The day after we visited Machu Picchu was Sunday, May 1st. Chincheros, a nearby town has a famous Sunday market, so we hired a car and driver and decided to hit the market and see some other nearby sights.
Our car and driver for the day
On the drive to Chincheros we enjoyed spectacular scenery. Chincheros is between Ollantaytambo and Cusco, so we passed through the same agricultural highlands that we had seen just a few days before. The rolling fields surrounded by snowcapped mountains were just as beautiful the second time. We didn’t stop for photos, but we snapped a couple shots with our phones and we drove. The roads were fantastic.The paved roads were surfaced well and the dirt roads were smooth with no “washboarding.”
Looking down on a town
The entrance to the Chincheros Market
The Chincheros sunday market is not as big as some of the other markets in the region, but is said to be more authentic and less touristy. As far as we’re concerned, that’s a good combination. At the entrance to the market, there were a couple of ladies selling corn on the cob.
Corn on the cob. Huge, light colored kernels, more starchy than sweet. It almost tasted like potato. Note the little slab of salty farmer’s cheese. Yum.
I munched on corn as we wandered through the colorful market. There were woven goods, produce, meats, food, chica, and more…
Browsing at the Chinchero Sunday market
One of the locals.
Checking out the goods
We stopped at a cobbler’s stall to get Jette’s sneakers fixed. Near the ball of her foot the uppers were beginning to separate from the soles. The cobbler first glued, then stitched them. Cost, about a dollar.
The cobbler, hard at work.
With Jette’s shoes fixed, I went back for another corn on the cob while Mila and Jette did some more shopping. At an altitude of more than 12,000 feet the sun was absolutely brutal. I opened my umbrella for some shade and muched on corn and cheese. Before too long, Mila and Jette appeared with their purchases.
A new bag
From Chincheros, we headed to the salt evaporation ponds near the town of Mara (a.k.a. Salineras de Mara). Once again the views on the way were spectacular.
Beautiful fields and mountains
We stopped to snap some photos at a scenic overlook.
Making friends with a local pooch.
Near Maras the landscape really began to look like high desert. Reminded me a bit of the landscape near Big Bend, Texas.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at the salineras. Here’s how Wikipedia describes the Salineras de Mara:
Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. Almost all the ponds are less than four meters square in area, and none exceeds thirty centimeters in depth. All are necessarily shaped into polygons with the flow of water carefully controlled and monitored by the workers. The altitude of the ponds slowly decreases, so that the water may flow through the myriad branches of the water-supply channels and be introduced slowly through a notch in one sidewall of each pond. The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond’s bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond workers that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s earthen walls and on the pond’s earthen floor. The pond’s keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan, depending on the skill of an individual worker. Some salt is sold at a gift store nearby.
The salt mines traditionally have been available to any person wishing to harvest salt. The owners of the salt ponds must be members of the community, and families that are new to the community wishing to propitiate a salt pond get the one farthest from the community. The size of the salt pond assigned to a family depends on the family’s size. Usually there are many unused salt pools available to be farmed. Any prospective salt farmer need only locate an empty currently unmaintained pond, consult with the local informal cooperative, learn how to keep a pond properly within the accepted communal system, and start working.
The massive terraced ponds cut into the hillside.
The buildings on the left give a sense of scale.
The salt ponds.
Balance beam between the salt ponds
A salty trio
It is amazing to think that locals have been extracting salt from this same underground stream for hundreds, possible thousands of years. The terraced ponds are so simple and yet effective. As with the thousands of agricultural terraces we’ve seen in Peru, it is sobering to think about the amount of hard, physical labor that went into building these massive structures with simple hand tools. That said, they have stood the test of time and still serve people today.
From Mara we jumped back in the car and headed to Moray. Again it was a scenic drive with beautiful views. Our cellphone snapshots just don’t do it justice.
On the road to Moray
I think this is quinoa
Coming round the mountain
Moray is an interesting place and a bit of an enigma. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:
Moray or Muray (Quechua)is an archaeological site in Peru approximately 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Cuzco on a high plateau at about 3,500 m (11,500 ft) and just west of the village of Maras. The site contains unusual Inca ruins, mostly consisting of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is approximately 30 m (98 ft) deep. As with many other Inca sites, it also has a sophisticated irrigation system.
The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but their depth, design, and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and the bottom. It is possible that this large temperature difference was used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. Speculation about the site has led to discussion about Moray as an Inca agricultural experiment station. Its microclimatic conditions and other significant characteristics led to the use of the site as a center for the ancient study of domestication, acclimatization, and hybridization of wild vegetable species that were modified or adapted for human consumption.
Moray agricultural testing area
Mila and Jette at Moray
Mila and Waco at Moray
It is difficult to get a sense of the scale of these structures in our snapshots. Here are a couple of photos I found online that might give a better sense of scale:
Here’s what it looks like from the satellite view in Google Earth. Note the buildings for scale, and imagine creating this with Inca bronze-age technology. No wheels! No wheelbarrows, no carts, no trucks. Just a LOT of hard work:
It was getting late, so from Moray, we drove back to Ollantaytambo.
Another pretty view
Crossing the Urubamba River
Back in Ollantaytambo, we had dinner at one of the restaurants on the main square. The menu was a little bit scary…
“Puncture you and income” Sounds like we are about to get mugged at knifepoint!
There was a big mountain bike event in town that evening and there was a big stage set up in the main square.
Mountain bike event
We wandered back to Casa de Wow through the narrow stone streets of Ollantaytambo and tucked ourselves into bed and dreamt of Incan ingenuity.
Under the streetlights
The ride in the collectivo from Cusco to Ollantaytambo was just shy of two hours. As you might expect, the views were fantastic. We were driving across a high plateau of rolling hills, tucked in among the snowcapped peaks of the Andes. It is agricultural land, so there were endless fields of wheat, potatoes, quinoa, and other crops.
The high farmlands
A dusty existence
The road to Ollantaytambo
Peeking down on one of the towns along the way
The van ride had Mila miserable with motion sickness; I know she was greatly relieved when we rolled into the main square of Ollantaytambo and piled out of the van.
Unloading in the main square
The main square in Ollantaytambo
Jette in the main square
A good portion of the town is made of of stone buildings connected by a network of narrow cobblestone streets too narrow for cars. The town and many of the buildings in it date back to Inca times. Over the years, much of it has been reconstructed and reconfigured, but there are many elements that are original. Here’s how wikipedia describes the layout of the town:
The main settlement at Ollantaytambo has an orthogonal layout with four longitudinal streets crossed by seven parallel streets. At the center of this grid, the Incas built a large plaza that may have been up to four blocks large; it was open to the east and surrounded by halls and other town blocks on its other three sides. All blocks on the southern half of the town were built to the same design; each comprised two kancha, walled compounds with four one-room buildings around a central courtyard. Buildings in the northern half are more varied in design; however, most are in such a bad condition that their original plan is hard to establish.
Ollantaytambo dates from the late 15th century and has some of the oldest continuously occupied dwellings in South America. Its layout and buildings have been altered to different degrees by later constructions, for instance, on the southern edge of the town an Inca esplanade with the original entrance to the town was rebuilt as a Plaza de Armas surrounded by colonial and republican buildings. The plaza at the center of the town also disappeared as several buildings were built over it in colonial times.
Typical buildings and street in Ollantaytambo
The street leading to our guesthouse
From the main square, we started the short walk uphill along the cobblestone streets with our luggage. Mila was moving slowly, a bit wobbly from the residual motion sickness, which a nice local man happened to notice. He offered to carry one of our bags for us, declining to accept payment, but we insisted and he finally accepted a nice tip.
Casa de Wow
View from the kitchen window
The guesthouse was on the edge of the old Inca settlement and faced the Inca terraces and structures carved into the adjacent mountainside. The views were fantastic.
The view from in front of our guesthouse
Mila decided to stay at the hostel to recuperate, while Jette and I went out to find some food.
A nice lunch of soup
One of the really cool things in Ollantaytambo is the elaborate and robust water system that runs through both the town and the ruins on the mountainside above. Even after hundreds of years it is still functional.
You can see much more about the history of Ollantaytambo here. One cool thing that we didn’t know about at the time, and therefore didn’t notice while we were there, is the giant face carved into the mountainside above town:
Mila tried to take it easy by resting and going to bed early. Thankfully, she woke up early the next morning feeling like herself. We were all up early as this was the day we were headed to Machu Picchu.
Boarding the morning train to Aguas Calientes
Most visitors to Machu Picchu take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. From Aguas Calientes there are busses that shuttle people up and down the mountain. The train trip from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes is a very short 24 miles. The shuttle busses up the mountain to the entrance of Machu Picchu take about a 35 minutes on slow, winding roads. The transportation is monopolized and very expensive. The short train ride, the shuttle bus, and admission to Machu Picchu cost more than $600 USD for the three of us! Visiting Machu Picchu was by far the most expensive one-day sight we’ve seen in our months of travels.
Many people go to Aguas Calientes the day before they visit Machu Picchu so that they can be at Machu Picchu for sunrise. We opted not to do this for two reasons. First, we figured most people would do this and that morning would be the most crowded time to be there. Second, the mornings had been foggy and we assumed our day at Machu Picchu would be no exception. No point in being there for sunrise if you can’t see anything! Our plan was to leave Ollantaytambo early in the morning, spend the day at Machu Picchu and return to Ollantaytambo that same evening. That’s what we did and it worked out very well.
Morning fog and clouds as we arrive in Aguas Calientes
Statue of Pachacutec in Aguas Calientes
We walked from the train station to the shuttle bus stop
Aguas Calientes is a tourist dive. It is just a bunch of simple hotels, restaurants and shops catering to the 2,500 tourists that visit Machu Picchu each day. We’re really glad we just passed quickly through and didn’t spend the night. From the train station we walked to the shuttle bus stop and got in line. Before long, one of the shuttle busses took us up the mountain and into the clouds.
Foggy, rainy entrance to Machu Picchu
Everything was shrouded in foggy clouds and a misty rain was falling. We entered Machu Picchu and made our way up the foggy paths to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is thought to have been the main entrance to Machu Picchu in Inca times and would have served as a gate and checkpoint. It is a good bit above the main Machu Picchu complex and though some guides suggest that the hike up and back takes 3-4 hours, we did it comfortably in about two.
A foggy path
Cloudy with a chance of llamaballs
Up the Sun Gate trail
Exploring some nooks and crannies along the trail
Pretty flowers at the trail’s edge
At a bend in the trail
At the Sun Gate
Sun Gate – note the classic Inca building techniques of small stones stacked with mortar.
Sun Gate handstand
Clouds obscure Machu Picchu
When we got to the Sun Gate, clouds still obscured everything below and the Machu Picchu complex was not visible. The clouds were moving quickly though, and after only a few minutes there was a brief moment when the clouds broke and we had a good view of the main Machu Picchu complex. The wide angle camera on my phone didn’t capture much. To the eye, we could see the main complex peeking out of the clouds below.
The clouds part long enough for a quick photo
We relaxed at the top for a bit, then headed back down the trail to the main complex. It was a pretty quick hike down the trail, and as we descended, the clouds really began to clear.
Terraces along the trail
As we got down close to the main complex, the fog and clouds had cleared and visibility was good.
Approaching the main complex – again note the classic Inca construction technique of walls built with small stones and filled with mortar.
While there were a only a handful of people who had hiked up to the Sun Gate, the main complex area was full of tourists. As we got closer, we got the classic view of Machu Picchu that gives a sense of how, amazingly, it is perched on a mountain top. To me,this placement is the thing that makes it so incredible.
Carved out of a mountain top
A llama lover at Machu Picchu
Tourists snapping photos with Machu Picchu in the background
Another view as we get closer
A nice man took three photos of us, all of them with his finger over the lens. Maybe we need a selfie-stick!
Making our way down into the main complex
Machu Picchu inspired Jette to do the splits
Must be the thin mountain air
Integrating a massive stone outcropping. Note the mortar filled walls.
Mila and Jette with terraces in the background
Standing in front of the amazing terraces
Jette and me at Machu Picchu
The whole area is full of rock and boulders – lots of building material
As we explored Machu Picchu, one of the most striking things was the different building techniques used. The most common technique used small stones stacked into walls using mortar. Often these walls appear to have been built hollow, and filled with mortar too. A second technique used large stones, roughly cut, and stacked dry, without mortar. Smaller stones were used to fill in gaps, as in the photo above. The most impressive technique used large or very large stones, precisely shaped, and stacked with great precision, using no mortar, as in the photo below.
Look at the size of these stones and the precision of assembly.
Huge, precisely shaped stones, perfectly joined without mortar.
Even the edges are beveled.
Only a few of the structures in Machu Picchu use this technique and show this level of precision. Most of the structures are built with small, roughly shaped stones and mortar:
Typical structures at Machu Picchu, using small stones set with mortar.
The difference in building techniques is striking and incongruent. It seems difficult to imagine that all of these structures were built by the same people, at the same time. As we mentioned in a previous post, one alternative theory is that the large, precise structures were built by an unknown culture long before the Inca arrived on the scene, and that, years later, the Inca discovered these and built around them. I don’t know enough to accept or reject this hypothesis, but I can see how common sense might lead to this conclusion. The construction techniques and craftsmanship are strikingly different, and suggest the use of very different technologies.
Consider the fact that the Inca had only Bronze-Age technology. They had no wheeled vehicles, and had only stone, wood, copper and bronze tools, all of which are softer than the stone used in construction. How in the world could they have quarried these huge stones, moved them to the building sites, cut them so precisely, and lifted them into place? There seems to be much speculation, disagreement, and debate about this.
Above and below. Were these built by the same people at the same time?
Another example of contrasting building techniques.
Here’s a video that gives you a view of the central buildings built with the large, precisely cut and placed stones, as well as the more common buildings built with the small stones and mortar.
National Geographic has a great photo gallery showing Machu Picchu as it looked when Bingham found it and after excavation: Pictures: Machu Picchu, Before and After Excavation. For example:
In 1997 after excavation
Some of the most amazing structures at Machu Picchu are almost invisible. Apparently, the Inca engineered excellent foundations and drainage systems, which are hidden below the ground. NOVA has an interview with an engineer who investigated this.
As in Ollantaytambo, they also had a well engineered system of fresh water delivery that still functions today!
Jette the animal lover had lots of fun with the llamas and alpacas at the site. Most of them were pretty tame and if you held up a tuft of grass, they would eat from your hand. Towards the end of the day we took a break on the porch of one of the reconstructed structures while Jette joined the llama herd.
Llamas (and alpacas?) grazing on the terraces
Hanging out with new friends
After 7 or 8 hours of exploring Machu Picchu, we took the shuttle bus back down to Aguas Calientes. We were hungry, and we had some time to kill before the train back to Ollantaytambo, so we had dinner at one of the many tourist dives in town.
Back in Aguas Calientes
OMG! I love roodles! They’re totally my favorite!
Some interesting choices
I was really tempted by “Guinea Pig the furnace” but in the end settled for some chips and guacamole.
We often try to avoid really touristy places and given the costs and hassles associated with Machu Picchu, we seriously considered skipping it. In the end we were glad that we went. The setting in the mountains is truly spectacular. The ruins are too, but if they were plopped down in the middle of a big, flat field somewhere they would be much less so. As they are, it is a magical place.
06/05/2106 EDIT – Just found these photos and wanted to share them:
Fun with the llamas
Inca style handstand at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu hug
The flight from Lima to Cusco was quick – only about an hour – but the views were amazing. Even with an aisle seat I caught some amazing glimpses of the snow capped Andes. Beautiful! Cusco is so high in the Andes that when we landed it seemed like we barely had to descend.
On the ground in Cusco
Cusco sits in the mountains at more than 11,000 feet above sea level. Altitude sickness is an issue for many people above 8,000 feet, and it can be quite serious. From the moment the plane depressurized Mila and I could “feel” the altitude. For me the sensation was that of pressure in my head, especially behind my eyes, and a slight sense of being short of breath. I constantly felt like I needed to take a deep breath. The symptoms weren’t too bad, but definitely noticeable. Mila said that it felt like her head was in a vice, getting squeezed at the temples. Jette didn’t feel it at all. Ah, to be young!
We caught a taxi from the airport to our hotel in the old, touristy part of the city. The hotel was a quirky little place, but fine for our needs and we met some nice fellow travellers there each day at breakfast.
A slightly creepy welcome
We only come alive at night!
We were welcomed with cups of hot coca tea, a popular local drink which they say is good for relieving the symptoms of altitude sickness. It tasted like a smokey green tea, and was pleasant enough, though for me at least, it seemed to have no effect on my symptoms.
Coca tea is made by steeping the leaves of the coca plant in hot water. Coca tea is not to be confused with cocoa tea, also popular in Peru. Cocoa tea is made from the shell or husk of the cocoa bean – the same bean from which chocolate is made!
Speaking of coca, here’s a little bit of trivia. The original recipe for Coca-Cola included cocaine, a drug made from the chemical processing of coca leaves.
What most people don’t know is that Coca-Cola is still made with coca leaves. In fact, in 1922 when cocaine was outlawed in the United States and the import of coca leaves outlawed, the Coca-Cola Corporation was given a special exemption, allowing them and only them to legally import coca! Currently, this is done through their partner, the Stepan company. Wikipedia describes their coca operations:
The plant is the only commercial entity in the USA authorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration to import coca leaves, which come primarily from Peru. Approximately 100 metric tons of dried coca leaf are imported each year. The cocaine-free leaves are sold to The Coca Cola Company, while the cocaine is sold to Mallinckrodt, a pharmaceutical firm, for medicinal purposes.
Aside from tea, there are many coca products – from ointments to snacks – that are popular in Peru.
With our tea cups empty and our bags safely stashed in our room, we ventured out to explore Cusco and find some dinner. In the old part of the city there are lots of narrow cobblestone streets.
Narrow sidewalks and endless traffic in Cusco.
Walking down some of them was really unpleasant as some of the sidewalks were so narrow that when you encountered someone coming the opposite direction there was not enough room to pass each other without stepping off the sidewalk or ducking into a doorway. Normally such narrow streets and sidewalks are cute and quaint. But in this instance there was so much traffic, so many cars, that it was was very unpleasant. Drivers whizzed by, often driving way too fast for the conditions. Every taxi that passed blasted its horn, hoping for a fare. It was loud and, as we would discover, dangerous.
As we were walking down one very narrow street, a driver came so close to the curb that his side mirror came into the sidewalk area, and smashed into me. Luckily it was a newer car with “folding” mirrors, so it simply bruised me a bit as the impact flipped his mirror back. Of course the driver didn’t even slow down. Welcome to Peru.
In the end, we found a nice dinner at quiet little restaurant.
Lomo Saltado – a popular Peruvian beef dish. There are more than 2,000 varieties of potatoes in Peru, so you never know what color your french fries might be!
Cusco was the political and religious capital of the Inca Empire. For a very short period from about 1400 to 1534 the Incas assembled a massive kingdom that stretched along the West coast of S. America from Colombia to Chile. At that time, it was the largest empire in the world. It was short-lived because the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the 1520’s and over the next 30 years decimated the population with fighting, enslavement and disease. In some parts of the Inca Empire only about 1 in 60 people survived. Very difficult times for the indigenous people.
After fishing and mining, tourism is the third largest industry in Peru, and modern day Cusco is a very touristy city. It gets about 2 million visitors each year. In the old part of the city it seems as if there is nothing but shops, hotels, touts and street vendors catering to tourists. We’d heard so many people rave about Cusco that we were expecting something, well, different. We wanted to like Cusco, but we just couldn’t. In fact it may have been one of the only places we’ve been that made us downright grumpy. Despite the fact that Cusco didn’t win our hearts, we still found lots of things to like. The setting is beautiful, there is lots of charming architecture, and the town is obviously rich with history.
Standing in front of Iglesia San Pedro, near the San Pedro Market in Cusco
Picarones near the market in Cusco
Bucket o’ dough (happens to include pumpkin and sweet potato puree)
Cusco had Jette climbing the walls!
Schoolgirls walking past the mercado
Old colonial architecture
Much to Jette’s dismay, guinea pig was on almost every menu.
When the Spanish arrived, they demolished many Inca buildings and used the stones to build churches and other colonial structures of their own. In Cusco you can see both old Inca structures and Spanish ones. One of the amazing things about many of the older Inca structures is the stonework. There are some truly massive stones assembled with amazingly precise joinery and without the use of mortar. Like the pyramids of Egypt, one really has to wonder how they were able to do it with the tools and technology of the time.
While mainstream archaeology attributes much of this work to the Incas, there are a number of people well outside the mainstream who theorize that many of these walls and structures were built as long as 15,000 years ago by an unidentified, pre-Inca culture using “lost ancient high technology.”
With this we are entering the realm of “aliens built the pyramids” – very alternative theories – but kind of fun! We watched a few of these videos and read a bit about this. While we can’t say that we fully embrace the theories, they did provide a really fun framework for looking at the structures we visited. And we saw a lot of old structures in Peru! After hours, days, and weeks of looking at site after site it can be very easy to glaze over and see them all as just another pile of Incan stones! Adding a little dash of “conspiracy theory” and approaching it like an archeological mystery to be solved made it more fun and engaging.
What if the mainstream archeologists are wrong?
Could there have been a culture of megalithic builders here long before the Inca?
What evidence can we find?
What techniques were used in the construction of this?
These kinds of questions had us analyzing building techniques, gathering evidence, and testing theories rather than just wandering through and saying, “Hey look, another Inca stone wall…”
Late one afternoon, we took a taxi to Saqsaywaman, the Incan ruins in the hills above the city. The price of admission was much higher than we expected. We had read that the admission was about $3 USD each, but the cheapest option for foreigners turned out to be $74 USD for the three of us. For foreigners, prices are much higher and instead of being able to buy a ticket to enter the site, you can only purchase the expensive “Boleto Turistico” a one day pass to a handful of different sites, or the “Boleto General” an even more expensive ten-day pass to 16 sites. We weren’t planning to visit many of the sites on the list, so we debated whether it was worth it for that price. Ultimately we decided that we were here, so we might as well do it. As it turned out, we didn’t have enough cash on hand and they didn’t take credit cards!
So, unable to enter, decided to walk along the adjacent road and peek at the ruins through the fence and hedge they have planted to block the view. As we walked, we spotted a footpath that led up an adjacent hill. Up we went and were rewarded with a very nice view of the ruins. We could only see them from a distance, but the view was good and the vantage point gave us a very good sense of the overall layout of the site. We were content.
The site of Saqsaywaman above Cusco
The massive stones of Saqsaywaman.
After taking things in from our hillside viewpoint, we walked back down to Cusco. Along the way a local dog adopted Jette. It walked with us for about an hour, all the way down the mountain and back into town.
Jette’s new friend
Looking across the valley at Cusco.
Buddies on their way into town.
We stopped at a shop to buy the dog a treat, but while we were inside she left! Jette got to feed the other dogs we met on our way back to the hotel.
The collectivo to Ollantaytambo.
The next day, we caught a collectivo to the old Inca town of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo would be our base for exploring Machu Picchu and the surrounding area. But that’s the next blog post!
Another flashback to about a month ago, where we pick up the tale of our travels. We had arrived in Cali, Colombia where a new credit card was awaiting us. We picked it up, spent one night in Cali, the hopped on the plane to Lima, Peru…
On arrival, we checked into our awesome Airbnb apartment. While we typically skip a lot of the really touristy things in the cities we visit, we decided that a open-top bus tour of Lima would be fun and a good way to begin to get a sense of the city and how it is laid out. So, we took an Uber to Larcomar, a beautiful, upscale shopping center built into a cliff on the edge of the Miraflores neighborhood. In addition to being a beautiful spot with great shopping and dining, this is where you can catch the tour bus. Here’s a video that sets the general scene. The round glass towers on the right side at the end of the video are part of Larcomar. You can’t see most of it as it is built into the cliffs below.
Did you know that Lima had beaches and surfing? I didn’t!
Anyway, the bus tour was pretty good. At least it gave us a peek at the old, downtown neighborhoods of Lima, and a very good taste of the crazy Lima traffic. We stopped and had short walking tours of a couple historic plazas, popular neighborhoods, and some creepy catacombs.
Bus tour of Lima
Giant ant sculpture in Barranco park
Going through downtown Lima
Tour group in the plaza
Grand colonial architecture
Policeman boots us from the plaza in anticipation of protests.
Cartwheel above the catacombs
Mila snuck a photo in the catacombs. Naughty! They estimate that there are 30,000 people buried in the catacombs. Talk about creepy…
The bus sat in traffic for about an hour and made it back to Larcomar about the time the sun was going down.
View from Larcomar
Like Bogota and Medellin, the climate in Lima is near perfect. You don’t need air conditioning or heat. The sun is warm and intense, but it is cool in the shade. The average daily highs and lows vary only about 10 degrees and rarely get below 60 or above 80 any time of year. Amazing.
Oddly, it is a desert, in the mountains, on the ocean. This makes for a very distinctive climate. In addition to the perfect temperatures, it is very dry in terms of precipitation, but fog is common. In fact the city has been blanketed with fog almost every morning we’ve been here.
The negative is the air quality. The air pollution is horrible. This is a city of 10 million people and what seems like 100 million cars, trucks and busses belching smoke. Yuck. Fog and smog, smog, smog.
Culture in LIma, and Peru in general, was very different than Colombia. People were friendly, but less so than in Colombia. People were not nearly as polite. In Colombia when you said, “Gracias” people would always respond, “Con gusto!” with a smile. That didn’t happen much at all in Peru. Little things like how place settings were laid out in restaurants, even simple restaurants, made Colombia feel more refined.
Simple things like walking down the sidewalk or trying to cross the street in Peru were hilariously maddening. Clearly the Peruvian sense of personal space, courtesy, and right-of-way are very different than our own.
Walking on a sidewalk or in a shopping mall, you can fully expect that other people will walk right into you or shove their way between you if you are walking with someone. As you are walking, people will step out of doorways right into you. Groups will spread out across the whole sidewalk and force you into the street. Sidewalks and staircases were constantly blocked by groups of people chatting, looking at their phones, or simply taking up space. People would congregate at the top and bottom of escalators. On a couple of occasions, adults physically shoved Jette aside or cut in front of her in lines at shops and in Cusco a man pushed her off the sidewalk and into the street. He’s very, very lucky that I didn’t see this and only learned about it from Jette after the fact.
On an airplane, we had a woman shove her way between Jette and me as we were exiting the plane. She shoved me multiple times, and tried to push past me. Impossible in the narrow, crowded aisle. When she couldn’t push past me, she began to push up against me continuously, as if she was trying to push me and everyone in front of me off the plane! I turned around and told her in no uncertain terms, “DO NOT TOUCH ME!” It had little effect, and ultimately the point of my umbrella sent the message effectively and she backed off.
Drivers in Peru are among the worst we’ve seen anywhere in the world. In many countries, road “rules” are taken as mere suggestions. This is certainly true in Peru. Lane markings, traffic signals, and stop signs mean nothing. The design of the traffic infrastructure is almost identical to the US. The road look the same. Same lane markings, same crosswalks, same everything. It is just the behavior that is different. There is absolutely no accommodation made or right-of-way given for pedestrians. Most drivers will not yield for pedestrians crossing the street in a marked crosswalk. I did a Google search for “pedestrians in peru” and of the first results was an abstract from a medical journal:
Reducing pedestrian deaths and injuries due to road traffic injuries in Peru: interventions that can work
Pedestrians in Peru are the victims of the greatest proportion of road traffic fatalities in the world. In 2009, pedestrians were involved in 27% of road traffic incidents in Peru. This is a significant public health problem in Peru and it has important economic effects as well…
Beyond the massive numbers of pedestrians maimed and killed by negligent drivers, the traffic congestion is horrible. In Lima major intersections were blocked with huge jams of honking drivers, all ignoring any notions of lanes or right-of-way. Roundabouts that would function smoothly anywhere else in the world were constantly jammed in Lima. I’d say it was worse than Indonesia or India. It was almost like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos – you could just see the consequences of bad decisions happening everywhere you looked.
Traffic police. This has to be one of the biggest jokes in Peru. There are traffic police everywhere. They are standing at every major intersection dressed in their fancy costumes, often with white patent leather holsters and goofy little helmets. Sometimes they have little orange wands which they wiggle back and forth, regardless of what traffic is doing. On the highways in Lima, there is typically one of these guys/gals standing on the side of the road at every exit and overpass. They don’t ever seem to do anything other than stand next to their motorcycles and look at their phones. On one occasion we passed a disabled vehicle. On another, a crash scene. In both cases there were traffic police just standing at their posts by the highway exit or overpass, not helping in any way, just surfing facebook on their phones and collecting a salary. The Peruvian National Police force employs 140,000 and is notoriously corrupt (second only to the judicial system). Many of the traffic police are now women, because there is a popular notion that women are less likely to be corrupt.
Car alarms. The car alarm is the Peruvian national anthem. It is played at all hours of the day and night, everywhere you go. You would think that Peruvians are very patriotic since it is played 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but they always seem to ignore it.
All of these gripes aside, we enjoyed Lima. Jette enjoyed cooking in the apartment kitchen, but we also enjoyed so great meals out. The apartment was close to Pasteleria San Antonio, a very popular bakery and cafe where we enjoyed some delicious salads. We made multiple trips to La Lucha, a super yummy sandwich shop with great sandwiches, frites, and chocolate shakes.
Salads make me smile
Yummy La Lucha
Classic combo of chicharron, camote, and salsa criolla.
Sorry Philly, you lose to these guys.
The bread they use is really good.
Jette was excited to find bubble tea.
Lunch in old downtown Lima
Beyond the delicious lunches, we had fun exploring Lima. We went down to the beach, caught a nighttime fountain show, and generally just enjoyed slowing down and being in one place for a while.
Mila getting her shoes fixed
JFK Park is full of cats.
Miraflores park on the top of the cliff.
The path down to the beach
The cliff from which the paragliders take off.
Classic surf van. Lots of old VWs here.
Handstand on the rocky beach.
Ready for the show.
In terms of her studies, Jette finished her last math workbook. Yay!
She’s almost finished with the second of the three Story of the World books. Each book is designed to provide material for a full school year, but Jette’s goal is to finish all three this year. We’ve sent the physical workbooks home, so she is no longer doing the map work. She’s reading, writing a complete summary of each chapter, and we’re discussing it. She’s doing fantastic.
After a week or so enjoying Lima, we boarded a flight to the mountain town of Cusco, the jumping off point for Machu Picchu…
Boarding the flight to Cusco.
Let’s go back in time about a month. If you’ll recall, we had a great time in the beautiful Paisa town of Jardin in Colombia, then felt the earthquake in Pereira. We spent about a week in Pereira, a small city that was quite nice. It was bustling with commercial activity and seemed to have quite a good standard of living and growing middle class. Tucked into the foothills of the Andes in Colombia’s coffee country, it was also a good base for exploring the area. As with everywhere we went in Colombia, the weather was perfect.
With perfect weather, even the food court at the local mall is open air.
But the hotel bathroom left a little to be desired, at least for me…
Can I get a little leg room please?
From Pereira we did a day trip to the very touristy town of Salento. It was cute, but so touristy we were glad we weren’t staying. While we were there we walked around town and did some horseback riding. The town square was closed to vehicles and there were lots of kids out having fun. Oddly though, they had huge speakers set up playing really weird techno music. Here’s a video showing what it sounded like (I have NOT added a soundtrack, this is really the music they were blasting!!!)
Despite the crazy music, it was a fun scene with all the kids playing. Jette did some cartwheels and handstands, and a little boy on roller blades came over to chat. He was a sweet little guy and we had fun talking with him and just watching all the action in the square.
Handstand in Salento, Colombia
The horseback riding was nice. It took us down to the Quindio River and the scenery was beautiful.
One of our friends in Salento
The other day trip we took from Pereira was to Panaca. This is how Wikipedia describes Panaca:
PANACA is a farming theme park that promotes contact between humans and nature, intended for those who live in the city and to create awareness about nature.
Their tagline is, “Sin campo no hay ciudad” (Without fields there is no city). There are thousands of animals and they grow a variety of crops in display gardens. There are animal shows, exhibits, and even a zip line above it all.
Jette and the Panaca Mascot
It was FANTASTIC. We spent the whole day wandering the theme park, and I think we were the only gringos there. The park, the exhibits and the animal shows were great. I wish we had something like this in the U.S. Jette had a great time interacting with all the animals, especially the chickens, rabbits and pigs. As for me, I was shamed in front of a large crowd when I lost a cow milking contest!
From Pereira, we made a quick trip to Cali, Colombia. Cali wasn’t originally on our agenda, but when I received an email from my bank notifying me that they were cancelling both my credit and my debit cards (the bank was switching from MasterCard to Visa and there was no way to postpone the switch!), We needed a reliable place to have them sent and given where we were in Colombia, an international hotel in Cali seemed like the best bet. So we spent one night in the Hampton Inn in Cali. It was actually a really nice hotel and my new credit card was waiting patiently for us, safely tucked inside a FedEx envelope at the front desk.
Hampton Inn Cali Colombia
From Cali, we caught a flight to Lima, Peru. On the airplane we read about far off lands…
Where is this fabled place called “Dallas”?
Overall, Colombia was fantastic. It is a beautiful country – an amazing landscape, with an amazing climate and a proud, friendly people. With its history of conflict and crime it has been off the mainstream tourist circuit for years. It still has some healing to do, but wow, what a great country. We’ll be coming back again, I’m sure.
After a great couple of weeks exploring Peru – Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, etc. – we’re back in Lima. As we slow down for a few days I thought I’d get a quick and easy blog post up. More detailed posts about our recent adventures are in the works and coming soon!
Counterfeit currency is everywhere here and I thought it would be fun to show you one of the counterfeit bills we’ve received and how to identify them.
We haven’t been checking notes we receive very closely, so we got suckered! We received this counterfeit 20 Sole note somewhere along the way, either as change from a purchase, or possibly from an ATM. Since the counterfeit notes can be purchased for 25% of face value, the crooked businesses that buy them and pass them off to unsuspecting tourists as change have quite a high profit margin – if they don’t get caught! We first realized that we had a counterfeit when we tried to buy lunch and the shop rejected the note. Bummer!
Here’s another video about a counterfeiting “bust” in Lima:
And a Guardian story about counterfeiting in Peru.
Here’s a video about the security features in U.S. currency: