Early to rise
We began our pre-dawn morning by boarding a bus for the ride to the Cusco airport in order to catch our flight at 8:00am back to Lima. Our flight was severely delayed from Cusco which threw our tour schedule into complete disarray. Warning: This is my only complaint about the trip so feel free to skip ahead if you want. We finally arrived in Lima around lunch-time, sleepy and hungry.
Even though it was well after a normal lunchtime our guide was on a mission to take us out to tour the city and more churches. Around 3pm that afternoon we finally had the opportunity to get a little rest and food at an art gallery/restaurant.
The church and Catacombs at the San Francisco Church and Monastery (Museo Catacumbas)
In the historic district of Lima stands the Roman Catholic, San Francisco Church (St. Francis) with its opulent gilded side altars and a very impressive lattice dome in the Spanish and Moorish style.
The giant main altar is made entirely of wood. The entire structure has survived several large earthquakes dating back to the late 1600's.
The monastery library has a very impressive collection of ancient religious texts including a Holy Bible dating back to the late 1500's. Some of the texts were brought over by the first wave of Spanish priests after the conquest of the Incas. We were told not to take photos inside the church and it's too bad because it was the most beautiful church we had seen.
Everything about it was lovely. The details are worth the visit even when you are a bit punch drunk from fatigue and hunger.
Also, worth noting is in this church St. Jude the Apostle (Patron Saint of Lost Causes) is highly regarded and there is a feast of in his honor where 40 people carry a one and a half ton silver stand in a procession (see Mr. Chong's photo above) which begins at the church on October 28th each year. My guess is that the place would be a madhouse to navigate so you would be better served traveling a different time of the year if you weren't there to participate in the procession.
After the church we walked over to the catacombs and our guide purchased/picked up our tickets. Once inside the dusty, dark caverns, we were guided to an area where we saw an abyss that was the equivalent to a five story building filled with bones.
Our guide conceded that the monks were probably a bit cuckoo. After decomposition, the monks separated the dearly departed from their bones and put all the skulls in one cavern, then they separated the femurs, etc. Bodies were soaked with lime juice and sand which apparently helped to mask the smell.
All in all, it is thought that the bones of at least 25,000 people are buried stacked in the brick and mortar pits. In addition, we were advised that secret passage-ways were used during the Inquisition which connected the estuary and the church.
Wow! If these walls could talk!
Finally after what seemed hours of touring churches, convents, catacombs and a historical museum of various artifacts we were seated for a very late lunch after which we once again checked into The Country Club Hotel where we were given several hours to rest, nap and/or shower before a group dinner in the hotel's lovely restaurant.
After a delicious dinner, we said our fond good-byes to our fellow travelers and departed for the airport at around 7pm for a very late flight.
**Worth noting: There is a civil aviation tax of $31.00 USD per person for any person who travels from Lima, Peru to anywhere. The fee applies to international travel and will be collected by "the proper authorities." Make sure you have some cash on you before you leave your hotel.
Hiram Bingham Orient express
We started our day quite early and took a crazy fast van ride through the city of Cuzco at muy rapido speeds to arrive at the Poroy train station where we we began our much anticipated journey along the Urubamba Valley to Puente Reinas.
During boarding and to add to the ambience several Peruvian groups entertained the train passengers while we waited for the train to depart.
The train ride was amazing. The service was first class and the scenery was breaktaking. We ate a 5 star meal with fine wine and champagne and enjoyed a most surprising musical treat in the bar area of the train. Here's a little "taste" of what we experienced by some very talented musicians.
After viewing some of the exquisite scenery of our trip we finally arrived in Puente Ruinas where we boarded a bus with a crazy man for a driver and proceeded up the mountain at breakneck speed where we would be dropped off in front off a lovely hotel called The Sanctuary Lodge. This would be where our guided trek up to Machu Picchu would begin. Some brave souls (not from our group) climbed the more treacherous and steep hike to Waynapicchu which is adjacent to Machu Picchu. Um. No, thanks!
**Worth noting: The Peruvian government limits the number of visitors to Machu Picchu to 2500 people per day. Believe me when you are climbing you will be glad about this limitation as some of the pathways are very narrow and steep and some people can get aggressive.
Also, tickets are not for sale at the entrance to Machu Picchu. Visitors can purchase entrance tickets in advance online directly with the government or authorized ticket agent or by booking a package tour. Names and passport numbers are needed in order to buy a ticket and these details are checked at the entrance to Machu Picchu so bring your passport if you are not travelling in a group. Tickets cannot be changed or transferred to another person once the ticket has been issued. The advantage here is that companies can't buy up all the tickets with the intention of selling them for a higher rate since they need real names and passport numbers to buy the tickets. There is no black market for entrance tickets. That's a good thing. The bad thing is you need to plan well in advance of your trip if you want to climb!
There were several folks in our group who were not in great shape or had bad knees. One of the guides was able to take them on a different hike where we would ultimately see them again at Machu Picchu. I particularly liked that no one felt left out from the experience.
Here are some photos of the hike up. Click on the first photo and it will create a gallery style viewing.
Upon our descent, everyone exhausted and worn out from the early day and the steep climb, we enjoyed a lovely brunch at The Sanctuary Lodge. Shortly thereafter, we re-boarded the bus for the descent to Aguas Calientes to shop at the outdoor market or simply take in some of the local atmosphere for a while before boarding the train to go back to Cuzco.
At the market, I fell in love with the hand-embroidered sheep pillow coverings which had been embroidered with alpaca wool. Beautiful and colorful with bright colors and excellent workmanship. I had seen them the day before in the lounge at the Rancho where we had eaten lunch. So beautiful.
Back on the train we enjoyed another amazing meal. Everyone was quiet and exhausted. The next morning would start early so several folks simply slept the 4 hours back to the Monasterio Hotel in Cuzco.
a matter of altitude AND SOME SKETCHY PILLS
It was another early morning in order to enjoy the lovely buffet breakfast at the hotel. Just guessing, but I would say that Peruvians are not morning people as they move quite slowly in the morning and most especially when they are pouring coffee. This particular morning my head was pounding and I was afraid I had fallen victim to altitude sickness. I was hoping after coffee the headache would subside, but sadly it didn't help. There was a young man on the trip who was also having a rough morning so we decided we would be miserable together. Neither of us had chewed the traditional Coca leaves but we both had consumed the coca leaf teas which are supposedly good for altitude sickness. Hmmmph!
Our first stop of the day was in the mid-morning sun at a very busy market at Pisaq town. Aside from snapping the photo above, I wasn't even in the mood to look around. Having had enough of feeling bad, I decided I wanted to see if there was a pharmacy nearby to see if there was anything that we could do to mitigate our symptoms.The kid and I found our tour guide and into the pharmacy we went along with Michael and the kid's father.
The pharmacist immediately understood what we needed and for about $2 sold us some pills. We tried to ascertain what was in these giant pink pills but after a few frustrating moments of trying to google the ingredients, we decided to pop one into our mouth and get it over with.
Soon afterwards, Michael found the name of the pill along with the Spanish translation and learned that we were mostly taking aspirin and caffeine. About an hour later, both Josh (the kid) and I felt better. Whoulda guessed?
Cowboys and Incans
For lunch we dined outside on the terrace at a wonderful Peruvian barbeque restaurant at Wayra Ranch just outside of the town of Urubamba. The outdoor brick ovens produced flavorful Peruvian delights including saltillos, empanadas, and chicken soltenas. The fresh air and ambiance was wonderful after sitting on the bus for several hours and again the food was amazing. We saw the Cuzqueñan cowboys performed a Paso Horse Demonstration where one could see the obvious Spanish influence in managing the horses, the costumes and dancing.
There are little ceramic bulls, called Toritos de Pucara, on most all of the rooftops in the Sacred Valley. It is typical from the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. Bulls are usually placed on the roof of the houses for good luck, fertility (of crops and livestock) and to bring prosperity. They are also given as presents, as good luck charms. Many roofs also had a religious cross between the bulls.
Ollantaytambo was magnificent in its archaeological beauty and it is best known as the beginning of the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. All but a few of us climbed to the top to look down at the Sacred Valley. It was a bit strenuous but definitely doable. (I sort of considered it Machu Picchu light.)
o' SOLO MIO
I'm starting to sound like a broken record but we arrived back at the hotel thoroughly exhausted and needing to rest before the big day tomorrow that would start early in the morning. However, our guide learned from the hotel two opera singers would be performing during dinner in the hotel's restaurant, El Tupay, that evening and he wanted to know if we wanted to go. YES! What are you kidding?
We hastily got dressed for dinner in this beautiful alcove of a restaurant just off the courtyard. Dinner was delicious but the real stars of the show were the female soprano and male tenor who were stationed on either side of the restaurant who sang throughout the meal. The convent's acoustics were perfect for the concert and this was an experience not soon forgotten.
Michael and I travel mostly because we like learning and experiencing new things, seeing new places and learning about different cultures and food that only comes from getting out and about in the world.