Peru is one of the most diverse countries in the world. It has a total of 439,000 Square Miles (approximately the combined size of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado) and contains rain forests, desert coastlines, and some of the most majestic mountains in the world. Itís bio-diversity is evident in the climates, landscapes, and ecosystems. Peru has 84 of the worldís known 103 ecological zones and relishes in 28 different climates. There are no less than 50 mountains over 18,000 feet, no less than 1,679 glaciers, no less than 12,000 lakes, and no less than 262 different river basins in this wonderful country. (I say "no less than" because there are regions in Peru not yet explored.) This puts Peru in the top 5 most biologically diverse countries in the world.
Peru has a history of being the gathering place for many races and peoples. The native populations were augmented by the Spaniards, other Europeans, Asians, and Blacks. Peru has over 27 million inhabitants of which half are under 21 years old.
Francisco Pizarro founded Lima on 18 Jan 1535 at the banks of the Rimic River. The name "Lima" comes from the native language Quechua and means "that who speaks". The city grew in size and importance as the Conquistadors conquered the region. It was the commercial and cultural center of South America in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The silver mines were established in the 17th century. Political upheaval resulted in an independent Peru in 1821. Peru has had an uninterrupted republic since that year.
Lima is one of South Americaís most interesting cities. It is the capital city of modern Peru. There are over 8 million inhabitants (29% of the total population) and the government is working on a 30% unemployment rate among the populace. Like Mexico City, many of the rural dwellers have moved to the city hoping for jobs, education for their children, and a better future. And, like Mexico City, none of these are available for the most part. The crime rate is high, pollution is significant, and poverty abounds.
The flight to Lima was uneventful. The plane left LAX destined for Panama City. The stop-over was less than 60 minutes, and I was soon on the 3.5 hour jaunt to Lima. I was amazed to experience the plane descending into this thick cloud of pollution as we landed. The pollution was so thick it was difficult to breathe. The temperature was in the mid-80s with a humidity of approximately 80%. The temperature, humidity and pollution made my walk to the terminal an experience to remember. It did not take long to clear customs, and soon I was on my way to Mira Flores (a suburb of Lima). I booked a hotel thru the internet, and they were kind enough to have a car waiting out front. As we drove down the main street I could see both ends of the spectrum in Peru. Well dressed people were driving their black Mercedes on the same street where dirty and undernourished children played in the gutter. Each refused to recognize the other. The pollution was so bad it was hard to see more than 5 blocks ahead. I checked into the hotel and took off for a walk around the neighborhood.
I spent the next 4.5 hours exploring the sites of Mira Flores. What a fascinating time this was. The area was speckled with U.S.A. icons Ė McDonalds, Dunkiní Donuts, Burger King, and even Kentucky Fried Chicken. Mira Flores is right on the beach. A beach that has raw sewage pumped into it from this ever-expanding city. Donít think I will be doing any scuba diving in those waters! There were large and well maintained parks along with a large local market. The local buses are the main transportation for the majority of the locals. These buses are operated by a duo. One person drove the bus while the second stood at the door trying to get people to board. It was much like a Carnival "barker" selling his show. Buses seemed to compete for travelers. Of course, I headed for the local markets to see what was happening in that heap of Peruvian humanity. The market was teeming with people selling everything from fresh (un-refrigerated) meat to Q-Tips, clothing to camera supplies, and household items to car oil. I spent the entire evening walking, talking, and getting oriented. What a great introduction to Lima! I was able to find the bus route to Central Lima and the Plaza de Armas.
The hotel operator cautioned me to take a taxi and avoid the bus. He said that it was filled with thieves ready to take advantage of an unsuspecting tourist. I figured it could not have been any worse than the infamous Bus 54 in Rome, so I decided on the bus. I got up early the next morning, ate a quick breakfast and headed for the bus stop on the only "freeway" in Lima. I paid 1 Soler (about 28 US cents) and got on. I met some wonderful people and was able to communicate with them. They warned me about the bands of thieves in Central Lima, also. "They will even steal your shoes", one woman warned. I took her warning as I left the bus at my destination - the Parque Italano. This park was just across from the magnificent National Art Museum. It is beautiful. This park is where one of the most impressive buildings stands. It is French Provincial and faces east in the center of the park. Of course the Catholic Church with its magnificent churches dot the landscape, also. Very beautiful!
I soon found the pedestrian street and headed for the Plaza de Armas. I found the Plaza Mayor and Plaza San Martin along the way. Plaza San Martin is where the Peruvian Presidential Palace stands. In addition, the plaza has the oldest fountain in South America. It was built in the mid-1600s and still operates today. I continued my trek to the Plaza de Armas. I saw the very famous (and beautiful) Cathedral on the plaza. I took a short diversion to the Santa Rosa Church. This is the destination of several hundred faithful Catholics who want to conceive. There are several stories about people who could not have children for years only to conceive after visiting this shrine. It must be working as over 50% of Peruís population is under 21. Maybe it is the water. Now I know why everyone says not to drink the water in Lima!
I saw a imposing sculpture of Pizzaro near the plaza. One thing I should explain. The cars and buses have the right away. If a car or bus honks or blinks its light, it is time to get moving. They do not stop or even slow down. It is the responsibility of the pedestrian to get out of the way. This was brought to my attention clearly as I looked both ways and started across the street. A taxi turned right and clipped me. He just brushed by leg and did no permanent damage. And, of course, he just looked in his rear view mirror, yelled something about me being "stupido", and kept on going. I hope that his waving hand out the window meant he was saying, "Bye". I grabbed a bite and headed back to Mira Flores.
I did not want to walk back to the freeway, so decided to take a local bus back. This was an experience in itself. The main street was 4 lanes going each way. It was crowded with people, buses, and cars. The buses try to get to the curb for passengers. The traffic does not always allow this. If fact, it seldom lets the buses out of their lanes. So, the streets are a combination of people, buses, and cars each trying to get to a desired destination. I could not find the right bus, so I began yelling, "Vasa ir Mira Flores". I hopped on the first bus where the doorman said, "Si." I paid my Soler and took a seat. It was an interesting ride that took a long and complicated route back. I was getting a little worried about the time as we continued to weave thru the back streets of Lima. Then I saw a familiar sight. It was a large building near the hotel. I got off and walked the two blocks to the hotel. This ended an enjoyable time in Lima.
The beautiful city of Cuzco is located in the legendary Huatanay Valley. It has a history of human inhabitants for several thousand years. This city is tucked away high in the Andes at an altitude of over 10,500 feet. This is the location of the administrative, cultural, and military headquarters for the vast Inca Empire. This empire stretched across much of modern Lima and included lands in Equador, Brazil, Chile, and Columbia. No one could match the Inca power or culture. Several Inca Temples and very large administrative buildings were located in Cuzco. Their unequaled ability to work with stone is evident in the city.
The Spaniards came to Cuzco and conquered the local populations. This was accomplished by two main factors. One was the "advanced" weapons and the use of body armor brought from Europe. The second, and most important, is that the Inca legends told of a god who would return to them. The Inca leaders thought that Francisco Pizzaro what that person. His acts of absolute cruelty and debauchery soon proved otherwise. The Spaniards wanted to establish their religion. They stole the Inca gold, destroyed the temples, and used the stones to make their churches. Usually, they built the churches on the Inca foundations. It is interesting to note that when earthquakes came, the Spanish built buildings collapsed while the Inca buildings and foundations stood.
Modern Cuzco is a thriving tourist community. There are approximately 250,000 inhabitants plus the very active tourist trade. There are several tourist companies, new age spiritual centers, and Spanish language schools located in Cuzco.
I got to the airport bright and early for my 6a flight to Cuzco. Actually, I got to the airport at 4:30am!! I got my boarding pass and went to the gate. I noticed that there was a plane, but the plane was heading for Port Maldanado. The time came and went. I asked the airline person when the plane would be leaving for Cuzco. She said "manana", which is a local term for "in a minute" or "in a little while". I waited and nothing was happening. Ten minutes turned into one hour that turned into 4 hours that turned into 8 hours. Manana became the joke among the 150 passengers from all over the world waiting to visit the magical city of Cuzco. All of the flights to Cuzco were cancelled due to severe weather. It was an interesting experience as I had a chance to talk with a German Priest and Nun who were being transferred to a small parish close to Cuzco, a French woman, a few students from Europe and the US, a retired US couple on an exploration tour of South America, and a local woman going to Cuzco to visit a friend. The French woman was transferring to work in Lima for the French equivalent of our Chamber of Commerce. She told me that over 100 French companies are working in Peru, and that most of the infrastructure (water, power, sewage, etc) is build and managed by the French. Getting to know different people is one of the joys of traveling!
I finally made it to Cuzco and got a ride to the hotel that was right on the Plaza de Armas. What a beautiful location. This well maintained plaza has two major churches adorning it. One is the Cathedral. The other is the La Compania Church. The Cathedral is huge and spectacular. It was built on the foundation of an Incan administrative building. The interior is very beautiful. The church is in a state of disrepair and much work is taking place. A grant from AT&T is being used to restore this historical icon to itís original state. I had a very interesting experience in the La Compania Church. I tried getting into the churches that are along the way so I can enjoy the spender inside. This church (along with all the others) was locked except for masses. They open them up 5 minutes before the mass, and they are locked 10 minutes after. There is a sizable homeless population (some local and some young foreign travelers) in Cuzco, and they will live in the churches if left unlocked.
Early one evening I was walking to the hotel and noticed a large, black Mercedes parked out front of the church. I looked and was excited to see the main door was unlocked. I walked in to find a wedding taking place in the church. The church, like most Catholic churches, was made in the form of the Latin cross. It was beautifully adorned with murals on the walls and icons everywhere. The father of the bride was a member of the military. I did not know his rank, but he did have 7 stripes on his lapel. El General, no doubt! The happy couple was walking down the aisle toward the door. I stood in the aisle just past the last pew. The couple was accepting the congratulations of their friends and family as they walked up the aisle. The people from the audience would fall in behind them as they walked so it became a procession with the newly married couple in front. When they got to me I waved and shook the brideís hand. She seemed a little shocked, but smiled while giving me that look like she was wondering if I was from another planet. There was a video person in front of them taking pictures of them as they walked up the aisle. Not wanting to miss any opportunity, I fell in directly behind the happy couple. I placed myself directly between them, smiled, and waved as the video camera rolled. I wonder what they will think as they watch this video after 20 years of wedded bliss. I had a good time.
The Inca leaders designed Cuzco to be in the form of a puma. The puma represents one of the three Inca laws Ė (1) the snake (donít steal) , (2) the puma (donít lie), and (3) the eagle (donít be lazy). Murdering someone was not against the law. The snake also represents the underworld from where all mankind came. The puma represents this earthly life, and the eagle represents the heavens or after life. The head of the puma is up on the hill where the huge statue of Christ is located. This location is called Sacsayhuman. This are is where the incredible stone work of the walls can still be found. It is where several temples were located, and where soldiers were trained. One jagged wall represents the pumaís teeth. It is amazing how they can carve the rocks and make them fit so well. The Inca technique was one in which the rocks never met at a 90-degree angle. One stone or another would "bend" around the corner to meet another. I spent a few hours there and then went down to the Qenko. This site is relatively small and consists of a series of stones in a circle. There are two large stones in the middle with an altar between. Another alter was recently discovered down in the center of the complex. I got a great picture of this alter. It is suspected that this was used for some type of sacrificial purpose.
Due to the plane cancellation I was scheduled to go to Machu Picchu the next morning. I was ready!!
There is some controversial on who actually discovered this place in modern times. Hiram Bingham, a Yale specialist in topology/geology/biographies/engineering, gets most of the credit when he came upon this site on 14 July 1911. However, there is evidence that the first explorers to enjoy this fabulous place in modern times were Antonio Raymondi, the Count of Sartiges, and Chartes Weiner. It is believed that Machu Picchu was the home for Royalty. Most of the farmers lived down below by the river. Only a few special people lived on the mountain itself.
I boarded the train at 6a for the 4.5 hour trip to the "Lost City of the Incas". They had a nice continental breakfast on the train. The scenery was wonderful as we followed the river to Agua Calente (the town at the base of the mountain of Machu Picchu). The train was filled with tourists and there was ample time to meet a few and have some very interesting discussions. I met a woman who worked for a private organization that distributed food to the needy in foreign lands. The company was totally supported by the US Government, but had no "official" connection. In this way the administration could deny any direct involvement in a controversial plans. She had to have good relationships with all administrations as funding depended on it. In addition I met a man from England who writes English manuals that are used in the Peruvian language schools. He had been in the business for quite some time, and had many fascinating tales to tell. Most of the time I spent looking out the window in awe at the spectacular sites as we rode toward our destination. What rugged and beautiful mountains. The canyon was rather narrow and the train had to often reverse directions as it negotiated up and down the sides of mountains. We could see several Incan sites along the way. The number and complexity varied, but all had weathered the elements over the years.
I finally arrived at Agua Calente. The local government had a high chain link fence around the train depot to keep the vendors at bay. But, we had to walk through them sooner or later. We made it to a line of buses that were waiting to shuttle everyone up to the mountain top. It took 25 minutes to get to Machu Picchu. The Peruvian government does not allow backpacks in the park. I was told there are several reasons for this. The first is they do not want anyone spending the night on top. And, secondly, they do not want people taking stones out of the park.
Machu Picchu is magic as well as magnificent!!! Nothing else can be said. One of the most beautiful and moving sites on earth. It is not only the physical environment although this is very impressive. There is a certain feeling that supercedes all others. There is a certain serenity and peace that resides in that place. I spent most of the day at the site, and loved it very much. Often I would just sit and listen to a distant bird or catch a scent of a flower. I was lucky that it was raining that day. This kept the less-than-hardy tourists away, and gave me full access to any spot.
There are several significant structures on Machu Picchu. One if the Temple of the Sun. This building has the only curved wall in all of the city. The interior walls are very beautiful. It has two windows. The sun shines directly in one window during the summer solstice and shines directly in the other during the winter solstice. The royal burial chamber is directly below this temple. They have uncovered about 150 remains of humans. All but 23 were women. The inside has several niches carved in the walls. It is thought these were used for storing (or showing) liturgical ornaments.
The Royal Palace is just to the west of the Temple of the Sun. It is a modest structure by modern standards, but played a significant part in the ancient rituals. This structure contains several rooms. It is not known if this was a living quarters, or a place from which to rule. Maybe both. There are ceremonial baths close. The interior walls are smooth with no windows. Only doorways. There are niches carved in the walls.
Higher on the mountain is a complex that contains the Temple of the Three Windows, the Main Temple, and the living area for the High Priest. This is the Sacred Plaza is located in the middle of the Urban area. This is one of the most significant areas as it is where special ceremonies were held and the religious rites were practiced at that location on a regular basis. The Temple of Three Windows has only three walls and is open to the Plaza. The three windows are open to the east, so they could have been used to observe the rising sun. As with all other religious buildings, the inner walls are smooth and show a high degree of workmanship. The Main Temple also has only three walls and is open to the Sacred Plaza. Each inner wall has 5 niches and the back wall has 7. In the center of the back wall is a large polished rock. This could have been a table or altar for ceremonies. The living quarters for the high priest is directly across from the Main Temple. It is a rectangle stone structure with two doors opening to the Sacred Plaza.
Directly behind the Main Temple and next to the complex with the Intihuatana is the Sacristy. It is thought that this was used for storing religious icons and other things used in the ceremonies. This building is well known as it has the famous 32 angled rock in itís wall. Quite ingenious how they carved it.
The highest point on this mountain contains the Intihuatana. This word means "hitching post of the sun" and was used for their astronomical and seasonal calculations. It may have been used to insure that the sun is consistent. Probably it was used to begin the festivals and ceremonies dealing with the solstices. There are small marks on the adjoining rock and the sun hits these marks only twice a year. The rock is huge, and must have been part of the original landscape.
Between the Royal/Religious area and the Residence area is the Principal Plaza. This a relatively large and flat grassy area where the general populace could gather for special ceremonies and festivals. It is not hard to imagine the High Priest standing on the Intihuatana speaking to the crowd below.
Just below the residential area is the Condor Temple or prison area. This structure resembles a flying condor with spread wings. No one really knows why it is here. Maybe bird worship, or it could be a prison as there are "cells" and an area for detention. Some speculate that the prisoners were housed with wild animals or poisonous insects. The "cells" have holes cut in the rocks where the arms of the prisoners could have been bound. In the middle of one room is a large rock that is carved to resemble a condor head.
The Sacred Rock is on the path to the Sacred Mountain. This rock is quite large and is suppose to posses some spiritual significance. Even today some spiritualists come to Machu Picchu to get energized by this rock. There have been several accounts where people have had spiritual experiences by this rock. I saw several people "embrace" this rock with open arms. I need all of the spiritual help I can get, but I was not willing to ask this rock (yet!).
There are several mountains around Machu Picchu that have significance. The most well known is the Sacred Mountain. This is directly behind the complex. This is where the Temple of the Moon is found.
All in all, this was one of the most interesting experiences of my life. Machu Picchu is a rare combination of an absolutely beautiful environment and spectacular sites that are interestingly blended with some cosmic brew of serenity. I will remember it always.
The Sacred Valley
The sacred Valley is a combination of two valleys Ė Vilcanota and Urubamba. It is a pleasant and peaceful place which enjoys a very nice climate. Most of the fresh fruit and vegetables enjoyed in Cuzco come from the Sacred Valley. There is an ample selection of Inca sites, also. But, the real charm of this location lies in the rugged mountains which surround this fertile ground. The valley has the Urubamba River running through it which only adds to its beauty.
Pisac is just over 19 miles from Cuzco. You will have to take a short trip up the Chongo Valley to reach the Inca ruins. But, it is well worth the trip. The ruins are high up on the mountain site and contain fortress and temple complexes. You will have to hike approximately 1 mile on a foot trail to reach the ruins. There are several terraces just below the fortress, which make it an imposing site as you arrive. First you will walk through a massive gate and down the footpath to the fortress. The fortress complex offers a wonderful view of the valley below. You can see the temple complex, as you look further up the mountainside. This temple complex has several ceremonial baths associated with it. Also, there are several Inca burial sites at this location.
Ollantaytambo is at the end of the Sacred Valley. Like Pisac it is a major site for Inca ruins. The Ollantaytambo fortress is where Manco retreated after his defeat at Sacsayhuman. It is here that he defeated another contingent of Spanish conquistadors. He was quite clever as he flooded the lowlands so the Spanish horses could not maneuver well. His men, with no armor, easily defeated the Spanish troops caught in the quagmire. They were consistently showered with arrows and rocks as the Inca were safely tucked inside this massive fortress. This victory was short lived as the Spanish reinforcements soon arrived and it was only a matter of time until this Inca stronghold was added to the every increasing number of Spanish conquests. This fortress had an extensive temple complex associated with it. One of the temple buildings had a series of ceremonial baths. The Inca created an underground water system which transported the water from the river to the baths. They still work today.
My trip to Peru was one of the most enjoyable I have taken. I found Cuzco and Machu Picchu to be magical. There is something special about those locations. And, in general, Peru has a rare combination of a beautiful environment, a rich history and culture, and people who are gracious and genuine. I think everyone should visit this wonderful place.