May 3rd, 2017 – Sillustani – Peru

Another beautiful fall day in Peru.  We made one last stop before flying back to Lima.  Sillustani is a pre-Incan cemetery on the shores of Lake Umayo.  The tombs, which are built above ground in tower-like structures called chullpas, are the vestiges of the Qulla people, who were conquered by the Inca Empire in the 15th century.  Odysseys Unlimited evidently felt that we were acclimated to the high altitude because they made us walk to the top of the hill to see the towers.  We did it though.  It was well worth it because the view was great.

The 9th picture shows a line (in the middle of the picture) that has an interesting story.  According to our guide, several of the Incan cities are built in a straight line with exact distances repeated over and over.  He said that mathematicians have drawn a line that extends across the globe going through several mysterious places such as the Great Pyramid, Machu Picchu, Anghor Wat, the Indus Valley and ending at Easter Island.  He named a whole lot of places that are on the line, all of which have ruins of buildings that current historians cannot totally explain the origin of or technology that produced them.  They are all located with some mathematical significance along this line.  Not sure exactly what it means but it was pretty interesting.







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May 2nd, 2017 – Lake Titicaca – Peru

Leslie has wanted to go to Lake Titicaca since she learned about it in the 3rd grade.  Yes because of its name, but also because it is the highest lake in the world.  What we did learn is that “titi” means “puma” and “caca” means gray, so it is actually Lake Gray Puma.  Pumas evidently were very plentiful a long time ago and they were a holy animal to the ancient Peruvians.

We had a beautiful sunny day.  We have been so blessed with the weather on this trip. We started with a gorgeous sunrise.  We arrived after dark the night before and had no idea we had such a fabulous view from our hotel.   Lake Titicaca is a beautiful blue.  The water is so clean.  We got to take a boat ride on the lake.

Our first stop was one of the floating islands where the Uru people live.  The second picture shows what looks like a city on the shore, but it is actually 97 islands built out of reeds that are in a cove on the lake.  We got a demonstration on how they build them.  It takes about a year to build one and they last for about 25 years.  The islands are kind of small, but they have a few families on each one.  They also have islands for schools, a medical center and even a soccer field.

The islands now have become a tourist attraction.  For the islands that are having visitors, the people that live there wave as you approach (3rd picture).  They explain how they live, show you their houses and then sell you their handiwork (8th picture).  It was a very interesting stop and kind of hard to believe people live on these islands made of reeds.  The population is decreasing though, as there is no high school and once the teenagers go to nearby Puno to go to high school, they do not want to return to the islands.

Our second stop was on a real island,  Taquile which is very remote (9th picture).  Taquileños are known for their fine handwoven textiles and clothing, which are regarded as among the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru. Knitting is exclusively performed by males, beginning in early boyhood.  Women spin wool and use vegetables and minerals to dye the wool to be used by the community.  Women are also the weavers of the Chumpis, the wide belts with woven designs worn by everyone in the community of Taquile. They did a traditional welcome dance for us when we got there (13th picture).  Leslie joined in but did it very slowly as we were at 12,500 feet.   The last picture was taken with our tour guide Ernesto.







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May 1st, 2017 – Andahuaylilas & Raqchi

We had a long bus ride from Cuzco to Puno (10 hours).  Luckily it was broken up with a few stops.  We stopped in Andahuaylilas (first 4 pictures) to go to San Pedro Apostle church.  It is called the Sistine Chapel of the Andes which unfortunately we cannot show you because no pictures were allowed inside the church.  It was quite beautiful inside and like many churches in Spain, every inch of it was decorated.

Our next stop was Raqch’i (pictures 5 – 13) .   The Inka site at Raqch’i was a primary control point on a road system that originated in Cusco and expanded as the Inka empire grew. Most of the Inka structures are enclosed by a 4 km-long perimeter wall, but just outside it, on the Inka road that entered Raqch’i from Cusco, an enclosure with eight rectangular buildings around a large courtyard was probably a tampu (a lodging house for travelers).  The remains of the temple and food storage buildings once again show what great architects the Incas were.  

We stopped at the continental divide at a point of over 14,000 feet.  There was a small market there – one more chance for Leslie to spend money while Don got to take pictures.  Our last stop was Pucara where they make the good luck bulls.  We mentioned them in another blog.  People get them as gifts and they put them on top of their houses to bring them good luck.









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April 30th, 2017 – Cusco – Peru

We are in Cusco – 11,200 feet above sea level- the air here is a bit thin.  Cusco was the historic capital of the Inca empire from the 13th to the 16th century.  When the Spanish conquered the area, they destroyed a good deal of the Incan structures, but there are still Incan walls all around the city.  Cusco is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Western hemisphere.

The first picture is of the Church and Convent of Santa Domingo.  The church is built on top of the Korikancha which was the most sacred and important building in the entire Inca Empire.  When the Spanish conquistadores arrived in Cusco, the temple was torn to the ground and its valuable items taken.  Even though the church was built on top of the temple, many of the original temple buildings remain.

Leslie found the alpaca she is bringing home.  He is in the 2nd picture and small enough to fit in her suitcase.  Every Sunday, in the main square of Cusco, there is a huge parade.  Different professions take turns parading around the square. There were some very colorful outfits and it was very interesting to watch.  For those of you concerned about the 9th picture, those are not real alpacas.

We got to have lunch with a local Cusco family.  We had the traditional dish for special occasions – guinea pig.  It actually tastes like roasted pork.  They also served a chicken dish, so we only ate a small amount of the guinea pig.  The family’s oldest daughter is 22 and has just become a lawyer.  She speaks English and dined with us.  After lunch, the whole family came up and we got to meet them.  We each gave them gifts, either from our home town or chocolates.  The chocolates were a big hit with the youngest son (he immediately put one in his mouth).   We had some free time today to walk around the city, so the other pictures are of whatever caught Don’s eye.









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April 29th, 2017 – Machu Picchu – Peru

We went back to Machu Picchu this morning.  It is so beautiful and magical in the morning mist.  We got to see the lower half this time.  We got extremely lucky with the weather.  It was a pleasant temperature and the sun shone during part of the time on both days.  It is really something to see Machu Picchu in the clouds and the sun.

As we were riding up in the bus, our guide told us that there used to be young boys that would get on the bus at the top, say hello, get off the bus and then race the bus down to the bottom and get back on the bus for tips.  They had to suspend this because the boys were making so much money they started dropping out of school.   The last picture shows a stone that was carved and set so that the 4 corners point North, South, East and West.  Leslie put the compass on her cell phone down to check it out and it was exactly right.  It is so incredible how advanced the Incas were.










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April 28th, 2017 – Machu Picchu – Peru

This morning we took a bus to a train to a bus to get to Machu Picchu (good thing Don took his Dramamine).  We had beautiful weather, some sun and about 68 degrees.  Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. It is the most familiar icon of the Inca civilization.  The Incas built the estate around 1450 but abandoned it a century later about the time of the Spanish Conquest.   Although known locally, it was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period and remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911.

Machu Picchu is in such a beautiful location it is easy to see why the Incas built it here.  After we went on a morning tour with our group and then had a late lunch, we took the hike up to the Sun Gate.  Unfortunately we did not get to go the whole way since we got such a late start (the Sun Gate closes earlier than the rest of the property).  We made it almost the whole way though and got some great views from the trail.  It was a very steep trail, going up 1,000 feet in elevation in about a mile (13th picture shows how steep the trail is).  The trail is also the last part of the Inca Trail, so we have officially hiked part of the Inca Trail.











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April 27th, 2017 – Ollantaytambo and Chinchero – Peru

We are staying in a beautiful hotel in Yucay.  There are flowers everywhere.  This morning we got to take part in an Offering Ceremony to the Earth in the church that is on the property (pictures 2 – 5).  It was conducted by a Andean healer and is an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth).  Pachamamma is a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes.  After the conquest by Spain, which forced conversion to Roman Catholicism, the figure of the Virgin Mary became united with that of the Pachamama. 

Before the ceremony, the healer explained how the ancient religion and Catholicism were merged and that the purpose of the ceremony was to offer thanks to Mother Earth/Virgin Mary for all she has provided.  We all got 3 coca leaves  and he prayed for quite a while in the ancient Incan dialict and we were supposed to pray in thanksgiving and for blessings for ourselves and other people.  After that, we all went up front and he made the offering which had all kinds of things all of which had meaning (which we cannot totally remember) – llama fat, sage, food (lima beans, other beans, quinoa), sweets (animal crackers, cake crumbs, sprinkles), and colored wool, then it was surrounded by white cotton to represent the snow and the rain, and then all of the coca leaves that we were holding while we were praying were put in there and then we each sprinkled confetti.  Then we took it outside and burned it as an offering.  It was pretty cool.

After that, we went to Ollantaytambo. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region.  It is located at 9,120 feet above sea level and we had to walk up all these stairs.  We actually did very well so we were proud of ourselves.  Machu Picchu should be a breeze – it is 1,200 feet lower.  One of the more interesting things the guide told us was about the terraces.  Historians believe that the Incas used these for agricultural experiments to allow them to grow different kinds of crops.  They would get a crop that grew somewhere else, plant it on the bottom terrace where it was warmer and every year move it up a terrace to try to acclimate it to the colder climate.  Pretty ingenious.

We stopped at a beautiful place for lunch in Urubamba, Sol y Luna (pictures 14 – 15).  The surrounding mountains and all the flowers looked very much like Hawaii.  What did not look like Hawaii was the glacier that was located on a mountain just outside the restaurant.  Quite the variety of environments.  We were adventurous and tried the marinated beef hearts.  Actually if you forgot what you were eating, it was very flavorful and very tender.  The owner of the restaurant raises horses and we got a very nice horse show.  One of the horses danced with a lady, which was very cool to watch.  After lunch they took us to a typical house and we got to see how people live.  The people in the area raise guinea pigs as food for special occasions and they are allowed to just run around the house.

Our last stop was Chinchero where we got to see how textiles are made following the ancient Incan practices.  It was amazing to learn all the steps.  It starts with very dirty alpaca wool.  To clean the wool, women wash it with a root from the jabonera (soapwort) plant.  Once washed, the wool is ready to spin.  They use a drop-spindle, or pushka, allowing the spinner to walk or do other activities and spin at the same time.  The wool is spun into simple 1-ply yarn.  At this stage, it is time for dyeing.  All dyes used are 100% natural and hand-gathered.  Leaves, bark, moss, corn, flowers, and seeds are all used to make varying shades of different colors.  For red colors, pigment from cochineal is used, extracted from a small beetle which lives on the prickly pear cactus.  The dyes are added to boiling water, and then the single-ply yarn is added to the pot.   The time left in the pot depends on the intensity of the desired color.

Once the yarn is dyed, it is rinsed and hung to dry.  Then, the yarn is spun again to ply it.  A slightly larger drop-spindle is used to make the yarn 2-ply or 3-ply, thus stronger and able to be woven.  To weave the yarn, they used a back-strap loom, which is simply straps, strings, and sticks fashioned together.  Tools used in the weaving process are bones and sticks.  The people of Chinchero make designs in their weavings specific to Chinchero.  We had quite the cultural day today and it was a great day.










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April 26th, 2017 – Cusco & Pisac – Peru

Well, we had a choice – a one hour flight to Cusco or a 20 hour drive.  Actually we had no choice as it was made for us by Odysseys Unlimited, but we did not disagree.  So 4:30 wake up call to leave early to avoid the rush hour traffic for the 10 million people that live in Lima.  We were actually not in Cusco for very long as it is 11,200 feet and they want to acclimate us to the altitude.  So we got off the plane and got on a bus to the Sacred Valley (which is at 9,000 feet).

Well actually first we had to go up a bit more.  As we left the city we stopped to take a picture (we are coming back in a few days).  There was an enterprising young lady with an alpaca at the stop that would let you take a picture for a $1.    We made a stop at 12,142 feet at Saqsaywaman to begin our education on the Incas.  The sections were first built by the Killke culture about 1100 and were expanded and added to by the Inca from the 13th century.  It served as a religious center.  How it was built with no animals, no wheels and no written language still amazes people today.  The walls are made from limestone that came from quarries a few miles away.  The workers carefully cut the boulders to fit them together tightly without mortar and no metal tools have ever been found.  The 5th picture shows how tight they fit together and these rocks weighed thousands of pounds and were 16 – 20 feet high.

The 6th picture shows an alpaca that was looking over the edge of a drop off when we stopped for lunch.  Leslie is trying to figure out how to bring one home.  After lunch (which was a light buffet because you are not supposed to eat a lot when you first go to a high altitude), we took a windy drive down to Pisac.  On the way we stopped for a picturesque view of a valley.  The last 5 pictures are of Pisac.  The next to the last picture shows agricultural terraces that were made by the Incas.   Pisac is famous for its market.  The market had colorful textiles and all kinds of wonderful things to look at.  Leslie had to hold off on buying textiles because the guide told us that tomorrow we are going to go to a place where they make all the textiles by hand with 100% baby alpaca.

Don was finally able to get a picture of a Torito de Pucara (the picture of the bulls on the roof top).  They are placed on the roof of houses in the year they are built for good luck, fertility (of crops and livestock) and to bring prosperity.  We had seen them all over, but always from a moving bus.  The Incan tradition started with llamas, but was changed to bulls when the Spanish conquered the Incas.  The cross and ladder were added as Christianity grew in the area.








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April 25th, 2017 – Lima – Peru

Flying to South America is very nice – no big jet lag to get over so we were raring and ready to go.  We toured three places in Lima today  The first was House of Aliaga (pictures 2 – 4) which was constructed in 1535 on a pre-Columbian sanctuary.  It was constructed when the city was founded and it has been inhabited permanently by the descendants of the first proprietor, Jerónimo de Aliaga, standard-bearer and exchequer for Francisco Pizarro.  Their halls and their inner patio have all the characteristics of the most important mansions of the historical center of Lima of the viceroyalty time.

Pictures 5, and 7 – 11 are from the Convent of Santo Domingo.  Much of the courtyard is decorated in tile from Seville, Spain (dated 1604 and 1606).   It is amazing that they could “order” the tile from the other side of the world and it made it all the way back.  According to our guide, it took 20 years in some cases.   The temple of Our Lady of the Rosary was elevated to the category of basilica in 1930 as it has relics from all 5 Peruvian saints, the most famous one being Saint Rose of Lima.

The 7th picture is of a mail slot on the post office.  Leslie thought it was adorable.  The mail system in Peru is dying because of the internet and DHL and UPS, so sadly the little lion’s mouth no longer gets fed.

Our first Peruvian lunch was very traditional.   We were given the national drink, a pisco sour which is made of Peruvian pisco (as the base liquor), key lime juice, syrup, ice, egg white, and Angostura bitters.  It was delicious.   The appetizer in the picture with the drink is causa.  Fun fact – potatoes are originally from Peru (it produces more than three thousand varieties.)  Causa is a layered dish with vegetables, a chicken or tuna salad with potatoes as the top and bottom layers.  Very good.  We also learned that the Chinese have had an affect on Peruvian food.  We had a traditional Peruvian beef dish which definitely had an Asian flair.

The Larco Museum  is a privately owned museum of pre-Columbian art.  It showcases chronological galleries that provide a thorough overview of 4,000 years of Peruvian pre-Columbian history. It is well known for its gallery of pre-Columbian erotic pottery which was actually our first stop.  Our guide informed us that it really should be labeled “Fertility Pottery” because that was really what it was all about.   Maybe at a high level, but let’s just say there is a reason there are no pictures in the blog.

We moved on to the rest of the museum and got an excellent, detailed explanation of ancient Peruvian history.  Peru is one of the original 7 ancient civilizations (Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, China, Mexico (Mayan) and Rome are the other ones).  Everyone talks about the Incas, but they were really a very small part of the pre-Colombian history (before the Spanish conquered Peru).  We also learned a lot about human sacrifice.  The ancient Peruvians believed that in order to have crops, Mother Earth had to be fertilized, so a young male (of noble birth) was sacrificed each year before planting crops. The belief was that the male would die, go through the earth and fertilize the seeds, and then go on to their version of heaven.  The last picture shows a statue from a tomb that shows that the person in the tomb was sacrificed to fertilize the earth.  The statue has a crown (representing nobility), a necklace of faces (representing the people, a bowl (for seed) and is anatomically correct to reflect fertility.  This was an amazing museum and very educational.











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April 17th, 2017 – Grand Canyon Colorado River Rafting – Arizona

Another good breakfast of hash browns, bacon and eggs made to order and back on the river.  The last day on the river provided more outstanding views.   Again, great transportation provided by the tour group – instead of drifting to Lake Meade for six to seven hours, a speed boat took them in 45 minutes.  Once off the boat, they took a bus back to Las Vegas, where they got a real shower versus those quick baths in the Colorado River.  Then another late night for Leslie, as she had to pick them up at the Tucson airport.  Don says, that Western River Expeditions is the only way to raft the Grand Canyon.






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