Thursday, April 30, 2009

Side trip to Peru in September 2006

In late August 2006 we simply could not sit at the dock in the marina in Trinidad any longer. Boredom has its limits. Since it was right in the middle of hurricane season it would have been imprudent to leave Trinidad as our insurance policy required us to be that far south. So I booked a trip to Peru to see the marvels of the Incas and also visit the Amazon Jungle. To fly to Lima, Peru from Trinidad required first flying to Caracas, Venezuela and waiting in that crime-filled airport for 16 hours. That sounded totally unappealing but the travel agent insisted that was the only was to fly to Lima. I did my own research and found that we could fly Trinidad to Houston to Lima on Continental and could use frequent flyer miles for this trip. Hey, that sounded really good! We could fly home and do a short lay-over to visit the kids and grandkids; then proceed non-stop to Lima. I had the travel agent book our land travel with Lima Tours and I booked the air travel. We extended days on all of the standard tour packages and upgraded the hotels. Most cruisers try to visit Peru as cheaply as possible; we did not want to waste money but did want a certain level of comfort. This turned out to be a very good decision for us.

We flew to Houston for Labor Day Weekend, arriving mid-afternoon on Friday and departed to Lima late Tuesday afternoon. This allowed us to visit with family on their holidays. It had been almost 5 months since I had seen the grandchildren, after being accustomed to seeing them every day. So this visit was welcomed by all of us. We packed a duffle bag with cold-weather clothes we had stored in a relative's attic and were on our way.

We stayed in the Financial District of Lima for only one night and a half-day, then flew to the high-altitude old city of Cusco. Cusco is the oldest inhabited city in all of the Americas. The altitude is 11,500 feet -- twice as high as Denver. I positively loved Cusco and could happily retire there. I loved the stone buildings and the stone streets built by the Incas so long ago. Their stone cutting and building capabilities were amazing, especially when you consider they did not have tools available today. There is one street that has a wall on one side that is so intricate it defies logic; and the stones fit so closely together that you cannot slip a knife blade or a piece of paper between the stones. And many earthquakes have occurred since this was built and these stones still remain tightly in place. Amazing.

The highest place we visited was 12,500 feet. The high altitude bothered me but did not affect Bill. I had trouble breathing and felt that my heart was racing if I attempted any exertion at all. Simply walking the mountainous streets of Cusco was taxing for me; walking the inclines at some of the higher places we visited was beyond my limits. I have a heart condition called mytral valve prolapse and normally have no symptoms from this condition, except when walking up inclines -- even at sea level. Walking upward inclines or climbing stairs/steps at these high altitudes was very taxing. I had to rest frequently. Desperately wished I had brought a walking stick. In fact, I would recommend a walking stick to anyone visiting these high altitudes.

Too many old Inca places and Spanish churches to describe here that we visited in and around Cusco over several days. Then we took the tour bus down to The Sacred Valley. One stop along the route down was at an alpaca farm. That was very interesting. Learned that llamas, alpacas and vicunas are all of the camel species. The vicunas are declared protected animals. The fibers of their hair are very expensive and are used in high-quality clothing manufacture worldwide. The alpaca is next down the list but considerably less valuable than the vicuna. We all know about alpaca sweaters and their varying quality. You get what you pay for in that regard. A cheap alpaca sweater is just a cheap sweater. An expensive alpaca sweater should be the higher quality fibers. You can certainly feel the difference. The alpaca farm had people making yarn from the hair fibers and dying the yarn. There were several women weaving the yarns into fabrics. The decorations on each woman's hat identified what town she was from. The weaving process is very intricate and these women began their training about age 5.

Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley was very interesting. The unfinished Temple of the Sun is located nearby. This temple was under construction when the Inca received word that the Spanish were advancing. They ceased work immediately and fled, never to return. Truck size pieces of stone were abandoned wherever they happened to be, so there literally is a trail of these huge cut stones going up the mountain and to the section at the top where these stones were intended to be placed. The most interesting thing is that all the stones used to contruct this temple under construction were excavated on the top of another mountain across the river. So they had to bring the stones down one mountain, across the river, and up this mountain to be put into place. There are abandoned cut stones in the river and up the side of the other mountain to the point of excavation. Amazing feat considering they also had no block and tackle.

Note that all these stones were cut at a time when the Inca had no metal tools. They would use other stones to make an line and tiny indention where they wanted to make a cut. Then they would pound small wooden wedges into the cut. Next they would pour water over the wooden wedges, causing the wood to swell. Using this repetitive process they were able to cut the stones precisely; so precise in fact that the stones fit together so tightly that even the thinnest knife blade today cannot be forced between the stones.

At Ollantaytambo we boarded the Vista Dome train to Aguas Calientes, the small town across the river from the bottom of the mountain where Machu Pichu is located. We stayed in a hotel at Aguas Calientes for 3 nights. Made the trip up to Machu Pichu twice and spent the final day walking around Aguas Calients and watching the local people. A popular food in the Andes Mountain area of Peru is fried guinea pig. Didn't think I wanted to be aventurous enough for this, and after seeing a picture on the front window of a restauranct showing the little bugger being served with the head staring up at you and all 4 legs spread-eagled, I knew for certain that I had made the right choice. However, I did get adventurous enough in Cusco to try an alpaca steak one evening. The alpaca steak tasted fine and the texture was not much different than beef. But I found the smell of the alpaca meat unpleasant and decided after only a few bites that this was not a meal that I would finish.

BTW, Aguas Calientes is down in the valley at the bottom of the moutain where Machu Pichu is located. You cannot seet Machu Pichu at all from Aguas Calientes or the river. That is why Machu Pichu was not raped by the Spanish during their centuries of occupation of Peru; the Spanish never found Machu Pichu.

Machu Pichu is located at 8,000 feet altitude. I found it difficult to walk up steps at that height and again wished I had a walking stick, but it was not nearly as difficult as the altitude of Cusco.

We hired a guide at Machu Pichu so we could hear the descriptions of what we were looking at; otherwise we would be just looking at ruins of a stone city. Very much recommend hiring a guide to explain everything. A few years ago they discovered the frozen remains of 3 small children in a nearby mountain at a very high altitude. The remains are in perfect condition. I found it most disturbing to learn that the Inca believed in sacrificing small children to their gods, always little girls and not boys. They felt that the young girls were the most pure and therefore the holiest sacrifice. Then, as continues in parts of the world today, the most offensive and horrific acts to humankind were perfomed in the name of a religion.

After Machu Pichu we took the train and bus back to Cusco. Then flew to Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon Jungle. This was Bill's favorite part of our Peru trip. We stayed at an eco-lodge on the riverbank of an enormous river that is relatively near the beginning of where the Amazon River forms. The Amazon River actually begins way down in Patagonia where millions of kapok trees literally suck up moisture with their roots and this forms swamps which drain together and form small rivulets that eventually join together to form rivers that join together to form the Amazon River.

We saw numerous types of trees that were new to us, like kapoks, strangle trees, walking trees that can actually move several inches to get better sunlight and brazil nut trees. Brazil nuts fall from very high on these trees and will kill a person if struck on the head. Each "nut" has 12-16 Brazil nuts (as we know them) inside the outer casing, and it weighs up to a kilo or over 2 pounds. This will definitely kill a man standing on the ground as the nut falls 80 feet to strike him on the head.

We saw monkeys, several kinds of parrots, toucans, snakes, caiman (small alligators), leaf-ants, termites --- all kinds of birds, wildlife and insects.

Also saw people mining for gold in the river and hope they were not polluting the river with mercury. This was a very different kind of vacation for us and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

After a week or so in the jungle we flew back to Houston. We had order some boat parts to be delivered to our son's home. He met us at the airport with a duffle bag of boat parts and we exchanged duffle bags with him, leaving with him the duffle of cold-weather clothes that we certainly did not want on the boat in the Caribbean. There was time for us to leave the airport and eat a great Mexican breakfast, which was a real treat for us as we do miss our Tex-Mex food since we moved aboard the boat and started cruising. Then we flew back to Trinidad. Two days later we cleared out of Trinidad and sailed to Venezuela. I just could not stand to stay in Trinidad another 2 months; so we got over to Puerto la Cruz instead, which was the only other place far enough south to meet our insurance policy requirements.

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