusco. Cusco is the ancient Inca capital and it has lots a great sites in the city and all around it. We started our day at Qoricancha (also spelt Koricancha) or the Temple of the Sun. Inside the walls of the Catholic church are the remains of what was once the centre of the Inca Capital. It was filled with such fabulous treasures of gold and silver it took the Spanish conquistadors three months to melt it all down. It contained life size gold sculptures of men, women, children, animals and flowers. On the walls were more than 700 gold sheets weighing about 2 kg each! When the Spaniards arrived, the complex was awarded to Juan Pizarro, the brother of Fransisco Pizarro who was the conqueror of the Inca empire and the founder of Lima. Juan Pizarro in turn willed it to the Dominicans who ripped much of it down to build their church.

We visited the cloister and church and the remains of the temple. It also had a great garden in the back. After the visit, we went for lunch at a very nice spot called El Encuentro. Once again the menu was so cheap for so much food!

Afterwards, we went to the Plaza de Armas. We went to visit the cathedral which was very impressive. Beautiful altars, paintings and silver pieces. There are two important paintings: one is the oldest surviving painting in Cusco depicting the 1650 earthquake. The other one is a local painting of the Last Supper. The food on the table is local, with local fruits, local roasted rodent, and Chicha, the local drink. In the church, there is also a Christ that looks black. It is El Senor de Los Temblores, The Lord of the Earthquakes, who is being paraded through the main square the first day of the Holy Week every year. He is black because of the flames of the candles through the procession (so we were told). The choir was also amazingly sculpted with 80 saints and virgins.

Next we went to the church La Compania de Jesus which is on the other side of the street. Another beautiful church with an altar made of gold leafs. We actually took a guided tour and it was very interesting. She pointed out to us how the indigenous artists added their own intricacies based on their own beliefs in the many sculptures and paintings. We went up to the top and had a great view of the Plaza.

Since we weren’t yet churched out, we went next to the church of La Merced and visited the monastery and the museum. It had a beautiful cloister and nice paintings. The most amazing thing though was a gold montrance that is 1.3 m high and 22 kg incrusted with hundreds of diamonds and pearls. It was amazing, we were in total awe. It is crowned by an immense siren-shaped pearl, which is considered the second largest in the world . The guide had to get us out the room, we just could not stop looking at it.

We then had to go buy a tourist ticket to go visit ruins the next day. Since it was where we had to buy our tickets we did a quick tour of the Museum of Contemporary Arts which was really cool. All is all it was a busy day of seeing so many beautiful things, our head was spinning.

We met up with Kevin and went with him to an event from the conference. It was an exposition of photos on potatoes. It was great with beautiful pictures (plus the free cocktails :-)). Kevin’s thesis supervisor and wife highly recommended a restaurant called Map Cafe. We decided to go try it and were not disappointed!!! It is found in the Museo de Arte Precolombino. It is actually in the courtyard of the museum. The restaurant is housed in a glass and metal square box which in itself was very cool. The food and the service was just as amazing and unique as the setup. While it was certainly expensive for Peru it was still much cheaper that what an equivalent restaurant would be in Canada. It was a great way to celebrate Kevin finishing the “work” part of the trip.

After supper, we walked home and got another great night’s sleep. Kevin was presenting at the conference the next day and we were all tired from a very busy day.