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January 24, 2014

The Inca Trail to Machu Pichu

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The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (also known as Camino Inca or Camino Inka) consists of three overlapping trails: MollepataClassic, and One Day. Located in the Andes mountain range, the trail passes through several types of Andean environments including cloud forest and alpine tundra. Settlements, tunnels, and many Incan ruins are located along the trail before ending the terminus at the Sun Gate.

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Trekkers normally take 3 to 4 days to walk the 88 kms to Machu Pichu. I had the option of walking the last day by taking the train from Ollantaytambo and it would stop at a point along the trail where you can get off and walk the final leg to the sun gate.
Kathy wasn’t keen on hiking that part of the trail so we set off on the train and she was going to stay on the train all the way to Aguas Calientes which is at the base of Machu Pichu.

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Just as an a side story. It is believed that the Andes were actually named by the Spanish. When they were talking to the local Incas they kept pointing at the mountains and asking what they were called. The Incas thought they were pointing to behind the mountains. The Incas had other tribes that they traded with called the Antis people. When the Spanish heard the Incas say it in Quechua they thought they were saying Andes so they called the mountains Andes. The mountains were very sacred to the Incas, they believed that water was the key element and so worshipped it and believed that the glaciers and snow on the mountains provided life to everyone.

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The start of the hike

I set off with my guide after being dropped off at some of the ruins of the storage buildings that kept food for supply to Machu Pichu. The landscaped started as warm and humid forest then went up to alpine with trees and waterfalls and then into cloud forest. The changes in scenery were spectacular. Along the way my guide got out old maps of the Inca civilisation, where it stretched to and how the Incas ruled all the way from Colombia all the way down to Chile.

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The Incan civilisation

An amazing race as Kathy pointed out in her previous post.
We past ancient ruins and agricultural terraces at Intipata and Wiñaywayna (forever young) which grew potatoes, maize, fruit and sweet potatoes to supply Machu Pichu.

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Very step climb up Intipata

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The walk was very tiring and just as I started to think we were near the end my guide decided to announce the “50 steps of death” which were the final steps up to Inti Punku or the sun gate which overlooks Machu Pichu.

The feeling you get as you walk through the gate and stare down on Machu Pichu is incredible.

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How they managed to build such an impressive place with just people and fantastic architectural skills is a feat that is hard to contemplate. We have seen Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal, Borobudur and many other impressive structures built between the 9th and 14th centuries. However, many of those were built using animals (such as horses, elephants etc..) and thousands of humans.

The Incas built the estate around 1450, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish conquest. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham.
Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary structures are the Intihuatana (Hitching post of the Sun), the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows.

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There were about 800 – 900 inhabitants and the Incas were interesting people because they had a meritocracy where people advanced through demonstration of an intellectual talent measured through examination and/or demonstrated achievement in the field where it is implemented. So you could progress through society if you were a successful builder, merchant, architect, teacher. Unlike many of the societies around that time that were empires such as the Khmers and Moguls.

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I was fortunate that I saw it both in glorious sunshine and then the next day with Kathy with cloud cover and completely different light. Probably had to be in the top 5 building that I have seen on our travels along with Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal, Borobudur and the Alhambra.

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Lovely view from the sun gate…

January 20, 2014

Inca Trail and Sacred Valley

Inca trail and Sacred Valley,

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Peru is a fascinating place, part if the Inca empire that rose from the highlands here in the early 13th century the empire was to become the largest in Pre-Columbian America, until the were finally conquered by the Spanish in 1527. The Inca King or ‘Sapa Inca’ was allegedly the child of the sun and the incas worshiped the sun. The empire was known as ‘four parts together’ and the ruling class or ruling family were called the Inka.

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We were to visit a few different settlements where we would be able to see the set ups of the communities, and then reach Machu Pichu on our last day. Many things became apparent to us while we were in Peru. Firstly the Incas had a very complex and original agriculture method known as the Vertical Archipelago method. They had already discovered that different parts if this land had soil that was different in temperature depending in which way it faced and how sheltered it was from the elements, and used that information to determine which crops should be planted and where. They also had an elaborate drainage and irrigation system that used rainwater to adequately water the crops. They also used the starts extensively to devise their own calendar which was accurate enough to only need adjustment every 11 years. There is still some reluctance to use our calendar which has to be changed every 4 years as it is considered not as effective as one produced over 500 years ago.

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The Incas believed in reincarnation, and a form of heaven and hell whereby people who followed the moral code would go on to live in the sun’s warmth, but other who did not would spend their eternal life in the cold.  They also made human sacrifices whenever there was a drought or such event, or even the passing of the Sapa Inca.

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We visited a number if the smaller settlements which helped us to understand the system before we reached the jewel in the inca crown- Macchu Pichu.
Pisca was one of the paces we stopped where they are still using the agriculture terraces today. Originally formed by dragging the topsoil up from lower level land he terraces them provided better soil to produce more crops. This was all done by hand and the results are remarkable. Similar to the rice terraces in Sapa, Vietnam there is something very calming about overlooking these semi circular land patterns.

Moray sits 600 meters above Urumbamba. There are three large natural depressions that house the agriculture terraces. Here the seeds were cultivated and then sent onto the other settlements in the Inca empire to help them grow better crops. Kind of like a start up nursery if you like.

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Ollantaytambo is situated at 2792 meters above sea level and was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti. He built the town with extensive terracing and agriculture irrigation systems.

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This town has some of the oldest continuously inhabited buildings in South America. It is a well preserved site with the wonderful Sun Temple which is home to the six monoliths. Huge rocks were lined up here and then secured with smaller stones. To have go them here must have been an enormous achievement (same as Stonehenge), and the Incas were clever enough to put them on a layer of small stones that would absorb the impact of earth tremors and quakes. Opposite this wonderful site are small storehouses built high up on the hills. The thought process being that they were in cooler temperatures at the higher altitude helped by the wind, and this would keep the food longer.

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We stopped at the Salineras where there is a large area covered in small salt pans and salt is harvested. It was wet season so we didn’t see any being taken, but we saw some of the different quality salt that they produce, along with all the salt tourist items you could buy, I was tempted to get some pink salt, but then remembered I would have to carry it, so the novelty soon wore off the salt pans are all individually owned and have no signs to indicate whose is whose. Not sure I would remember where mine was…!

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Salt mines of Salineras

We had a traditional lunch Peru style called a Panchamancha. Tradiitonal these meals were created using cooking lots buried in the earth.  We have had similar knew in Hawaii and Fiji. Here in Peru they cook chicken and lamb with vegetables and pineapple all together and the result is like a natural slow cooked meal. We had a great guy explaining the whole process and then got to try everything that was on offer. The cheese wrapped parcels were good, and they obviously had a few different potatoes as there are über one thousand varieties here. And yes don’t forget the mantra, the higher the land, the better the potatoes. Who knew?!

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Llama carpaccio…yummy..

January 18, 2014

A birthday in Lima

Lima

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We left behind the lovely city of Santiago and headed up to Lima, our home for the next few days. Being Darin’s birthday week we had booked into a hotel called the Dazzler, and whilst I was disappointed that it wasn’t encrusted with diamonds, it was still a lovely hotel. I plan to bedazzle it with crystals if we go back…
Lima is the capital city of Peru, where we were hoping to bump into Paddington bear on our travels. I would look after him, no problem. With 9 million people living here, it is the fifth largest city in the Americas. It is massive, separated into 43 districts or barrios. In the pre-Colombian era (basically the time before European influences, also referred to as the time before Christopher Columbus – I had to look it up !)  Lima was occupied by Amerinidan (indigenous people of the Americas) groups under the Ychsma. These people were incorporated into the Inca empire in the 15th century.

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Palacio de Justicia

Inca, also spelled Inka, were the South American Indians who, at the time of the Spanish conquest in 1532, ruled an empire that extended along the Pacific coast and Andean highlands from the northern border of modern Ecuador to the Maule River in central Chile. The Inca established their capital at Cuzco (Peru) in the 12th century. They began their conquests in the early 15th century and within 100 years had gained control of an Andean population of about 12,000,000 people. That changed when Spanish Conquistador (explorer) Francisco Pizorro defeated the Incas and took the empire, founding Lima on January 18th 1535, just a few hundred years before were were in town to celebrate Darin’s birthday. What a coincidence?

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Anyway, back to the story. Lima flourished as a trade network, but still suffered from Pirates in the Pacific (no Johnny Depp unfortunately- he was sailing a different sea) and earthquakes. It wasn’t until 1940 that an earthquake actually destroyed the capital. As part of the rebuild rural people came down to the city to find work, and it has continued ever since . The city is big, noisy, full of people, but there are a lot of green spaces with city parks . On the coast there are many areas that are less like the city and more like a regular beach area, and here is where you can find all the American chains, Macdonalds, Burger King, Tony Roma’s … It’s almost a bit sad to see the place dominated by these Western places, but each day these places were packed. And we have been known to have an odd couple of comfort food meltdowns in the last 18 months. Please don’t judge…!
Anyway, Lima is a huge melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. With Mestizos of mixed Amerinidan and European ancestry being the largest group, followed by European -Peruvians. Many minorities include Amerinidians, Afro- Peruvinas, Jews of European descent and Middle Eastern people. And Lima has the largest Ethnic Chinese community in Latin America.

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View from the top of Miraflores

We spent our first day walking to the beach, and watching the surfers catch some decent waves. The sea looked pretty cold, I tried to tempt Darin to go in but he wasn’t having any of it (wise man) so we spectated. There are loads of old camper vans and beetles here, brought up from Rio, and some looked like they needed a bit of love and attention.

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Ah, we miss Ada….wonder where she is now…?
Back in town we passed a travel agency called K and D travel… Was it a sign ? Should we settle here in Lima and run tours?? Who knew, but we figured it wasn’t enough to sell the house and move out here for. We need something a bit more concrete than that…!

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That evening it was Darin’s birthday so we walked over the Rafael restaurant. It was a Peruvian fusion menu and once we got in (they only open at 8pm and won’t let you in any early…) we had one of the best meals so far on our trip. It was scrumptious. Ceviche (which Darin did say was THE best he had ever had – even better than the one with the fish we caught in Fiji with Hylton , Anya, Cathy and Paul), sea grouper with an Asian sauce, I had the tuna which was divine, and then a chocolate explosion pudding. Yum. It was really good. Highly recommend it if ever you are in Lima searching for Paddington and get a bit pecking as you were relying on sharing his marmalade sandwiches…
The next day we had a tour of the city center. You can see the Spanish influence here – same as in  Santiago as they have a Plaza de Armas, a square, cathedral.

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Very similar in lots of ways. One thing we didn’t see in Santiago but did here was the catacombs at the monastery of San Francisco. Aside from being a church and monastery it also houses a famous library and the catacombs. The library is like something from Indiana Jones. 25,000 books in category order but literally left and covered with dust. The first Spanish dictionary is there, and a Holy Bible from 1541.  Even Fly Fishing by JR Hartley… Ok, that’s not there…. Won’t be borrowing anything from them as it’s not that kind of lending library anymore…. From there we had a tour including seeing a massive silver stand that weighs one and a half tonnes that is paraded and carried round the streets on the festival of St Jude. I tried to distract the guide but it wouldn’t fit in the bag….shame…

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The highlight if you can call it that were the catacombs. This was Limas first cemetery and it was right under the church. Discovered in 1943 it is estimated 70,000 bodied were buried there. Luckily you couldn’t take pictures as they have opened the graves and they are full of bones. It’s grim. That’s all I can say about that. It was dark, damp and claustrophobic. And I was glad to get out of there…

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“The Kiss” statue int he love park in Miraflores

That evening we were meeting up with Rachel, one of our guides on our India tour last year who is now a good friend. She is working through South America taking her group through to the Rio Carnival, and was arriving in Lima that night. We were leaving the following morning so had arranged to meet up in Chinatown. We took a cab from our hotel, they recommend you not to pick one up of the street as there are allegations of corruption and violence. So once we had persuaded our driver that Chinatown was open ( he said it wasn’t!) we were on our way. It always disconcerting when the driver has to make half a dozen calls to check where we are going, but after a nice tour of the city at night, we eventfully found Chinatown. Rachel was finishing up dinner with her group, so we sat and chatted about all the good times we had, and then found a bar for a few beers and some more chat. What a fun evening, so good to see Rachel again, and hopefully we will see her again soon. Walking back to her hotel we had planned to get the receptionist to call for a taxi. But he couldn’t, for some reason could only get us a cab to the airport. Random. So the night porter came out with us and we got into a very old very yellow car that looked as if it wouldn’t make it the 10kms home. Again, not so reassuring when the night porter takes a picture with his camera phone of the taxi number…’ Just to be safe…’ To be fair, he got us home and we didn’t even have to get out and push. And he was half the price of the guy who didn’t know where Chinatown was… Just shows you, never judge a book by its cover…..

What a fun end to a fun few days. Happy Birthday again to my prince. I love you

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Sunset at Miraflores