A Travellerspoint blog

Across Peru in 10 days

The cities of Puno and Arequipa

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We traveled from Cusco to the city of Puno, beside Lake Titicaca. The area lies 12500 feet above sea level, the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world, and is unique for the multiple native cultures which reside around the lake and on the islands within the lake.

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The land is arid and dry, but the views are amazing.

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Llama crossing!

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Following Puno, we traveled to Arequipa the second largest city in Peru and 4000 feet lower than Puno.

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This colonial city is famous for its buildings made from a pearly white volcanic rock called sillar.

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The city is ringed by three active volcanoes, all around 20,000 feet high, which provide a unique backdrop to the antique churches and scattered palm trees.

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We decided to visit the Santa Catalina Monastary, a convent which was founded in 1580. It wasn't open to the public until 1979, at which point the treasure trove of hundreds-of-year-old china, statues, paintings, and architecture was able to be admired by all.

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The nuns were well known for their baking, including pastries, muffins, and other sweet goodies. Kevin went looking for some.

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Dirty habits were washed in large ceramic jugs by the numerous servants.

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A dry wishing well in the kitchen!

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Despite numerous earthquakes the convent has been restored beautifully and provided amazing views of the city and sunset.

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Arequipa has provided us good food (Morrocan, Mexican, Italian, and French), great live rock music, and much needed rest and relaxation!

Posted by ebmarnp 28.01.2012 16:39 Archived in Peru Tagged sunset church lake city Comments (2)

Machu Picchu

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Our first stop in the journey to Machu Picchu was the town of Aguas Calientes, at the base of the mountain on which the city was built. It has the facade of a frontier town but the character of one large tourist trap.

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Machu Picchu (elevation 8,000 ft) was believed to be constructed sometime around 1430 for the Incan Emperor Pachacuti. Archaeologists are still at a loss as to the purpose of the site. The current theory is that it was a retreat for the nobility and priests as well as a site of extreme religious importance due to its location in the mountains. The numerous terraces also prove that the city sustained itself through agriculture, enough to support almost 1,000 people. It was abandoned less than 100 years after it was built, perhaps due to smallpox which was brought by Spanish Conquistadors and introduced to the city by travelers.

The fact that the Spanish never found Machu Picchu means that many of the buildings and temples were left un-plundered (and makes the site unique among the Incan ruins). American historian Hiram Bingham "rediscovered" the site with the help of a 11-year old Quechua boy in 1911. Another interesting note: the original name of the city is unknown; the ruins are named for the mountain that overlooks it.

The views as we took our bus up 12 switchbacks were stunning. Machu Picchu is saddled between two mountains, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, but several other mountains tower over the ruins, each one a sacred deity for the Inca people.

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When we arrived early in the morning, Machu Picchu was shrouded in a dense mist, typical for this time of year. The fog swirling around the stones gave the site a dream-like appearance. We felt like we had been elevated to the world of the Incan gods.

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The structure of the Temple of the Sun (seen below) was amazingly constructed and archaeologists still marvel at its symmetry and design.

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As you can see, all these houses need are a roof and they are ready to be lived in again!

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The stones used in areas of religious importance were very large and fit tightly together without mortar. This has proved highly resistant to earthquakes.

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The double jamb below marks the entrance to a sacred space.

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Behind Kevin is an altar inside of a cave nestled underneath the Temple of the Sun.

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Rock protuberances with holes were used as the hinges for doors.

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The Room of the Three Windows was another sacred place. The views of the valley were incredible from this vantage point.

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This immense stone has 32 sides, a unique stone the likes of which is not found in any other Incan ruin.

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It was at this point that a rainbow appeared from within the mist! Watch here.

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We reached the Intihuatana stone, which was used to chronical the summer and winter solstice as a kind of sun dial. Guides tell us that you can feel the energy of Inti, the Sun God, emanating from the stone. It was actually at this point that the mists began to dissolve and the layout of Machu Picchu was revealed. See it here.

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Below is another sacred stone which looks like Huayna Picchu, the mountain it stands in front of. The immense stone was left in place where it was found by the city's builders.

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Some clowning around from a nice view of the Intihuana stone area on the right and the industrial zone on the left.

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The switchbacks up to Machu Picchu are seen in the distance.

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Some of the sacred mountains surrounding Machu Picchu.

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This massive piece of granite was formed into a condor. Here in this picture you can see one wing. It is believed the Incans, after mummifying their dead royalty, would place the bodies onto the wing so that they would be carried up to the gods. See the video: here.

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A view of the city from the top of the agricultural terraces.

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Kevin made a friend.

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We followed an Incan Trail to the Inca Bridge. This was once used by runners who carried messages between all of the Incan cities and spans a gorge that is 2,000 ft deep.

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Views from mid-way up the mountain of Machu Picchu, with Huanyna Picchu seen in the background. Videos can be seen here.

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We ended the day on Machu Picchu mountain, watching the clouds swirl around the mountains, listening to the roar of the distant Urubamba river, and reflecting on the marvel that lay at our feet.

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In total, we spent 6 hours winding our way through the ruins and surrounding mountains. We could have spent weeks.

Posted by ebmarnp 16.01.2012 10:35 Archived in Peru Tagged mountains ruins inca Comments (6)

Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Navel of the world and surrounding archaeological treasures

sunny 20 °C

Cusco

A week ago we arrived in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan empire. With an elevation of 11,200 feet, Cusco (or Q'osco in Quechua) means "navel of the world." We spent the first few days acclimating and bumming around the Plaza de Armas, the central square.

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On Wednesday, January 11 we took a guided city tour and saw the following sites:

La Catedral

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Q'oricancha

An Incan temple that the Spaniards quarried and used as the foundation for a Dominican monastery and church.

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Notice the three levels of stones: pre-Incan, Incan, and Spanish colonial. The Incan engineering has proven to be superior in sustaining the numerous earthquakes that have rocked this town in the last 500 years!

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Saqsayhuaman

Pronounced "Sexy Woman," this is the religious and ceremonial section of Cusco that was home the final battle between the conquistadors and the Incans in the 1530s. Some of these stones weigh nearly 200 tons. The Incan capital, Cusco, was originally shaped like a puma with Saqsayhuaman as the head.

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Quenqo

A nearby religious site devoted to Pachamama, "Mother Earth." This picture shows a sacrificial altar in a cave. Usually, black llamas were sacrificed because their color retained more heat from the sun and thus they were holier.

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Puca Pucara

A pre-Incan guard tower used by the Incas for its strategic vantage point.

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Tambomachay

A site used for water rites and worship of the water deity.

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The Sacred Valley

Thursday was spent on a day long tour of the Sacred Valley, the area leading up to Machu Picchu. The following pictures show our enjoyment of the local culture, markets, vistas and the native corn-based beer, chicha!

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Pisac

A mainly agricultural site (notice the terrace steps used for growing corn and other staples) that also houses thousands of tombs in the mountain side.

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Ollantaytambo

Easily the second greatest archaeological site for the Incas (from our perspective) due to its beautiful placement, temples, fountains, granaries and huge images carved in the rock that dot the hillside. Some 300 distinct ruins surround the city.

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Notice the face of the deity carved in the rock, best seen from the temple. His "back" was the main granary.

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Check out the wind blowing from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu at the temple of the sun of Ollantaytambo here!

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Chinchero

Our final stop of the day, an agricultural town with some amazing views of the surrounding glaciers.

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This tour, and the experiences we had, easily made it one of the best days of entire trip. Each site was more magnificent than the one before, and prepared us for our voyage to Machu Picchu!

Posted by kevindhodges 15.01.2012 16:42 Archived in Peru Tagged beer sunset fountains ruins market vista inca Comments (3)

The secrets of Nazca

Exploring the lines and the mummies of Nazca

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We had an amazing time at Nazca, which is located a few hours south of Ica.

After settling into our hostel we spent a day exploring the mysteries of this desert city.The Nazca people were a pre-Incan culture that flourished in the harsh desert of south central Peru. As a result of their environment they developed advanced methods to interpret the weather, particularly in terms of rainfall. They built hundreds of underground aqueducts, vibrant pottery, and the mysterious Nazca lines.

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We started exploring this amazing culture (and their predecessors the Paracas) by traveling to the necropolis of Cauchilla, which is a mile wide cemetery that holds thousands of family grave sites, of which only 12 have been fully excavated by archaeologists.

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The mummies are created by removing the internal organs, rubbing the skin with lime and chili, and then slowly baking them in a oven for several hours to dry out the skin, placed in the fetal position, after which they were put to rest in small family plots built like houses underground. The dry desert air, which can reach temperatures up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, perfectly preserved the bodies and left skin, hair, and nails still intact.

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Yes, some of these mummies have dreadlocks which would get up to 3 meters in length! From what archaeologists were able to determine these long-haired mummies belonged to the upper class and served as spiritual and/or political leaders.

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Generations of families would be buried in the same plot, with extensions added on to the "underground home" as each family member died.

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Sadly, this cemetery remains horribly underfunded. Not only have grave robbers removed all of the gorgeous examples of pottery, jewelry, and textiles that the mummies were buried with, but there are thousands of other graves which await discovery. This cemetery is the only one of dozens which are scattered across the Peruvian desert, most of which are unexplored.

Onto the famous lines! We chartered a small plane to give us the much famous bird's-eye-view of the Nazca lines.

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After a shaky launch into the sky we were amazed at the pictures that began to appear below us. Trapezoids, spiders, birds, monkeys, even a killer whale (what is that doing here in the desert hundreds of miles from the ocean?).

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We saw this guy, the famous "astronaut," hanging out on a hillside:

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And numerous depictions of birds, which the Nazca (like most pre-Colombian societies) saw as representative of the divine world of the sky:

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Pair of hands and a tree next to the Pan-American highway:

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Alien runway or an astrological system? You decide! (Kevin is convinced it's the former.)

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Now in Cusco (recovering from altitude sickness) we have several more side trips planned before we make our way to Machu Picchu.

Posted by ebmarnp 10.01.2012 05:34 Archived in Peru Comments (6)

Bodegas and Buggies in Ica, Peru

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Ica, a dusty town five hours south of Lima surrounded by sand dunes and irrigated fields of grapes and asparagus, is home to some serious fun.

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The region is world famous for pisco, a distilled white grape liqueur that is served either straight up or mixed with egg white, lime, sugar, ice, bitters and nutmeg is the scandalously tasty Pisco Sour.

Pisco, and other types of local wine, is produced by both artisanal and industrial vineyards. Bodegas El Catador is one the best in Ica.

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Using old-fashioned foot stomping and 150 year-old vats, this winery produces not just the typical translucent pisco, but lemon-flavored varieties and creme-style piscos (mixed a local root used by indigenous groups called maca).

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After a tasting or two and a sleepy siesta, we spent the afternoon at a desert oasis called Huacachina. For a mere $12 each, we rode in huge dune buggies at speeds approaching 70 mph and sandboarded down 500-foot tall mountains of fine sand.

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Despite a few tumbles, and some stowaway sand in our shoes, we had a great time in Ica. Next stop is Nasca to see the world-famous UFO runways: the Nasca Lines!

Posted by kevindhodges 07.01.2012 12:48 Archived in Peru Tagged oasis sand winery Comments (3)

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