Tuesday, May 13, 2014

5th and Final Post - May 12 - The Sacred Valley and Cusco, capital of the Incan Empire

5th and Final Post - what a trip this has been. It seems like just yesterday we started, but at the same time like we have been in Peru for months, considering all we have seen!
The first photos on this post actually came before the 4th post on our way from Lake Titicaca to Cusco and through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu, but the Ancient Lost City of Machu Picchu just had to have its own post. So do make sure to see the 4th post after looking at this one, as Machu Picchu really is something very special.
The Sacred Valley and Cusco are marvelous. Cusco was the capital of the Incan Empire and the Sacred Valley, at a lower elevation, was their agricultural area with special regions for nobility. The soaring Andes mountains, with snow and glaciers, cap off spectacular scenery. Cusco is a wonderful city for walking around and just exploring the Incan/Spanish architecture and little side streets.
The Main Square is one of the prettiest anywhere.

In Chinceros, in the Sacred Valley, we visited a textile center where they showed us the process.

All the colors are natural, from roots, berries, and various plants.

The weaving is an intricate process that takes many days for one piece.

The scenery on the drive from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) is stunning.

The high Andes soar to over 20,000 feet above sea level.

Our Vistadome train for the ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes

 Breathtaking mountains and glaciers

Rick and Denise on the Vistadome train - Babs and Libby in the background

The wild Urubamba River flows right below our hotel!

From this point we spent a day in Machu Picchu (see post #4).
Photos from here are returning from Machu Picchu and include the Incan Capital of Cusco.

Ollantaytambo ruins - the second most important Incan site after Machu Picchu

The Incan masonry was incredible. Notice the jigsaw puzzle style of the walls that made them earthquake proof. Very important in this area of powerful quakes! Spaniards built on Incan walls and in earthquakes, the Spanish buildings came down, but the Incan foundations remained intact!

This 80,000 pound rock in Ollantaytambo was brought from elsewhere.
Our group could not budge it in the slightest!

Libby on the Ollantaytambo ruins with the town in the background

Our group in the Ollantaytambo ruins

In the little town we checked in on a local bakery.
Here the two guys are forming the breads from dough.

This fellow is pulling the baked breads from the oven with a long pole with a hook on the end.

Clothesline photo especially for my sister Vaughn.

Ollantaytambo town is built on Incan foundations

The Incans also had a canal along every street to provide fresh water from the mountains!

These 3 Quechan Ladies were just delightful, sitting there weaving.

The Sacred Valley, the Urubamba River, and the Andes in the background.

Cusco - The Monastery Hotel Courtyard

Incan Statue in the Main Plaza of Cusco

Dinner! This lady sets up a grill on the street corner and sells skewers of meat and potatoes.
Just over a dollar for a meal! Delicious.

The Sun Fountain in front of our hotel, the Sonesta Cusco

Our group behind the fountain

Santo Domingo Church, Cusco

A clear example of Cusco streets with Incan stones and post-Incan construction on top of them

Back to the Monastery Hotel in the daytime - a small chapel in the hotel

Monastery Hotel Courtyard

The Jesuit Church in the Main Square of Cusco

A very discreet McDonalds on the Main Square - no big golden arches!

Fruit vendor along the sidewalk

View of Cusco and Main Square from above

Saqsaywaman - one of the most important Incan sites / fortresses

Christ of the Andes Statue for Cusco
Presented to Cusco by the Palestinians!

A herd of Alpacas accompanied us at Saqsaywaman.
Babs and Libby enjoy their company.

Libby and a lovable alpaca

Temple of the Sun - Qurikancha
Again, the Spaniards built a church and convent on an ancient Incan Temple.

Chris Schlenker had to try the guinea pig for dinner.
Notice it's all there!

We celebrated Babs' birthday with a local musician and cake.

Peruvian dancers entertain us at the restaurant.

We had to have an after-dinner drink at the 5-star Marriott. 
The courtyard is typical of Cusco and magnificent.

After an afternoon flight from Cusco to Lima, we had a few hours to kill before our overnight flights back to the USA. So went into the city and toured the historic Gran Hotel Bolivar, one of the most famous old hotels in the city. It must have been something in its day, but unfortunately, during the turbulent years of Peru it was let run down to its current state of merely a 3-star hotel. However, the pisco sours and the dinner were excellent, and we enjoyed walking around the pedestrian zones down to the Main Square before heading back to the airport.

Plaza San Martin from the balcony of the Gran Hotel Bolivar

 Beautiful glass dome of the Gran Hotel Bolivar Lobby

Presidential Palace on the Main Square at dusk

The moon rises over the Cathedral on the Main Square as we bid farewell to Peru and a wonderful trip!

Friday, May 9, 2014

4th Post - May 9th - MACHU PICCHU, The Lost City of the Incas

Ahhhhhh, MACHU PICCHU!!!
Just the name conjures up images of a great, ancient culture. This is what we came for.
Although we have great photos from yesterday, Machu Picchu deserves a post all for itself, and the other photos will come in the next post with Cusco and the Sacred Valley.
The Incan Empire flourished barely 100 years before they were conquered and destroyed by the Spaniards, but their accomplishments in that short period are legendary!
Machu Picchu is a city high on a mountain, 1,000 feet above the Urubamba River below, which surrounds the city on 3 sides, creating a peninsula in the sky.
The stone masonry and architecture is unparalleled, and the hundreds of intricately created terraces are unbelievably perfect and artistic.
We started the morning with a tour of the ruins themselves, and then in the afternoon enjoyed a long hike up to the Sun Gate, the original entrance to Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail.
A hard hike, but our efforts were more than rewarded with stupendous views from the top!
It was cloudy and showery in the early morning, giving an ethereal feel to the ruins, but as the day wore on the clouds burned off and gave us great pictures with blue sky and wisps of clouds.

This overview photos was taken in the afternoon after the sun burned off most of the clouds.

Our morning view of Machu Picchu, with the mountain, Huayma Picchu, towering over the city.

Stone walls and buildings interspersed with lush, green terraces

Our whole group in front of Machu Picchu

The original Main Gate to the city

The Andes Mountains and the rich jungle make for superb scenes.

Amy - an anthropologist in an anthropologist's paradise!!

Denise - terraces and the guard house in the background

The residential area

Endless perfect terraces

Our local guide Gilberto fills us in on the history of the Incas.

Those 5 Schlenkers again...

John shares his apple with a friendly llama.

The city brightens as the sun gets stronger

Hiking to the Sun Gate - looks fairly easy here, but it was long way up.

If you look close you can see the diagonal line snaking up to the left to the Sun Gate in the far distance.

 A great view back over Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate Trail

300 varieties of orchids grace the surrounding area.

Orchids big and small

From the Sun Gate looking down at the road the bus took from the town of Aguas Calientes 
to bring us up the 1,000 feet vertical gain to Machu Picchu.

The whole view from the Sun Gate. Machu Picchu looks small from here (in the saddle)
and the mountain Huayna Picchu is at about the same level we are.

Ruth, Hang on!
I'll help you as soon as I take a picture!

Last views of the Citadel before heading back down to the village