On Lake Titicaca

I was the one who pushed to come to Lake Titicaca, on our way to La Paz. We could have flown from Cusco, but it was important for me to come see this lake. Henry was happy with that plan, and we both felt that travelling by bus would give us a much better view of the landscape and the towns. Mostly, I wanted to experience going on the lake. 

We had booked our tour at the hotel, as soon as we arrived the day before, and we got picked up at 7:30, as we had been told, by a smallish tourist bus that was already full. We were the last two pickups. The group looked to be about twenty or so.  Not too large. Our hotel was close to the water, so it was only a short ride down. It's always a little challenging to experience a place when visiting as part of a group, so I made a conscious effort to set myself into my own little bubble. At the dock, there were several other buses arriving, and many small boats were waiting. Our guide takes us to our boat, which we board by stepping across one or two other boats, crews helping to steady those of us who look like we need it as we come through. 

I am always a little anxious at the beginning of an organized day like this. I am so much better when we're on our own. We get into the cabin, which has seats arranged much like on a bus: two on each side. We find two together and settle in. A few more people shuffle in, but before long, we're on our way. I'm still trying to keep into my bubble. 

Lake Titicaca sits at 12,500 feet above sea level, it is the highest navigable lake in the w

We all learned about Lake Titicaca in school, and like most kids, I remembered the lake mostly because of it's name, which is even funnier in French than it is in English. Our grown kids still chuckled as we were telling them about our itinerary. Our guide explains that most people pronounce it incorrectly. The accent, he says, should be on the last syllable: TiticaCA! Sorry, but it still sounds funny!... 

But now, I am more interested in the lake because of the legends associated with it. For a long time, now, I have been interested in meditation and various alternative therapies. I had never studied Shamanism, but I had certainly heard about it along the way, and I knew that much of it originated in Peru. Machu Pichu and Lake Titicaca was certainly associated with it and the Lake is said to hold a particular kind of energy.

Lake Titicaca has been the subject of many legends and creation myths, dating back to around 200 BCE. When the Inkas invaded these regions and conquered the local tribes, they integrated these legends into their own mythology. The Inkas believed that their ancestors had arisen from the lake, which was considered a sacred place. There are many remains of temples that were built on some of islands and around the lake.  According to Shamanic belief, Peru and Bolivia are still considered spiritually significant and many people travel here with the intent to connect with that deep energy. 

I was curious to see whether I would sense anything different in this place. I had found that in the Sacred Valley and on Machu Pichu, it was difficult to get into a state of reverence, with the large number of tourists around.  On Lake Titicaca, I found it less crowded and there was, to me, a sense of something more. 

Beside this aspect, from a geographical perspective, the lake is impressive. At 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) above sea level, it is the highest navigable lake in the world. Although it is only about one tenth the size of Lake Superior, it is nevertheless the second largest lake in South America, at 8,300 sq km. Many cultures developed and still remain around Lake Titicaca: the Quechuas, Aymaras, Uros, Pacajes, and Puquinas. We are taking a short tour, so we won't make it to the Isla del Sol, which is on the Bolivian side of the lake, or the Isla de la Luna, the two most sacred sites around the lake.  We will visit the floating islands, where the Uros people live, and Taquile Island, where the Taquilenos are part of the Quechuas.

As we start over the lake, the sky is overcast. It is fairly cool here, even though it is their warmer season (rainy season), it is cooler with the altitude. Temperatures average somewhere around 17 C during the day, and can range from around 3C during rainy season (our winter) to -8 or -10C during their winter (June - September). The lake creates a microclimate that enables farming in its surroundings, and we can see the typical terraces around the lake where crops of potatoes and quinoa.

The Uros and the Floating Islands

Our first stop is at a floating island. As of 2011, there were approximately 1200 Uros living on about 60 of these floating islands, near Puno. The guide explains that there is a rotation of islands that are visited by tourists, so that the stress on the structures is kept manageable. As we get closer, I find that they seem smaller than I had envisioned. Once the boat docks, we all step onto the surface which feels squishy. It is sufficiently firm, but there is a definite 'give', a little like when you stand on a trampoline. It feels as if your feet will sink through the reeds, but they don't. Obviously, they know what they're doing... they've been doing it for hundreds of years. According to their legends, the Uros are the owners and guardians of the lake. The floating islands originally served a defensive purpose, as they could be unmoored and moved if a threat arose. 

The reeds are layered to form the base of the island.

The reeds are layered to form the base of the island.

Today, the island we come to visit is home to three families. Here, everything revolves around the totora reed. They are used for pretty much everything. They weave the reeds together and mix the structure with dirt they get from the bottom of the lake. Then, more and more layers are added to create the base of the island. These are built in areas where the water is not very deep and where there is  a plentiful supply of reeds. The reeds are also used to build their homes, and their boats. They are also used as a source of food and medicine. There is a little outdoor kitchen, and the guide explains that the toilets are located on another small island. Each house is built on a raised floor, to keep the cold and humidity away, and rheumatism is a problem. 

They are not totally isolated and they don't shun modern life. There is a solar panel in front of one of the houses. They have a television, and there is a radio station on one of the other islands. Younger children are schooled one one of the islands, while the older kids attend school in Puno. 

The interior of one of the huts.

The interior of one of the huts.

I signal to one of the women to ask if I can see the inside of her house and she smiles and waves at me to go ahead. It is simple. The bed, at the back, seems to be raised even higher. Everything is tidy. I wonder what it must be like, to go to bed here, every night. How cold does it get? How quiet it must be. How dark, at night. How many stars they must see in the sky. Their life is so completely different from mine that I cannot even imagine it. For a moment, I almost see the chasm that separates us. Our realities are so far from one another that, even as I stand here on the soft reed floor and as I listen to the guide explain how these families function day-to-day, I get that I just don't get it. That's okay. I don't think anyone does. We'd have to live here for a while, with them, and even then, we'd be different. They don't get us either. They have no idea what our lives are like. As tourists, we fabricate a little fantasy of what their life must be like, and they probably do the same for us. Sometimes, I think that the more I travel, the more I learn how little I know... but enough of that!

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We are invited to take a short ride on the totora boat. This is their main mean of transportation even though they have small motorboats now. We all climb in. It'll cost us about $2 each. It's fun and it is a good source of income for them. The ride is pleasant. The boat feels a little rickety, but it feels safe enough. We make a slow, long ride around the island. Soon, the ride is done and we're back on our speedboat, ready for an hour ride to our next stop: Taquile Island. On our way there, we get out on the back of the boat and photograph the lake. The clouds are definitely cooperating today. The view is truly amazing.

As we head over to Taquile Island, it is as if the sky and the lake are doing their best to show off for us.

Taquile Island:

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Our boat docks and we all get off. We are greeted by a sign that suggests we don't photograph children without their permission, but also that we don't give them "propinas" (tips) to photograph them, a practice that we have become used to everywhere in Peru. The guide had mentioned that on the way over, saying that in some cases, children were skipping school to hang around where the tourists came to make money for photographs.

The black shawl is worn by Taquilenos who are volunteering for the community.

The black shawl is worn by Taquilenos who are volunteering for the community.

We are all asked to line up at a first archway, where a local volunteer counts how many people are coming on the island. Tourism started here around the 1990's, and at first, there were many tour boats who would come on the island, and things became a little chaotic. They reclaimed ownership of the process sometime later and now manage the flow of tourists quite well. The population on the island is around 2000 , and Taquilenos speak Quechuan with some Spanish. There are no hotels or restaurants on the island. Tourists who wish to stay overnight can arrange for a home stay. Meals are provided by families. We will be having lunch with a host family. 

The woman who is taking count of tourists is wearing a black shawl over her head. Our guide explains that this indicates she is doing a year of volunteer work for the community. This is a tradition for all Taquilenos who take pride in contributing and they choose to devote this time in service to their peers. As we go through the day, we notice many people who are sporting the black shawl, women and men, adults and even a few teenagers and children. It is not clear how this works where children are involved. Unfortunately, I didn't have an opportunity to ask.

Here, everyone carries a pack on their backs. When loads are too heavy, llamas are used to carry loads up and down the hills.

Here, everyone carries a pack on their backs. When loads are too heavy, llamas are used to carry loads up and down the hills.

Their packs can contain just about anything, from potatoes, to handicrafts, it is used to carry everything around.

Their packs can contain just about anything, from potatoes, to handicrafts, it is used to carry everything around.

The other thing we quickly notice is men and women carrying large packs on their backs. This is a sight we have become accustomed to as we have seen it in Cusco and the Sacred Valley and in many of the small pueblos along the way from Cusco to Puno. Here again, we see people carrying heavy loads up and down the hills. We had been told that there is some walking required here. Nothing all that strenuous, but there are no cars on the island. Ah! and there will be some climbing! Well, we're used to that by now... 

We were told to walk up the path to a second gate where we would be led through a short cut to our host family for lunch. It's not a huge hill, but we are still at 12,500 feet, and even after we've been at high altitude for nearly a month now, we still get winded pretty quickly. So we walk up slowly, and stop to grab a photograph whenever we feel the need to take a break. The highest point of the island is 4,050 metres (13,287 feet) above sea level and the main village is at 3,950 metres (12,959 feet). As we struggle to make it up the path, a woman passes by us. She has a huge pack on her back. She is leaning forward for balance as she moves up at a good pace... a much better pace than I, who is going up with just my handbag on my shoulder, trying not to pant too loudly. 

When we get to the the gate our guide hands us each a small branch of something. I didn't catch the name... "Chew on this, it's good for altitude sickness, and it helps with shortness of breath". So I do, and after a time, it seems to help. Perhaps it is similar to the coca leaves we have been using since Cusco.  We are all guded along the back of a house, through a small yard where a sheep was grazing and up a few steps and we arrive in the yard of our host family. There is a cloth awning over several long tables already set out for lunch. 

Our meal was traditional and home cooked. Easily one of the best meals we had while in Peru. Our first course was a delicious quinoa soup. On this island, everything is organic. No chemicals are brought in or used.

Our meal was traditional and home cooked. Easily one of the best meals we had while in Peru. Our first course was a delicious quinoa soup. On this island, everything is organic. No chemicals are brought in or used.

This is definitely a family affair. The mother (and I think the grandmother) are cooking indoors as a daughter and a son, both older teenagers, go around with table settings. Father is also busy going back and forth, getting everything ready. As they finish the preparations, our guide gives us a short presentation on the traditions of the Taquilenos. 

Textile is what Taquile is all about. Everything else is secondary. Here, everybody works on creating some form of it. Traditionally, women spin, dye and weave. Men knit. Children, both girls and boys, are initiated into the craft early on. He explains that each married man has a belt that he weaves himself. It is made by using threads spun by his wife for the weft (threads that travel across the grain) and that uses the wife's own hair for the warp (the threads that form the base of the weaving). All women we see have long hair. A few times in her life, a woman will cut her hair and she will donate the hair to her husband. It is from that hair that he will weave this special belt. This tradition represents the close relationship between a husband and wife, and the need to work closely together. 

Each person also wears a woven bag around their waist, where they keep coca leaves. These are highly valued as they are essential to maintaining good health at high altitudes. These are used as a way to greet one another, as they exchange coca leaves with each other. In instances where someone meets an elder or someone who commands respect, they would simply offer coca leaves to the elder. 

The men wore a typical hat, which looks like a tuque but with a very long top that falls to the side, onto their shoulder. This too is steeped in tradition. It is the custom that a father will knit the hat for his son, as he comes of age. The way in which he wears the hat and the long top lets everyone know whether he is single, dating, or married. One of these hats was circulated for us to examine, and it displayed amazing craftmanship, as it was knit with what must have been very small needles and the stitches looked absolutely uniform with beautiful patterns. 

The presentation came to a close as our meals were being served. We had trout "a la plancha" with patatas fritas and salad and everything was delicious. During lunch, we were entertained by a local musician. We finished the meal with a cup of tea made from that plant that we were told to chew before. It makes very refreshing tea, somewhat reminiscent of peppermint tea. 

After lunch, we were invited to finish the climb to the town square. More climbing, more huffing, but it was well worth it. The square was large and seemed a little deserted. We spotted a little church right at the corner and went in. We have made it a tradition, whenever we go into a church during our travels, to light three candles, one of each of our children and their own families. The church was small, and a few residents were praying, so I took only the one photograph.

The town square looks a little deserted, except for a few locals and us tourists.

The town square looks a little deserted, except for a few locals and us tourists.

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There were candles burning everywhere on this little church's altar. 

There were candles burning everywhere on this little church's altar. 

Our three candles are on the upper left. We love you guys! 

Our three candles are on the upper left. We love you guys! 

After the square, we got to walk downhill!!! Yeah!!! The path was beautifully lined with stones. Their shapes and heights were irregular, so I had to watch carefully. And so I saw these two wonderfully placed heart shaped stones along the way.

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It was a nice walk down, with great views. This little girl was in her yard as we walked by and I managed to photograph her.

It was a nice walk down, with great views. This little girl was in her yard as we walked by and I managed to photograph her.

The lake looks amazing from here as well. We can see sheep and llamas in the fields, and again, we see the ever present terraces everywhere along the hills.

The lake looks amazing from here as well. We can see sheep and llamas in the fields, and again, we see the ever present terraces everywhere along the hills.

Before long, we come to the second pier where our boat is waiting for us. It has been a wonderful day on a truly magnetic lake. 

Before long, we come to the second pier where our boat is waiting for us. It has been a wonderful day on a truly magnetic lake. 

The boat ride back to Puno is quiet. Everyone is tired and many people are sleeping. As I look over the lake and the clouds, I continue to take in the experience and the energy of this day. Lake Titicaca did not disappoint. It has shown itself to be a truly magnetic place.

Headin' South! From Cusco to Puno

I'm back! Sorry about the very long pause! My last post was from Cusco and, as you'll see in the next few posts, we left there to head South toward Bolivia, and we had a very busy stretch, much of which with either a very dismal Internet connection, and in some cases, no connection at all! 

I have lots of great experiences to share, so I'll do my best to get caught up as quickly as I can. We are in Panama, by now, and I have to confess the beach is beckoning, so if I take a little too long from here on, it's mostly because I am probably lounging around! 

So! We left Cusco to head down to Puno on February 11. Our plan was to stay in Puno for two nights, and to take a tour on Lake Titicaca. We decided to book a ticket on Inka Express, a tourist bus that offers a comfortable 10 hour ride that includes six stops along the way to visit some points of interest, and to get the kinks out. 

We boarded the bus at 7 AM on Saturday morning. It was off season, so there were only eight or ten people on the bus. We have our own guide and an attendant who offers us drinks after every stop. Mostly, I drink coca tea. It's been helpful to deal with the effects of high altitude. Henry has been chewing the leaves.

As we leave Cusco, we are introduced to the Altiplano, the high plateau between the East and the West chain of the Andes. It sits at around 3,750 m or 12,300 feet, and it is the most extensive area of high plateau on Earth outside Tibet. We were about to make friends with the Altiplano over the next several days, as we eventually traveled across almost all of its length, from Peru through to Salt Flats of Bolivia, to the Chilean border. 

The plateau is semi-arid and it sits above the tree line, so very little grows there. It really looks like a desert, sparsely scattered by little pueblos here and there. The landscape is like nothing I have ever seen before. Soon after we had left Cusco, we get a peek at our first lagoon: the Huacarpay Lagoon. 

Our first stop was in Andahuaylillas to visit the Sistine Chapel of the Andes. The church was built by the Jesuits in the late 16th Century, over a pre-Columbian huaca, or ceremonial space. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph in the church, so you're going to have to trust me on this... It was very nice.

Andahuaylillas Chapel

Andahuaylillas Chapel

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Henry continued to photograph local people.

Henry continued to photograph local people.

Huacarpay Lagoon

Huacarpay Lagoon

Doggie looks pretty comfortable there...

Doggie looks pretty comfortable there...

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Our next stop was in Checacupe, to see a hanging Inka bridge. We were all asked if we wanted to cross on it. I'm certain they have done some maintenance since ancient times, but I just used the new bridge...

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Next, we stopped in Raqchi. There were ruins to visit, but frankly, we were getting a bit ruined-out! So we just hung around the village square.

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Llama! Llama!!!

Llama! Llama!!!

After a quick stop for lunch in Marangani - no photograph - just a buffet lunch... nothing remarkable.. - we headed to La Raya, the highest point we would go to that day: 4335 meters, or about 14,200 feet above sea level. We stopped to take a few photographs, but we were in the middle of a thunderstsorm, so we only took a few photographs and moved on. Still, it was another wonderful view. I wish we could have spent more time there. But here goes! It didn't hurt that the clouds looked amazing!

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Our last stop was in Pukara, where we were still at 3650 meters. There was a small museum there that I skipped in favour of photographing the pueblo. 

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A few sheep were grazing in the church yard. I spent some time photographing them. This guy here looks like he's wondering what I'm finding so interesting. He doesn't look impressed. It did take me a while to get him to look at the camera though. Sheep don't take direction too well...

A few sheep were grazing in the church yard. I spent some time photographing them. This guy here looks like he's wondering what I'm finding so interesting. He doesn't look impressed. It did take me a while to get him to look at the camera though. Sheep don't take direction too well...

This little patch of yellow flowers caught my eye

This little patch of yellow flowers caught my eye

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The church looked nice, but it was closed so, again, no photographs of the inside.

The church looked nice, but it was closed so, again, no photographs of the inside.

 

We're almost in Puno, everyone! We made it just about as they had scheduled, around 5 o'clock. We came in on Saturday afternoon, and it looks like we came across the biggest market day EVER! Our bus was trying to get through a street that was almost completely taken over by furniture. I couldn't imagine where it had all been brought from, and what they would do with all of this overnight. It is the rainy season, after all, so there's no knowing what happens to all this stuff if it starts coming down. And then, street after street was fully taken over by fruits and vegetables, or dry goods, clothes, and various other items.

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So, we finally made it to Puno. The bus ride was definitely worth it. We were tired but we were also excited about the prospect of taking a tour on Lake Titicaca the next day, and that is what I will cover in my next blog post. 

Machu Picchu

It's been more than a week since we've returned from Machu Picchu, and my blogpost on our visit is overdue. Part of the reason is that I needed some time to process the photographs, but mostly, it is because it is so difficult to convey what it was like to visit this place.

Heads up: This is going to be a longer post, with lots of photographs!!! Also, I have included a map of the site as a reference at the end of this post.

We arrived around 9 am and luckily, the site was not yet overtaken by tourists. We got our first look at the site from the Agricultural Terraces, where visitors enter the site. The sky was overcast and the light wasn't great, but I stopped to make a few photographs. Before long, a small area started to open up in the clouds, and the sun started to light up the ruins. Grateful for the gift, I captured this panorama.

Machu Picchu - View of the Urban Section in the foreground, with Hayna Picchu in the background. The photograph is taken from the Agricultural Terraces, near the visitor's entrance. The sun had just finished lighting up the Citadel, leaving the surrounding valley and mountains in the shadows.

Machu Picchu - View of the Urban Section in the foreground, with Hayna Picchu in the background. The photograph is taken from the Agricultural Terraces, near the visitor's entrance. The sun had just finished lighting up the Citadel, leaving the surrounding valley and mountains in the shadows.

As much as I tried, and I am happy with the image, it still doesn't convey the beauty and the grandeur of this site, and most importantly where it sits, among the majestic Andes mountains, and so near to the clouds. 

The site sits at 2430 meters above sea level (8,000 feet) and covers around 13 square kilometers. It is said to have been built in the 15th century under Pachacuti Inca Yapanqui, the 9th Inca of the dynasty. I must confess that I didn't remember much from my history lessons in school. I had only very vague notions of the Incans and the Mayans, so I had to look some things up.  I was surprised to find out that the Inca dynasty only lasted just a little over two centuries, from the 13th to the early 16th century. The dynasty grew very quickly and underwent their greatest expansion under Pachacuti, to cover a large area of South America. At its peak, the Empire included Peru and Bolivia, some parts of Ecuador, a large part of Chile and even extended up to Argentina and Colombia. (see machupicchu-inca.com)

As we like to buck the trend, we took the path backwards, starting with the end. This had been advised in some blogs as a way to stay away from the large groups of tourists. This took us up to the House of the Guardians, also referred to as Watchman's Hut, with yet an even more stunning view of the site. This structure was located strategically, given the guards a view of the Urban Sector as well as the Agricultural Sector. 

This view is taken from the top of the Agricultural Terraces. From here, we can see the House of the Guardians on the right, and the other side of the site can be seen. Interestingly this would have been the "front" of the city, and the only entrance to the site would have been on this side. Below, in the valley, we see the Urubamba River, which nearly circles the whole mountain.

This view is taken from the top of the Agricultural Terraces. From here, we can see the House of the Guardians on the right, and the other side of the site can be seen. Interestingly this would have been the "front" of the city, and the only entrance to the site would have been on this side. Below, in the valley, we see the Urubamba River, which nearly circles the whole mountain.

Behind the House of the Guardians, we find the Funeral Rock, where bodies were laid to dry, prior to mummification. It appears that only the bodies of the kings were mummified. Bodies of Royal family members were buried in tombs with several valuable objects, while the common people were simply buried in the ground in simple surroundings. It is also said that the Inca practiced sacrificial offerings, both animal and humans. 

Funeral Rock, with the cemetery immediately behind. 

Funeral Rock, with the cemetery immediately behind. 

Terraces behind the House of the Guardians, and the path toward the Sun Gate Trail. Llamas are grazing on many of the terraces.

Terraces behind the House of the Guardians, and the path toward the Sun Gate Trail. Llamas are grazing on many of the terraces.


From here, we headed down into the Citadel proper. This would be the area known as the Urban Sector, where the King, the members of the Royal family, the Nobles, and the citizens would live. It is not yet known whether the Inca would reside at Machu Picchu for extended periods, or if the site served more as a retreat, perhaps for specific rituals. 

Here are two views of the staircase that separates the terraces of the Agricultural Sector from the structures of the Urban Sector.

In this view, we get a good look at the part of the Urban Sector used by the Royal Family. In the lower part of the photograph, to the immediate right of the center, we see two rows of houses that would include: Nuestra's Bedroom, the Temple of the Sun, the Ritual Fountain, the Royal Tomb, and the Royal Palace. The structures in the upper section, to the left of the image, might have been where the Royal guests would have stayed.

In this view, we get a good look at the part of the Urban Sector used by the Royal Family. In the lower part of the photograph, to the immediate right of the center, we see two rows of houses that would include: Nuestra's Bedroom, the Temple of the Sun, the Ritual Fountain, the Royal Tomb, and the Royal Palace. The structures in the upper section, to the left of the image, might have been where the Royal guests would have stayed.

This view, still showing the central staircase between the terraces and the Urban Sector, gives a view of the lower part of the Citadel. Here we see the section where the common people would have lived. In the forefront, we would have the Prisoner's Area, the Industrial Zone, and the Factories Area. In the background section, we can see the Sacred area of the Citadel.

This view, still showing the central staircase between the terraces and the Urban Sector, gives a view of the lower part of the Citadel. Here we see the section where the common people would have lived. In the forefront, we would have the Prisoner's Area, the Industrial Zone, and the Factories Area. In the background section, we can see the Sacred area of the Citadel.

The Temple of the Sun is a particularly interesting structure, with its curved wall and trapezoid windows that are said to align perfectly with the position of the sun on specific days of the year. It was used for many religious rituals and also served to create the Incan calendar. Below the Temple is a cave which displays highly refined stone work. The cave was believed to be the tomb of the King.

The Temple of the Sun

The Temple of the Sun

The Royal Tomb

The Royal Tomb

From there, we made our way towards the Sacred Plaza, with the Temple of the Three Windows, the Main Temple, and Intihuatana. 

The Main Temple is believed to have been the most important of the Citadel, and it would have been where most important celebrations and sacred rituals would have taken place.

The Main Temple with seven windows on the back wall, and five windows on each of the side walls. The large block at the back is believed to be an altar.

The Main Temple with seven windows on the back wall, and five windows on each of the side walls. The large block at the back is believed to be an altar.

We continued to climb and reached the highest point of the Sacred Plaza, where we saw Intihuatana.

Intihuana Stone

Intihuana Stone

One of Machu Picchu's primary functions was that of astronomical observatory. The Intihuatana stone (meaning 'Hitching Post of the Sun') has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. The Intihuatana (also called the Saywa or Sukhanka stone) is designed to hitch the sun at the two equinoxes, not at the solstice (as is stated in some tourist literature and new-age books). At midday on March 21st and September 21st, the sun stands almost directly above the pillar, creating no shadow at all. At this precise moment the sun "sits with all his might upon the pillar" and is for a moment "tied" to the rock. At these periods, the Incas held ceremonies at the stone in which they "tied the sun" to halt its northward movement in the sky. There is also an Intihuatana alignment with the December solstice (the summer solstice of the southern hemisphere), when at sunset the sun sinks behind Pumasillo (the Puma's claw), the most sacred mountain of the western Vilcabamba range, but the shrine itself is primarily equinoctial.

From: Places of Peace and Power (https://sacredsites.com/americas/peru/machu_picchu.html)

From there, we could again take a look at the Citadel and the Agricultural Sector and the view was unbelievable. The site was already becoming more crowded, and you can see groups of visitors in various locations. Fortunately for us, the sun was still shining, something that was considered a rare occurence during the rainy season.

Machu Picchu, seen from the higher level of the Sacred Plaza, near the Intihuana stone. In the foreground, we see the Main Temple, below, and the upper section of the Urban Sector. To the left, we see the terraces of the Agricultural Sector, and in the center, in the distance, we see the Watchman's Hut, from where I had taken panoramic views earlier in the morning.

Machu Picchu, seen from the higher level of the Sacred Plaza, near the Intihuana stone. In the foreground, we see the Main Temple, below, and the upper section of the Urban Sector. To the left, we see the terraces of the Agricultural Sector, and in the center, in the distance, we see the Watchman's Hut, from where I had taken panoramic views earlier in the morning.

Looking toward the other side, we have the view of the Main Square, the Factory Sector, and Haynu Picchu. Those who are intrepid enough to make that climb will have the privilege to find the Temple of the Moon at the top. Let's just say that we chose to focus on the Citadel and we passed on that trek! 

Hayna Picchu is considered to be the young peak, relative to the rest of the mountain. Its is at approximately 2,720 metres (8,920 ft) above sea level, or about 360 metres (1,180 ft) higher than Machu Picchu. The number of visitors allowed to climb Haynu Picchu is limited to 400 per day. The climb is quite challenging, with some areas of the path being exposed (to the cliff below!!!) and other sections requiring a steel cable to provide support. The path can become slippery and even more difficult during the rainy season.

So, to anyone who manageed to make it to the top: RESPECT!!!

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Here is a closer look at Haynu Picchu, with two close ups on the mountain. 

A closer view of Hayna Picchu. We can see the beginning of the path just behind the two huts, but then the path disappears and can only be seen again near the top.

A closer view of Hayna Picchu. We can see the beginning of the path just behind the two huts, but then the path disappears and can only be seen again near the top.

In this close up of the top of Haynu Picchu, you can see the last terraces toward the end of the climb and climbers making their way up. If you look closely at the very top, you can see climbers standing there.

In this close up of the top of Haynu Picchu, you can see the last terraces toward the end of the climb and climbers making their way up. If you look closely at the very top, you can see climbers standing there.

This is the Haynu Picchu gate, where visitors must register before heading up the path. 

This is the Haynu Picchu gate, where visitors must register before heading up the path. 

The construction of the Citadel is astonishing, particularly given that the Incas did not use wheels. Although they had the knowledge necessary, it was not practical for them to use the wheel. The terrain for much of the Empire required much climbing and many stairs and/or terraces were built along the hills. Goods and supplies were carried by porters or llamas. Many of the stones that were used to build the city weighed more than 50 tons. While some were chiseled from the granite bedrock of the mountain ridge, but it is said that hundreds of men would push the heavy rocks up the steep mountain side. I still find it difficult to conceive how this was possible. 

The walls of terraces and many of the buildings are made of field stones that they stacked so expertly that the walls still stand after centuries. The walls were always leaning inward, which gave additional strength and stability to the structures. The construction of Temples and of living quarters for Royalty and for the Nobels used a much more sophisticated technique named 'ashlar'. The stonemasons did not use tools, but rather used harder stones and a slurry of sand and water to grind each stone so that it would fit perfectly with the stone next to it. Many of these stones are not square, instead, they take various shapes. 

These structures were built with field stones.

These structures were built with field stones.

Here, we see the distinction between the construction of the lower wall, and that of the Temple of the Sun just above. 

Here, we see the distinction between the construction of the lower wall, and that of the Temple of the Sun just above. 

Here we can see from one space to another through a set of windows.

Here we can see from one space to another through a set of windows.

The stones are cut to fit perfectly one with another.

The stones are cut to fit perfectly one with another.

There is so much more to discover about Machu Picchu. One visit is obviously only enough to scratch the surface. I leave you with a few other views of the site that I photographed as we were nearing the end of our visit.

View of the terraces from the lower point of the Urban Sector. The Watchman's Hut can be seen at the top right of the photograph.

View of the terraces from the lower point of the Urban Sector. The Watchman's Hut can be seen at the top right of the photograph.

Finally after several hours, we head in the direction of the exit.

Finally after several hours, we head in the direction of the exit.

And we get ready to take the bus ride down the side of the mountain, back to Aguas Calientes.

And we get ready to take the bus ride down the side of the mountain, back to Aguas Calientes.

And so ends our visit to Machu Picchu. It was an extraordinary day indeed!


Map of Machu Picchu

Map of the site from Machu Picchu http://www.machupicchu.org/machu_picchu_maps.htm

Map of the site from Machu Picchu http://www.machupicchu.org/machu_picchu_maps.htm

 

 

 

 

On the Streets of Cusco - Impressions

Every time We travel, I get in a "travel photography" mindset. By that, I mean that I take straight photographs, in focus, with traditional framing. It's not clear to me whether I just feel obligated to take standard travel photographs, or whether my mind only sees this way. I usually relax after a while and slide back in what I feel is more my own photographic voice. This trip is no different than previous ones. It was nearly three weeks into the trip that I finally let go and worked on more impressionistic images.

"On the Streets of Cusco" is my first series in this style. With these images, I try to convey more a sense of the memories I will take with me. 

 
 

Ready to see some Inca Ruins?

Let's go check out Saksawayman!

We've been in Cusco for a week already, and it's been great!
On our first day, we stuck around our neighbourhood and just got settled in. We didn't get too affected by the altitude, other than some shortness of breath and feeling a bit tired. Then, on Wednesday, we toured the Inca Ruins above the city: there are four sites there: Saksaywaman, Q'enqo, Pakapukara, Tambomachay, and the statue of San Cristobal that stands over the city. That day, my health tracker said I had walked 8 km, and climbed the equivalent of 16 floors! 

Partial view of Saksaywaman

Partial view of Saksaywaman

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A water fountain at Tambomachay.

A water fountain at Tambomachay.

San Cristobal viewed from Saksaywaman

San Cristobal viewed from Saksaywaman

The lamas were just hanging out in the large field at the base of the ruins.

The lamas were just hanging out in the large field at the base of the ruins.

View of Cusco from Saksaywaman

View of Cusco from Saksaywaman

A ceremonial table in a cave at Q'enqo

A ceremonial table in a cave at Q'enqo

 
 
 

And now, on to the Sacred Valley!

On Friday, we continued our exploration with a tour of Sacred Valley. Lucas was our driver, a great guy who speaks English very well. He started our tour in Chinchero, the small village where he was born. There, we visited the Chinchero Ruins, and on our way out, we bought Choclo, a Peruvian variety of corn on the cob served with a piece of cheese.  Very, very yummy!

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A church is now constructed on the site of the Chinchero ruins.

A church is now constructed on the site of the Chinchero ruins.

This photograph does not do justice to the size of these terraces.

This photograph does not do justice to the size of these terraces.

And then, on to Ollantaytambo

But on the way, we saw some amazing views.  The valley's main industry is agriculture, and they grow a wide range of produce here, from corn, strawberries, quinoa, pineapple, avocadoes, and as many as 300 different kinds of potatoes! They also raise livestock.

A view of the valley with farms and the mountains at the horizon. The clouds were very nice to appear for the photograph!

A view of the valley with farms and the mountains at the horizon. The clouds were very nice to appear for the photograph!

A view of Urubamba from above, before we started our descent into the valley.

A view of Urubamba from above, before we started our descent into the valley.

The Ollantaytambo Ruins

When we got to the Ollantaytambo ruins, we decided we were just not climbing those stairs!!!  Our friend the llama encouraged us to go on, so we took a look and figured we'd just climb a few levels, take a few photographs and then head back down. But once we got started, it didn't seem all that bad. We would stop every few levels and sit for a few minutes, just to catch our breath. I would wait until my heart rate dropped down, then we'd continue. 

Nope! not climbing those!

Nope! not climbing those!

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At the top level on the left was the Temple of the Sun.

At the top level on the left was the Temple of the Sun.

View as we were getting closer to the top.

View as we were getting closer to the top.

The construction in this section of the ruins is particularly remarkable. The size of the stones and the precision with which they were fitted together is simply astonishing. It is difficult to conceive how the Incas were able to achieve such sophisticated construction.

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Once you reach the top of the left side of the ruins, you then walk across to the right side. At first, this looked easy peasy! All flat! yeah!!! But then, at one point, we came to the top of the first section and we had to cross to another section. There was a sign at the beginning of the path that informed us that this part was "Peligro" (dangerous)... Oh well, we thought, let's try and we can turn back if we find it's too much. The thing was that there was no railing whatsoever, and after a while, the path got narrower, and the drop got much more cliff-like. It was still okay, but we took it very slowly. I kept holding on to the rock wall, always leaning inward! We finally managed to make it to the other side, but then there was a little path that led to some old house structure that looked really interesting. This path looked just fine, until we got closer... It got narrower, more uneven, and we had to climb a few steps and then take a sharp turn left, still with no railing! What was I thinking!???

I nearly turned back. One more step, maybe? And another? Well, I finally made it! Henry was ahead of me and he just kept saying "be careful"... I just kept thinking "now I got to go back the same way"... But it all worked out, and I feel like I conquered my fear of heights a little more with one more challenge. 

That's a bit of a drop... See that path in the circle? It did say: 'peligro'!

That's a bit of a drop... See that path in the circle? It did say: 'peligro'!

What was I thinking?

What was I thinking?

I nearly turned back. One more step, maybe? And another? Well, I finally made it! Henry was ahead of me and he just kept saying "be careful"... I just kept thinking "now I got to go back the same way"... But it all worked out, and I feel like I conquered my fear of heights a little more with one more challenge. 

The way down was easier, even if some of the steps were nearly knee-high. We both felt pretty happy to have made it all the way through.  Our health monitor on our iPhone measured 8,488 steps, or 6 km, and had climbed the equivalent of 23 floors! 

Feeling grateful for my physiotherapist who helped me fix my knee problem!

On to Pisac and then back to Cusco!

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We stopped for a late lunch and the food was unimpressive, but we were hungry so it did the trick. By then, we were pretty tired. We drove through Pisac and we went to see the Pisac Ruins, but we just took some photographs from afar. It was much too late for us to even think about climbing them.

After that, we drove back to Cusco. At that point, we were coming back up to Cusco's altitude, so the roads were winding back and forth, but it wasn't too intense, and the roads are in very good condition, much better than I had expected. The views were magnificent! The photographs I include here only hint at the grandeur of the Andes. It really is a case of "you got to be there to really see it".

The view of Sacred Valley as we were on our way back up toward Cusco. The sun was just setting and the light was wonderful and the hills look velvety.

The view of Sacred Valley as we were on our way back up toward Cusco. The sun was just setting and the light was wonderful and the hills look velvety.

I plan to write a longer post on what I learn about the Incas, as we go and visit more sites, but for now, I can say that I was truly impressed with the scale of these ruins. It is difficult to understand how they were able to construct these structures, at such altitude. The rocks are enormous and they fit together perfectly. They also had very sophisticated irrigation system, collecting underwater water from within the mountain. The more I learn about their history, the more fascinating it becomes.

Tomorrow, we're headed to Aguas Calientes where we will sleep for two nights. Tuesday, we visit Machu Pichu. We're hoping for good weather, as this is the rainy season. I am very much looking forward to this part of our trip, and I will be sure to get back to my blog when we get back to Cusco.

Up, Up and... Cusco!

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So, we made it to Cusco on Monday afternoon. It was a short and uneventful flight and, after bargaining away a couple of "official" taxi drivers, we settled on a nice gentleman who offered us a ride for half the other guys' price. He got us up in the hill, in the Centro Historico, up narrow cobblestone streets - one car width and about a ten inch little sidewalk on each side. These were built a long time ago with a horse and carriage in mind, not cars.

We found our place okay and were welcomed by Gary, an Irishman who has been in Cusco for over seventeen years. It was nice to have someone speak English fluently and he gave us lots of great information.  Our apartment is just lovely, very picturesque. It's a very old house that has been renovated and now has all the modern conveniences, but still has all the character of the original building.

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Cusco is 11,200 feet above sea level - San Blas is pretty much near the top of Cusco. Stairs - Stairs - Stairs!!! 

Cusco is 11,200 feet above sea level - San Blas is pretty much near the top of Cusco. Stairs - Stairs - Stairs!!! 

 

 

We unpacked quickly and headed down the hill to find a grocery to buy some basics for breakfast, and perhaps somewhere to have dinner.  We are staying in a district called San Blas, one of the highest areas in Cusco. There is very little flatness around here. Wherever you go, it's either up or down. Actually it all seems to be up, but I'm sure that's not true.

We both felt well enough, but the altitude definitely gets to you, for the first little while, anyways. Just going up a few flights of stairs and you get winded and tired. So we took it slow. We found our way to the small grocery store Gary had told us about, but we went to have some dinner first. We ate at Mutu, a traditional restaurant nearby. I had my first try at alpaca! The dish I ordered was Alpaca Stroganoff with rice and it was delicious. The meat tastes closest to beef, but it was very tender, flavourful, and just a little different from beef. I enjoyed it a lot. The other specialty here is Cuy (guinea pig). I don't know that I will be trying that one. 

We were both tired, so we didn't linger long after dinner. We got what we needed from the shop and headed upward toward home. We had been mindful to buy only what we needed, but bottled water is a must, and keeping hydrated is very important. Well, four litres of water, and juice, and the rest of our stuff seemed pretty heavy, and the bags somehow seemed to magically get heavier and heavier as we walked up the hill. We were both huffing and puffing but we made it home, relieved to set all our bags down.


It wasn't long before we were off to bed. After the noisy Larco Boulevard in Lima, we found Cusco to be so quiet. We were looking forward to a good night sleep, which we got... until we were woken up suddenly by several very loud bangs outside. It's FOUR O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING PEOPLE!!! It almost sounded like it was coming from our courtyard, but I checked and there was no one there. The noise stopped and I tried to go back to sleep... but then the pops started again. By now it was obvious these were firecrackers and fireworks, but so early in the morning? I thought it might some people partying... and hoped that they had run out of supplies.  No such luck. They would go on and off... for another twenty minutes or so and then...

AND THEN! I hear a marching band at a distance, but not so far away and they're coming closer. Before long, they are marching right in front of our house, on that little street, with very narrow and tall walls that lets the sound bounce around! They walked past and the up to the end of the street where there is a small plaza - the San Blas Plaza, with a little church, the San Blas Church. Once they got there, the fireworks started again, this time they were full-on! And the band was marching around the plaza and playing and marching and playing!!! By now, it's just past five o'clock and they finally stop.  I couldn't figure out what this was: perhaps some pre-sunrise ritual of some kind? Who knows! But the noise had stopped so I managed to fall asleep again.

AND I WAKE UP AGAIN IN A STARTLE! There they go again! It's the same song, over and over, and the fireworks are going too. Now, it's about six thirty and I'm wide awake. I can't contain myself, I throw on a pair of pants and a sweater, grab my iPhone and I head out the door.

AND I WAKE UP AGAIN IN A STARTLE! There they go again! It's the same song, over and over, and the fireworks are going too. Now, it's about six thirty and I'm wide awake. I can't contain myself, I throw on a pair of pants and a sweater, grab my iPhone and I head out the door.

I have to see what this is about! I walk up to the square and I see the marching band going around in circle in the plaza, playing and marching and playing. They are carrying a religious banner of sorts, so I am guessing this has to do with a religious ritual. There is one guy who is busy lighting fireworks. There isn't a crowd or anything, just a few people, mostly those who are setting up for some sort of event. There are a few guys who seem to have been celebrating for a while already. They're passing a two-liter bottle of coke around the group and judging from how much fun they seem to have, it's pretty clear there's more than Coca-Cola in there!

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Having gotten some confirmation that this was actually happening, I headed back home, made some coffee and waited for Henry to wake up. Somehow, he had managed to get back to sleep. A little later that morning, I walked to a small store two doors down to buy more water (it's amazing how much bottle water you use when you even have to make your coffee with it! :-) In my minimal Spanish, I asked what the celebration was about. "It's the feast day for San Blas today", she explained. Now I understand... and this will go on all day. "Mucho Dias?" I ask? "Solo hoy" Only today. 

So I head home, with the marching band still playing and the fireworks still exploding. After a quick breakfast, we head out to check out the plaza again. It's still going strong and it would keep going for the whole day. Later in the afternoon, a band set up and played music for the evening. Some folks drank, some danced, some drank and danced. It was a party!!!

The music went on until eleven. Not too bad! but as I write this, it's nearly midnight and the fireworks are still going. I hope the lady was right about the celebration being only today. Otherwise, we might get awakened by the marching band at four o'clock in the morning again.

We had time to walk around and see a few sights. Because San Blas is already fairly high up in Cusco, we didn't have to climb too many stairs to get this view, but even then, we had to stop and rest a couple time as we walked up. It was totally worth it, and the clouds were a nice add-on ;-) We've only been here for one day, and Cusco has already surprised and entertained us. We can't wait to see what it has in store for us in the next few days.

We had time to walk around and see a few sights. Because San Blas is already fairly high up in Cusco, we didn't have to climb too many stairs to get this view, but even then, we had to stop and rest a couple time as we walked up. It was totally worth it, and the clouds were a nice add-on ;-)

We've only been here for one day, and Cusco has already surprised and entertained us. We can't wait to see what it has in store for us in the next few days.

 

 

 

 

 

Lima - Our last two days

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On Saturday, we went to Barrancos. The Bridge of Sighs is a fairly simple wooden bridge that stands over the Passado de Banos, a path that takes you down to the beach below. The bridge is said to be an iconic site in Barrancos, and I couldn't understand why that was. A little research tells me that it is tied to a legend. On the side of the bridge is a beautiful house. It is said that there was a young woman who lived there who had fallen in love with a street sweeper. Her father had forbidden their marriage and she had lived her live as a sprinstress. She spent most of her time looking out from her window toward the bridge (perhaps that's where her lover swept... the story is not specific) and she would sigh. Anyone crossing the bridge could see and hear her. Because of this legend, the bridge is considered to be a very romantic place. 


Passado de Banos

Passado de Banos




 

Well, I don't know that the story makes me feel all that mushy, but there is it: the Bridge of Sighs! 

We walked around the neighbourhood for a while and found some lovely street art. We stopped for a drink and Henry tried the very local Inka Cola sin azucar, of course. ;-} and quite liked it. 





After a little more wandering, we stopped for a late lunch at Sanford Consogo, a traditional family-owned Peruvian restaurant. There, we tried our first Pisco Sour. It is absolutely yummy and I would think pretty deadly. You could drink this stuff like lemonade and it would have you, well, it would have me, anyways, under the table very quickly.  We ordered a combination of dishes to try. I had Frejol con Seco: stewed beef with a side of beans and potato and a mountain of rice. Their servings were more than generous. Henry had Chicken with green rice and fried fish. It was all delicious. Neither of us came even close to finishing our food.  

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By late afternoon, we decided to head out to La Rosa Nautica, a restaurant on a pier, back in Miraflores.

We had seen it from the Malecon and had wanted to go photograph at sunset there. A quick but very roundabout taxi ride takes us there in good time. We had hoped to perhaps have a drink and dessert at the restaurant, but it became obvious there was no chance of that! This was a faaaannnccy place! :-) We certainly were not dressed for the place, nor did we have reservations. Nevertheless, we hung out on the pier and photographed for a while. After sunset, we decided to walk home but forest, we had to climb the hill! I didn't count the steps! It turns out the cliff is 226 feet high above the beach, so it would translate to about 22 floors... give or take!... It's much better I didn't know that at the bottom of the stairs! :-) 

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We felt so good about ourselves that we stopped for coffee and dessert. It was delicious, full of calories and probably the most expensive coffee and dessert of the tip so far, clocking in at about $35Can. Wow!... and this is in Peru! Oh well... 

 

Our last day in Cusco! Sunday.

I woke up to the sound of soothing music and a voice giving some instruction in Spanish. I got up to check out what was going on. They had blocked Larco Avenue and there was a Tai Chi class on the street. That was then followed by an aerobics class, and then what looked like a Tae Bo class, and so on... Everyone was hanging out in exercise clothing. Gone were the regular street clothes. It looks like Limenos like to get the most out of their Sunday. 

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We had a quick breakfast and headed out for a walk. It was sunny and hot. We found an antique street market. I saw so many beautiful pieces! And perhaps even a typewriter or two I wish I could have brought back for my son Carlos' collection. Sadly, that isn't possible, so we look and we photograph. Pixels are very light in our suitcases! ;-)

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We spotted a large building across the expressway with a MERCADO sign. We had to check it out so we found the bridge across. We were no longer in Miraflores, but in Surquillo, the neighbouring district.  The mercado was definitely aimed at local customers: plenty of stalls packed with fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, seeds, and herbs of all kinds. The periphery of the building was lined with little stands (and I mean very little, barely large enough for one person to stand behind the counter.  They made fresh juices or cakes and coffee. It all looked very delicious, but it was also served in real glassware... and I couldn't help but wonder where and how they managed to wash those dishes between customers, in those teeny little stalls.... so I passed on... Fortunately, we found another little fresh juice restaurant across the way. It was hot, humid and very sunny, so cool fresh juice sounded good.

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Later that evening, after dinner, we headed down to Kennedy Park again. It was Sunday night, so we thought it would be quiet. But it looks like Limenos like to celebrate and enjoy themselves. The park was again filled with families, some with young kids on their bikes or roller skates. Young and older couples just sat around enjoying the evening and in the little arena where we had seen such great dancing on Friday evening, there was a group of people singing, all gathered around one guitar player. They all sang what sounded like traditional songs. Some danced, other just clapped along. It was just a wonderful way to spend our last evening in Lima.

 

I leave you here with a little video of dancing in Kennedy Park on Friday evening. This gives you a very good idea of what it was like to be there. 

So now, we have to say good bye to Lima. One week has gone by so quickly, and we know we barely scratched the surface of this wonderful city. Of all the memories, the one of Limenos in the parks has to be my favorite.

Adios Lima!  and Cusco, here we come!

 

 

 

Lima, Peru - Centro Historico

On Thursday and Friday, we visited the Centro Historico of Lima.  We had planned on only one day, but there is so much to see, and photograph, there, that we had to go back a second time. 

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The square is modeled in the traditional manner, with the Government Palace, the Municipal Building and the Cathedral facing a Central Park. We decided to go visit the Cathedral of Lima first then the Archbishop's Palace Museum next.  The Cathedral is an amazing structure, especially considering construction was started in 1605 and completed in 1622. The project was initiated by architect Francisco Becerra in 1584 until his death in 1605, when leadership was assumed by Juan Martinez de Arrona. It is built with a central nave and 14 surrounding chapels.

I photographed the interior extensively, and I intend to offer a more complete post here with a complete collection of the building at a later time.  For now, I offer these few images as a little appetizer. ;-) 

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Visiting the Cathedral and the Archbishop's residence museum took us a few hours. For the rest of our time on that first day in the Centro Historico, we walked around Plaza de Armas and then had lunch at Tanta, one of the restaurants recommended on Trip Advisor.  We had not been misled. The food was excellent. We shared two traditional Peruvian dishes: Aji de Gallina (shredded chicken breast on chily, pecans and unripened cheese sauce, served with yellow potatoes and rice with corn), and Lomo Saltado (beef, onion and tomato served with french fries and rice with corn).  Both dishes were delicious and we were both too full for dessert or even coffee.

We then headed down a street alongside the Government Palace and found ourselves in a little park packed with families, couples, young people just hanging out enjoying the evening. There was music, street vendors, children playing, old folks sitting watching.  The music was coming from a crowd assembled in a smallish round structure that looked like a mini arena, with seats around and a clear area in the center below.  We had to get closer to see that it was a dance floor with a live band. The seats were filled with people and in the center, people were dancing, young, old, and in between, everybody was just having fun. There were food vendors and we had picarones, a traditional Peruvian pastry that looks like a donut but that is made with mashed squash and sweet potatoes. They are deep fried and then generously drizzled with a sauce made from raw sugar.  Sticky and yummy!!! Here, I had to switch to my crazy blurry style, because for me, this gives a much more accurate representation of what it felt like to be there. 

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On Fridady, we went back to the Centro Historico.  We were looking to photograph a specific library because we had seen some beautiful images of it. After doing some research, we found that it was at the Convento de Santo Domingo, which was very close to Government Palace. So off we went! We found another great place to visit and photograph. As a nice surprise, Henry discovered that this was the burial place of San Martin de Porres, who was his mother's patron saint.  It felt a little bit like a nod from Lola to us and our family.

I also photographed this church but not as extensively as the Cathedral the previous day. Images of this to follow aws well.  As an extra challenge, Henry wanted to go in the Bell Tower.  We had to get a guide to access that part of the useum. A nice gentleman ushered us to the base of the tower and signaled for us to go up a flight of stairs... and then another... and then yet another! Ouf! That was quite a workout, a good practice for our trip to Cusco in a few days.

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Later that evening, we headed to Kennedy Park, just one block away from our apartment for dinner. The square was full of people and there seemed to be a fiesta. We wandered around and found another of those little arenas full of dancers! We managed to find a spot to watch and take a few photographs. Here are a couple of images that I find convey the festive mood that prevailed.

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Well, I'll leave you on that note ;-) It was a busy couple of days but we very much enjoyed the Centro Historico in Lima. In my next post, I'll let you know what we were up to for the last couple of days we spent here. One week might seem like a long time in one place, but it really goes by so quickly! There is so much more we would like to see, but we'll have to move on to Cusco on Monday.

We Made it to Lima

After a bit of a milk run - three flights from Ottawa-Toronto-Panama City-Lima- we left home at 4:30 am on Tuesday and made it to our apartment in Lima by about midnight. Moises, our Airbnb host met us at the airport and took us home, in Miraflores, a beautiful area in Lima. The location and the accommodation are beautiful. An old fashioned building - we're on the top floor, the windows in the center, that's our bedroom. We have a wonderful view of the Municipality building across the street.

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Our first day out, we mostly just wandered around here, in Miraflores. It's hot and humid, so we stopped by for a fresh juice at La Lucha. It was delicious and everything looked so yummy that we were back a couple of hours later for one of their fabulous sandwiches.

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After several attempts, we finally managed to activate my old iPhone with a local SIM card! The forums all say it's simple... well, it is when you finally find the right place and you get in the right lineup! Thanks to Mr Contreras at Claro who was very helpful.

Having accomplished my main task for the day, we headed down Larco street toward the ocean. There, we hung out at Larcomar, a shopping center with view on the Pacific! And then we walked down the Malecon. It's wonderful to see so many people just walking and enjoying the park and the beautiful vista.

Larcomar shopping center, along the Pacific. 

Larcomar shopping center, along the Pacific. 

The view of the Pacific Ocean as we walk along the Malecon. 

The view of the Pacific Ocean as we walk along the Malecon. 

It was so wonderful, we probably walked a little too far for a first day. My steps had pretty lost whatever spring they might have had when we left the apartment, but I already feel quite comfortable here. We managed to walk our way back and just settled for takeout at home for dinner. 

All in all, a great first day in Peru! 

Geishas arriving for their performance in Gion

Photographing a geisha is a challenge! They get dropped off and walk as quickly as they can manage, in their kimonos and geta (wooden shoes), to their own establishment. I was fortunate to be able to capture these frames without anyone jumping in front of me.

Kyoto - getting settled in our little Machiya

We just arrived in Kyoto, after a long flight, an overnight in Shinagawa (near Haneda Airport in Tokyo), and my very first ride on the Shikensen (Japan's bullet train). 

We found our way to our Machiya, a traditional wooden townhouse, down a narrow street, and then an even narrower path. 

This place is very authentic and is just wonderful.  It felt very "Memoirs of a Geisha"!

The inside was very authentic, with a lovely little entrance, wonderful large chests.  Going up and down the stairs was another surprise! they were so steep that it felt more like a ladder than a staircase, so steep, in fact, that we could really only come down backward, each step so shallow that you couldn't manage them forward.  Every time I went down, I thought of what it must have been like, a hundred or more years ago, when they didn't have many of the comforts of today.

 

The bath/shower room was another interesting surprise.  The little tub looked to me to be shallow at first, but on closer inspection, I saw that it was in fact almost one meter deep.  Not a bathtub, not a showerstall... Made for an interesting time! 

 

But the toilet was a treat! The Japanese, I discovered, take their toilets very VERY seriously! Heated seats are just a basic thing you come to expect EVERYWHERE, even in public washrooms.  And most of the ones I visited had built-in bidets and dryers... Some even had a little "sound-machine" that you could turn on, for privacy!  Wow!!!!

So all in all, we love our little Machiya.  We could have rented an appartment in a modern high-rise, but we're more than happy to have given up a few comforts for this neat experience.

This place feels very "memoirs-of-a-geisha" ;-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metropolitan Cathedral - Buenos Aires

The Metropolitan Cathedral was one of the first places we visited in Buenos Aires. We were taken there while on a walking tour we joined to get better acquainted with the city. We had been told about the beautiful architecture in the city, and the Cathedral did not disappoint.

 

The Cathedral was home to Pope Francis, where he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, until he was elected Pope in March of 2013.