Monday, November 26, 2007

The Sacred Valley

I am behind already on this blog. On Sunday morning (Nov 25) we rose bright and early for a great buffet breakfast, quick hotel check out, and meet-up with out guide Hilda for our adventure to the Sacred Valley. We began with a stop at the remans of Tokampata, the first Inca palace, with a beautiful 16th century San Cristobal church and a large plaza overlooking the city of Cuzco. In the plaza were small groupings of pretty girls dressed in traditional Peruvian garb, llamas in tow, hoping we would pay them to take a picture (little did we know these would be the first of hundreds over the next couple of days). Then we walked through Sacsayhuaman, an archeological park where beautiful Inca walls have been excavated, vast open fields with terraced hills. It is our first view of the incredible stonework made by these people, huge boulders carefully carved to fit perfectly together without mortar. The ancient city of Cusco was laid out in the form of a puma, the animal that symbolized the Inca dynasty. The belly of the puma was the main plaza, the river Tullumayo formed its spine, and the hill of Sacsayhuaman its head. Wow.

Next stop - the llama project where we see and learn about the 4 different kids of llamas (all part of the camel family!) They are adorable and come right up to us to eat the long grasses we have to offer (as provided by the project). There is a new weaving project here now too, begun by the same woman who started the one in Chinchero (but that's tomorrow). It is fascinating to watch the women work the looms they have strapped around their waists. There is a 10 year old boy doing complicated patterns quite well - not as well as the older women but well enough he is getting a lot of attention in this project. There is a good bathroom here which we both makeuse of even though it entails walking through a rather large sales room FULL of woven and knitted stuff, kind of like a Macy's.

On our way to Pisaq we learn "Andes" comes from the word ANDENES which means terraced. Then we drive on to Pisaq where we walk through the ruins for more than an hour, past beautiful walls and homesteads bulit on the mountainside, even through a tunnel the Incas carved through the stone that was in their path, It is interesting how they truly worked with the land and not against it. There are ceremonial areas with huge slabs for sacrificing animals or humans - as you get closer to the temple the stonework in the walls is even more perfect, smooth and polished and perfectly joined. Even the combination of sizes, and the niches incorporated into the walls are believed to be in place to protect them in the event of an earthquake.. I love this place.
Lunch is back in town in the niddle of the Pisaq Marketplace in a nice, simple restaurant. We eat fantastic quinoa soup and sufed peppers, and even try Inka Cola (ick). After lunch there is a tedious project to find me a nice Peruvian blanket, just right and not too expensive -- the market is huge and I would be lost still today if Hilda had not caefull kept an eye on me. Thanks you Hilda! In the end I bought a *rug* and we left!
Did a quick tour of the Pakaritampu Hotel and still am not quite sure what people were complaining about - but then on to Chicha!! Our last stop today is at a little home of a woman who has 1) a big courtyard full of several of the frog - coin toss games the kid all love 2) a room full of guinea pigs running aorund (ignore the fact they are being bred for the next special feast) and 3) a tiny kitchen with many pots a boiling... the chicha. We all have a taste - hm - followed by a taste of the strawberry kind. Fun!

Our hotel - the Libertador Valle Sagrede is wonderful - lush endless gardens, rivers of water flowing through. One night is not enough here! The satelite is out so there is no internet (thus the belated blog) but it hardly matters in a place like this. Monday we head back to Cusco via Chinchero, then head to the mountians to begin the trek on Tuesday...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Peru is very Far Away....

...... as evidenced by the almost 20 hours it took to get here.

First the drive to Logan Airport (they make you so fearful you'll miss your flight if you don't go so early). There was not even a line at check in so things went pretty quickly. If it hadn't been for the 20 minutes of frisking at security (every metal grommet on my jeans was carefully inspected) I would have been at the gate before my ride (thank you Michael) got out of the airport. I met up with our Peru Guru Peter at check in - but he flew business class so our socializing was limited to airport connections. No dinner on this 7PM flight mind you - but I wisely purchased a sandwich to take on board.

It was 3.5 hours to Miami, where I connected up with Larry who had gone the day before to enjoy Thanksgiving with his family. He seemed pretty perky, but then he was on a fresh start whereas I already had 6 hours of 'travel' under my belt. Our flight to Lima left at midnight; once we were in the air the FOOD SERVICE started (who doesn't want dinner at 1am?) and the movie. American no longer serves free alcohol on international flights I guess, because a glass of wine was $5. We did manage to sleep - but with the plane landing at 530am there wasn't a lot of time for shut eye. This was the hardest connection - 3.5 hours before boarding our 1.5 hour flight to Cusco. Luckily the Lima airport has some fun shops and great coffee so we survived.
We were met by a porter in the Cusco airport (or Cuzco, there is a very long dissertation by Peter about which is correct or more popular but they are both used interchangeably even within the same paragraph) who somehow knew who we were and helped us get our bags to the street where our transfer guide Juan took over. Nice nice guy with a thick accent who does his job with joy; Juan took us to a spanking clean van where we met our driver Wilson (we are very important people!) Wilson is *also* delightful. At the hotel (a short drive) we chat and go over some maps and local info and agree on the time to meet our guide (yet another person!) tomorrow for our trip to the Sacred Valley. Now I understand all about transfer guides and assistant guides and head guides!

By noon we were settling in to our FABULOUS hotel room at the Libertador in the center of Cusco. And since the coca tea they served at check in successfully revived us we decided to strike out in the neighborhood. We strolled the little streets lined with tiny shops, which invariably lead to large open squares full of industrious children selling cloth dolls, shoe shines, and postcards. Everywhere there are churches and temples. When hunger got us we came back to the Libertador for trout (local, from Lake Titticacca which I cannot figure out how to spell) ceviche. $8 for an *enormous* plate - we each devoured our own plateful. Then we waddled out in another direction to the Plaza de Armas, just a really cool spot with lots happening and amazing views of town life surrounded by sharply rising hills dotted with adobe buildings. Wow, we are really in Peru!
One of the things happening in Plaza de Armas was a torrential downpour. All of our rain gear was back in the hotel; the children evidently dropped the postcards and suddenly appeared with piles of cheap rain ponchos - but we waited for it to clear while enjoying the shops under the covered walkway around the plaza. The search for the 'alpaca factory' almost ruined my day (WHY didn't I write down the address?!?!) because there is no such place with that name but there ARE 5,000 alpaca sweater stores none of which had what I was looking for (this is a long-story favor I promised someone thinking it would be a piece of cake) We did finally find it but now back in our room I read my notes and see she wanted BROWN when I had insisted all day (in a rather whining voice, just ask Larry) it had to be GREY....
This brings me to the effects of altitude which I would like to blame for not only the alpaca sweater fiasco (I'll be exchanging it when we're back here in a couple of days) but the fact we cannot seem to understand each others' meaning when we speak, or even make sense to ourselves. It's kind of funny but we are so tired or spacey or wired or something we can't even quite laugh. Altitude might also be responsible for my insane idea to get adventurous when searching out a bathroom on our wanderings (you really cannot stay 'hydrated' and not need a bathroom). If you dare, read on:
Rather than go into a nice looking hotel or restaurant I went right for the skeevy looking alley with a sign saying PUBLIC BATHROOM where a woman took my 50 centimos (about 15 cents), handed me a wad of toilet paper and pointed me out back to a falling down cinderblock building with several doorways. The one labeled 'hot shower' had a hose stuffed into the closed door. I went for the one other doorway that even had a door. Inside there was a squat toilet in the misdst of such squalor as I have not seen since China. I was desperate by this time though and really had no choice so in the dark managed to complete the task at hand without soaking my feet. BUT, even as I was relived and pulling up my jeans I began to hear growling. Yes indeed, right outside the door was the mangiest fiercest looking dog growling at me. I had to open the door - I was suffocating - but the dog would not let me step outside. I yelled and called for help and no one bothered to come. Finally the dog got bored and moved away and I escaped unscathed. Phew!
At 630p we were trying to figure out what to do next. It was torrential downpouring again (it better not do this on the trek). So we had ceviche again for dinner, along with a quinoa seafood salad and alpaca kebob. The hotel also offers an outstanding looking buffet, and live music in the dining room. It is beautiful here - have clients really ever complained about this place??
Tomorrow it's Hilda and the Sacred Valley. We have to get up at 630am!