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.
BELMOND Hotel Monasterio, Cuzco, Peru
It was an early morning wake-up call in order to grab a little something to eat for breakfast before going to the airport in Lima for our flight to Cuzco. It was a very organized process whereby the Celebrity representative/tour operator managed our bags and assisted us to check-in for our 9:00am departure from Lima.
Upon arrival at the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cusco, we were assisted by an additional tour operator who gathered our bags. In a brilliant move by the Celebrity Xpedition Tour Operator, he attached giant blue pom-poms to each one of our checked bags in Lima so that he could easily identify our suitcases as they came off the baggage carousel in Cusco. (I'll bet they've done this before! :-)
Our bags were collected and loaded onto a small 20 passenger bus and we were off to what would be our base of operations in Cuzco. The Belmond Hotel Monasterio was very conveniently located near the Cuzco central square where there were plenty of Catholic Churches, shops, and museums.
The hotel itself is a former monastery and national monument dating from 1592. It was absolutely beautiful with its manicured courtyard and archways that led to gigantic spanish style rooms that were quite modern and luxurious. The area itself had a wonderful mix of new and old architecture.
In the afternoon we got back on the bus for a stop at the Cathedral (Compania de Jesus) in the city square, Qoricancha Temple and several local archaeological sites which included Sacsayhuman (pronounced sexy human), Tambomachay, Kenko and Pucapucara.
Qorikancha & The Convento De Santo Domingo Del CuZco
The Temple of the Sun was the most extraordinary temple in the Inca Empire and a must see if you are in Cuzco. With naturalistic beliefs, the Incans built this temple and dedicated it to the worship of the sun (Inti.) it was apparently made of gold. In the Quechuan language, Qorikancha translated means golden courtyard. Hundreds of gold panels lined its walls. There were life-size gold figures, solid-gold altars, and a huge golden sun disc housed in the temple. The sun disc reflected the sun and bathed the temple in light. Qoricancha was also the main astronomical observatory for the Inca.
The Spanish stripped it bare. They melted the gold and silver to create ingots for shipment back to Spain, destroyed much of the building, and erected a church and convent atop the site. Due to the numerous earthquakes in the area, the Dominican Convento de Santo Domingo was partially destroyed by the collapse of their Spanish coverings. Clearly the Inca were much better at constructing buildings to withstand earthquakes!
Francisco Pizarro left it in his will to his brother Juan, who died shortly after. Juan left it to the Domincans and there it has remained.
Our next stop was at Saqsaywaman. Our guide was pleased to advise us that the correct pronounciation of this archeological site was sexy woman. :-) From there we walked to Tambomachay, Kenko and Pucapucara. I think the area is best described in photos. Here ya go!
map (museo arte precolumbi0) Restaurant and bar
Exhausted we arrived back to the hotel in the early evening so that we could clean up, get some rest and go to dinner. Our tour guide made arrangements for us to eat at a small restaurant resembling a glass bubble called the MAP (Museo Arte Precolumbio) Cafe located just a few blocks from Belmond Monasterio.
At the restaurant we were greeted with a Pisco Sour (a tart cocktail) and were given options for a 3-course meal. Michael and I love Peruvian food so for us the choices were difficult because we wanted to sample everything.
Both the wine and the food were excellent and we highly recommend trying the Ceviche de Camarones a la Piedra to start, Rocoto Relleno de Cordero as an entree, and just about anything for dessert. I had the Nuestro Pie de Limon and Michael had the Lava Cake. YUM! For a dinner wine, you may want to try a Chilean Malbec!
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.