Inca Trail: The Long Day

It rained again last night. We were also sleeping at the highest elevation of the hike at an elevation of 3,600 meters (11,800 ft). Surprisingly, at breakfast everyone complained about being too cold overnight, while once again, I complained about being too hot. It must be that my quilt is rated for 20 F and the temperature couldn’t have gotten below 40 F. Pretty much everyone else was renting sleeping bags from SAS Travels which were synthetic and weighed about 3 Kg, when my quilt was 850 duck down and only weighted 1.5 lbs! Tom’s sleeping bag weighed more than mine around 2.5 lbs. 

Our guide Freddy striking a pose.

Today, we had one more major peak to summit, but thankfully we passed more Incan ruins which helped spread out the climb and descent. It took us just over an hour of steep climbing to reach the Runcuracay, a circular structure which served as a fort (or guard post) along the Inca Trail, and allowed chaskis to rest in between their messenger routes. 

A small algae-covered lake.

Just below the guard post was a rentangular structure where the Incan Emperor once passed his nights on his twice-a-year visit to Machu Picchu.  Each fort along the trail had an increasing number of baths (I can’t quite remember the numbers, but it may have been 3, 6, 9, and 18) so that the emperor could cleanse himself on his sacred journey. It was believed that he needed to enter the Sun Gate pure of spirit and soul. 


Another hour past Runcuracay, we finally reached the top of Runcuracay Mountain which stands at an elevation of 3,950 meters (~13,000 ft). The views of the snow-capped peaks surrounding us were breathtaking! 

We climbed to to the top of one of the big mounds at the peak and made a tribute to Pachamama, Mother Earth, with a Biscuit, Coca Leaves, Agua de Flor, and some form of confetti before covering up our offering with rocks. 

After some rest, we started our downhill descent which began with a short tunnel cut into rock before a series of tight switchbacks.It didn’t take too long until we reached Sayaqmarka

At Sayaqmarka we learned that the Incas did not typically sacrifice humans; the standard sacrifice was a llama. The only instances in which a female was sacrificed were during times of extreme hardship in the empire; this occurred during periods of drought, famine, and after natural disasters such at earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc. because they believed that that the gods were angry. 

For the chosen ones it was a great honor, they were dressed in the finest garments threaded with gold and jewels. They would then be given a hot tea made from the extract of a hallucinogenic flower after which they would be brought high into the mountains and left to freeze. It is believed that due to the “trip” they were on, they experienced no pain as they passed. The condor, a vulture, would then come to consume their flesh and carry away their soul / spirit to the afterlife.  

After a brief stop for lunch, and a friendly visit from some local llamas, we continued our descent. I’ve included pictures of some local vegetation we passed along the way today below.

 

Our guide told us that today’s trek was going to be predominantly on original Incan stonework, something I was really relieved about because this meant smaller steps. Little did I know that these steps would both be steeper, and consist of undulating waves carved into rock. 

First we passed a beautiful vista of Phuyupatamarca, “The City Above The Clouds,” before having to descend a steep spiral staircase with no handrail. It really reminded me of some scene ever from Hao Miyazaki’s “Castle in the Sky,” as it looked like a pathway that was somehow lost in time.

Maybe about an hour later, we finally reached Intipata after enjoying some dramatic views of the Aobamba Valley. We think that Freddy overestimated our speed, because at this point dusk was starting to settle, and from here it took us another 20-minutes of descending more steep Incan steps with the use of our headlamps  to make our way deep into Wiñaywayna, our campsite for the night.

The most frustrating part is that Emerson, our second guide was leading the group, but he was with the speedsters. Therefore Tom found himself having to run ahead to track their headlamps in the dark, and then having to run back to let me know which way I had to go. It was a confusing mess in the dark and I was pretty frazzled by the time we reached camp. All-in-all it took us about 9 hours to hike 16 Km (10 miles).

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Cusco: Temple of the Sun

This morning I let Tom sleep in a bit while I worked to catch up on my blogging. Our hostel only gives us free breakfast until 10:30 AM, so when he didn’t show up by 10:10 I started worrying that he was still cocooned in bed. Just after I packed up my gear and got up to wake the sleepyhead, he emerged up the stairs. Pushing it a little close don’t you think babe? Whew!

After a late start, our first stop was Qorikancha, which means gold enclosure (quri kancha) in Quechua. Quechua is an ancient Incan language that is still the most widely spoken language by the indigenous peoples of the Americas. There are about 8-10 million speakers worldwide and 13% of Peruvians speak Quechua. While our guide the previous day mentioned that it is not a formally taught language in school, it is commonly used at home and parents teach their children who continue to keep the language alive with their children. 

On the foundations of the original Qorikancha now rests the Church of Santo Domingo as the Spanish conquistadores demolished the original Incan building to make way for, you guessed it, more Catholic structures. Interestingly enough some of the original Incan masonry remains intact inside, which allows you to see how artful and intricate their stone working skills were.

The walls of the original temple of the sun were once covered in golden sheets, and the courtyard filled with statues. Unfortunately, the Incans themselves were forced to harvest from this richness when the Spanish demanded a gold ransom for the life of the 13th Incan emperor Atahualpa.

After leaving Qorikancha, we stopped by to visit the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC) right next door. An organization established in 1996 by Andean weavers, it provides a free museum to the public to educate visitors on how the coat of an alpaca, lama, or sheep etc., is made into yarn and than transformed into a final product in the form of bags, clothing, and accessories. It’s main mission is to preserve cusuqueñan textile traditions and support the indigenous artisans. 


We then roamed through the local San Pedro Market before heading back to the Plaza de Armas to visit the Church of the Society of Jesus, once again a religious church (this time Jesuit) built on the remains of a former Incan temple. It is best known for a painting depicting the wedding of Martín García de Loyola, the nephew of Ignatius Loyola to Beatriz, the great-niece of the Inca ruler Tupac Amaru. (Tom was very grateful that no pictures were allowed).

After a brief reprieve in the hostel, we went to Kion, just off the main square to try some Chaufa, the Peruvian version of fried rice. It was very tasty and filling and we were both happy pandas. 🙂
 

We then took an evening stroll through San Blas and were able to successfully locate the infamous twelve angle stone. The stone is carved from diorite and it is the precision and finishing of the fit that make this rock a national heritage object. A passerby mentioned that it was 2 meters deep (about 6.5 ft) and that the 12 angles actually refer to the 12 Royal Incan families, 6 of which lived on the north side of the wall and 6 which lived on the south side. 

P.S. The Qorikancha had a fourteen angle stone! It was cut such that 3 sides of the stone served as the different faces of a door jamb. 

Cusco: Historic Capital of Peru

I apologize for skipping a write-up about yesterday, but since it was predominantly a travel day there really isn’t much to tell. I’ll try to circle back to it later…

Today, as we typically try to do, we started off in our new city with a walking tour. (After picking up some Latte’s and Mocha’s to go of course!) Our first stop was the Plaza De Armas. As I had previously written, pretty much any major South American  city has a main square due to a Spanish doctrine and Cusco is no different.



The Plaza de Armas, also known as the “Square of the Warrior,” was once the location of many former Incan Palaces. It seems that each ruler chose to build his own rather than matriculating into the house of his predecessor. Unfortunately, these palaces were plundered and demolished by the Spanish around 1535, only to have Catholic Churches built on the same foundations. It is in this manner that the Spanish sought to systematically illegitimize the indigenous religion and force their own beliefs on the locals.

After leaving the Plaza de Armas, we stopped by an open plaza in order to listen to some music that was being played by a man trying very diligently to keep the music of the indigenous people alive and thriving. (I wish I had video privileges with WordPress, but since I don’t I’ll have to circle back and post a video when I get the chance.) The accoustic experience was incredibly moving and I love how vibrantly music can represent the ‘color’ of the people.

 

There were also some very cute Alpacas. A local also brought a baby alpaca to roam, but when I tried to take a picture she angrily snatched up the kid and yelled at me saying that photos were not free (even though another lady had freely snapped some shots just before me). I had heard that this happens often in Cusco, but I was definitely put off that she hadn’t calmly mentioned it earlier when she was just sitting silently nearby. 

We then moved on to explore the old Incan Walls (which I will write about more later), and roam the streets of San Blas, one of the oldest and most artistic/picturesque neighborhoods of the city, before ascending some steps to wrap up our tour with a Pisco Sour and Ceviche demonstration. The view from this bar of Cusco city was just phenomenal!

On our way we also stopped in front of a store with a life-sized figurine of Eneko. I’m having difficulty finding online sources about this superstition, but apparently most local households have a 6-12″ figure of him in their home. If you have any troubles finding jobs, or love, or buying a house etc., apparently you simply tape a small model of the dilemma in question to his back and it will soon be resolved!

After the tour ended, Tom and I grabbed nachos for some minor sustenance (they were sub-par as a expected), before we decided to head the rest of the way up the hill to visit Saksaywaman (“Sexy Women” LoL). It was about a 30-min walk/hike through San Blas and upward. Thankfully we took stops as needed, and even accidentally stumbled upon the shop of Sabino Huaynan, a famous luthier that is only one of two in the whole of Peru!


Saksaywaman,p (spelled in a variety of different ways depending on who you ask), had its first sections built by the Kilke Culture around 1100 AD, and was expanded upon by the Incas in the 13th century. The stone walls were constructed of large stones cut and ground precisely to allow them to fit together without the need for mortar.

Cristo Bianco

I really enjoyed the site, but my only gripe is that a 1-Day entree fee to see 4 sites, 3 of which are not easily accessible by foot was a whomping 70 soles and they didn’t accept card! After we paid, Tom and I had a mere 10 soles between the two of us. 😦 We found out later that the Tourist Ticket, at 130 soles, gave you a total of 10-days to see all the major sites; not that either of us had enough cash on us at the time. Farewell $22! Lima was not expensive at all compared to this, the highest we ever paid for one site was 30 soles. 

Near the end of our visit, it started drizzling, and than raining, and then pelting us with hail. I knew that the weather in the mountains can be precarious, but neither Tom or I had packed our rain jackets, so not only did we get wet, but Tom received some battle wounds as well. Thankfully we were able to find temporary shelter until the worst of it passed and then made a precarious, slippery descent down the stone steps. 

We finally returned to the hostel around 6 PM, and after a brief reprieve headed out to try Papachos, a burger joint founded by the owner of Astrid Y Gaston. I chose it as an option because they had an Alpaca Burger that I simply HAD to try. Unfortunately Tom did not enjoy his meal as much as the temperature was more medium-rare, the meat not tender, and the flavor lacking.

Lima: Museo Larco and The Moches

Reader Beware: Sone of the pictures and text in this article will have references alluding to the act of copulation and are not for juvenile eyes.

All we had left on our Lima List after the last three days were the Larco Museum and the Museum of Anthropologie. Unfortunately they were put off until the last minute because the Municipal buses didn’t run there and we knew we didn’t want to risk taking any questionable taxis, so the coordination was a little more challenging. Thankfully, due to the use of some broken spanish, the Google Maps GPS, and some kind-hearted locals, we were able to find our way.

We ended up taking a local bus instead of a combi for which both Tom and myself were very grateful. The combis routes are discernible from the main streets written on the side of the vans, but the operator will literally hop out of the sliding door while the driver slows down, yell out the major avenues, wait briefly for the locals to hop on, and zoom off to the next stop almost immediately! We saw this happen regularly everywhere we walked and simply could not wrap our minds around it. Our takeaway from our time in Lima so far is that traffic and transportation is chaotic at best.

The local bus dropped us off about a 10-min walk away from Museo Larco in the Pueblo Libre district. While there were some discernible differences between this district and other two districts that we have spent time in (Miraflores and Barranco), it was clear that the area was well maintained and representative of a middle-class population. It is definitely nice to get away from the hubbub of the main tourist destinations!

Museo Larco is said to be a must-see for all visitors to Lima (although Tom was not quite on board with my adamant desire to go). It is a privately owned museum that houses Pre-Colombian art purchased by Rafael Larco Hoyle around 1925. Rafael soon realized that Peruvian Archeaology was in its infancy and set out on a course for intense Anthropologie research thereby establishing a Peruvian chronology for ancient cultures that has remained valid to this day.

The biggest draw for visitors is the hall of erotic pottery. The vessels, or what we call art in the present, were created by the Moche Civilization who flourished in Northern Peru between 100 AD and 700 AD. To them, sex was not something to be rated-R, or blurred out on television, or even talked about behind closed doors. Sex was a celebration of joining, of life, and of death. This was exemplified by the various pieces of pottery depicting sexual intercourse, favors, and animal copulation.

The Moches placed an emphasis on the concept of circulation and flow. This is best exemplified by the adjacent piece. The woman’s body has been sculpted with an exaggeratedly large vulva, which allows liquids to both fill the orifice and flow from it. The position of the figure alludes to both childbirth and a sexual act, symbolizing a woman’s ability to act as a vessel to accept the insemination of life and likewise bring life into the world.

Personally I found the imagery and symbolism fascinating and got caught up in a photography blackhole! Tom lost interest quite a while before me, but since the museum had free-wifi, he used the chance to sit in the sun and catch up on emails and social media. Unfortunately we ended up not making it to the Museum of Anthropologie….


We finished off our day at, you guessed it! An artisan coffee shop called Origen Tostadores de Cafe where I enjoyed a Chocolate Affogato pick-me-up. ^_^

Lima: Spanish Colonialism

Casa Aliaga

Apologies for the delay in my posts. Unfortunately the hostel wifi has been down for two days so I find that I am now having to write some more catch-up articles than usual. Alas!

We slept in a bit today then headed back to the Plaza de Armas downtown so that we could catch the interiors of all the buildings that we were only able to walk past a few days ago. (Although some of them required special reservations and therefore we had to forgoe them)

Torre Tagle Palace

Thankfully Tom is more than happy to go along with my efficiently planned walking routes! Part of our exploring involved walking past the Parliament Building, admiring the exteriors of both Casa Aliaga and the Torre Tagle Palace, and wandering through the stalls of the Central Market throughout the day. Frankly I would have loved to visit both Casa Aliaga and the Torre Tagle Palace as the interior decor and detailing is said to be phenomenal but it seems that they can only be visited if you arrange to be in an official tour group which is just not our cup of tea. 

Amid all these random stops we also visited the San Francisco Catacombs (No pictures allowed boo-hoo!) Interesting fact: they mixed eggshells into the mortar they used to bind the bricks together and somehow, despite a multitude of earthquakes, the catacombs have still managed to escape unscathed.

After a very brief lunch break for pizza and and Inca Kola, the only soda that Coca-Cola could not successfully best (at least until a joint venture was established in 1999), we managed to fit in the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Lima Cathedral, the final resting place of Francisco Pizzaro. It still amazes me how much time and investment that the clergy seem to have made in the adornments of the various altars and religious iconography.

We then sat on the steps for a little bit of sun and relaxation before rendezvousing for our afternoon Barranco neighborhood tour.

Lima: Ciudad de los Reyes

Lima is also known as the “City of Kings,” because Francisco Pizzaro, the Spanish conquistador, founded the city in 1535 on the Catholic holiday of Epiphany, the day when the three kings visited the baby Jesus. Pizzaro was also the one who established the location of the Plaza de Los Armas, our next stop. He did this to follow a mandate set by King Charles I of Spain in 1523, Procedures for the creation of cities in the New World. It required that, after outlining a city’s plan, growth was to radiate outward  centered on the square shape of the plaza. 


Our guide then pointed out some key buildings surrounding the square including the Lima Cathedral, Archbishop’s Palace, Municipal Palace, Congress of the Republic, and Presidential Palace. (I’ll write more on these later as I’m hoping to find the opportunity to visit the interior of some of these buildings).

We then strolled through the Peruvian Gastronomy House, visited the interior of the Saint Dominic Church, stopped in Post Office Alley, and paused to view the Rimac River. The tour finished off with a sampling of four different varieties of Pisco, the national drink of Peru. (To be honest this free walking tour was less enjoyable than others that we have taken. The first guide felt cold and stand-offish, and the second kept having to switch between Spanish and English, so I felt that the information and history got lost in his struggle). 

We were able head back to visit the interiors of the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo. And for only 10 soles, I’d say that it was worth it! As usual, Tom got frustrated with my habit of excessive picture taking, but I couldn’t stop myself. I’m entranced by the concept of cloisters, and how an individual can have so much faith that they devote their entire lives to an order; In this case, the Third Order of Saint Dominic

The complex was originally built by Dominican Friars in 1549 but has been rebuilt or remodeled in the time since. It is recognized as the oldest religious site in Lima, and the land was given to Friar Vicente de Valverde, Francisco Pizzaro‘s right-hand man,  the one that Inca Atahualpa’s execution is attributed to. The baroque and Spanish influence of the structure is blatantly obvious from the paintings to the painted ceramic tiles. It is in this church that the remains of three very notable saints were found, San Juan Macías, Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martín de Porres.

After our first day with lots of walking (or training our cubicle feet to evolve into travel feet with 20,000 steps per my FitBit), we were both exhausted and starving. After some debate we settled on visiting La Lucha Sangucheria for dinner which was conveniently just around the corner from our hotel.

They are known for their juicy Chicharron Sandwhiches and man was I a happy panda! The roll was crispy on the outside but soft on the inside and the Chicharon was just the right amount of juicy on top of a bed of sweet potato and topped with lime marinated onions. It was soooo incredibly tasty. (Tom got a shredded chicken sandwich which he really enjoyed as well). We also split a Chicha Morada between us. It’s a traditional Peruvian Drink that is made from Purple Corn.  

After dinner we wandered through nearby Kennedy Park to explore the happenings going on. There was an outdoor flea market, a community dance night, and street artists selling their paintings. Tom and I both purchased caramel stuffed churros for dessert and then returned to our room where he promptly passed out (Who’s the older one now? :P), while I stayed up to finish my blog. 

Stockholm: Gamla Stan

Our hostel of choice is located in Gamla Stan, the old town. This part of Stockholm is located on one of the small islands of the city’s earliest settlements, and it still maintains its medieval character. 

 After grabbing our customary coffee and snack, we took stroll down the waterfront to catch sight of the Riddarholmen Church. This church is the final resting place of all of Sweden’s monarchs. Parts of the church date from the late 13th century when it was first built as a greyfriars monastery. The building is only open to visit during the autumn and summer, so Tom and I were unable to get inside.

 
Our next stop was the Stockholm Cathedral, the oldest church in Gamla Stan. The facade is in the Swedish Brick Gothic style, but my favorite part was the wooden statue of Saint George and the Dragon. (If a sculpture or statue of this particular biblical event is housed in a house of worship, it is commonly what I admire the most). Attributed to Bernt Notk (1489), the statue was commissioned to commemorate the Battle of Brunkerg (1471), and serves as a reliquary containing the saintly remained of George himself in addition to six others.

 Adjacent to this lies the Stockholm Palace, the official residence of the Swedish Monarch. Nicodemus Tessin the Younger formed its shape like that of a Roman Palace. When he passed away in 1728, the chief architect role passed on to Carl Hårleman who is largely responsible for the the Rococo interior. Construction had started in 1697, but did not officially complete until 1760. This is because work on the building was paused for 18 years due to the expense of the Great Northern War. 

 We then took a leisurely stroll through the Skansen Museum, the first ever open air museum, founded in 1891. One can experience over five centuries of  Swedish history in a visit, and there were several animals romping about in their habitats. The only disappointing part was that the aquarium required an additional fee to visit, and despite my desire to have a close-encounter with lemurs, neither of us could justify paying an additional $12 for it. After all, the USA has some of the best zoos in the world. 

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