Peru 07 May 2008 05:23 pm
We had an active week during which we saw many interesting new things, and learned a lot about the Peruvian way of life.
On April 30th we got to Puno from Cuzco (6 hour bus ride). Puno is the major town on the shore of lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world at 3800m above sea level. We were lucky to arrive at the time of the miniatures festival in Puno. In this festival, there is a fair in which the locals sell many tiny objects, among which animals, homes, and even certificates and passports. The locals believe that if you buy a miniature object – you will get it in the real life. Other than that, Puno isnÂ´t very impressive – it is probably the poorest town weÂ´ve spent time in on this trip.
On the next day we went on a two-day trip on lake Titicaca. We first visited the Uros floating islands. These islands are completely artificial – made by locals from totora – a kind of straw that grows in shallow waters. Totora is he main material for all construction in the islands – including homes of the locals, and their boats.
Next we sailed from the Uros islands to Amantani (which is a real island). Island Amantani has 4500 inhabitants that live a very calm indigenous way of life. Most locals work at agriculture, and trade crops with other villagers. Lately, the locals also earn from tourism. On Amantani, we stayed with a local family, named Â¨SimonÂ¨, as the head of the family. We slept at their house, and ate meals with them. In the evening we were even dressed in the local clothes, and went to a Â¨partyÂ¨, with local songs and dances.
The local food, unsurprisingly, consists mainly of potatoes (around 6 different types, but still!). For example, the lunch consisted of a potato-quinoa soup (quinoa is a local grain, somewhat like buckwheat, though they call it Peruvian rice) and a 6-types potato main course, with a piece of cheese. It was actually not bad at all.
On the next morning, we sailed to the Tequile island, which is a more popular tourist destination. We spent a day on the island, walking along it from one end to another, and sailed back to Puno, where in the evening Eli had fried guinea pig. It was much worse than Alpaca, which we ate a couple of days before, but itÂ´s an interesting dish.
The unfamiliar guy in this photo is Diego, an Argentinian whom weÂ´ve met on the trek and then again in Puno.
We spent the night in Puno and in the morning took a bus to Arequipa. It was also a 6 hour ride, though a much less pleasant one, because it was a cheaper local bus (the lesson was learned for the later trip to Nazca). Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru, and is called La Ciudad Blanca (the white city) because of the white volcanic stone many of its buildings are built from. We later found out that there is another reason for the name: during the time of the Spanish conquest, there were a lot of conquistadors in this city, so the locals made up the name because of the mainly white population. Arequipa is located in a geologically active area and is surrounded by 3 large volcanoes. It also has frequent earthquakes, some of them strong enough to do damage. Here is one of the volcanoes, called Misti (5800m high).
In Arequipa we took a day off to explore the city. ItÂ´s very beautiful and has a lot of interesting places to see, the highlight being the St. Catalina monastery – a huge enclosed compound right in the heart of the city, which is an active monastery for almost 500 years.
Next, we joined a two day tour to the Colca canyon, which is twice as deep as the Grand canyon in Arizona. Colca canyon is considered by some to be the deepest in the world, although its close neighbor, Cotahuasi canyon is commonly cited as being somewhat deeper. The Colca canyon is in the middle of Colca valley, a fertile highland that is settled since pre-Inca times.
WeÂ´ve spent a day and a half viewing the valley and the canyon from various angles. Unfortunately, its deepest parts are currently inaccessible. The highlight of the tour was on Tuesday morning, when we went to Cruz del Condor, a place where condors can be seen flying. These are huge, impressive eagles (3 meter wingspan, the second largest among birds, after albatrosses), who flew right over our head (!), and we were fortunate enough to capture a couple of photos.
In the valley and on the way to it we also saw other interesting local animals: many Llamas and Alpacas, VicuÃ±as (from the Camelid family like Alpaca & Llama, just undomesticated and smaller), Vizcachas (a local rabbit with a long curled tail), Andean ducks, eagles and falcons, as well as large hummingbirds (Collibri). Anna had a close encounter with one of the eagles:
DonÂ´t worry, it is domesticated and very friendly.
Next we took the fancy Cruz del Sur night bus to Nazca. The bus ride felt like a flight – including stewardesses, recorded directions of emergency exits, pillows, blankets, and even food. It was a pleasant experience, and we managed to get a full night sleep in the semi-cama (half-bed) seats. The bus arrived to Nazca at 6 AM, so we had plenty of time to explore the city and its surroundings until our bus to Lima at 13:30.
The highlight of the region is, of course, the famous Nazca Lines – huge, mysterious figures carved in the desert over 1500 years ago. There are two ways to see the lines – climb a view tower from which about 3 figures can be seen, or take a flight in a local “piper” plane. From safety and stomach stability reasons, we`ve decided to go for the less extreme approach and took a taxi to the observation tower, and later to a nearby hill from which many straight lines that stretch to the horizon can be seen. HereÂ´s one of the figures, displaying hands:
This is actually one of the smallest figures, only a few tens of meters long. The largest figures are up to 300 meters in length. We also saw Cerro Blanco, the largest sand dune in the world (about 2 km in height) which is right behind the town of Nazca.
Now weÂ´re waiting for our bus to Lima, where weÂ´ll arrive in the late evening. Tomorrow we have a flight to Madrid, and from there back home (we land in Tel Aviv on Saturday morning).
See you soon.
Peru 29 Apr 2008 06:13 pm
We’ve finished the Inca Trail yesterday and this is a good time to summarize the week we’ve spent in Peru so far.
So, the trip began on April 20th with a flight to Madrid, where we spent a night in a nice hostel in the center of the city. We got a chance to see very little of Madrid in the evening and early morning before the flight to Lima. From what we saw, it’s a nice city. We’ll spend almost a full day there on the way back.
The flight to Peru was long and tiring, almost 12 hours – all during the day. We landed in Lima at 18:00 local time. Lima is a huge, noisy and smelly city. Our hostel was located in the Miraflores suburb – a much more serene community inhabited by the rich and by tourists. We’ve spent a full day at Lima – rode to the city center on the combi (local minibus which is the main form of public transport in the city) and walked around it for some time. It has some nice churches and promenades with shops, but is not very interesting overall.
On the next morning we woke up at 02:30 to catch the 05:30 flight to Cuzco. Since the flights have to cross the Andes, they only fly early in the morning, and the price goes up steeply in later flights. 05:30 is a pretty good trade off between early wakeup and price. The flight itself lasts an hour and is spectacular. We got to watch the sun rise over the mountains, and later flew between the mountains themselves – with some great views.
Cuzco is a lovely town. It has a population of 400,000, but it seems much smaller, because the houses are low, and the town is spread out in the valley. Cuzco is located on the mountain range, at 3300 meters above sea level. At this altitude the air is thin, and we both got a bit of altitude sickness (a difficulty to go up the stairs and a light headache). So it was a pretty good idea to stay here two nights before the trek to get used to the elevation.
The uncomfortable feeling passed after a day or so, maybe partly due to the local method for healing it – Coca tea. Unlike what you might think, the taste and effect of the Coca tea is the same as a regular green tea – it is not considered to be narcotic. So we are happily drinking it on a daily basis. In general, the coca here is very gimicky. They have coca leaves (to chew), coca tea, and even coca toffee and candies!
In Cuzco we took the ‘day tour’, in which we saw the town, and the major archaeological sites around.
One of the salient features of Inca history is their stone architecture. The Incas did not use cement for their important buildings. Instead, they used polished stones with many corners that fit together like a plug and a socket (or like Lego). In the next photo it is possible to see the walls of the Saqsaywaman (pronounced as: Sexy Woman ) fortress.
The construction methods of the Incas were anti-seismic. The walls are inward sloping, and the whole structure is made of many trapezoids – it is the shape of the windows, and the shape of the cross-section of the walls as well. In 1950 there was a large earthquake in this area, and many Inca buildings were discovered as the colonial churches that were built above them collapsed, while the anti-seismic Inca structures remained.
On the morning of April 25th we began the Inca Trail trek (Camino Inca) which we’ve ordered two months in advance. This is one of the most popular treks in the world, and for the high season it has to be ordered half a year in advance, because the amount of trekkers is limited to 500 a day (including porters and guides).
The porters carry the tents and all the food, so we only had to carry our clothes, sleeping bags, water and the sleeping mats the company provided. We’ve placed Anna’s sleeping mat above her backpack, which when covered with the rain cover gave it a very inflated look. It really isn’t as heavy as it looks, but it impressed a lot of trekkers along the way – especially ones who hired porters to carry their backpacks.
The Inca Trail lasts 4 days, from km. 82 in the sacred valley to Machu Pichu (40+ km total), and it is compulsory to go with a guided group which includes a guide, some porters and a cook. Our group had 6 trekkers (which, from what we saw, was quite typical) – a couple from Spain (Basques) on their honey moon, a guy from Argentina, a guy from England and us. Here’s a group photo, with our guide Simba, at the top of Dead Woman’s pass – the highest point of the trek (4215 m), which we reached in the middle of the second day after a 6-hour climb (the most difficult part of the otherwise not-so-hard trek).
The scenery during the trek is very beautiful. The landscape is dramatic – with high mountains springing all around, and huge altitude differences. In addition, there are a lot of interesting Inca ruins along the way. The climax of the trek is reached on the last day. A wakeup at 04:00 and a 2-hour walk to reach Machu Pichu as early as possible. Machu Pichu (which means old mountain in the Quechua language) is as spectacular as it looks on the postcards, speaking of which…
And the proof we were actually there:
We spent a few hours in Machu Pichu in a guided tour, and then climbed Wayna Pichu – the mountain behind it on the photo. The climb was quite difficult, but we were rewarded with excellent views from the top. This is Machu Pichu viewed from the other side:
The locals insist that Machu Pichu has the shape of a condor from this point of view, but we couldn’t see it. A toad was about as far as our imagination went.
After that we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and from there a train back to Cuzco. Here we have the same hostel booked for two nights, after which we plan to take a bus to the Lake Titicaca region.
There are more photos in our album.