I spent a good part of October in South America. IT Guy and I are fascinated by ancient civilizations, hence our trip to Egypt last year. This year, we finally made it to Machu Picchu, not nearly as old as Egypt but with a lot of uncanny similarities, which is what fascinates us. As much as I would like to study the origins of the Incas, I simply don’t have the time to devote. Should I ever retire… I’d probably keel over in a coffin. So let’s not go there. We just visit and admire.
We also traveled to the Galapagos, more of an animal civilization, which is equally fascinating. Such a wide array of animals, all living in harmony, and because there are no predators and no humans, they aren’t afraid of anything.
As most of you know, I live in California. Going anywhere on the east coast requires a three-hour time change and dubious airport connections. It took us an entire day to travel from LAX to our first destination in Lima, Peru. One would think it would be possible to make a direct flight but apparently our tour company missed the memo. So we arrived at LAX at 4 AM and staggered into Lima at midnight, got delivered to our hotel, and had to drag out of bed at 6 AM to hunt tags for our bags since we missed meeting the group and director the day before. I don’t think we ever caught up on our sleep.
We took off by bus and plane from Lima to Urubamba, a transportation hub in the Sacred Valley known for its Inca concentric terraces, an elevation of 9000 feet. We were given all sorts of advice on how to avoid altitude sickness, from eating light to drinking coca tea. All the hotels provide decanters of hot coca tea in the lobby. I have utterly no idea what helped, but we never suffered any problems and neither did anyone in the group. On the way up, we stopped at a small town originally built in Inca times and still used today. Inca foundations can be found everywhere, including Lima. (those gutters were designed by Incas) Apparently, like the Romans, they knew the secret to building foundations that resisted earthquakes. It involved adding rolling rocks under the blocks, a feat of engineering incomprehensible to me. The market town, however, looked like any other market in every other country we’ve visited. Trinkets for tourists and beautiful artwork and weaving and silver for those willing to pay. Peru is suffering 80% unemployment right now, and the government offers no benefits, so selling to tourists is their economy. Since I love original artwork, I think we added groceries for a few families along the way!
Now theoretically acclimated to the altitude, we took off for Machu Picchu (“Old Peak” in Quechua, the native language) by train. There are three different trains, and we had the luxury one with tables and entertainment, but there still wasn’t much room for luggage. Since it was to be an overnight stay, we had to pack enough to get by in a small carry-on. The entertainers (aka the porters in costume) reenacted an ancient Inca love story, or so we were told. I’m sure Incas had love stories. They are eternal!
Tourism has expanded the town of Machu Picchu into excellent hotels and tons of restaurants, plus markets, of course. A rushing river runs through the middle with several bridges crossing it. We explored a little the night we arrived and the next morning, before a bus took us up to the national historic site built in the 15th century, before the Spanish invasion.
No one is entirely certain of the purpose of the enormous compound. Theories range from a a royal estate to a secret ceremonial center. It’s made up of over 150 buildings with baths and houses as well as temples and an astronomical observatory to track equinoxes. Some of the buildings were reportedly lined in gold to catch and worship the sun. Imagine a hundred separate flights of stairs on top of a mountain and us gasping to reach the top for the best view…
Worse yet, imagine those poor natives pushing 50 pound stones up the mountain without wheels. In Cuzco, the next day, we saw ramps they used to push stones up for a separate compound. They’re gradual, but ugh. Apparently, llamas make poor pack horses.
The Spanish never found the compound, which is why it mostly stands today. The invaders built churches on top of Inca foundations everywhere they could, but the Incas hid the torturous paths up the mountain. It is completely invisible from almost any aspect.
After climbing all over the mountain, we took train and bus up to Cuzco, over 11000’ elevation, where there is another Inca site newer than Machu Picchu. This one was built in a city and easily located, thus almost totally destroyed by the Spaniards. They ordered the immense stone buildings and terracing to be used for a quarry, and the fortress was carried off, block by block. The Spanish demanded all the Inca gold, and when everything was stripped, they still cut off heads and enslaved the population. Well, like here in California, I suppose they were making converts—except these were soldiers bent on treasure.
In Cuzco, we visited an immense market where they sold the fabulous chocolates and coffee of Peru, (the photo is the street outside the market) along with more esoteric things like goat’s head soup and guinea pigs for roasting. Peru boasts approximately 4000 varieties of potatoes, and they probably sold a few hundred of them in that market. Each kind is used in a different way because they have different flavors. I chose to buy chocolate.
Since medical facilities are few and far between, natives still rely on shamans for health care. We were given a demonstration of all the herbs and their purposes, but I was more fascinated with the beautiful weaving and colors of his costume. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit weavers. We had to fly back to Lima for the next leg of our journey. I suspect we spent as much time in travel as we did visiting. No major highways and slow airports meant we spent a lot of time shopping in airport gift shops!
From Lima, we flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where we spent the night in an immensely modern hotel, before flying, again, the next day to the island of Balta in the Galapagos. At least with the cruise, we got to stay in one room for nearly a week, while we roamed the various islands seeing the famous Galapagos tortoises and blue-footed boobies, along with penguins and flightless cormorants and masses of marine and land iguanas. The islands are now a protected area, so fishing is banned without special permission. No one is allowed on most of the islands unless accompanied by trained nature guides in small groups. It was a marvelous journey into the past, with reminders of how the sailors in ships survived on those long journeys. Tortoise soup anyone?
I wish we’d been able to make these journeys when we were younger and could have designed our own trips and traipsed about exploring, but who had the time or money to do so while working and raising kids? I’m just glad I’m finally seeing places I’ve only read about.
Do you have a bucket list of places to see? Or just things you wish to do?