There’s a Facebook meme going around. A bunch of them really. 10 things you are thankful for. 10 albums that impacted you. 10 travel photos.
Ok so T – from my Asia trip – tagged me in the travel photos challenge. 10 photos, 10 days, no explanation, tag someone else. (Yeah, my wall on FB is locked down tight and I’m not assigning homework to anyone. But if this inspires you, feel free to consider yourself challenged!
This morning’s tour takes us above the city. Our first stop is the Cristo Blanco, a small replica of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer Statue, which I’d seen in the distance on our way to Cusco a few nights ago.
Saqsaywaman (which only sounds like “sexy woman”) is estimated to have been built at the height of the Incan civilization, The sheer size of the stones is amazing.
We also visit Q’inqu, Poca Pocura, and Tambomachay.
At each one, our guide talks about the spiritual meaning of the Incan structures and symbols, and how these are expressed today.
Then it’s time for a final lunch together as a large group (one of the few times we’ve all been together vs exploring in smaller subsets). Funny moment: three people have a newer model Fitbit that reminds them to move every hour. They get their alarm, and a whole group of us dance in our chairs to “get our steps” – laughing at ourselves as we do it. )
And then begins the long, long, long trek home again, at first all of us together from Peru to Colombia, a few headed elsewhere but most still together as far as Miami, and then the group splintering as we have different flights to other cities.
This was my first tour with Gate1, and I had a great time. It was very well done and reasonably priced to boot.
But of course the part that really makes a trip special are the people you meet along the way.
Today’s tours – all of which I’ve signed up for – attempt to share with us an authentic (less “touristy”) Peruvian experience.
The morning starts (after a quick breakfast) with a healing ceremony. A Peruvian healer in traditional dress joins us. He speaks the native language, while our tour guide explains the what and why to us. (I am reminded a bit of the idea of bringing first fruits). The culture here is a mix of Catholic faith, introducesd in colonial times, and the Incan polytheistic faith. But we will learn more about both later.
First, we have a tour of the local marketplace – not the plazas of kiosks for tourists, but where the locals buy their fruits, vegetables, meats and medicines. Our guide walks us through, letting us try select items and chatting with the various vendors.
From there, he takes us to the local cemetery, on the way talking about various traditions and festivals (including All Saints Day) that are celebrated. At the cemetery he hires a couple of local boys to assist us in cleaning and decorating a grave (a Friar). We visit the church nearby, discretely joining Mass for part of the service.
Then we have a local cooking demonstration and lunch (while a parade goes by), before heading back to the hotel to collect others for the afternoon tour.
In the afternoon, we visit the central plaza of historic Cusco, essentially encircled by cathedrals and basilicas (the largest and oldest built by the Dominicans, others by the other orders that came over the years), each one built over the footprint of the Incan temples that stood when the conquistadors arrived. The same would have happened to Machu Picchu if they’d known it was there.
We visit the basilica, large and ornate, built to Spanish standards but using local artisans – elements of their influence (or protest) in artistic decisions – Jesus before Pilate surrounded by “Roman” guards in clearly conquistador dress; a last supper where Judas has the face of Ferdinand Pizarro and a cuye, rather than a lamb, is served.
After the churches, we walk through the town, our guide pointing out differences between Spanish and Incan architecture, side by side. Then we visit the temple of the sun, a restored Incan site and museum.
That evening, two groups of us join a local family to share a meal in their home. They prepare common dishes; we help serve, handing out plates or clearing — as guests rather than patrons. It’s a lovely if unusual meal, and we make ourselves eat, appreciatively, even what isn’t most pleasing to our palate.
Even the cuye, which is, in my opinion, simply horrid. Fortunately it’s a delicacy so we only got a small piece to try to begin with.
It’s dark and early in Urubamba, as we gather ourselves to check out, have breakfast, and head to the train station for the ride to Machu Picchu.
We’re at lower altitudes than when we arrived in Cuzco, but with Machu Picchu at 6-8000 ft, the sun is still strong, so the morning preparations include sunscreen (in case it turns sunny) and mosquito repellent.
A combination which will, by the way, strip the color right off the ubiquitous water bottle by the sink (for drinking and tooth brushing, etc). Which becomes noticeable immediately if one then touches their face leaving a pronounced bright blue smear.
Sigh. Scrub. Start over.
And then, just in case the day isn’t interesting enough, lock oneself out of the room while placing the luggage outside.
Yeah, good start.
Breakfast is basic, but I’m not a breakfast person anyway. Anyway, we are all so excited for what the day will hold!
Urubamba is just 15 minutes from the train. The Machu Picchu Express takes us 1.5 hours to the town just below the site, and then buses take us up a series of switchbacks by which we ascend the next 2000 feet up to the base of Machu Picchu. Cloud cover threatens to obliterate views, and in fact our first glimpses of the surrounding mountains are sometimes lost behind the clouds.
We see it, as we’ve seen it in pictures , but the actual scale of it is impossible to describe.
We are taken on a tour of the major areas of the site – as the weather turns first to rain then sun – and then some of us opt to hike up higher to get another view…
Thank goodness the Spanish explorers and colonists didn’t find this place, or they’d have built over it or used it as a quarry for building elsewhere, as they did with other sites.
After an amazing morning exploring the site – the size and the precision of the building both amazing, and my pictures can’t convey it – we descend back into town for lunch (I try a bite of the alpaca steak someone orders, just for the experience – not bad), the return train to Urabamba, and the transfer to our buses to get to our hotel in Cusco, over 2 hours away.
I expect but fail to sleep en route. It is dark by the time we arrive.
When we get there, we are at our discretion for dinner. Some go into town for nightlife or to see the plaza. A handful of us go to a local restaurant nearby. Pat, Ron and I have dinner together. At a nearby table Christie (who arrives well before us or we’d have her join us) orders the baked cuye (guinea pig, a local delicacy). It is presented, positioned on its hind legs, whole, teeth staring her down, with a carved tomato on its head like a helmet.
I suspect we enjoy our dinner more than she does, but she has an unforgettable experience and the picture to prove it!
Back at the hotel for the night, I have multiple tours for tomorrow, so I try to get some sleep (mostly succeeding until the restaurant downstairs opens in the small hours of morning and the staff elevator beside my room comes into heavy use… combined with the banging on a door of another guest on another tour, who has apparently overslept their planned departure.)
It’s a bit after 6 am when we land in Colombia for our connection to Peru.
I say we, because it turns out the 2 ladies next to me on the Miami flight are on the tour as well (2 of 4 sisters who will be traveling together).
Announcements in the Bogota airport are of course made in Spanish, then (sort of) in English. Their TSA-equivalent, as here, is not a tourism service but a security detail, and mostly speaks Spanish. My grasp of Spanish, which mostly covers greetings and food will not serve, but being a frequent traveler helps; the rigamarole is close enough to the same. I find my gate, and spend the couple of hours until we press on trying to rest and trying to guess who in the crowd is also on the tour with me.
I am not the only one playing that game. 😊
Avianca airlines planes feel spacious- it strikes me that these are old planes in the old configuration– remember when we thought this was a small space because our leg might occasionally brush up against the person beside us, instead of today when we fly in a seat that veal would find cramped? And yet on this flight, there’s actually room at my feet to store my personal item and still cross my legs if I want.
The luxury of it!
On the next and final leg of the trip I sit next to Pat. She and her husband Ron are on the tour (for some reason none of the couples have been seated together on the flight) and we hit it off immediately.
There’s a bit of brief confusion in the pickup process, but we’re sorted shortly. Pat Ron and about half of the group are taken back to the hotel, while the other half of us take the optional tour of the Pisac Market.
Several hours later, having met more of my tour mates (Linda and Joe, Sue and Ken, Chelsea and Ryan, Jenny and Lynn, Doug and Yung, and so many others), seen alpacas and llamas, had a demonstration of local silver works, learned a bit about how to spot real baby alpaca products vs fakes, spent far too much time (for my liking) in the market proper, and felt a bit of the unevenness of high altitude – the length of this sentence well mirrors the length of the day – we get back to our hotel in time to change for dinner (if desired) and our group tour kickoff meeting.
My hotel room is sparse but lovely, and a shower and bed sound delightful. I sleep very soundly – which is good, because tomorrow will be an early, long, and utterly amazing day.
The trip is short. Just a few days, really, but it is taking some time in the to-and-from, so it seems longer on paper. Logistics; a 3am international flight from Miami means arriving that far at least the day before, if not a buffer day. Two connections from there are short down, but long back… it just takes time.
Almost silly to spend so much time in the going and so little in the there, but so it will be. I am overdue for adventure and so much of the world feels overly tense; we will see what this one holds.