5 - 26 September 1997
Friday the fourth of September it was finally the day to depart. I went on a organized trip with Explore. This is a travel agency from England that organizes journeys across the world and sells them mainly in Europe and the US.. Besides a interesting program I thought also a way to meet some people form other countries.
It started great. I was going to fly from Amsterdam to Paris, Bogata next and then to Lima with Avianca (Colombian). I was in Paris at 10:30 AM. At 12:30 PM I was having lunch with my sister who lives in Paris. The plane arrived at 6, unloading, cleaning, refueling and at 7:30 PM we could go aboard. First they couldn't close the front door and then that they reminded to bring the luggage also, so they opened the luggage compartment. After loading the luggage they couldn't close that either. At 21:30 we had to go out of the plane. After one hour they managed to close it and at 23:00 we could finally leave. Much more to complain wasn't there because it was a relatively new plane, service was ok and it wasn't busy.
In Bogota we could go to the Sheraton on behalf of Avianca. We arrived at 3:00 am local time (8:00 am GMT). At 4:30 after some thorough customs inspection we arrived in the hotel and we could sleep for 2.5 hours because my flight to Lima was leaving at 9:30. Saw the last piece of the memorial of lady Di there on 1 of the 5 channels that were broadcasting it over there. Next flight went without any problems and at about 14:00 PM local time I arrived in Lima. So after about 36 hours I was finally there.
In the evening I met the rest of the group during dinner. They were already there for a day, made a citytour and went to the gold museum. They told me it was nice but nothing spectacular so I didn't miss much. The group consisted of 6 Irish, 8 English, 2 Americans and 2 Dutch. During dinner I started with 2 typical Peruvian dishes, Pisco Sour and Cevische. Cevische is a meal that consists of little pieces of raw white fish together with some onions and citron. I didn't like it all but that's personal. The Pisco is a kind of brandy served with eggcream and is a must.
Day 2: departure from Lima with a bus. First we went to the ruins of Pachacamac. These are about 30k south of Lima along the Pan American highway. They're from a period starting about 500 AD until 1500. It's located on the coast and has some nice views on the ocean and the final shantytowns of Lima. After that we drove further to end that day in Paracas. Around Paracas there is a national park with some islands included. The next day we stood up about 6 and took a boat to the Ballesteras islands about 40 min. from the coast. Here you see a lot of birds, sea lions and some penguins. The droppings of the birds are collected once a year to be used in fertilizer.
When we went back we took the bus and stopped again in Ica. There we visited the regional museum and saw mummies, skulls and textiles. The climate is so dry everything is conserved very well during centuries almost without rotting. Next just south of Ica we stopped at a vineyard, El Catador were they make wine and Pisco. After lunch there we went further and stopped at an oasis called Huacachina. In Peru you find three mayor geographical parts, dessert, mountains and the rainforest. The dessert is along the coast from the north until Chile in the south.
This day we ended in Nazca.. Nazca is known because of the Nazca lines. These are figures in the dessert made by removing the dark stones from the soil. The remaining light stones form the figures. About the meaning and origin of the figures the experts have different opinions. Maria Reiche, a German scientist who studied the lines for years says it's an astronomical calendar, others say it's to honor the gods and the last thing I heard was a message for people out of space. The lines are probably made between 900 BC and 600 AD. The next day we took a 15 year old Cessna for a closer look from above. "Nice" detail was that two weeks before some Germans were killed in a plane crash just above the lines. They went in some unregistered planes and just besides the "monkey" it went wrong. Wrong way of saving money maybe.
Back on the Pan American we noticed different police roadblocks. In Peru they're very concerned about safety. Terrorist activity is reasonably controlled but they don't want to take any risks. The president, Fujimori is in fact a dictator but many people are happy with him because he stabilized the country by immobilizing terrorism. Because of that the economy is rising and people profit from that. It improves their live and they remember old democracy times didn't bring them much good. Peru is still a very poor country so the roadblocks are sometimes a way of earning some more money. I didn't notice them harassing tourists with these kind of things. Most people I saw were busy trying to make some money one way or the other. I found it remarkably that there were few beggars.
30Km South of Ica we visited the cemetery Chauchilla. Here we saw a lot of mummies in tombs and you saw bones scattered around everywhere. A lot of gravedigging had found place there, but so now and then they find a new tomb. Here the remains were in a nice condition also thanks to the dry climate. The night we spent in Puerto Inca an old Inca-harbor in the middle of nowhere where somebody placed a hotel.
Day 6: drive 250K to Arequipa at 2300 mtrs. Next day in Arequipa we went to the Santa Catalina convent and after that we went to see the mummy Juanita at the university museum. Juanita was found a couple of years ago when a volcano erupted near Colca canyon and a big part of the icecap melted. She was offered somewhere in the 15th century and thanks to the ice she is one the most intact mummies found ever.
Day 8: plane to Juliaca. Here we arrived on about 3700 mtr and we met the second part of Peru, the high plans (altiplano in Spanish) and the mountains. First stop at the cemetery Sillustani Chulpa Tower. The cemetery is besides a "small" lake (lake Umayo) just a little bit higher (about 30 mtrs) than lake Tititcaca but that one is much bigger so this one is really the most highest lake. Chulpa cones from "chulpass" and that means cemetery towers. Here we encountered photo-tourism for the first time. Children and their mothers dress up for tourist that can take pictures from them in exchange for money.
After that we went to Puno at 3800 mtr. Puno is situated on lake Titicaca. This lake is on 3800 mtr the highest navigable lake in the world. Especially the first two days we noticed how exhausting it is to be on these heights. Every step makes you grasp for breath. A popular dish here is trout from the lake. Puno is the city to buy your jumpers made from wool. Especially the ones made of Alpaca-wool are great. Alpaca's are a kind of lama's and the quality of the wool is great. These jumpers can be bought for outrageous low prices, say about 13 to 15 US $.
Day 9: boattrip of 3.5 hours on lake Titicaca to the island of Taquile. After 20 minutes we made a stop at the Uros islands. These islands are made from a layer of reed about 1 mtr thick so these islands are known by the name floating islands also. On these islands the people live of some fishing but mainly tourism. Taquile island is an island where people live according old costumes. Some say it must be like the way the Inca's lived. You see only some signs of modern times like solarpanels and the cokes to drink. The people live from agriculture and making the famous clothes that they sell mainly to tourists. Man, woman and children are knitting everywhere. We spent the night with a local family on the island. Next day we went back to Puno and had the rest of the day of for buying more sweaters and stuff like that. Unfortunately I brought to many clothes with me so I had to little space left for buying more than 1 jumper.
Day 11: train from Puno to Cuzco. This is a distance of about 250K with about 40 stations in between. It started nice because at the first station in Juliaca they decided to repair the train. They fixed the brake on our carriage and the connection between ours and the first carriage. No problem because the train would go over some passes and it was better to wait than to find out you have a problem when you're passing some mountains. This took about 2 hours so the whole journey took about 14 hours. The train was a diesel one so this didn't go very fast with a highest point on pass "La Raya" on 4300 mtr. Big advantage of such a train is you can sit outside a bit and enjoy the fantastic views on the mountains.
Peru is known mostly because of the enormous Inca culture. Cuzco was the capital of the Inca empire. The Inca's flourished between 1400 AD until 1532. In this year the empire was conquered by the Spanish under the leadership of Francisco Pizarro. In about 100 years the Inca's built an empire from Cuzco until Quito in the North, the west border of Columbia, north-west of Brazil until a part of Chile in the south. An important feature of this empire was the tight administrative way of ruling this empire and that the Inca's build a vast network of roads like nowhere was seen before on the world. This combined with the high civilization made the Inca's a unique people.
In and around Cuzco we did a citytour the next day. In Cuzco you'll find a lot of Inca ruins, like Sacsayhuaman. Pronounced also as "sexy woman". Besides the Inca-ruins there are a lot of Spanish churches. Unfortunately destroyed the Spanish almost everything of the Inca's in there infinite wisdom. But I must say the churches they have build are nice. In Cuzco there're still a lot of buildings with Inca foundations. You can recognize these by the big stones that fit perfectly and don't have any mortar between them. Also these walls are built from the outside going a bit inside because this improves the structure against the danger of collapsing with earthquakes. The next day we had a choice in going rafting following a visit to Pisac, a holly Inca-place or a free day for seeing more of Cuzco. I choose for the last one and went to the archeological museum and the market. The market of Cuzco is a must. It's big and you can find everything there.
Everywhere in the city you see rests of the Inca's. Most churches are in bad shape and because there's little or no money for restoration it will stay like this for the next few years. The following days of this journey were dedicated for the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the holy Inca city that was never found by the Spanish.
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Day 14: start of the Inca Trail. The Inca Trail is the name of a journey through the mountains to Machu Picchu, a holy Inca city. Sure is that the Inca's used this route because of the part that is paved. Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911 by the American Hiriam Bingham. It also known as the "lost town". This because the Spanish have never been able to find this city so it couldn't be destroyed also by them. The Inca's didn't use any writing, only counting by using abacuses and painting so that's why there's not much known about Machu Picchu. It was probably a holy city where the king lived but an other story says there lived a select group of young virgins to honor the gods. Why Machu Picchu was deserted by the Inca's is unknown.
We left from Cuzco by bus and stopped first at Olllantaytambo. This is another holy temple by the Inca's and like Machu Picchu and some other temples situated in the valley of the river Urumbamba. In Spanish this valley is called "valle sagrado" (holy valley). After visiting this temple we went along and at km. 78 we started walking. Normally people start the trail at km.88 because there's a little train station there. The first day was easy, "Peruvian flat". We started at an height of 2700 mtrs and walked 11 km until Llactapata at 2788 mtr. This was a fortress that had to protect the entrance to Machu Picchu probably because not everybody was allowed to go to Machu Picchu. In these mountains you see sometimes condors flying, they're rare but we had the luck to see one already the first day. A little bit disappointing was that it started to rain in the afternoon, but no complaints because the weather was great during the rest of the trip.
The second day of the trip we went up until 3680 mtr at Llucha-pampa about 500 mtr under the "dead woman's pass" that is with 4200 mtr the highest point of the trail. The distance we walked on the second day was 10 km. Only the last few km were heavy because of the altitude and some steep slopes. Then we noticed how important it is to get a decent preparation. Because we stayed already some days on altitude in Puno most of us didn't have much problems with the altitude. It seems that there're still some people who fly from Lima directly to Cuzco and start the trail one or two days later. These are the people who'll get sick easy. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can be deadly when not recognized and treated on the time. You have to have some talent for getting it but risks are lower by a decent preparation. Normally ams occurs only at altitudes above 4000 mtr. At these heights it can get cold at night and we noticed it. That night the temperature dropped until about 0C.
The next day we left at 7.30 AM and had to do the toughest piece of the trail right away. The 500 mtr climbing and 2 km to the pass took about 2 hours. After the pass it went down steep and it was about 4 km descending to 3700 mtr. After that the paved part of the Inca Trail started. Paved trail means a lot of stones but still a lot of climbing and descending. The Inca's made about 25000 km of paths in their empire where most of these paths were paved.
On this day there was an annual event from Cuzco on the trail. They had organized a marathon along the trail. They start at km 88 and do the whole trail in a little bit more than 4 hours !! When we were struggling to go up they ran past us like we were standing still. After the descent it went up of course like every time in the mountains. First thing we met was the temple of "Runkuraqay" along the route. This one and some other temples can only be reached by foot. After that it went up further until 4000 mtr, the top of the second pass.
Especially the second and the third day the views were magnificent. Everywhere around you, you see green mountains. Because of the proximity of the equator it's never really cold and the treeline is much higher than for example in the alps. I estimate it to be around 3500 mtr. After the second pass we descended again until 3728 mtr near the ruin of "Sajamarca". From here it went up a little bit and we stopped near the temple of "Phuyupatamarca". Here we spent the night just above the temple on a ridge at an altitude of 3700 mtr. The distance we walked this day was 16 km and it was the hardest day but I must say with a reasonable condition the trail can be walked without problems although it shouldn't be underestimated.
Every year thousands of people walk the trail. The busiest part of the tourist season is december, january. In the mountains we met almost nobody. Halfway the second day we passed the last place where people live. Travelling with a group is better in the mountains because it's really lonely and there are reports from robberies over there.
The last day consisted mostly of descending to Machu Picchu. The first view on Machu Picchu we had after a few hours. In the beginning of September there was quite a big fire in the forests on the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu. The damage was enormous as you can see on the picture below. The fire came to the edge of Machu Picchu and it would have been a disaster if it had destroyed this unique monument. Cause of the fire was probably a farmer that burned his land in order to get fertile land.
Through "Huinay Huayna" an other Inca-site and a lot of forest we arrived in the early afternoon at "Iti Punku" (gate of the sun). After a short steep climb you're confronted with Machu Picchu. Here at a distance from 1 km and 100 mtr higher there's a magnificent view on Machu Picchu. After having lunch here we completed the last piece of the Inca Trail. Eventually we were at an altitude of 2460 mtr in Machu Picchu.
We arrived around 3 PM in Machu Picchu. At that time of the day it was really quiet there and that are the greatest moments to go to Macchu Picchu and enjoy the views. The buildings and surroundings can put a spell on you if it's quiet like that. At the bottom of mountain lies the village Aguas Calientas. Here you can come by train from Cuzco. Once a day a train goes and brings 6 to 700 tourists, all with clean clothes, hats so white they hurt your eyes and some ladies even on high heels. After 4 days without interruptions spend in the mountains, without showering, shaving and without any clean clothes this confrontation with the civilized world is huge.
The night we spent at the camping site in Aguas Calientas. That evening we went to the hot water springs there and could finally wash ourselves again and important was as truly western, civilized people we could buy liquor again and drink it of course. The next day we went back to Macchu Picchu 7.30 AM to see it again when it's peacefully. Our tourleader was a Peruvian guy and gave us a detailed explanation about what is known about Macchu Picchu. At about 10.30 the tourist buses arrived and that was the end of the spell unfortunately.
In the afternoon we took the train back to Cuzco. The next day was free and we used it to visit some other museums in Cuzco and in the afternoon I went to Pisac with some other people of the group. Pisac is a little village with a well known art market and at about 600 mtr above the village there's a Inca-site with some fortresses. This site is in reasonable state but compared to Machu Picchu it was a little bit disappointing. We should have visited it before we went to Machu Picchu.
Day 20: plane back to Lima. in the afternoon I went to the national museum where they have the most complete exhibition about the history and development of Peru. Besides that there was a special exhibition, called Siphan. This was about the lord of Siphan whose tomb was found completely intact. This tomb was filled with a lot of gold artifacts, an intact mummy and a lot of golden pieces of cloth and armor.
Unfortunately this was the end of a great time in a very beautiful country. Next holiday will be in South America again and I will probably go to Ecuador or Nicaragua. Anybody who wants to join me, let me know!
Last changed: 20-10-98
1998: Jeroen promo
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