Thursday, October 24, 2013

#30: Peru and Ecuador, 2013 - Part 1 Lima

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Along with my parent I joined 10 other people for a two week long trip to Peru and Ecuador. This would be our first Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) trip. It would prove to be quite an interesting and informative experience overall. It is best to think of this as really two trips rolled into one. The first week we spent in Peru traveling mostly through the Sacred Valley with a key highlight being our overnight visit to Machu Picchu. The second week was spent in Ecuador and the key component there was our 4 days spent  sailing amongst the Galapagos Islands. OAT trips, at least this one, have a goal of "learning and discovery" and one result of that is you move much more slowly than we are used to doing either by ourselves or with groups such as we travel with when on HF Holiday hiking trips. While an OAT trip can have physical challenges such as dealing with high altitude conditions, Machu Picchu sits at about 8,000 feet and Cusco at just over 11,000 feet above sea level or sea sickness on the 16-passenger catamaran the actual physical endeavors are modest. But you will still experience quite a lot even though at times you may feel both rushed or stuck in place depending on circumstances.
First we would spent a day in Lima, Peru. Lima is a bustling city and rather large with correspondingly maddeningly slow yet hectic traffic. It seems to take well over a half hour to get from anywhere to anywhere. Our hotel was located in the Miraflores district which is a posh area of the city quite different in feel from the heart of the downtown where central government buildings and the like are. We spent a very interesting bit of time at the archeological museum which held artifacts of ceramic and tapestries some of which are pushing 3,000 years old. It is a compelling reminder that civilizations thrived in this area for a considerable length of time and that the Inca Empire was only a tiny, admittedly very impressive, capstone to the history of the area before the conquest by the Spanish lead by Pizzaro in 1532. Visiting the convent (monastery maybe; I'm not sure - Pavel and the local guide Elisa - I think that's her name - said "convent" but I'm not sure that's what they meant) where lengthy lines of people waited to enter for a months saints day service (Saint Anthony I think) was striking. These were routine services but clearly important. I think we were struck more by this than the throngs in a central square that were watching the Michael Jackson impersonations concert going on just a couple blocks away.
Our hotel is located in the Miraflores district of Lima. Just a couple of block away built into the cliffs that drop down to the Pacific ocean is a pedestrian shopping mall. It's a pretty posh seeming place though when we walked through it just after 9:00 AM on Saturday it was pretty much empty. When we walked some of the streets later in the day things were definitely busier in this area.

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We visited the archeological museum in Lima. To get anywhere from our hotel it seemed to take easily 30 minutes by minibus. I am not sure if that says more about traffic congestion, though traffic did seem heavy, or how spread out Lima is. The museum is home to numerous artifacts including tapestries and ceramics (like this). Some of the artifacts are 3,000 years old. Seeing the works of cultures that predate the Inca who really are just the last one and only present for a very short time is impressive.

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We visited the heart of Lima and in this  square found a Michael Jackson impersonation concert going on. Perhaps some protests too. But the real big deal here was at a monastery (I think) that was running constant services for a saint. I think it may have been Saint Anthony and this type of thing happens every month. The lines of people for what must be a regular and routine yet important service is remarkable.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

First Days in Peru

At the base of the sun temple that overlooks the village of Ollantaytambo. I think we had to climb some 270 steps to reach the stones that the Inca used to mark important evetns throughout the year.

Our first full day in the Sacred Valley is winding down. This is our third full day in Peru. The first day was spent in Lima and yesterday was largely a travel day though it had many stops along the way some of which were very fun. We have several highlights already running the gamut from contemporary cultural experiences to absorbing the history of the region which stretches well past the time of the Inca Empire. I'lm just going to touch on some key points as I am writing this from my nice hotel room in Urubamba and don't want to tax their open WIFI too hard.

Let's first note the simple fact that we cram a lot into our time here and that this is a radically different type of trip than our usual fare. It is much more of a tour type trip with an emphasis on learning about the place and the people who live there. That can include some hiking and I suppose other physical activities but that is certainly not the focus. In Lima we walked a little bit but due to the design of the city we spent a considerable amount of time on our little bus getting from the city center, to the archeological museum, to our hotel. The museum is definitely worth a visit and you quickly learn how far back extensive civilizations extend. In fact, the Inca empire though quite large only lasted a short time; about 100 years as I understand things. THey built on the works of people who had come before.. Seeing the textiles, ceramic vessels, and metal work that societies created that range in age from 1000 to perhaps close on 3,000 years gives you a great sense of history.

This was just one of the many vessels we saw at the archeological museum. The textiles are just as impressive. Many of these artifacts date back well beyond the rise of the Inca Empire to people like the Wari who controlled substantial area between 400 and 900 A.D.

We left Lima to fly to Cusco moderately early the following day. Ours was far from the first flight. I know at least 3 flights went before us and who knows how many after us. It is a straightforward flight though I gather weather conditions at the 11,200 foot elevation airport can cause problems on a fairly regular basis. Piling into another bus we would work our way over a mountain pass (about 12,500 feet I believe) and then down towards Urubamba and our hotel. Along the way we paused for some photo shots of the tall glacier clad peaks (the snow line around 16,000 feet). It feels a bit barren actually around here. Even with the farming that clearly goes on wherever it can this doesn't feel like a lush area though water is plentiful and the soil looks good. Watching a family work a field really drives home how tough life can be here. They had several bulls pulling eucalyptus (I think) hewn plows to create furrows in which corn, fava beans, and squash were dropped. Slow and no doubt tough work that really does require multiple people. A couple members of our group took a whack at driving the bull. The people were friendly and seemed more than willing to show us tourists what they were up too.

The video shows Ray working the wood plow.

Some of the weavers we visited on our way to Urubamba. The stop at this co-op was very interesting. Seeing how they produce the llama and alpacka table runners, blankets, hats, ponchos, and other things was a lot of fun.

We passed through a small village or two and our guide, Pavel, was in high spirits sharing his knowledge and love of the are. He was born in this area and his faimly (we saw his father I believe) is mostly still here.

Today we went to the sun temple tthat overlooks the village of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is not that far from here though it is clear that even though the roads aren't too bad traffic can never move quickly even on a highway (such as they are). Ollantaytambo is quite small and you go there for the temple not the town. We began our assault of the somewhat uneven but wide enough steps to the temple itself. You pass several small terraces as you climb and those were used for agriculture among other things. Of course, the important part of the temple are the stones at the top that mark the seaons with the passage of the sun. The priests exerted control in many ways to be sure but one important way was being able to mark key events throughout the year such as planting times, the turning of the seasons, harvest times, and so on. The masonary that went into building the steps, the walls that mark the terraces, and the astronimcal calendar is, of course, impressive. It a bit of a shame that upkeep of the town doesn't quite match it. Sadly poverty is a fact of life here and that can be seen in many ways from the omes many live in to the maintenance (or its lack) of bathrooms at what is clearly an important spot for historical and tourist reasons. But it is worth visiting places like this to get a sense of just what was achieved 600 years ago.

We moved on to a much more modern set of activities in the afternoon. Starting off with a visit to a little factory that makes a local corn beer which I found alright but not fantastic, to a local elementary school where we peeked in on a fifth grade class. Personally I suspect the nosy tourists get more thrills out of this than the kids do thought they seemed to enjoy the time we were there. We dropped in on a local market which appeared busy enough though at the same time it felt a little ramshackle. We ended the afternoon at a nearby home for a home-cooked lunch. Some of us had visited there last night to see our hostess, Emma, kill and butcher the cui (sp) (guinea pig) that would be a key component of the lunch. That naturally brings home the close ties the people, many of them certainly, have with the land. Guinea pig is considered a delicacy and so isn't served too often. This one provided our group of 14 with a enough for a taste of the skin (rather hard to chew but a nice flavor) and bites of meat which was also rather pleasantly tasty. I reckon everyone enjoyed the repast from helping make the stuffed peppers with their caps of dough to the good potato and vegetable soup, rice and potatoes, and a local fruit collection for desert. I hope the host family enjoys the time with us too.

Tomorrow we head, again with stops, to Machu Picchu where we will overnight. That is going to be an interesting experience on many levels I think and in some ways the historical aspect will be the least of them.

Location:PE 28F,,Peru