PERU -- SPRING BREAK 2009
Many of you know that this trip was extra-special – a Spring Break trip with our niece, Gemma!
Gemma is the daughter of Roger’s brother Richard and his wife Hermion. Gemma is a junior at Stanford and we figured she had earned a trip to some place fun! We only had one week, so a trip to South America was pretty ambitious, but what the heck!
We picked up Gemma at Stanford early on Saturday March 21st and headed to SFO. We had a quick flight to LA, then an 8-hour flight from LAX to Lima, Peru. Roger and I got lucky and got the exit row, but Gemma was moved to another seat so that a tall guy could have the seat next to me.
It turns out the tall guy was one of about 10 optometrists who were going to Peru to do volunteer work. They had 20+ large bins of eyeglasses, and were going to spend a week out in the boonies (or whatever you call the boonies in Spanish) giving eye examinations and prescribing glasses. What a wonderful thing to do! They asked me to remind you: donate your old glasses – don’t just throw them away!
We met a number of people on this trip who were volunteering for a week and then travelling for a week -- what a wonderful thing to do!
ROGER AND GEMMA AT THE AIRPORT -- PLAYING VIDEO GAMES:
We arrived in Lima at about 12:30 am, headed to the hotel at the airport, grabbed a few hours sleep, had a quick breakfast, and then caught our 1-hour flight to the town of Cuzco, which is the launching point for virtually all trips to Machu Picchu.
We were waiting for our flight to Cuzco when Gemma jumped up, squealed, and went running up to a guy and hugged him. Huh???? It turns out he was Benji, a friend from high school (!!!), who was traveling South America before starting graduate school, (he was a few years ahead of Gemma), and he was on our flight to Cuzco!
What a small world!
BENJI AND GEMMA AT THE LIMA AIRPORT:
We got on the plane and a girl said, "Gemma?" It was Vanessa, another friend of Gemma’s, this time from a summer program they both attended about 6 years ago, and she was booked in the seat right next to Gemma!
What a surprising start to our trip!
GEMMA AND VANESSA:
SACRED VALLEY / OLLANTAYTAMBO / PISAC
We arrived in Cuzco without running into any more friends of Gemma, said goodbye to Benji and Vanessa, found our driver and drove about 1-1/2 hours to the Sacred Valley. ON THE DRIVE OUT OF CUZCO:
We arrived in Cuzco without running into any more friends of Gemma, said goodbye to Benji and Vanessa, found our driver and drove about 1-1/2 hours to the Sacred Valley.
ON THE DRIVE OUT OF CUZCO:
THE OUTSKIRTS OF CUZCO:
THE COUNTRYSIDE, ON THE DRIVE TO THE SACRED VALLEY:
We arrived in the Sacred Valley and checked into the Sol y Luna Resort and Spa (it’s now mid-afternoon on Sunday). We had been told to take it easy this first day and acclimate to the altitude (9,000 feet), and we did just that – I took a nap, while Roger and Gemma wandered the gorgeous grounds and worked on their photography skills. SOL Y LUNA RESORT AND SPA, SACRED VALLEY:
We arrived in the Sacred Valley and checked into the Sol y Luna Resort and Spa (it’s now mid-afternoon on Sunday). We had been told to take it easy this first day and acclimate to the altitude (9,000 feet), and we did just that – I took a nap, while Roger and Gemma wandered the gorgeous grounds and worked on their photography skills.
SOL Y LUNA RESORT AND SPA, SACRED VALLEY:
We had a nice dinner at the resort (Roger had guinea pig, more about that later!), and we turned in fairly early.
HANGING OUT AT SOL Y LUNA, READY TO GO DOWNSTAIRS FOR DINNER:
The next morning, our guide Maria Elena picked us up and we headed to the Incan ruins above the town of Ollantaytambo (oy-AHN-tie-tam-bo) – or Ollanta (oy-AHN-ta), if you’re cool! We climbed about 10 steps and were out of breath!
We wandered the ruins, with Maria Elena pointing out the intricacy of the stone work, the various types of terraces (living, farming, protection, religious, etc.), the symbolism, etc. We spent a long time climbing around the ruins, learning about Incan history, and enjoying Ollanta.
THE RUINS OF OLLANTAYTAMBO:
THIS IS THE EASY PART OF THE CLIMB:
WE MADE IT!
THIS IS ABOUT HALFWAY UP:
Maria Elena pointed out grain storage sheds on the mountain facing the ruins, and a face carved into the mountain...
A better view of the storage sheds (left and right side of photo) and of the face (middle of photo):
A nice view of the different stone building methods -- large, perfectly-fit stones with no mortar for important/religious areas, and smaller, less perfect stones with mortar in other areas, such as the agricultural terraces in the background:
HOW THE HECK did they cut the stones to fit together perfectly???
Our guide, Maria Elena:
A view from the ruins, overlooking the town:
These huge stones were transported to this site from the neighboring mountains!!! In Incan times, this wall was decorated with important symbols, covered in gold. The Spanish destroyed the pagan symbols and took the gold:
Hi Roger and Gemma (walking across the agricultural terraces):
This is part of the defensive portion of the ruins -- yours truly, with Roger poking his head out:
After Ollanta, we drove along the Urubamba River to the town of Pisac on the other end of the Sacred Valley. Maria Elena took us to a "Colonial Bakery" -- i.e., a bakery from the 1450's to 1650's, when the Spanish controlled the area.
The baker offered us a freshly baked empanada – bread stuffed with cheese, onions, etc. As we munched our bread, we noticed the dish Peru perhaps is most famous for – guinea pig. Well, when I say "dish" I really mean "roasted animal" – the guinea pigs had been gutted and thrown in the oven whole – they looked like something out of a horror movie!
As we were about to leave, Gemma noticed the "before" guinea pigs in the corner of the bakery – cute furry little guys! It was impossible to reconcile the adorable little pets in the corner of the bakery with the terrifying creatures fresh from the oven.
Roger managed to stop Gemma from having a Free Willy moment (setting the guinea pigs free, for those who do not get the reference) and we headed into the famous Pisac crafts market for some souvenir shopping – my favorite sport!
"BEFORE" GUINEA PIGS:
THE COLONIAL OVEN -- CIRCA 1450, AND STILL USED TODAY:
"AFTER" GUINEA PIGS -- DON'T THEY LOOK EVIL?
After shopping, we had a late lunch and returned to the Sol y Luna for a nap, another nice dinner no guinea pig this time) and an early evening – they were picking us up at 6:30 to catch the train to Machu Picchu!
MORE SOL Y LUNA PHOTOS (we're in a valley at about 9,000 feet, with mountains all around:
ROGER AND GEMMA, HAVING PERU'S FAMOUS DRINK, PISCO SOUR (OK, Gemma is just holding my drink):
"WHAT TIME DO WE HAVE TO GET UP???"
The next morning (Tuesday, if you’re counting), we boarded the "Vistadome" train to Machu Picchu.
First, a few words about Machu Picchu:
One way to get to Machu Picchu is by train from Cuzco or Ollantaytambo. There are 3 trains -- the budget "backpackers" train, the "tourist class" Vistadome train, and the top-of-the-line Hiram Bingham train (Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Picchu).
Another way to get to Machu Picchu is to hike there on the Inca Trail. The standard hike is a 4-day hike of about 26 miles through some very steep and rough terrain.
Another option is a 2-day or even a 1-day hike, which enables you to enter Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail, but after only about 6 hours of hiking.
All hikers (4-, 2- or 1-day) enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate, at the top of a mountain pass, perched about 1,000 feet above Machu Picchi.
In contrast, non-hikers disembark the train far, far below, at the town of Agua Caliente (yes, "hot water" -- the town has a hot spring), and ride a bus up, up, up the mountain, about 30 minutes, and enter Machu Picchu at a different location -- at about an 8,000 foot elevation, instead of through the Sun Gate, far above Machu Picchu.
We did both -- we took the train to Agua Caliente, took the bus up, and went in through the "tourist" entry, and also did the Sun Gate hike. I'm going to show you the Sun Gate photos first, so you will get a sense of what it is like to see Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate first. Just pretend you've been hiking for 4 days and you'll get a sense of it...
A "CLOSE UP" OF MACHU PICCHU FROM THE SUN GATE -- IT LOOKS SO SMALL -- BECAUSE IT'S A LONG WAYS DOWN (the green roofs show where the tourist entry is)...
LOOKING BACK DOWN THE INCA TRAIL, FROM THE SUN GATE:
A VIEW OF THE SWITCHBACKS -- THE ROAD THE BUS DRIVE UP, FROM AGUA CALIENTE TO MACHU PICCHU (with part of Machu Picchu in the background):
HEADING DOWN, FROM THE SUN GATE INTO MACHU PICHHU:
IT'S DOWNHILL NOW!
THE CLASSIC VIEW OF MACHU PICCHU (we've dropped in elevation alot by now):
ANOTHER CLASSIC VIEW OF MACHU PICCHU (WE NEED TO PHOTO SHOP OUT THE GUY IN THE BLUE SHIRT):
NOW THAT'S A GREAT PHOTO!
MACHU PICCHU IS IN THE JUNGLE -- IT WAS TOTALLY COVERED BY VINES WHEN HIRAM BINGHAM DISCOVERED IT:
"WE MADE IT!!!"
There is only one hotel actually AT Machu Picchu -- the Sanctuary Lodge. As a result, most people go to MP for the day and go back to a hotel in Agua Caliente (or even Ollantaytambo or Cuzco) at night. We elected to spoil ourselves and stay at the Sanctuary Lodge -- after all, this was why we came to Peru!
LUNCH AT THE SANCTUARY LODGE -- NOTE THE MOUNTAIN IN THE BACKGROUND:
GEMMA TOOK THIS PHOTO DURING LUNCH. WE NEVER THOUGHT SHE WOULD GET A DECENT PHOTO OF THE HUMMINGBIRD, WHO WAS OUTSIDE OUR WINDOW DURING LUNCH:
We arranged to have one of the on-site archaeologists, Fabrizio, give us a tour of the ruins. He gave us a history lesson, and then asked, "Is anyone afraid of heights?" When we said no, and he took us to the back side of the ruins, where few people go, then he walked up to the edge of a terrace, put his arms out and leaned out like Leonardo Dicaprio in Titanic ("I’m the king of the world!"). Gemma and I nearly had coronaries – it looked like he was standing on the edge of the earth!
Fabrizo showed us around for a few hours, explaining the history and the trechnology, and helping us to separate fact from speculation, fiction, legend and lore. He showed us how the ruins are divded into agricultural areas, urban/living areas, gathering areas (the large green grassy area you see in many photos), religious/ceremonial areas, industrial areas and defensive areas.
After a few hours, Fabrizio departed and we climbed around some more, and took TONS of photos...
THE VIEWS NEVER END -- EVERYWHERE YOU TURN, THRE IS SOMETHING ELSE INTERESTING (we're standing in an agricultural area, and you can see urban, religious/ceremonial, industrial and other ag areas in this photo):
THE VIEW THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION (agricultural terraces, with defensive buildings on the background):
IT KEEPS GOING AND GOING (we're standing in the industrial section, looking at the ag section, with some defenisve buildings in the background):
EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK, THERE IS ANOTHER GREAT PHOTO OP:
THE FOG SETTLES IN, THEN LIFTS, THEN RETURNS (looking from the urban section to the industrial section, with a bit of the ceremonial section (the green grass area):
LOOKS LIKE YOU DROP RIGHT OFF THE EDGE, DOESN'T IT?
WATCH YOUR STEP:
ROGER -- HANGING OUT IN THE CLOUDS:
We ended the day with a hike up to the Guard House, where watched as the crowds disappeared and the sun started to set. We continued to take tons of photos – only a small fraction of which are displayed here – and simply sat and soaked up Machu Picchu, pinching ourselves to be sure we really were there.
PART OF THE HIKE UP TO THE GUARD HOUSE (ag terraces are on one side and urban terraces are on the other side):
GOT A FEW DROPS OF RAIN ON THE CAMERA LENSE ON THE HIKE UP TO THE GUARD HOUSE:
HIKING UP TO THE GUARD HOUSE -- I LOVE THE VIEW OF THE MOUNTAINS BEHIND US:
GEMMA FINISHED FINALS JUST BEFORE THE TRIP -- THUS THE "VICTORY" SIGN:
THE GUARD HOUSE:
THE VIEW FROM GUARD HOUSE -- THE FAMOUS VIEW OF MACHU PICCHU:
AWWWW, HOW CUTE!
I THINK THIS WILL BE OUR CHRISTMAS CARD:
NOTICE HOW EMPTY IT IS BELOW...
AND ONE MORE PHOTO OF THE GUARD HOUSE:
THIS IS THE LAST PHOTO OF THE VIEW FROM THE GUARD HOUSE -- I PROMISE!
That night, we had a wonderful meal at the Sanctuary Lodge (I highly recommend it!). During dinner, we agreed to wake up early and, weather permitting, to hike in and see the sunrise over Machu Picchu.
A FUN DINNER AT THE SANCTUARY LODGE:
The next morning was clear so we dragged ourselves out of bed to be some of the first people through the gate at 6 am, to see sunrise over Machu Picchu. We found a quiet spot and watched the day awaken...
BEFORE SUNRISE AT MACHU PICCHU -- ABOUT 6 AM:
FINDING A SPOT TO WATCH THE SUNRISE:
WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE...
THE LLAMAS ARE WAITING TOO (that's his knees/elbows sticking out the back):
MACHU PICCHU IS WAITING TOO -- IT'S PRETTY QUIET...
THE SUN IS UP! (ABOUT 6:45 AM):
SUNRISE OVER A LLAMA:
A CHINCHILLA, SOAKING UP THE MORNING SUN:
NICE CLOSE UP!
SUNSHINE ON MACHU PICCHU...
OK -- WE SAW THE SUNRISE -- NOW WHAT??? (that's the guard house in the distance, and the Sun Gate is up, up, up the hill behind it, but out of the photo):
One fun thing was that there was llamas all over the place, plus a few alpaca, and they were not bothered by people AT ALL at all...
THANK YOU FOR POSING FOR US, MR. LLAMA:
THIS GUY LIKED GEMMA...
A LLAMA TRAFFIC JAM:
THEY ARE FUNNY LOOKING:
DON'T TAKE A STEP BACKWARDS...
After lots of hiking, we decided to look for Gemma's friend Vanessa, who was scheduled to be at Machu Picchu that day (coming in by train in the morning and leaving by train that evening). We grabbed a table in the shade, got sandwiches, chatted with a really nice and funny trio from NY and Boston (2 brothers and a wife or girlfriend), and got ice cream cones (seriously!), all while watching for Vanessa, but we never found her. :(
We finally gave up, took the bus down to Agua Caliente, and wandered around town. Whereas the Sanctuary Lodge is luxurious-rustic, Agua Caliente is bohemian to the core – what a fun, happening town – we loved it!
THE TOWN OF AGUA CALIENTE:
EVERYWHERE WE TURNED, OUR GUIDES WOULD POINT OUT FACES IN THE MOUNTAINS, BUT THEY MISSED THIS ONE:
We caught the "backpackers" train back to Cuzco (well, to the town of Poroy, and then our driver took us to Cuzco, just a few minutes away), checked into the Libertador hotel, and promptly fell asleep.
The next morning, Maria Elena took us on a walking tour of Cuzco in the morning – through the tiny streets, to the Plaza des Armes, past churches and other colonial buildings, and to the cemetery.
THE STREETS OF CUZCO -- MORE LIKE ALLEYWAYS:
PLAZA DES ARMES, CUZCO:
The cemetery was particularly interesting – it has large crypts, with niches marking each coffin. People put photos, flowers, and mementos in the niches and often visit the cemetery every Sunday. We saw smaller niches (too small for a coffin) and Maria Elena explained that these marked where ashes were interred. It was very interesting to see such a brightly colored, festive – yet somber as well – cemetery.
We took a break for lunch and then Maria Elena showed us the Church, the Sacsaywaman ruins (sac-say-woh-man – sounds like "sexy woman") above town, and a few other ruins around town.
NOW THAT'S A DOORWAY:
THIS IS THE HEAVIEST SINGLE STONE AT SACSAYWAMAN -- ABOUT 100 TONS -- AND IT WAS MOVED TO THIS SPOT FROM ABOUT 7 KILOMETERS AWAY!
VIVA EL PERU!
A VIEW OF CUZCO, FROM THE HILLS AROUND THE TOWN:
After exploring Cuzco, we headed back to the hotel, relaxed a bit, then headed out for a night on the town. We found a restaurant and had traditional Peruvian cuisine – nachos (Roger), pizza (me) and ravioli (Gemma). Can you tell? We’re health food nuts! After that, we walked around the Plaza des Armes and the surrounding area – which really hop at night – and Roger gave dirty looks to the guys who kept trying to get Gemma’s attention.
CUZCO, THE PLAZA DES ARMES, AT NIGHT:
The next morning, we flew to Lima. We had about 12 hours until our red-eye home, so I had gotten a hotel room. We threw our bags in the door and headed out to explore Lima...
The next morning, we flew to Lima. We had about 12 hours until our red-eye home, so I had gotten a hotel room. We threw our bags in the door and headed out to explore Lima...
We took a cab to the Lima "Centro". We wandered around, admiring the colonial architecture, then found a place for lunch.
LIMA CENTRO, AT THE MAIN PLAZA:
THIS PHOTO IS OUTSIDE CONGRESS -- NOTE THE POLICE -- THERE WAS A SPECIAL EVENT GOING ON BEHIND THE GATES:
We wandered around some more, then decided to visit the Museum of the Inquisition. We walked, and walked and walked, and got to the place where the museum was supposed to be – but it was a parking garage and market!
WANDERING THE STREETS OF LIMA CENTRO:
THIS WAS A FUNNY SIGHT -- WE'RE NOT SURE WHAT THE FOAM WAS FOR, BUT THIS GUY WAS HAVING A TOUGH TIME DRAGGING IT AROUND DOWNTOWN LIMA:
We wandered around a bit and ended up in Lima’s Chinatown. We knew we could ask for directions, but downtown Lima at 5 pm on a Friday evening is very congested with people and cabs, and we were getting tired of it.
We debated whether to just go back to the hotel, but Roger pointed out that we would regret it if we missed out on something, so we grabbed another cab and headed to an area I had heard about – the Miraflores district, near the ocean. We got to Miraflores, wandered around, and found a pedestrian plaza lined with restaurants. We weren’t hungry, but we were pretty tired, so we grabbed a soda and rested our feet. Eventually we saw some boogie boarders returning home, so we decided to head in the opposite direction – the beach could not be too far away!
We found the beach right at sunset and stopped with everyone else to watch the sun disappear into the ocean.
SUNSET AT MIRAFLORES, LIMA:
We hung out for quite some time, then walked along the coastline, figuring we would grab a cab at a hotel along the beach. Instead, stumbled upon a huge shopping plaza, so we wandered around the plaza, and had some ice cream to finish off the day. We were so happy that we had not given up and gone back to the hotel – we went from a dirty, crowded, noisy street in Lima Centro and managed to find our way to a fun plaza right on the beach, with light breeze, eating ice cream!
We caught a cab back to the hotel (ask us about the cab ride some time), relaxed for a few hours..
ROGER, RELAXING AT THE HOTEL IN LIMA - THE BED DOES NOT QUITE FIT:
...then hopped on the 1:40 am flight to LA. We got an exit row, slept most of the way, and arrived in LA fairly refreshed.
DON'T WE LOOK REFRESHED???
We cleared customs, had a bite at LAX, then caught the flight to SFO...
GRABBING A BITE AT LAX:
Gemma came home with us for the day, then Georgia and Denise drove her back to Stanford on Sunday.
THE DRIVE HOME:
It was a fun, wonderful, amazing, incredible, fabulous, add-your-superlative-adjective-here trip! The people were friendly, the food was super, the scenery was gorgeous, the history was fascinating, and Machu Picchu was incomparable, really beyond words. Perhaps best of all, we all got along great – we laughed nearly the entire trip!
We hope you enjoy our photos!
(and Roger, and Gemma!)
ps -- here's some miscellaneous photos...
ask Gemma the story behind this photo!
a cool photo Gemma took after the sunset at Miraflores, Lima:
ONE LAST PHOTO OF MACHU PICCHU!!!