A Trip to Ecuador and Peru
(Galápagos Islands, Inca Trail & Nazca Lines)
Summer 2008 (7 August – 1 September)
Part 2 – Peru (Inca Trail, Jungle & Nazca Lines)
Version: Version 1.13
Date issued: 16 February 2009
Table of Contents
List of Figures
Given cost of the flights to and from Peru and Ecuador (Figure 1), we needed to maximize the activities in that part of the world. Hence we wanted to include both a cruise in the Galápagos Islands and a trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. So the constraints were that we needed to book this trip when permits for the Inca Trail were available and when a cruise around the Galápagos Island was available. The complication was that the period of July-August is the high season for these two destinations.
The decision to commit to hiking the Inca Trail was a difficult one given the physical effort required and my osteoarthritis that means I must baby my knee.
Figure 1. Grand lines of our travel to and from Ecuador and Peru
This trip report is written to remind us of the trip that we took, the sights that we saw and why the places that we visited are of general interest. Without the later understanding, the sights are little more than interesting piles of stones that are unconnected to history.
I've tried to illustrate our trip mainly with our pictures, supplemented as required by other photographs freely available on the Internet. Apart from describing our experience, I've included the history of many of the sights. I hope that I've given credit to any material taken from the Internet in the list of references.
Peru, officially the Republic of Peru, has an estimated population of 28 million. The main spoken language is Spanish, although a significant number of Peruvians speak Quechua or other native languages. Its geography varies from the arid plains of the Pacific coast to the peaks of the Andes Mountains and the tropical forests of the Amazon Basin.
The earliest evidence of human presence in Peruvian territory has been dated to approximately 11,000 years BC. In the 15th century, the Incas emerged as a powerful state which, in the span of a century, formed the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. In 1532, a group of conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro defeated Inca Emperor Atahualpa and imposed Spanish rule. Ten years later, the Spanish Crown established the Viceroyalty of Peru, which included most of its South American colonies. The Spanish made silver mining as its main economic activity and Indian forced labour as its primary workforce. Peruvian bullion provided revenue for the Spanish Crown and fueled a complex trade network that extended as far as Europe and the Philippines. However, by the 18th century, declining silver production and economic diversification greatly diminished royal income. After achieving independence in 1821, Peru has undergone periods of political unrest and fiscal crisis as well as periods of stability and economic upswing. In a series of wars, Peru has lost southern territory to Chile (1879–1883 War of the Pacific) and gained some northern territory from Ecuador.
Peru’s 2006 per capita income was US$3,374 with 39.3% of its total population classified as poor including 13.7% that is extremely poor.[
At 0500 hours on Tuesday 19 Aug 2008, we left our hotel and caught a cab to the Quito airport. As it was early, the cab driver took most of the stop signs and red traffic signals as suggestions so we arrived at the airport in good time. After paying our US$41 per person departure tax we left on the following flight:
On our flight, we had a magnificent view of the beautiful Andes in Peru (left, Figure 2). When we arrived in the Lima airport, we were the only flight at that time so in record time we were out of airport (center, Figure 2). We were approached by a nicely dressed man with an ID who said he was an authorized cab driver and offered to take us to our hotel in Miraflores for US$20. As he seemed OK we agreed and were taken to his nice green Honda with leather seats. The guide books strongly advise the use of official cab from the Lima airport and our cabbie probably wasn’t. A woman traveller who we met on our Inca Trail trip told of almost being raped and being shaken down by a non-official cab from the airport.
Figure 2. Mighty Andes (left), empty Lima airport (center), statue of Virgin near airport (right)
The route from the airport to Miraflores passed by a large statue of the Virgin (right, Figure 2) and then descended to run along Costa Verde Avenue which has a scenic location at the base of the 100 foot high cliffs bordering the Pacific Ocean (left, Figure 4). There is work underway to expand this avenue into a four way highway by landfilling. There were surfers along the Costa Verde (center, Figure 4) but it sure looked cold.
Miraflores, which roughly translates as “look at all the pretty flowers” which is an upscale neighbourhood about six miles from the city center.
Figure 4. Costa Verde (left), surf’s up in Lima (center), La Rosa Nautica restaurant out on pier (right)
I had booked one day before and one day after our G.A.P Adventures trip at the Exclusive Hotel in the Miraflores district of Lima since this was supposed to be the starting and ending point of our trip. During check-in I asked the hotel clerk if we could stay in the same room that we would be assigned for the start of the G.A.P trip and she responded that G.A.P was not staying there. So there we were, one day before the start of our trip not knowing where our trip started. This was an unhappy situation.
I sent off an email to G.A.P in Toronto asking where the starting and ending point of our trip was and in about an hour we received a reply that the new hotel was Los Girasoles Hotel but we would be reimbursed for our taxi cost (in the event this came to S./5 or about $1.75 so we skipped asking for reimbursement).
After checking into the Exclusive Hotel, we walked down the very nice Avenue Larco to the Larcomar Shopping Center overlooking the Pacific Ocean (left, Figure 5). This is a very modern shopping center with tourist shops and restaurants. We noticed paragliders sailing over the cliffs and the tall buildings along the palisades (right, Figure 6). We walked north along the pedestrian path towards where the paragliders are coming from. The view from the path out over the Pacific Ocean is wonderful and looking down below we could see the surfers and La Rosa Nautica restaurant out on its pier (right, Figure 5).
Figure 5. Cliffside Larcomar Shopping Center (left), “El Beso” (center), cross across bay (right)
We walked through the “Parque del Amor” (Love Park) and saw the giant sculpture by the Peruvian sculptor, Victor Delfin, named “El Beso” (The Kiss) (center, Figure 5). This park has become popular with couples going to get married as they parade through the park on the way to the church and take memorable photos.
Finally we arrived at the spot on the cliffs where the parasailors and their passengers take off from (left & center, Figure 5) – click here to see movie clip of parasailing. The cost of a 15-20 minute ride is US $50 and I would have loved to do it but time did not permit as we were going to see Nazca Lines.
Figure 6. Cliffside takeoff site (left), up, up & away (center), parasailing over Marriott Hotel (right)
We returned to the Larcomar Shopping Center and ate at the Burger King and the KFC before returning to our hotel for the night. In the morning we had an excellent breakfast which was included in the price of the room (left, Figure 7) and then it was time to pack up move to the Los Girasoles Hotel. Perhaps naively, we got into unofficial cab that stopped in front of us. The cab was a beat up old Nissan Sentra (right, Figure 7) that was very reminiscent of my 1991 Nissan Sentra. The driver told us that the fare would be 5 and off we went (the doorman at the hotel took down the cab’s license number). In a short time we arrived at the Los Girasoles Hotel and I gave the driver US $5. Surprisingly he said no the fare was S./5, i.e. about US $1.75. I was thunderstruck by his honesty as he could have simply kept the five dollar bill and we would have been none the wiser. This type of honesty is rare anywhere let alone from a not so well off cabbie.
When we needed to change our US dollars into Peruvian soles we used the service provided by the money changers on many of the major street corners (center, Figure 7). These money changers wore vests with a number on them so we assumed that they were authorized. In any event they were honest and showed us on a calculator their exchange rate and what we would get.
Figure 7. Exclusive Hotel breakfast (left), money changer (center), honest taxi driver (right)
After checking into the Los Girasoles Hotel, we took a cab from our hotel to the colonial center of Lima. It is about a 30 minute taxi ride via the sunken four lane highway called the Paseo de la Republica. This highway reminded me of the depressing Boulevard Décarie in Montréal, Canada. We passed by the large Acho Bullring which was founded in 1766. It is the largest and most important bullring in South America and draws well-known toreros from Spain and elsewhere
Getting nearer to the Plaza Mayor, Lima’s main square, I began to smell what I thought was the unmistakeable scent of tear gas and mentioned it to Donna. Nearer the heart of downtown, we passed by a riot vehicle with a menacing painted design on the bumper and water canon that was parked on a side street (left, Figure 9). This seemed curious.
We got out of the cab at the Plaza Mayor (also called the Plaza de Armas), Lima’s main square. The square is quite beautiful as it is surrounded by a number of attractive colonial style buildings some of which have important functions such as the seat of the Peruvian government (Palacio de Gobierno) and the City Hall (Palacio Municipal de la Lima) (left, Figure 11).
Figure 9. Riot vehicle (left), Basilica Cathedral (center), knocker on Archbishop's Palace (right)
Figure 10. City hall across plaza (left), west side of plaza & pink Church of San Francisco (right)
The square is the spot where Francisco Pizarro founded the city in 1535 and where Peruvians declared their independence in 1821. On the corner of the plaza, opposite the Cathedral, there is an impressive equestrian statue of Francisco Pizarro. The statue once sat in the center of the plaza, but the clergy took exception to the horse's rear end facing the cathedral, so the statue was moved to its present position.
We first looked at the impressive façade of the Basilica Catedral de Lima (Basilica Cathedral of Lima) (center, Figure 9). This is a Roman Catholic cathedral whose construction started in 1535 when its cornerstone was laid by Francisco Pizarro (leader of the Spanish Conquistadors). This cathedral has been transformed many times due to expansion and the rebuilding necessary due to the ravages of earthquakes. We then passed by the exquisitely balconied Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop's Palace) (right, Figure 9) to the left of the cathedral. Surprisingly it is a relatively modern building, dating to 1924 as is our next stop, the Palacio de Gobierno (Presidential Palace) which was built in 1937 and is the residence of Peru's president.
Figure 11. Lima City Hall (left), police securing plaza after ‘riot’ (right)
At the four corners of the Presidential Palace was an armoured vehicle with a policeman manning the machine gun which was loaded with live ammunition (left, Figure 12). The front of the palace had a Buckingham Palace-style fence preventing public access and flanking the main entrance to the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace) were two handsomely uniformed presidential guards in uniforms (right, Figure 12) reminiscence of the guards at the Presidential Palace in Quito (see section on Quito in Part 1 of this travelogue). Donna noticed a number of other guards milling about in an archway so we surmised that they were preparing for a ceremonial changing of the guard.
Figure 12. Armoured car at palace (left), children at palace (center), ceremonial guards at palace (right)
Prior to the ceremony at noon, the police closed the road in front of the palace, moved back the spectators and police in helmets and carrying riot shields formed a line in the middle of the road. As we were the first people there we had a front row view from the curb side. Just before the start of the ceremony, a large number of students from kindergarten and the first grades accompanied by their teachers were ushered on to the road in front of us where they sat down (center, Figure 12). Then the band marched out and started to play a lively set of music including a Beatles’ tune and “Oh Donna” a la Ritchie Valens. As this was happening, the more police showed up including one carrying a tear gas generator (left & center, Figure 14) and a number of police moved into the center of the square. Donna expressed her concern, but I reassured her that nothing would happen given the number of young school children at our feet.
Figure 13. Goose stepping (left), looking skyward (center), goose stepping off stage (right)
The guards started marching out using a much exaggerated goose step and suddenly a man about 10 feet away from us started shouting out in a very loud voice. Immediately the police front of us aggressively moved to arrest the man and the policeman with the tear gas generator sprayed the man. The cloud of tear gas spread out and the teachers immediately rousted the children and hurried them away saying “Rápido los niños!” Some of the children were reacting to the effects of the tear gas as were the police as did not have gas masks! I could not believe that the police could be so callous as to jeopardize the children for the sake of one lone protestor.
Figure 14. Tear generator & band (left), more tear gas generators (center), ready for disturbance (right)
Where we were standing the tear gas was not bad so we stayed and watched the remainder of the ceremony which continued uninterrupted. Obviously the police were well prepared and practiced in stifling protests during the ceremony. They immediately moved everyone from the square which remained closed for a couple of hours (right, Figure 11).
Donna thought that the police reaction was so strong there must have been a large protest movement. She asked a number of people about the incident and the cause of the protest. A vendor of paintings explained that the man was protesting about the poor state of the health care system but Donna still thought there was more to it. She asked our guide on the Inca Trail who explained that protesting against the state of the free healthcare system was normal given that the government promises much more than it delivers.
Figure 15. Water canons (left), muzzled police dog (center), interesting photograph exhibit (right)
Following the riotous ceremonial changing of the guard we walked over to the very nice pedestrian zone surrounding the Palacio Municipal de la Lima (City Hall). This zone has lots of tourist shops and vendors hawking their paintings. There was an interesting photographic exposition of people dressed up in pseudo-traditional folk costumes (right, Figure 15). However the area had more police and some with dogs (center, Figure 15) and even a Mercedes-Benz riot control vehicle with twin water canons (left, Figure 15).
We walked down to the baroque Church of San Francisco with its 17th-century convent (left, Figure 16). The church looks very nice with its new cover of pink paint. We saw a post card showing the church before its repainting and it looked very drab.
Figure 16. Church of San Francisco (left), priest at church (center), beautifully balconied building (right)
In the area of the church were a number of fascinating shops that sold an incredible variety of buttons and other products for handicrafts (left, Figure 17). I’ve never seen such a wide range of these goods on sale before.
Using the bridge beside the Presidential Palace, we crossed over the Rio Rimac which was virtually dry, to look at the armoured police vehicles. We started to walk down Trujilo Street (Trujillo is Pizarro's hometown in Spain) when the police at the end of the bridge asked if we spoke Spanish – alas we didn’t – but they made it very clear that we should not go any further. We heeded their caution and returned back across the bridge. In the distance was a hill with a neighbourhood of colourful buildings that looked very pretty (right, Figure 17). We passed by a street vendor and bought the old standby – bottled water (center, Figure 17). While we did not need as much as we did in SE Asia last year, we still needed a lot of drink.
Figure 17. Handicraft store (left), street vendor (center), colourful buildings on distance hill (right)
We walked down Huallaga Street and saw its beautifully balconied buildings (right, Figure 16) and then down Calliloma Street which has printing shop after printing shop. We stopped into a small bakery for a pastry and a coffee (left, Figure 18) and then returned to the Plaza Mayor and caught a cab back to our hotel in Miraflores.
At 1600 hours on 20th August, we met with the local G.A.P Adventures representative, Dania, and our group for the initial briefing. After the briefing we walked from the Los Girasoles Hotel across the Paseo de la Republica and into Miraflores for supper. Coincidentally we met a couple from our group, Ian and Nikki from Calgary, at the pizza place that we chose for supper.
After our return from Puerto Maldonado on the 30th, we again checked into the Los Girasoles Hotel; retrieved our luggage from storage; arranged for our trip to see the Nazca Lines; and repacked up our luggage for the flight home. As we had the evening free, we walked down to see the Miraflores neighbourhood area around Parque Kennedy. This park is a small oasis among tall buildings and the congested Lima traffic. A paved walkway runs through the center of Parque Kennedy, which draws a good number of people from all walks of life. Young couples snuggle on benches, men in business suits sit on a small field of concrete stools and read the paper while they get their shoes shined, and vendors sell salty popcorn from red and white carts. At the southern end of the park is the very ornate Iglesia de la Virgen Milagrosa (right, Figure 18). We also visited the very snazzy and upscale Atlantic City Casino (center, Figure 18). There are several casinos in the Miraflores district.
Figure 18. Lunch at bakery (left), casino (center), Iglesia de la Virgen Milagrosa (right)
We went into a Burger King and Pizza Hut for a King de Pollo and a pizza. After which we stopped into many of the tourist stores near Parque Kennedy and then we strolled through the park to see the paintings for sale along the street known as the Diagonal. One of the artists was selling some very nice watercolours including scenes around Cusco and Machu Picchu. He want S./200 for the large watercolours but as we were running out of cash and needed almost US $500 for the trip to Nazca, I decided not to buy anything. In the event, it turned out that we had sufficient cash after our trip to Nazca to cover the cost of a watercolour but it would have removed cushion if anything went wrong.
As it was the evening there were lots of people and vendors in the park so Parque Kennedy had the atmosphere of a little fiesta. The elevated cement circle in the park center was the scene of a play with many people watching. We exited at the southern end of the park and found a very large high-end grocery store with a European atmosphere. As it was Saturday evening the store had several booths set up where we could sample products being promoted. It was a store that I’d like to shop in at home.
2.3 G.A.P Adventures’ “PAA - Amazon to the Andes” Trip
We booked GAP’s PAA 12 day trip to Cusco/Inca Trail/Machu Picchu and the Amazon Jungle. This trip started out being rocky since GAP changed the starting and ending point hotel in Lima from the Exclusive Hotel to the Los Girasoles Hotel.
Cusco is very high at some 3,310 m (10,859.6 ft) so it takes time to acclimatize the effect of altitude. Time spent at Cusco and area is important for acclimatization before tackling the Inca Trail. Unfortunately we only had about 1.5 days to acclimatize before we tackled the Inca Trail on 23 August. I was a bit leery as when I summitted on Mount Rainier, the highest peak in Washington at an elevation of 14,410 ft (4392 m) at age 20, I experienced the pounding headache of altitude sickness. As we only had a four day weekend, we started from sea level at Seattle and with no acclimatization we ascended the 14,410 ft in two days and carried our 40 pound packs some 10,000 ft up the mountain. However this time I was somewhat confident that we would not have great problems since we went up to the top of the TeleferiQo in Quito (13,284 ft) without incident and I had driven from sea level to the top of Mauna Kea at 13,796 ft (4,205 m) in Hawaii a couple of times. In the event, I decided to take no medicine for altitude sickness while Donna decided that prudence was the best course and took Diamox (Acetazolamide). Neither one of us experienced altitude sickness but Donna did experience some minor numbness in her hands which is a known side effect of Diamox.
Figure 20. Impressive Andes peak (left), burning hills (center), Mastercard & Machu Picchu (right)
At 0800 hours on 21 August we transferred to the Lima airport for the flight to Cusco. We were supposed to catch the flight at 1045 hours but our flight was cancelled and we were transferred onto the flight leaving at 1230 hours. We talked to a trio of Americans who were supposed to be on a flight leaving around 0900 hours. Since passengers on all three flights were able to fit on the one at 1230 hours, it seems as if LAN Airlines was consolidating flights to reduce operating costs. Unfortunately the delay reduced our limited acclimatization time in Cusco even if only by three hours.
Flying between Lima and Cusco we again saw some impressive Andes peaks (left, Figure 20) and just outside of Cusco the hills were burning – whether by design or accident I do not know.
In the event we arrived in Cusco at about 1400 hours and loaded into our bus near the Mastercard billboard showing a couple at Machu Picchu (right, Figure 20) before heading off to the Prisma Hotel. The billboard abruptly reminded me that we were here in Cusco to hike the Inca Trail and not merely to tour around.
Figure 21. Statue of Inca Pachacuti (left), Inca on hill (center), fascinating shoemaker (right)
We passed under the gaze of the modern statue of an Inca high on a hill (center, Figure 21). There is also a statue of Inca Pachacuti at the base of Avenue el Sol near the rail station (left, Figure 21). He was the ruler who was responsible for the great expansion of the Inca Empire and his name can be translated as “transformer of the world”.
In contrast to the Incas was the humble shoemaker named ‘Elmer’ just down the street from our hotel. His shelving was chock-a-block with labelled shoes awaiting repair (right, Figure 21). When he saw us taking pictures, Elmer gave us his business card which showed a very nice picture of Machu Picchu that we had just trekked to. Ironically on our trek one of the women in her 50s bragged that she had had her hiking boots since she was 12 years old – shortly thereafter, one of her boots fell apart J
Figure 22. Iglesia Jesus y Maria (left), Catedral (center), La Compania de Jesus (right)
Cusco was the ancient capital city of the Inca Empire. Held to be the home of the gods by the Incas, Cusco was the capital of the Tahuantinsuyu – the great pre-Colombian empire during the period from 1438 to 1533. The city was also the axis of a network of roads spanning the continent, from Colombia down to northern Chile and Argentina (Figure 28).
Today Cusco is an interesting city with some beautiful buildings mostly concentrated around the Plaza de Armas. The near the Plaza de Armas was sacred to the Incas and for the conquering Spanish it was a place of military and religious ceremonies and executions. Today the plaza is one of the most beautiful plazas that I’ve seen. The plaza is surrounded by mainly colonial era churches and buildings while center of the plaza has flower beds, park benches and a water fountain. A night with the buildings illuminated and a backdrop of lights from the houses on the surrounding hills, the plaza is even more impressive. Also high on a hill over the plaza is the bright white figure of "Cristo Blanco" which is illuminated at night (center, Figure 26). On our way to the sacred Valley we pass by the Cristo Blanco statue and its three crossed in the daylight (left, Figure 26)
The shops around the plaza are targeted toward tourists as are the restaurants. The restaurants have a person outside who offers tourists a chance to checkout the menu.
The Catedral (Cathedral) on the east side of the plaza was built on the site of the Palace of Inca Wiracocha and completed over a century using stones removed from Inca buildings and temples (center, Figure 22). We did not go inside as we were interested is seeing more of the city during our limited time. On either side of the Cathedral are two smaller churches, El Triunfo and Iglesia Jesus y Maria (left, Figure 22), that are connected to the cathedral. The main bell of the cathedral is over 300 years old and made of a ton of gold, silver and bronze.
Figure 23. Cusco rush hour (left), La Compania de Jesus at night (center), goodbye to our guide (right)
The church known as La Compania de Jesus, a Jesuit church, has a most beautiful façade (right, Figure 22). This is unlike the La Compania de Jesus that we saw in Quito, whose façade was not that beautiful but whose interior was amazing (see section on Quito in Part 1 of this travelogue). This church looked was good when lit up at night (center, Figure 23).
We walked up the Calle Triunfo, beside the Cathedral, towards Iglesia San Blas on the hillside. Along the way we shopped into several tourist shops whose foundations are the wonderful stonewalls made by the skilled Inca stonemasons. The walls fit together perfectly without the use of mortar like giant jigsaw puzzles. Many of the stones have irregular shapes and how they were carved remains a mystery (Figure 59). The durability of the Inca stonemasons' work is shown be the fact that their walls have withstood the earthquakes while the Spanish walls suffered badly.
There are the occasional locals who are dressed up in traditional dress or even Inca dress accompanied by lambs or llamas who offer tourists photographic opportunities are a price (right, Figure 24).
Figure 24. Building new roof (left), Plaza de Armas (center), Inca photo opportunity (right)
Given the altitude and our lack of acclimatization, it was a bit of an effort but we reached the plaza beside the Iglesia San Blas and then started back towards the hotel. Along the way we stopped in at a very good tourist shop that sold knit goods some made of alpaca and some of rayon for those only willing to spend US $3 (left, Figure 25). The two women running the store were very friendly and spoken reasonable English. Donna bought three traditional hats and a scarf while I bought a nice alpaca sweater. However while some sold goods in a nice store others less fortunate sold basic goods on the street (right, Figure 25).
Figure 25. Clothing store (left), narrow street (center), toilet paper vendor (right)
Walking the streets in most area of the old part of Cusco is somewhat nerve racking as the streets are very narrow (center, Figure 25) with correspondingly narrow sidewalks and drivers who whip around corners without the slightest concern that there are pedestrians on the road. While walking around on the narrow streets, Donna was surprised by a wet substance falling on her. Looking up I saw a worker slopping cement onto a second story stonewall. We cleaned off the cement as best we could and pressed on.
Figure 26. Cristo Blanco statue (left), Cristo Blanco at night (center), Plaza de Armas at night (right)
Figure 27. Filling storehouse (left), massacre at Cajamarca (center), garroting Inca Atahualpa (right)
In 1532, the paths of Inca Atahualpa and Pizarro crossed near Cajamarca in northern Peru (see Figure 28). Pizarro’s force was just some 100 foot-soldiers and 60 horsemen compared to the Inca’s army of some 80,000 soldiers. Inexplicably Inca Atahualpa did not attack the invaders, rather he agreed to meet Pizarro in Cajamarca. It has been said that Atahualpa planned to have Pizarro for lunch but Pizarro had him for breakfast!
On 16 November 1532, the Inca and a host of some 6,000 retainers came unarmed to the meeting and after some talking, the Spanish launched a surprise attack on the Incans killing most and capturing the Inca Atahualpa sealing his fate and that of the Incan empire. Atahualpa tried to buy his freedom by filling a room (22’ x 17’) with gold and two other with silver. However Pizarro needed to dispatch him so Atahualpa was convicted of killing his brother and plotting against Pizarro and his forces and was executed by garrote on 26 July 1533.
Figure 28. Inca road system (pre-Columbian)
Cusco is a city of churches (Figure 29) but the one that I wanted to see was the Church of Santo Domingo (left, Figure 30), not the church itself, but rather its foundations which are based on the Coricancha (Temple of the Sun). This temple was once the most important temple of the Incas and when the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire, they used the fine Inca stonework in 1540 to form the base of the Church of Santo Domingo (center, Figure 30). The Inca stonework does not fail to impress due to its smooth surface and the wonderful colour of the matched stones (click to see movie clip of Coricancha). It would be nice to see the church removed and the ruins of the Temple of the Sun excavated and brought to the sunlight again.
Figure 29. Map of Cusco showing numerous churches
Figure 30. Santo Domingo (left), finest Incan stonework (center), monks at Santo Domingo (right)
The temple also served as a tomb for several Incas, or kings. During Inca rule, the Coricancha/Qoricancha, or Golden Courtyard, was covered with gold and there were silver sculptures representing llamas, corn, babies, and the sun. When the Spaniards conquered Cusco, the Inca capital, they set about stripping the gold plating from the temples and melting them down. Legend has it that it took three months to cart all of the gold from the Sun Temple. This tragic scene is described as follows in The Last Days of the Incas:
“…[The Inca general] didn’t like the Christians, although he marveled greatly at them,” wrote the notary, Cristóbal de Mena, “…This [Inca general]…told them not to ask him for much gold and that if they refused to release the chief [Atahualpa], then he himself would go to rescue him.” General Quisquis, no doubt suppressing his own desire to immediately seize and kill the foreigners, was now forced to swallow his pride as he allowed the Spaniards to enter the Inca’s most sacred temple–the Qoricancha, or temple of the sun. Doing so was akin to the mayor of Rome allowing three thieves to enter and sack St. Peter’s Cathedral. Or for devout Muslims to allow non-believers to profane and defile the sacred Ka’ba in Mecca. For the Qoricancha was the holiest temple in the Inca Empire. Not open to the public, it was visited only by specialized priests and by the reclusive temple virgins, or mamacuna. All who entered were required to remove their shoes and to perform numerous forms of religious observances and ablutions.
The two sailors and the notary, oblivious to Inca culture and concerned only with immediate plunder, entered the temple in their shabby leather boots and pushed past the stunned temple priests. They soon discovered that the Qoricancha was lined both inside and out with banded sheets of gold:
“The Christians went to the buildings and with no aid from the Indians (who refused to help, saying that it was a temple of the sun and they would die) the Christians decided to strip the ornaments away…with some copper crowbars. And so they did….”
With native crowbars, much grunting and no doubt planting their boots when necessary against the sacred walls, the three Spaniards began prying off the golden sheets, piling them up outside like so much scrap metal before a group of horrified onlookers and angry priests. “The greater part of this consisted of plates like the boards of a box, three or four palmos (two to two-and-a-half feet) in length,” wrote one chronicler. “They had removed these from the walls of the buildings and they had holes in them as if they had been nailed.” Each plate weighed about four-and-a-half pounds, which meant that every plate in monetary terms was enough to buy a caravel ship with, or was worth the equivalent of nine years’ of wages for either of the two sailors carrying them. Eventually, the Spaniards assembled a pile of some seven hundred golden plates, each rudely ripped from the empire’s holiest of walls.”
Figure 31. Hypothetical reconstruction of Coricancha (left), sun worship ceremony (right) (Ref U)
The complex of the Church of Santo Domingo includes a monastery and we saw white-robed monks leaving a meeting (right, Figure 30).
A reconstruction of the Coricancha is shown on the left of Figure 31. The location of my photograph of the foundations of the Coricancha (left, Figure 30) is at the bottom of the hypothetical reconstruction of Coricancha shown in Figure 31.
Figure 32. Fine Incan stonework in buildings around Cusco
Fine Incan stonework is incorporated in many buildings in the area north of the Plaza de Armas (Figure 32). These walls were put together like a jigsaw puzzle, i.e. the stones are not uniform rather they are highly irregular (right, Figure 32).
Figure 33. Oil painting purchase (left), strolling Artisan market (center), my oil painting purchase (right)
Near the train station is a large indoor artisan market (center, Figure 33). We each purchased oil paintings from different vendors (left & right, Figure 33). Mine cost US $15 from an antique dealer and was painted in 1992.
Figure 34. Murals about Incas on school wall (left), Machu Picchu and cleaning up world (right)
After our return from our Inca Trail trek, we had a full day in Cusco so we walked around some more. As we walked down to the Artisan Market, we passed by a school that had a number of colourful and interesting murals on its wall (Figure 34). At the base of Avenue el Sol near the rail station and the Artisans' Market is an interesting fountain with a large sun disc and mosaic murals (left, Figure 35). This sun disc harkened back to the Punchao (meaning daylight/dawn) or golden image of the sun which was the most sacred idol in the Inca pantheon. The Incans held great religious ceremonies, sometimes lasting several days based upon the pattern of dawn and dusk, and day and night. These rituals were presided over by the Inca himself who was the sun's representative on earth.
Figure 35. Near Artisan’s Market (left), gate at Plaza San Francisco (center), old style cameras (right)
Walking up the wide Avenue del Sol we passed by a beautiful mural on the side of a building depicting the war between the Incas and the Spanish (Figure 36). The mural created in the 1990s was undergoing restoration which accounts for the wide white lines on the mural (right, Figure 36). Of note were the warrior priest wielding a cross as a weapon (left, Figure 36) and the Inca warrior fighting with captured Spanish armour (right, Figure 36). The mural appears to depict the battle at Sacsayhuaman just outside of Cusco where the Spanish beat a rebellion lead by Manco Inca in 1536.
Figure 36. Warrior priest (left), dogs of war (center), Incan’s last stand (right)
War dogs provided an especially frightening tool of war (center, Figure 36). Greyhounds and mastiffs were used most commonly, kitted out in their own quilted armour. The dogs were often trained to attack their victims in the abdomen and genitals. They were fed human body parts to encourage their killer instinct.
We visited the market beside the Iglesia San Francisco and the Iglesata Santa Clara. There is an interesting gate beside the Iglesia San Francisco (center, Figure 35) and photographers offering photographs using old large format cameras (right, Figure 35).
Figure 37. Market at Iglesata Santa Clara (left), women on church steps (center), view of market (right)
The market at Iglesata Santa Clara (left & right, Figure 37) had a number of stands selling various butchered animals. On the steps of Iglesata Santa Clara were some Indian women wearing vary impressive tall white stovepipe hats decorated with colourful ribbons (center, Figure 37). These hats indicate an occupational specialization in the market.
2.3.2 Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu
The Inca road system (El Camino Inca) consisting of many roads and trails was constructed in pre-Columbian South America. The trails connected the regions of the Inca Empire from the northern provincial capital in Quito, Ecuador past the modern city of Santiago, Chile in the south. The Inca road system covered approximately 22,500 km (14,000 mi) and provided access to over three million km² of territory. (Ref A)
Since the system traversed the Andes Mountains it reached heights of over 5,000 m (16,500 feet) above sea level and leaped across deep valleys using suspension bridges made of rope. However because the Incas did not make use of the wheel for transportation, and did not have horses until the arrival of the Spanish in Peru in the 16th century, the trails were used almost exclusively by people walking, sometimes accompanied by pack animals, usually the llama.
Peru was the area of the Inca Empire that was the most extensively covered by the Inca road system.
Machu Picchu itself was far off the beaten path and served as a royal estate populated by the ruling Inca and several hundred servants. It required regular infusions of goods and services from Cusco and other parts of the empire. This is evidenced by the fact that there are no large government storage facilities at the site. A 1997 study concluded that the site's agricultural potential would not have been sufficient to support residents, even on a seasonal basis.
Ever since I was young, I always wanted to hike the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. However it the intervening years, concern about overuse of the trail leading to erosion has led the Peruvian government to place a limit on the number of people who may hike this trail per season and to sharply limit the companies that can provide guides. There is a limit of a maximum of 500 people, including guides and porters, are permitted to begin the trail every day. As a result, the high season books out very quickly and booking months in advance is mandatory to secure a desired start date. As well the trail is closed every February for cleaning.
Once we booked the G.A.P trip and secured Inca Trail permits, we started our own exercise programs to prepare for the trek. Donna enrolled at a gym and had a program setup by a personal trainer and participated in a program at a weight loss clinic. I augmented my daily biking to work by climbing up the 19 floors of stairs in my office building three times per day. We both lost about 15 pounds in preparation. In the event, I had no difficulty with the uphill climbs but my training did little to help me prepare for the downhill descends given my osteoarthritis. On the other hand Donna’s program just enabled her to complete the trek with little to spare but then she was preparing for a strenuous activity that she had never experienced before.
At 0800 hours on Friday, 22 August we put our big duffel bag into storage at the Prisma Hotel and checked out and then boarded on a bus. However as we were about to leave, a thief boarded our bus and stole the faceplate of the bus’ radio. Our driver ran after him and after about ten minutes he return with the faceplate (left, Figure 39), applied some bandaids to his knuckles and drank a lot of water. After receiving a round of applause from us, we drove off for a trip through the Sacred Valley north of Cusco to Ollantaytambo.
Figure 38. Map showing trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu through Sacred Valley
Our bus slowly wound its way up the steep valley side packed with houses (right, Figure 39) until we were high over Cusco where we stopped to admired the view (center, Figure 39).
Figure 39. Bus driver with radio faceplate (left), view down to Cusco (center), Cusco suburb on hill (right)
On our ride from Cusco to the Sacred Valley, we saw some interesting sights: a roadcrew repairing the road by hand (left, Figure 40); a pitiful scene of a young girl with some llamas waiting for tourists to stop and pay for a photograph (center, Figure 40); and a field full of fresh adobe bricks drying in the sun (right, Figure 40). Manual repair of roads was common which indicates the quantity of labour available in Peru as it was in the time of the Inca. Outside of Cusco there were many fields with adobe bricks being made by digging up the earth, mixing it with water and straw and forming it into bricks. While adobe makes houses cheap to construct, it has little resistance to building movement caused by an earthquake. We saw many destroyed adobe buildings in the region of Ica during our later trip to overfly the Nazca Lines.
Figure 40. Fixing road by hand (left), waiting for tourists (center), adobe bricks drying (right)
On our way down into the Sacred Valley, we exited the main paved road and started a climb up a one lane dirt road to visit a small village and its Indian market. The road passed by domesticated animals such a llamas (left, Figure 41) until it reach the village and we saw scenes that could have been in Biblical times. For example the village women sorting wheat from chaff by hand (center, Figure 41) and villagers building houses with adobe bricks (right, Figure 41).
Figure 41. Llama in field (left), sorting wheat from chaff (center), adobe building (right)
Figure 42. Buying Peruvian hats (left), looking at baby in sling on back (center), sleeping baby (right)
Donna wanted to buy a couple of traditional Peruvian hats and she negotiated a price of S./55 sole down from S./60 (left, Figure 42) but she felt bad so she offered the woman the S./5 sole coin that we had and the woman was grateful. Donna then noticed the sling on the back of the woman (center, Figure 42) and asked if it was a baby and if she could see it. The woman was happy to show off her baby who was sleeping contently in the sling (right, Figure 42).
Leaving the village we drove back down the road past more biblical scenes including an old woman carrying a big load (left, Figure 43) and a shepard moving his flock to the field (center, Figure 43). We met a large dump truck coming up the mountain (right, Figure 43) and were forced to back up the hill to a pull out where the truck could pass.
Figure 43. Old woman on road (left), shepard with marked sheep (center), might = ‘right of way’ (right)
Figure 44. Feeding llamas (left), feeding llamas (center), weaver and child (right)
After returning to the paved road, we stopped at a tourist shop that had a collection of llamas and alpacas on display for the tourists to feed (left & center, Figure 44). There were also a couple of Indian weavers in action with their children (right, Figure 44). This part of the display did not please me as it was very hot and they were sitting in the strong sun. The actual store sold an impress range of beautiful and expensive weavings (no pictures were permitted).
Proceeding on we soon came to an overlook of the Sacred Valley and the Urubamba River (a.k.a. Rio Vilcanota) running down it (left & center, Figure 45). The scene was very pretty especially with the snow covered peak at the end of the valley. The Sacred Valley of the Incas is the area of the valley between Pisac and Ollantaytambo (Figure 38). The valley itself continues on to Aguas Calientes near Machu Picchu. The Sacred Valley was an important source of food for the Inca since it is a lush agricultural region that continues to supply the city of Cusco with much of its produce.
Figure 45. Urubamba River in valley (left), Sacred Valley (center), Pisac & terraces over town (right)
Continuing down from the outlook, the impressive Inca terraces of Inca Písac came into view as they run up the hillside from the modern town of Pisac (right, Figure 45). A drawing of Incans planting on a terraces is on the right of Figure 81.
The dominate feature of Inca Písac is the outstanding terraces (Figure 47). The terraces once helped feed the Incans but they were not use when we visited and some were suffering the effects of erosion (click here to view video of Pisac).
Figure 47. Side view of curvng terraces (left), front view of terraces (center), erosion on terraces (right)
Little is conclusively known about the site's actual purpose but it is thought to have been part city, part ceremonial religious center, and part military complex – perhaps controlling traffic through the eastern end of the valley (see Figure 38). However, the Incas never retreated here to defend their empire against the Spaniards. Since Pisac, unlike Machu Picchu, was known to the Spanish, its Intihuatana (hitching post of the sun) was broken by them (see section on Machu Picchu for more information about the Intihuatana).
Figure 48. Indian woman with 3 children (left), fountain at ruins on top (center), flute player (right)
At Inca Písac there were several Indians in traditional dress who sold photograph opportunities for a price (left, Figure 48). As well there was an Indian playing a flute and selling his CDs (right, Figure 48)!
The citadel sits high up on the hill (left, Figure 49) and includes some of the most impressive examples of Incan masonry (center, Figure 49). The mortarless joints are so tight that one can fit a credit card between them. Masonry of this high standard was reserved for the most important Incan structures. Since the Incans did not use the wheel or the block and tackle and smelted no high-strength metals, it is not known for certain how they achieved this high standard of masonary. Some think that the Incas suspended a rock over top of the rock that would be underneath it and then transcribe the bottom shape of the top rock onto the top side of the bottom rock. However, some the rock weigh up to 100 tons so suspending such a rock would not be easy. The joints were probably cut by pounding with harder rock tools.
Figure 49. Q'allaqasa (citadel) at top (left), stone doorway (center), top of stone doorway (right)
The stone doorway was very beautiful and I climbed up on top to see what the stones on the top of the doorway looked like (right, Figure 49). I was told by a guide that I could not climb there so off I got but not before seeing that the stonework on top was smooth, i.e. it did not have any special features to lock the stones together.
We were told that a water source for the citadel was from ponds that are replenished by condensation. There is a fountain up beside the citadel (center, Figure 48).
Leaving Pisac, we continued on up the valley towards Ollantaytambo and stopped in Calca, a small town for a buffet lunch. We skipped the lunch and sat down on a park bench after buying Princess ice cream bar and cookies from a small shop. We watched the workers building an adobe wall (center, Figure 50) across from the picturesque village church (right, Figure 50).
Figure 50. Batman mototaxi and uprooted shrine (left), adobe wall (center), church in Calca (right)
Closer towards Ollantaytambo, the valley narrowed and some mountains appeared in the distance (left, Figure 51). Again we saw road repairs being done by hand – in this case a family was using a trowel to finish off a concrete patch (center, Figure 51). Very now and again we’d pass a PeruRail train servicing Aguas Calientes (right, Figure 51).
Figure 51. View towards Ollantaytambo (left), repairing road by hand (center), PeruRail (right)
Figure 52. Guinea pigs in corn storage (left), colourful corn (center), expandable mud oven (right)
In a small village, we stopped at a farmhouse to see their corn products. In the farmhouse’s corn storage room, Guinea pigs were being raised for consumption (left, Figure 52). The variety corn that they raised was interesting and very colourful (center, Figure 52). In the kitchen there was an oven made of mud that had just recently been expanded by the addition of an extension made of mud (right, Figure 52). It was quite unique to see an oven that could be expanded at home. In the kitchen we sampled corn alcohol and popcorn. The alcohol was nothing special but the popcorn was excellent and unusual in that it popped inside the outer kernel cover so that it looked like it was an uncooked kernel.
At the end of the valley we arrived in the town of Ollantaytambo (left, Figure 53) at 1500 hours which was an Incan town and fortress strategically situated overlooking the Urubamba River Valley. This major ruin site is known as the best surviving example of Inca urban planning and engineering. It has large steep terraces guarding the Inca Fortress (center, Figure 53) and for being one of the few places where the Spanish lost a major battle during the conquest. We would spend the night in this small town before heading out for the start of the hike the next morning.
Figure 53. Ollantaytambo from Temple Hill (left), dusk Temple Hill (center), view at bottom of hill (right)
Around the mid-15th century, the Inca emperor Pachacuti conquered and razed Ollantaytambo; the town and the nearby region were incorporated into his personal estate. The emperor rebuilt the town with sumptuous constructions and undertook extensive works of terracing and irrigation in the Urubamba Valley. The town provided lodging for the Inca nobility while the terraces were farmed by retainers of the emperor.
During the Spanish conquest of Peru, Ollantaytambo served as a temporary capital for Manco Inca, leader of the rebellion against the conquistadors. He fortified the town and its approaches in the direction of the former Inca capital of Cusco, which had fallen under Spanish domination. In 1536, the Spanish advanced and a battle was fought on the plain of Mascabamba, near Ollantaytambo. The Spanish attacked with a force of 100 Spaniards (30 infantry, 70 cavalry) and a large contingent of native allies of some 30,000. What is amazing is how few Spanish warriors there were yet how much combat power they had based on their steel weapons of war and martial skill.
Figure 54. Armoured Spanish cavalry against Incans foot soldiers (left), battle-ready Incan nobles (right)
The main Spanish asset against the Inca armies was the Spanish cavalry (left, Figure 54) as horses provided a considerable advantage in hitting power, manoeuvrability, speed, and stamina over Inca warriors. As well all Spaniards wore some kind of armour that was proof against many of the Indian weapons. Manco Inca's forces were a militia army made up mostly of conscripted farmers with only rudimentary arms training. This was the practice in the Inca Empire, where military service formed part of duties of all married men between 25 and 50 years old.
At Ollantaytambo, Manco Inca defeated a Spanish expedition by blocking their advance from a set of high terraces and flooding the plain to hobble the Spanish cavalry. However, despite his victory, Manco Inca did not consider his position tenable so the following year he withdrew to the heavily forested site of Vilcabamba. Finally in 1540, the native population of Ollantaytambo was assigned to Hernando Pizarro in a feudal rights arrangement.
Of the conquest, Francisco Xerez (Pizarro's secretary) in his Report on the Discovery of Peru said: “When has it ever happened, either in ancient or modern times, that such amazing exploits have been achieved? Over so many climes, across so many seas, over such distances by land, to subdue the unseen and unknown? Whose deeds can be compared with those of Spain? Not even the ancient Greeks and Romans.” While this is certainly true, one must ask about the enormous price the Indians paid for these amazing exploits.
Our bus stopped near Temple Hill (left, Figure 55). At the bottom of the hill was a beautiful pastoral view (right, Figure 53). Allow with a throng of other tourists, we walked up the steep terraces to near the top of the hill (center, Figure 55) – this test of our conditioning that showed us that the Inca Trail would be a challenge. While we were on Temple Hill, a group of Indian children in colourful dress and straw hats (right, Figure 55) arrived for a cultural visit. They certainly have a proud cultural heritage.
Figure 55. Temple Hill terraces (left), top of hill (center), Indian children visiting hill (right)
In a stone doorway (left, Figure 56) near the top of Temple Hill, was the finest example of Inca stone masonry that I saw. The stone blocks in this doorway are fitted together to the highest possible standard of masonry without the use of mortar (right, Figure 56). These are stone blocks that weight hundreds of pounds yet the Inca masons made a very small accommodation to fit one stone exactly onto the other. In wood this accommodation would be impressive but in stone it is amazing. There was a crack descending from the small accommodation that shows a pressure point was created that caused a crack. As can be seen the Incas made each stone unique such it can only fit into one space in the stonework, i.e. stones were not mass produced. The open question is why they made the very small accommodation rather than simply grinding out the irregularity and making a flat joint. This would seem to be the more efficient solution unless the irregularities in the stones were deemed to be sacred.
Figure 56. Doorway at Pumatallis (left), corner (left center), amazing joint (right center), polished joints (right)
Figure 57. Big tightly fitted stones (left), tight joints and knobs (right)
The Wall of the Six Monoliths (Figure 58) near the top of the hill is felt to be part of an unfinished Inca sun temple. The giant stones came from an Inca quarry about six kilometres away across the valley and the Rio Urubamba – perhaps they were moved by means of log rollers (left, Figure 59). These giant stones are finely shaped with smooth surfaces and had knobs left on them perhaps to help lever them into position before the knobs were ground off. It is impressive to note that these massive stones were moved without the aid of the wheel, pulleys or iron/steel tools.
The most impressive aspect about Incan stonework is precision with they fitted together irregular shaped stones of up to monumental size. If all the stones were rectangular shaped then one could readily understand how they were dressed, although the perfection of the joints would still be impressive. The difficulty is understanding how they dressed and fitted together huge stones of irregular shape. Even if one had a crane that could lift stones weighing up to several hundred tons, dressing multifaceted stones to fit together like a puzzle is masonry of the highest order.
Several of the stones that we saw in the walls had knob-like projections of stone sticking out of the sides (right, Figure 57). It is conjectured that these knobs were used to manoeuvre stones during the assembly of the walls. While this may be the case, the problem that I noted was that many of these knobs are rounded. It is clear that a rounded surface does not provide the same ideal surface gripping for ropes or levers that an angular surface would. Now since these knobs were sculpted, it is curious why they did not make them angular. If these knobs were only for construction and ground off afterwards then it is curious why there are a number of remaining knobs at sites such as Pisac that were finished before the Spanish conquest.
Figure 58. Front view of Wall of the Six Monoliths (left), side view of Monoliths showing knobs (right)
Clearly the Incans reserved their highest quality stonework for their most important buildings, e.g. Temples of the Sun. Given the lack of strong metals such as iron or steel, the dressing of the stones must have been by using a series of increasingly finer hammer stones to peck at the rock (right, Figure 59) and indeed the dressed faces of the stones are pitted with small marks that are expected from pecking. However the stone running along side the joints is very smooth, perhaps the result of grinding to polish it (right, Figure 56).
Figure 59. Moving big stones (left), working irregular shaped stones (center), hammer stone (right)
What is surprising is the Spaniards' lack of interest in learning about the techniques that were used to construct these impressive walls. Instead of studying the construction used, they simply ascribed the incredible stonework of the buildings to the work of demons as the following quote by the chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega, who was born in Cusco around 1530, shows:
"… by summoning an immense body of workers and accumulating more and more material day by day and year by year, they overcame all difficulties by employing human effort over a long period. But it is indeed beyond the power of imagination to understand now these Indians, unacquainted with devices, engines, and implements, could have cut, dressed, raised, and lowered great rocks, more like lumps of hills than building stones, and set them so exactly in their places. For this reason, and because the Indians were so familiar with demons, the work is attributed to enchantment."
The Spanish conquest of the Inca marked the end of this impressive stonework and the loss of the knowledge needed to create it. A PBS investigation into Incan masonry came to the conclusion that there were really only three ways to accomplish the fit that we see in Inca stone masonry (Ref O):
The PBS investigation concluded that the scribing and coping method was the most likely method. However while that may be true, one has to think that it would have been a very dangerous method for the masons working on the block underneath the suspended upper block.
In the final analysis, like other peoples of old such as the Egyptian pyramid-builders, the Incas knew more about working with stone than we do today. The remaining Incan stonework that was incorporated into the Spanish buildings has survived earthquake with little damage compared to the Spanish construction.
One cannot help but marvel at the impressive mastery over stone processed by the Incas. Obviously working with large stones to produce finely crafted structures was something well within their norms.
For the Incas, food was the key to everything as it permitted the assembly and operation of large human organizations for work and war. In their private estates the Inca rulers lived amid considerable luxury and comfort by means of maintaining and controlling food production and stored surpluses. The residential and ceremonial precincts for use by high status officials and the facilities for the intensified agriculture, terraces and granaries, were all built by forced labor, under the mita, or rotational tributary system imposed by the Inca regime. Under this system, individuals would come for a specified period of mita, or tributary labour and afterwards they would return to their village. This labour was given in lieu of pay taxes.
Figure 60. Storehouse (left), Pinkuylluna Hill east of Ollantaytambo (center), profile of Inca (right)
On the east side of Ollantaytambo is Pinkuylluna Hill (center, Figure 60) upon whose flank sits a large building (left, Figure 60). According to archaeology it was a granary or storehouse for food, clothing and weapons for local army. It has many doorways and openings that allowed ventilation of stored food. From Temple Hill there is the profile of what appears to be an Inca on the left side of Pinkuylluna Hill (left, Figure 60).
We drove the very short distance to the hotel and carried our luggage from the bus to our room in the Los Orquideas Hotel (left & center, Figure 61) and went out for a walk around town. Suddenly I realized that we left our hiking poles on the bus which was now well on its way back to Cusco. As the lack of hiking poles would means that the trek would be too difficult, we hurried back to the hotel and tried to ask the clerk to phone the guide to get our poles however he spoke no English and we no Spanish so we didn’t achieve anything. However just when everything seemed to be lost, Donna noticed our hiking poles sitting behind the desk – what a relief since without them the trek would not have been possible! I guess that the bus driver took them off the bus for us. After this near death experience, we walked around Ollantaytambo and then had a good supper in a small restaurant.
This was a very basic hotel but we got a good sleep on the eve of the start of our Inca Trail trek.
Figure 61. Our room (left), courtyard of Los Orquideas Hotel (center), blessing for house (right)
As we passed through towns and villages in the Sacred Valley region, we noticed that many of the houses had a group on the apex that consisted of a metal cross, ceramic bulls and two small bottles (right, Figure 61). These items are put in place with a solemn ceremony when a new home is completed. The significance is as follows: the cross represents their belief in the Christ; the bull signifies prosperity; and one bottle holds a bit of holy water and the other holds a bit of "fire water."
Our trekking group consisted of 16 trekkers plus the aforementioned support staff of 20 porters and 2 guides. Hence over half of the 500 people allowed on the Inca Trail daily are non-tourist support staff.
Our hike was the four day trek that started from at kilometre 82 on the Urubamba River, i.e. 82 kilometres from the town of Ollantaytambo and ending at Machu Picchu (Figure 62).
Figure 62. Map of Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu
Figure 63. Elevation profile of Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu
The 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is challenging and we hoped that we were prepared for it. It is a 45-km (25 mile) hike with 3 high passes to be crossed, one of which reaches an elevation of 4200m (13776 ft). The trail is often unrelentingly up or down with some very short steep sections (Figure 63). The temperature at night was cold on our high camp on Day 2.
Figure 63 shows the elevation profile of the Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu and records our daily time on the trail over the four day period. As can be seen, Day 3 was a very long day.
We had two guides and twenty porters including two cooks supporting us. The guides were young university educated men from Cusco. It takes three to five years of university studies to become an official guide in Peru and Ecuador. Our guide was named Jeremy and our assistant guide was named Luis. Luis had served some time as a porter before completing his studies to become a guide.
Our guides were very patient with us as we brought up the rear of group sometimes finishing an hour after the others. They were also very good at explaining about the sights and ruins along the trail although we mostly missing their explanations since we rarely accompanied our group.
Our porters were indigenous people who mainly spoke Quechua and a little Spanish. Quechua is a language of South America which was widely spoken across the Central Andes long before the time of the Incas. The Incas established it as the official language of administration for their Empire. It is still spoken today in various dialects by some 10 million people in the western part of South America including some 3 million in Peru.
There was a head porter who ensured that the porters knew there job and distributed the loads amongst the porters. The load itself changed as our trek continued since we consumed supplies such as food and propane gas. The porters gain a wage of about $8 a day but normally double it with tips from the group.
The porters are very hard working as they carry nominally 40 kg (I suspect more especially if it rains and the tents are wet) yet leave the camp after us (they pack up our tents) yet race by us on the trail to get to lunch site in time to set up and cook our lunch, and then leave the lunch site again after us and race by us on the trail to get to camp site in time to set up and cook our supper. Amazingly most of them do this while wearing open-toe sandals!
Apart from hiking, we did not have to do anything else. Each morning we would be woken up at the appointed hours and the porters and guide would offered tea, coffee or hot chocolate and left a bowl of hot water and soap to wash up. The porters provided us with drinking water each morning (boiled water).
The cooks with assistant from the porters prepared three cooked meals a day and snack packs to carry with us on the trail. The meals were not repeated and they were good. A typical day’s menu was:
· Breakfast - eggs, toast, fried bananas, hot drink.
· Snack for the trail - orange, couple of candies, chocolate bar.
· Lunch - hot soup, spaghetti with tomato sauce, vegetables, garlic bread.
· Snack after hiking - freshly made popcorn, biscuits, hot drink.
· Dinner - beef stew, rice, vegetables and pudding.
In short the porters enabled us and most others to complete this trek in some three and a half days without having to expend energy on the logistical end of it. It is the closest that I have ever been on an activity that resembles an expedition such as the climbing expeditions made to the Himalayas.
Day’s Hike Facts:
· Start & End Points: Trailhead at Piscacucho at KM 82 (2600 m) to Huayllabamba (3015 m).
· Ascent and Descent: Ascent of 1,312 feet; Descent of 0 feet.
· Distance: 6.2 miles (10 km)
· Time on trail: 6.25 hours (start @ 0945 hours and finish @ 1600 hours).
· Our rating of day’s hike: Easy to Moderate
We departed Ollantaytambo in a bus for the trailhead at Piscacucho at KM 82. As we got further from Ollantaytambo, the road got narrowed and it became one way with jockeying required to let oncoming vehicle pass. We finally reached Piscacucho at KM 82; picked up a snack bag that consisted of a chocolate bar, a banana and a couple of crackers; donned our trekking kit and were then ready for the short walk down to the check point (left, Figure 65). On our way we passed by the check point for porters where their loads are weighed to verify that they do not exceed the government limit of 40 kg (left, Figure 66).
Figure 65. Ready to go to the Inca Trail check point (left), group photo at start of Inca Trail (right)
Our guide collected up our cameras and took a group photograph at the Inca Trail sign near the check point (right, Figure 65). We arrived at the trail check point for tourist located at the end of the cable suspension bridge that marks the entrance to the trail (center, Figure 66). This was a possible problem for me as I have unwittingly entered my last name as my first name when applying for a trail permit. The registered name must match the name on one’s passport. However when my turn came to be checked out, the person manning the check point could find my name on the list but I found it and pointed to it and the checker did not seem to mind the name reversal so it was with relief that I crossed the bridge to start the trek (center, Figure 66).
Figure 66. Porters at check point (left), bridge at check point (center), train to Aguas Calientes (right)
In 2006, the Peruvian government has banned flights over Machu Picchu in response to complaints from environmentalists said that a number of rare animals and plants would have been severely affected by the low-flying helicopter tours. However, at the start of our trek, we were overflown by a low flying helicopter that our guide said was flying too low (left, Figure 67). Inkaterra, a Peruvian ecotourism company, started a helicopter service from Cusco to Machu Picchu in May 2006. The 30-minute flight by an Alouette helicopter whisks passengers to the helipad at the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, about a 20-minute drive from the ruins. Rates begin at about $900 a person for a one-day excursion, based on the number of passengers, and include a guided tour of the ruins and lunch at the hotel.
Figure 67. Alouette helicopter heading to Machu Picchu (left), cemetery (center), yucca flower (right)
Patallacta (a.k.a. Llaqtapata) located above the Cusichaca River is the first significant Inca ruin that we saw along the Inca Trail. It was located on a stone-paved Inca highway, part of the Royal Road that climbed and twisted more than 5,000 miles through the Andes. The town, with its 115 dwellings guarded by a hilltop fortress, probably served as "a pit stop for Incas traveling between Cusco and Machu Picchu". Despite the altitude of 8,000 ft, its agriculture was sufficient to support about 5,000 people because of the dozens of Inca stone canals that transport river from glacier-fed streams (Ref R). However, today this irrigation has been lost.
Figure 69. Passing by Inca ruin (left), bicycle on trail (center), lunch break (right)
Leaving the outlook over Patallacta we passed another Inca ruin (left, Figure 69). On this first day on the trail we passed by a number of interesting locals including some working on the local cemetery and locals using bicycles (center, Figure 69). We stopped about 1300 hours for an hour’s lunch break and we were surprised when we arrived at lunch site as there was a porter with a G.A.P flag to meet us and direct us to the site at which a dining tent with camp stools and rest area (right, Figure 69) was set up for us. Just as at supper, we were served a three course lunch starting with a hot soup, a hot main course and finally a dessert. The porters actually applauded us as we walked into camp at both lunch and supper. Apparently this was done to raise our morale but it was embarrassing since the porters were carrying very heavy loads and they made it into camp well before us. Occasionally we returned the favour and applauded when porters passed us on the trail.
This first day on the trail we passed by a number of farms or small settlements (Wayllabamba has approximately 400 inhabitants (some 130 families) spread along this portion of the trail). Pack animals - horses, mules, donkeys, and llamas - are allowed on this part of the trail to service the locals (right, Figure 70). At one rest stop there was a small store and a couple of children playing with one the simplest toy possible – a string tied to a stick (center, Figure 70).
For me one of the treats on the Inca Trail seeing the snow-capped peaks of the Urubamba range including beautiful Mount Veronica at 19,188' (left, Figure 70) – see map in Figure 38. Unfortunately the clouds frequently obscured these beautiful mountains. Veronica is more properly known as Huaca Huillca or Waqaywillca but the meaning of the former name is uncertain: huaca means sacred and willca means either sacred object or, in the Aymaran language spoken east of Cusco - sun. Locals also say that Waqaywillca derives from waqay, to cry, and willki, peak or rock, i.e. the name referring to to the numerous streams that come off mountain.
Figure 70. Impressive Mount Veronica (left), children with toy (center), pack horses (right)
Figure 71. A porter’s pack (left), Huayllabamba campsite (center), in bed at 2030 hours (right)
At about 1600 hours we walked into our group’s Huayllabamba campsite (9,891 ft or 3,015 m) that was completely setup and made ready by our porters (center, Figure 71). There were four other groups at the Huayllabamba campsite but they were not close to us which would not be the case at the other campsites. This campsite had the best views of the mountains (click here to see video of campsite).
Before supper we had to treat a blister on Donna’s big toe by puncturing and draining it. My feet were OK but it was clear that my $25 boots from Wal-Mart had stretched and I would need to wear an extra pair of socks or start getting blisters myself.
At our meals, we took a leaf from Andean peoples and had coca tea (hot water on coca leafs) at each meal to hopefully stave off altitude sickness. The Andean peoples use the coca leaf to make the mildly euphoric coca tea that appears to occupy the same space in their culture as our coffee, alcohol and aspirin wrapped into one.
After supper, we were in bed at 2030 hours in preparation for our awake up call at 0500 hours the following morning.
In summary, the first day was relatively easy, covering no more than 10 km in just over 6 hours. However this day started the trend that was to cumulate on Day Four when we arrived last to the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu. The trend was that we arrived last in our group to our evening’s camp. This was simply because Donna found the uphill going to be a great challenge while I found the downhill going to be a challenge to minimize the damage to my arthritic knee.
Day’s Hike Facts:
· Start & End Points: Huayllabamba (3015 m) to Pacaymayo (3600 m)
· Ascent and Descent: Ascent of 3,986 feet (1215 m); Descent of 2,017 feet (615 m).
· Distance: 7.5 miles (12 km)
· Time on trail: 9.25 hours (start @ 0815 hours and finish @ 1730 hours).
· Our rating of day’s hike: Difficult
The first part of Day Two was the long slog ascending to Warmiwañusca or ‘Dead Woman's Pass’, which, at 13,828 feet (4,215 m) above sea level, is the highest point on the trail. The pass’ name refers to its resemblance to a supine woman – note the breast-like feature in the middle of the photograph (center, Figure 73). From everything that we had read, the 4000 foot climb up to this pass was to be the most challenging part of the trek so we were a bit concerned about this day. In the event we were right to be concerned but not because of the ascent rather because of the descent.
Figure 72. Donkey, porters, guide & Donna (left), Warmiwañusca (center), shack with a view (right)
The first 30 minutes of the trail still saw us passing locals including llama herders who move their beasts on the trail (Figure 73). The llama with their two toed feet did not seem to have any problem negotiating the steps of the trail. One Indian family had a simple house with a million dollar view of the snow covered mountains (right, Figure 73).
Figure 73. Passing llamas (left), llama hooves (center), llamas passing guide (right)
Way down in the pasture below us was a flock of llamas grazing (left & right, Figure 74). The pasture had chevron-shaped irrigation ditches (center, Figure 74). The pastoral scene complete with llamas was one of the best scenes that we saw during our stay in Peru.
Figure 74. Llamas in field (left), irrigation ditches in llama pasture (center), llamas in pasture (right)
The stairs up to the pass seemed neverending (right, Figure 75) and Donna wisely took regular mini-breaks. At lunch we had the regular hot meal including soup and as per normal, the porters folded the napkins into an interesting shape – bird-shaped in this case.
Figure 75. Halfway up the pass (left), bird-shaped napkin (center), resting on stairs (right)
Finally after about 6 hours, the summit of Dead Woman's Pass came into view and we happily summitted (left & center, Figure 76) and again our guides collected our cameras for a group photograph (right, Figure 76).
Figure 76. Approaching pass summit (left), summit of Warmiwañusca (center), group at summit (right)
At the summit of the Dead Woman's Pass, I thought that it would be all downhill to our campsite for the night. Indeed it was downhill but it turned out to be a long unrelenting descent to the campsite at Pacaymayu some 2,017 feet below the pass on the other side. The problem descending was the stairs which were irregular so that each had to be taken on its own and establishing a rhythm was not possible. The steepness of the steps would the knees unless we used our hiking poles to reduce the impact by transfer some of the weight to our upper body.
Figure 77. Descending from summit of pass (left), rocky trail (center), relentless descent (right)
Since we would be coming into camp near dusk, the guide sent out a couple of porters to carry our packs and hopefully speed up our arrival. I declined the use of the porter since the weight of my pack was not a factor in determining my speed which was governed up the requirement to avoid jarring impacts on my knee. On the other hand Donna found that giving the porter her pack facilitated her hiking. In any event it was only some 20 minutes more until we arrived at the camp and met the porter holding the campsite pennant (left, Figure 78). After over 9 hours on the trail, Donna was so happy to be finished that she gave the porter a hug and embarrassed him J
At supper our guide suggested that we bring a small stone from the stream to deposit at the top of the pass as it would bring good fortune. However it was very dark and the banks of the stream steep so everyone left it to the morning. However in hurry to get ready in the morning, nobody remembered to pick up their good luck stone.
After supper the Pacaymayu campsite (center & right, Figure 78) had the most stunning star laden skies that I’ve ever seen. There were so many stars that the Milky Way truly looked like a wide stream of milk.
Figure 78. Porter holding campsite pennant (left), Pacaymayu campsite (center), dining tent (right)
In summary Day Two was a hard for Donna during the relentless uphill slog to Dead Woman's Pass while for me was hard during the relentless downhill slog to the camp from Dead Woman's Pass.
Day’s Hike Facts:
· Start & End Points: Pacaymayo (3600 m) to Trekker Hotel near Winay Wayna (2500 m)
· Ascent and Descent: Ascent of 656 feet (200 m); Descent of 3,609 feet (1100 m).
· Distance: 6.8 miles (11 km)
· Time on trail: 11.5 hours (start @ 0700 hours and finish @ 1830 hours).
· Our rating of day’s hike: Difficult
Finally, this was our first full day on the part of the Inca Trail that was actually built by the Incas. It was immediately apparent that the Inca built a trail to a much higher standard than their modern compatriots. They used more stonework and carved out tunnels were required which I’ve never encountered before on the trails that I’ve hiked.
We left the campsite at 0700 hours as the porters were finishing up tearing down our campsite (left, Figure 79). We immediately started a steep ascent to the Runcuracay Pass or second pass on the trail (right, Figure 79). It didn’t take long before a stream of porters started passing us while carrying their heavy and bulky loads (center, Figure 79).
Figure 79. Porters packing up campsite (left), porter on trail (center), toiling up stairs (right)
We were soon above the clouds in the valley (left, Figure 80) and after an hour on the trail we arrived at the beautiful Incan ruin called Runkuracay, "Pile of Ruins", (center & right, Figure 80) at 12,467 feet (3800 m) which was heavily restored. The circular ruin is thought by archaeologists to have been a "tambo", i.e. a resting station for couriers traveling along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Runkuracay contains an area for sleeping and a stable area for their llama pack animals.
Figure 80. Hiking above clouds (left), Runkuracay (center), passing Runkuracay (right)
The couriers working on the expansive Inca route system (Figure 28) were young relay runners (known as chasqui) who had been trained since childhood for the task of carrying messages from tambo to tambo (left, Figure 81). These runners would shout "chasquis" ("receive the message") as they approached a tambo. Arriving at a tambo, a runner would pass off his satchel to a waiting chasqui who would continue running to the next tambo. If an army general in a remote province needed to send a message to Cuzco he would give the oral message to a chasqui, who would start running from his tambo to the next chasqui, waiting outside another tambo. The message would be relayed for hundreds of miles by hundreds of runners, until the last runner reached Cuzco and told the message, exact to the original word, because a severe punishment awaited the transmission of an inaccurate message.
Historical recreationists have concluded that “A message sent by relay runner (Chasqui) from Quito could reach Cusco over a route of 1230 miles (km) in five days. From Cusco, the same message could be sent to the far end of Lake Titicaca in three days….” And famously, “ And in his palace in Cusco, the Inca dined off fresh fish delivered from the Pacific Ocean coast, a distance of 200 miles over the highest Andes, in two days.” (Ref T)
Figure 81. Relay runners (Chasqui) (left), Inca in litter & retinue (center), planting terrace (right) (Ref U)
There was an impressive long line of porters (left, Figure 82) heading up to Runcuracay Pass at 12,705 ft (3850 m). At the top of the pass there was a pond at top and the pass was covered with grass (center, Figure 82). Because we were slow, we only stopped briefly at the top and then pressed on by ourselves down the other side towards the ruins of Sayacmarca at the bottom.
Figure 82. Porters heading to Runcuracay Pass (left), pond at top (center), descending pass (right)
The descent from the summit of the pass was the nicest part of the trail for me as we were by ourselves in a very beautiful alpine setting (left, Figure 83) with colourful flowers along the way (center, Figure 83). The trail hugged the mountain and on our left was a lake named Chaquacha that was small in this dry season (left, Figure 83). We saw several hummingbirds visiting the flowers near us. On the descent, a porter asked us for some gum and I gave him our unopened US $5 pack of gum that we got from the mini-bar at the Sheraton in Bogotá. He was pleased with the gum and we were pleased that we got some value for our extravagance in Bogotá.
Towards the bottom of the descent from the pass, the Incan ruins of Sayaqmarka (11,800 ft/3,600 m) perched atop a sheer rocky spur came in view.
Figure 83. Beautiful alpine setting (left), colourful flowers (center), ruins of Sayacmarca (right)
A single set of narrow, steep set of stairs leading up to Sayacmarca (right, Figure 83) and Donna decided to sit and talk with Luis, our assistant guide and watch the hummingbirds (left, Figure 84) while I climbed up to see the ruins (center & right, Figure 84). The narrow stairs hug the overhanging rock wall with a drop onto the other side.
Sayacmarca ('Dominant Town') at 11,811 feet (3600 m) is called a fortress and it dominants the Incas Trail and could hold a population of 200 people. The village was originally built by the Colla people who were the biggest enemy of the Incas before they established their empire. Perhaps this accounts for the lack of any high standard Inca stonework. There is not room for agriculture at the site but a small ruin named Conchamarka (Shell Town) that is visible across the narrow valley. Conchamarka is a small group of Incan buildings standing on rounded terraces that probably addressed the agricultural problem (left, Figure 85).
Figure 84. Donna & Luis waiting (left), interesting wall at Sayacmarca (center), circular building (right)
Again to increase our speed, our guide arranged for a porter to take Donna’s pack up to our lunch site which was about an hour away. After lunch she carried her pack the rest of the way to the campsite.
Figure 85. Small ruin (left), pretty flowers (center), moss-covered vegetation (right)
Figure 86. Group photograph with cooks, porters and guides at Chaquiqocha campsite
After leaving Sayacmarca, we crossed a small creek and walked past Conchamarke and then the trail started to ascend for about half a mile to the Chaquicocha campground and lunch. Surprisingly the vegetation was very luxurious and rainforest-like (right, Figure 85) on this stretch of the trail. The vegetation is apparently nourished by the moisture in the clouds. The vegetation here reminded me of that in the rainforests on the west coast of Canada.
We stopped for lunch in our dining tent at the Chaquiqocha campsite. After lunch our guide introduced us to our cooks and porters and then we posed for a group photograph (Figure 86).
Following lunch we continued our ascent to the third pass. The trail was rocky which made it difficult to find a steady pace (left, Figure 87). After about an hour we arrive at the first of two Inca tunnel we’d encounter on the trail (center & right, Figure 87). Passing through the 50 foot (15 m) long tunnel was a welcome diversion from the relentless uphill trail.
This section of the trail was different in that it was paved with stones (left & center, Figure 88). This paving increased the trail’s longevity but at the price of making walking along it uncomfortable. However the Incas did build a good trail over difficult terrain.
Figure 87. Rocky trail (left), entrance to Inca tunnel (center), passage through Inca tunnel (right)
Finally about two hours after lunch, we reached the top of the third pass and the campsite (right, Figure 88) near the ruins of Phuyupatamarca. Our guide had told us that his favourite outhouse was at the top of hill at this campsite as there was a magnificent view out of the door. As I needed to have a toilet break, I climbed the hill up to the outhouse (top right of photograph at right, Figure 88). The outhouse was a squat toilet with no toilet paper but it did have a nice view (left, Figure 89).
Figure 88. Trail along edge of mountain (left), wide trail (center), Phuyupatamarca campsite (right)
Unfortunately the clouds occulted the snow-covered Andes Mountains in the distance.
Figure 89. View from outhouse (left), Phuyupatamarca (center), slab bridge at Phuyupatamarca (right)
Leaving the campsite, we immediately came upon the Inca site named Phuyupatamarca meaning “town in the clouds”. The ruins of Phuyupatamarca at 11,811 feet (3600 m) are among the most beautiful on the Inca Trail due to its geometric terracing (center, Figure 89). As its name implies, Phuyupatamarca is frequently in the clouds which is typical of the cloud forests that we encountered on the ascent to the pass. Phuyupatamarca appears to have had some ritual function with the rectangular structures (bottom of center, Figure 89) beside the ruins being baths which were fed from a spring higher up. The highest bath was reserved for the nobles, while the lower classes performed their ritual ablutions in the water which had already been used by the nobles. There was a large stone slab laid across the water channel to act as a bridge (right, Figure 89).
Figure 90. Walking to Phuyupatamarca (left), wall at Phuyupatamarca (right)
Just past the main ruin is a series of impressive terraces (left, Figure 91) that were used to help support a population of some 200 people. The inhabitants had a million dollar view out their window (right, Figure 91).
Figure 91. Terraces at Phuyupatamarca (left), million dollar view from Phuyupatamarca (right)
Figure 92. Adjusting gear on Inca steps (left), orchid (center), descending Inca steps (right)
Leaving Phuyupatamarca the Inca Trail descends a very long series of seemingly neverending Inca steps – some of which are cut into the living rock. Amazingly this section of the trail was only discovered a quarter century ago and opened to trekkers in 1985. Formerly, hikers followed a section of non-Inca trail. What other Inca works lie hidden by the ground cover?
These steps were an impressive construction but they were hardly uniform in height varying from a reasonable rise to a rise that is very high. Donna found these downhill steps a challenge as they were at times too high to be comfortable for shorter folks
Again we passed through an Inca tunnel (left, Figure 94) but this time it was a longer and steeply descending one. There was a set of stairs inside the tunnel to facilitate the descent (center, Figure 94). Exiting the tunnel we were on a shelf that followed along a rock face (right, Figure 94). All in all, this tunnel was a very impressive construction and one of the more interesting parts of the Inca Trail.
Figure 94. Entering Inca tunnel (left), stairs inside tunnel (center), trail on shelf along rock face (right)
Due to my arthritic knee I found these neverending Inca steps to be time consuming as I had use my poles to avoid jarring my knee. We made slow but steady progress down to the final campsite at the Trekker Hotel. However as dusk was coming on and we were close to the campsite, Luis took us down a back route to the campsite.
Descending to the campsite we were jolted back into the modern world as we could see Aguas Calientes way down below in the Urubamba Valley (left, Figure 95) and a high tension power line with its tall pylons crossing the mountain side below us (left, Figure 96). These intrusions by the modern world into our Inca Trail world were disappointing but inevitable.
Figure 95. Aguas Caliente in valley (left), Winay Wayna (center), gathering dusk (right)
We could see the impressive ruins of Wiñay Wayna ("forever young", named after an orchid species) on the hillside (center, Figure 95). Its agricultural terraces look like an enormous amphitheatre set against a forested backdrop.
We had a good view of the Urubamba River and the Urubamba Range (center, Figure 96) in the gathering dusk. Snaking up the mountain side from the Urubamba River was the “two-day trail to Machu Picchu” (center, Figure 96) which starts at Km 104 near the ruins of Chachabamba (left, Figure 121) and meets up with the Inca Trail at Wiñay Wayna.
Finally at about 1815 hours as dusk fell we made it to the big campsite at the Trekker Hotel. Donna wanted a beer at the Trekker Hotel and asked Luis, our assistant guide, if he wanted a beer too and he agreed. The Trekker Hotel was our strongest reminder yet that our return to the modern world was just a short time away. This is a large building that sells hot showers, meals and drinks. We bought a couple of beer tickets and then went to the ‘bar’ to pick up the beers. After Donna and Luis had their beers we walked in the gathering darkness through a number of other group’s campsites to reach our group’s campsite. We had just enough time to arrange our bedding before our last supper.
At supper our guide Jeremy explained that our porters would be heading directly down to Aguas Calientes so this was the time to tip them – he suggested $25 per person. We pooled our money into serviette basket and then went outside the dining tent to present the pooled tips to the head porter for his distribution to the cooks and porters. We surmised that the porters were happy with their tips as late into the night, the porters were noisily letting off steam in the dining tent which was right next to our tent.
Figure 96. Urubamba River and 2 day trail (left), Urubamba Range (center), porter tip time (right)
The downhill section to the campsite went on and on and on. I began to think that we’d never get there but we soldiered on like the determined Galápagos tortoises. About a half hour out of camp, Luis, the assistant guide, met us at a junction in the trail and walked with us to the final campsite. We arrived at the campsite at dusk and stopped in to the bar and shower building to buy Luis and Donna a beer. After supper, we pooled our tips for the porters.
184.108.40.206 Inca Trail Trek: Day Four (Tue, 26 August) - Machu Picchu
Day’s Hike Facts:
· Start & End Points: Trekker Hotel (2500 m) to Machu Picchu (2400 m)
· Ascent and Descent: Ascent of 712 feet (212 m); Descent of 1,000 feet (305 m).
· Distance: 4.4 miles (7 km)
· Time on trail: 2.5 hours (start @ 0530 hours and finish @ 0800 hours).
· Our rating of day’s hike: Moderate
This day was to be the culmination of all the effort as we were to finally reach Machu Picchu (Figure 97). We got up at 0430 hours for a breakfast at 0500 hours and a start at 0530 hours. Using our headlights (left, Figure 98), we only walked for about 15 minutes where we queued up at the control point for its opening at 0600 hours. I think that this control point was used to control people arriving on the 1 day route to Machu Picchu.
Passing through the control point we were off on our hike to the Sun Gate to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu. We had been advised by our guide, Luis, to stay the mountainside of the trail as there would be many hikers rushing to get to Machu Picchu despite the fact that ‘Machu Picchu would be there regardless of when they arrived’.
Figure 97. Aerial view of the final day of the Inca Trail
The darkness only last for about a half hour after which the growing light was sufficient and headlamps were not needed anymore. The trail was precarious at times as it hugged the mountain side (center, Figure 98). Some of the rock was covered with interesting and colourful patches of lichen (center, Figure 98). As we neared the Sun Gate, we encountered a very steep set of stairs which Donna surmounted using her hands like climbing a ladder (right, Figure 98).
Figure 98. Queuing at 05:30 AM (left), trail hugs edge (center), steep stairs near Sun Gate (right)
It was a longer hike then I imagined and we were passed by all the other hikers along the way. However, we did arrive at the Sun Gate (right, Figure 99) at 8900 ft (2712 m) just in time at 0649 hours to see the first rays of the sun strike the ruins of Machu Picchu (Figure 100), designated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 1997.
Figure 99. Cusco mural of Sun Gate (left), Donna welcomed by Luis at Sun Gate (right)
Starting at 0649 hours it only took four minutes for Machu Picchu to be fully illuminated by the sun (Figure 100 and Figure 101). With the sun risen over Machu Picchu, the site was impressive from Huayna Picchu to its agricultural terraces (click here to see movie).
Figure 100. 1st sunlight hits Machu Picchu at 06:49:00 AM (left), sunlight at 06:49:06 AM (right)
Figure 101. Sunlight at 06:53:02 AM (left), at 06:56:47 AM (right)
After leaving the Sun Gate at 0700 hours, we started the 900 feet (300 m) hike down to Machu Picchu. Surprisingly it took us about an hour to reach the area of Machu Picchu. It was a long final leg of our Inca Trail trek but the views of Machu Picchu were worth it (left, Figure 102).
As we walked down from the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu, we began to encounter our first tourists who had arrived at Machu Picchu by bus from Aguas Calientes. It was a bit of a shock to see people without packs on the trail and there was a momentary feeling of superiority because we had gotten to Machu Picchu the hard way. However that feeling soon passed as we entered the ant hive of tourists on the main site at Machu Picchu.
Figure 102. Nearing Machu Picchu (left), Machu Picchu mural at Cusco artisan’s market (right)
When we tore our eyes away from Machu Picchu and looked across the Urubamba Valley, we saw a beautiful scene created by the shadows of the mountains in the morning mist (left, Figure 103).
On the terraces located on the SE side of the urban section of Machu Picchu we came across the first of several llamas that we would see grazing at Machu Picchu. These free roaming llamas are kept to mow the grass and to add to the Peruvian atmosphere which they certainly do (right, Figure 103).
Figure 103. Mountain shadows across valley from Machu Picchu (left), llamas at Machu Picchu (right)
As fans of travel, we are a big fan of the "Where the Hell is Matt?" video on YouTube. To date over 11 million people have watched this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNF_P281Uu4). Matthew Harding spent 14 months visiting 42 countries in order to produce "Where the Hell is Matt?", a four-and-a-half minute video featuring Harding doing an incredibly silly, high-energy dance at of some of the most breathtaking locations around the globe. One of these locations is Machu Picchu (center, Figure 104) and Donna performed a very good dance of her own at Machu Picchu (left & right, Figure 104) – click here to see movie clip.
Figure 104. Eat your heat out Matt – Where the Hell is Donna?
Machu Picchu sits at 7,875 ft on top of a mountain ridge between two peaks of different size. The smaller peak, called the "Huayna Picchu", is the one most often seen in photographs of the ruins. With the passing of the centuries, the ruins' original name has been forgotten. The name "Machu Picchu" comes simply from words in Quechuan that describe its geography. It literally means "old peak", just as "Huaynu Picchu" is "young peak". The more accurate translation relates to the concept of size, with Machu Picchu as the "bigger peak" and Huayna Picchu, the "smaller peak" (click here to see movie of site).
Figure 105. Our trekking group at Machu Picchu
We stopped briefly on the terraces located on the SE side of the urban section of Machu Picchu to have a group photograph taken by our guides at the location where the iconic photograph of Machu Picchu are taken (Figure 105). After which we descended down to the INC tourist entrance to officially enter the Machu Picchu urban section and for a bathroom and snack break. I shared my sandwich with a friendly dog that was patrolling the picnic tables.
Although the local Quechua farmers in the area knew of Machu Picchu for centuries, Machu Picchu was only brought to the world’s attention when an 11-year-old boy led Hiram Bingham to the site in 1911. He thought that he had located the Vilcabamba, the so-called Lost City of the Inca where the last of the independent Inca rulers waged a years-long battle against Spanish conquistadors. However in 1964, adventurer Gene Savoy identified ruins and proved that Espiritu Pampa (in the Vilcabamba region of Peru, west of Machu Picchu) was the lost city that Bingham had originally sought.
Why was Machu Picchu "lost"? Well … Around A.D. 1200, a powerful South American tribe began to conquer weaker tribes and united them into one empire, known as the Inca Empire. The Inca Empire was a large and successful one that stretched along the western part of South America, down the Andes Mountains, from what is now Colombia to Chile. Before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, the smallpox spread ahead of them. Fifty percent of the population had been killed by the disease by 1527. The government began to fail and part of the empire seceded leading to civil war lead by two brothers fighting to succeed their father as the Inca. Effectively the Incan Empire ended in approximately A.D. 1532, when the Spaniard Pizarro arrived in Cusco and the Incans were unable to defeat them.
If the sites here were built by Inca Pachacuti in the ten year period starting about 1450 AD and populated by members of his clan or ayllu, they may have gone into a decline in the generations after his death due to the afremention smallpox epidemic and civil war. Hence before the Spanish arrived in Cusco in 1532 Machu Picchu was already largely forgotten. When the Inca ruler, Manco Inca, and his large army failed to overthrow the Spanish invaders in A.D. 1536, the Inca fled from their imperial capital at Cusco and took refuge in the Vilcabamba wilderness. This protracted struggle between the Spanish and the remnants of the Inca at Vilcabamba reduced the remaining population Machu Picchu region as did the scorched-earth policy of the late Inca rulers Tupac Amaru and his brother Titu Cusi. These last Inca rulers lived at Vilcabamba for 36 years, until the Spanish finally penetrated the area and killed the last Inca ruler, Tupac Amaru in 1572, bringing an end to the Inca Empire.
Even at it height, it may have been that few people outside the Inca’s closest retainers were actually aware of Machu Picchu’s existence since access to the site via the Inca trails could have been tightly controlled.
Figure 106. Profile view of Machu Picchu site from Llactapata
In 2003, a team claimed to have “discovered” an Incan site that overlooks Machu Picchu from a location 4 km across the valley southwest of it (Figure 106). Curiously this site was named Llactapata (a combination of two Quechua words meaning ‘high town’) by Hiram Bingham in 1912. In short given the number of the Incan sites that are still “discovered” today and do not appear in the Spanish chronicles, it would seem that the area was abandoned before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores.
Figure 107. Machu Picchu in 1912 photo by Hiram Bingham (left), Flat Stan at Machu Picchu (right)
In 1911, the site was covered in thick vegetation, and Bingham and his team returned in 1912 (left, Figure 107) and 1915 to clear the growth. Over the years, much work has been done on excavating and studying the site. However it turned out that there were no accounts of Machu Picchu in any of the much-studied chronicles of the Spanish invasion and occupation. There was nothing to document that it even existed at all, let alone its purpose. However modern research indicates that Machu Picchu was built around A.D. 1450 not as a defensive stronghold, but as a retreat for the Inca ruler Pachacuti and the Inca elites wanting to escape the noise and congestion of Cusco (Ref J). It was built around the year 1450, but abandoned a hundred years later, at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. At its peak, the population of Machu Picchu was relatively small by Inca standards and maintained only about 500 to 750 people. Its food supply likely came from its terraces and the surrounding hills.
Figure 108. Map of Machu Picchu
It has recently come to light that the site may have been discovered and looted in 1867 (with the permission of the Peruvian government of the day) by a German businessman, Augusto Berns (Ref M). It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
Happily in September 2007, Yale University agreed to return to Peru some of the thousands of artifacts that Bingham removed to Yale to study during his years of exploration and research. These items will go into a new museum that the Peruvian government has agreed to build in Cusco.
We then proceeded on our guide’s tour of Machu Picchu urban section during which we had to climb up and down through the site. This extra climbing up and down brought us closer to the point of deciding that enough was enough but the site was fascinating enough to keep us going.
Machu Picchu was not a large Incan site. Its population has been estimated at about 1,000. The main part of the site is essentially two ridges with terraces and buildings separated by flat area. There are lots of agricultural terraces at and near the site, so it is possible that it shipped food to sites like Sayacmarca on the Inca Trail. In addition to the 200 or so residential buildings, the site has a number of unique structures that appear to have had spiritual or ritual functions.
Figure 109. House of the Guardians (left), Urubamba Valley (center), llamas on terraces (right)
A lot of the buildings at Machu Picchu have been restored and some have even had their steep thatched roofs restored (left & right, Figure 109). It is interesting to see how the roofs were held on in the face of high winds. As can be seen the wooden frames holding on the thatching are lashed to stone posts (right, Figure 110) jutting out from the stonewalls (left & center, Figure 110).
Figure 110. Houses of Factories (left), roof posts (center), roof lashed to roof posts (right)
Figure 111. Upper most ritual fountain (left), fountain 5 outflow (center), Industrial Zone thru garden (right)
Near the Temple of the Sun are a couple of ritual fountains (left & center, Figure 111). The water system that served these fountains of Machu Picchu had been disrupted and the fountains dry for many years. The restoration of Machu Picchu's water system was completed in 1996 and involved re-establishing the water flow into Machu Picchu from a couple of springs, one of which is located a distance of 749 m up at the Sun Gate. The upper most ritual fountain (left, Figure 111) is believed to have served the residence of the Emperor Pachacuti. Fountain 5 was my favourite (center, Figure 111) since for no apparent practical reason the Incans stonemasons split its outflow channel into two curving channels that rejoin before falling over Fountain 6.
Temple of the Sun circular shape and fine stonework was reminiscent of the Coricancha Temple in Cusco. The Temple of the Sun was unique amongst the building due to its circular shape. Unfortunately one cannot enter the temple that has an altar inside that was used for animal sacrifices and like the Greek seers the Incan priests read the entrails of the animals to aid in their religious predictions. It is believed that the temple was also used determine the solstices and for observation of the constellation of Pleiades which helped the Inca calculate when the rains would come, helping them pick the right time to plant their crops. The picture of the Temple of the Sun in 1911 (right, Figure 112 from Ref P) shows that apart from the removal of vegetation, little was needed to be done in terms of restoration.
Figure 112. Temple of the Sun (left), temple (L center), cave at bottom (R center), temple in 1911 (right)
The walk up to the Intihuatana stone was very interesting as finally we got to see the impressive Nevado Salkantay which at 20,575 ft (6,275.4 m) high is the highest mountain in the Andes in southern Peru (see map in Figure 38). Salkantay was revered by the Incas as a sacred peak. For the Inca, mountain gods associated with high peaks governed the wild plants and animals, crops and herds, waters, and people in the surrounding region. The Incan reverence for their mountain gods was such that they practiced a ritual known as "capacocha" to appease the mountain gods and to assure rain, abundant crops, protection, and order for the Inca people. Sacrifices often coincided with remarkable occasions such as earthquakes, eclipses, droughts. On these occasions the Incas were required to offer valuables from the highest regions they could reach - the ice-clad summits of Andean peaks. The valuables included children between the ages of six and ten who sacrificed and entombed to appease mountain deities. Some of these sacrifices occurred on the top of very high peaks despite the incredible effort required due to the thin air and life-threatening cold of the high Andes. In 1995, a mummy named Juanita was found at 20,000 feet near the summit of Mt. Ampato by Johan Reinhard, an anthropologist (Ref S).
Figure 113. Snowcovered Nevado Salkantay (20,575 ft) (left), chinchilla (right)
Amazingly we saw a rabbit-sized chinchilla perched comfortably on the side of a large rock. The chinchilla is a rodent that is native to the Andes Mountains. The animal (whose name literally means "little Chincha") is named after the Chincha people of the Andes, who wore its soft and dense fur. The demand for their fur caused them had become quite rare in the wild. Apart from man, their predators include birds of prey, skunks and snakes. In their native habitat, chinchillas live in burrows or crevices in rocks.
Figure 114. Oops! (left), Will that be fries with the llama burger? (center), "echo stone" mt. model (right)
Just before arriving at the platform with the Intihuatana stone we saw our first Incan building that was suffering from a foundation failure (left, Figure 114) – apparently the ground in one corner could not support the weight of the stonewalls. Nearby was a set of steps carved into the granite rock (center, Figure 114) and a model in stone of the mountains in the distance (right, Figure 114). These models are called "echo stones" or "image stones" were carved to resemble the contours of mountains in the distance. There are several echo stones at Machu Picchu.
Figure 115. Intihuatana (left), dropoff to river behind Intihuatana (center), path beside dropoff (right)
Intihuatana stones were the supremely sacred objects of the Inca people. The name means "hitching post of the sun" and these stones were arranged so as to point directly at the sun on the winter solstice (when the sun reaches its furthest northern point in the southern hemisphere). Each midwinter, the Incas would gather at these stones and hold a religious ceremony called Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) in honour of the sun god Inti wherein they "tied" the sun to stop its northern movement. During the rest of the year, the Intihuatana could be used to determine the date, observe other astronomical phenomena and to control agricultural activities.
The solstice (when the sun stands still) was particularly meaningful for the Inca, who believed that they were descended from the sun god Inti. Their two major religious ceremonies were held during the solstices. The June solstice was celebrated with a ceremony called Inti Raymi which offerings of food, animals, and perhaps even people were made. Machu Picchu includes a semi-circular structure called the "Temple of the Sun" that was constructed around a large boulder. During the June Solstice, the sun shines through a temple window and aligns with both the boulder within and the tip of a nearby mountain peak (Ref I). The arrangement may have formed an ancient sighting device. It also links the sun, mountains and ancient rock as important aspects of Inca religion.
The Inca believed that when the Intihuatana stone was broken at an Inca shrine, the deities of the place died or departed. Hence given their importance, the Intihuatana stones were systematically searched for and destroyed by the Spaniards. Since the Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, its Intihuatana stone remains in its original position. While the Intihuatana survived the Spanish conquest undamaged, it did not survive modern commercialism. On 11 September 2000 during the filming of a commercial for Cervesur Beer (Peru's largest beer company), a 990-pound crane fell on the stone and chipped off a thin sliver the length of a ballpoint pen. Perhaps Machu Picchu's deities departed after that damage.
It was very interesting to see such an important stone that was the last of its kind in Peru (left, Figure 115).
Behind the Intihuatana we descend to a very narrow pathway which ran along a very steep and long dropoff (center & right, Figure 115). The walk along it down to the ‘main square’ in front of the ‘Houses of Factories’ (left, Figure 110) was enervating.
Figure 116. Huayna Picchu (left), stonewall corridor (center), llama and tourists on terraces (right)
From the ‘main square’ we could see the ruins at the top of Huayna Picchu (left, Figure 116) which is the high peak behind Machu Picchu that is seen on most photographs. Huayna Picchu is about 400 m higher than the rest of the city and there are restrictions on access to the path to the top. These restrictions are that there is a limit of 400 people per day and the cutoff to the trail is 1300 hours. Only one member of our group went up Huayna Picchu and to ensure that she got a ticket, she ran from our last campsite to Machu Picchu nearby missing seeing the sunrise over Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. In any event, we were impressed by the structures built on the steep sides of Huayna Picchu.
As the morning wore on, it became very hot as the sun rose. In fact it became uncomfortably hot to wander around the ruins during our hour of free time. As we made our way back to the bus dropoff point, we passed through some impressive corridors formed by high stonewalls forming the terraces and houses (right, Figure 116) and squeezed by some llamas busy grazing (left, Figure 117).
Figure 117. Meeting llama (left), badge on PeruRail engine (center), Hiram Bingham luxury coach (right)
There is a growing number of people visit Machu Picchu (some 400,000 in 2003) which raises concern about their impact on the site. During our visit there were tourist moving over the site like an army of ants (right, Figure 116). Mostly the number of tourists was an annoyance since they detracted from the site’s ambience however at times, their colourful clothing against the ruins in the distance did bring the ruins alive and make them resemble a colourful Peruvian hat.
Our train was scheduled to leave about 1348 hours so at 1200 hours we caught the bus for the 30 minute descent down the mountain on the serpentine Hiram Bingham Highway with its numerous impressive switchbacks to the town of Aguas Calientes. We had planned to go to the hot spring at Aguas Calientes but our guide advised against it due to the state of the water given the number of hikers who would likely be using the hot springs. After that caution, I was concerned about picking up an infection in our cuts and blisters so skipped the pool.
We had lunch at a small restaurant alongside the narrow gauge rail tracks of PeruRail that run through town. I bought a beer for one of porters who had delivered our bags at the restaurant. During our lunch, we were serenaded by an excellent Peruvian musical group (click here to see movie of group).
Figure 118. Restaurant and train (left), Peruvian musical group (center), lunch (right)
From our restaurant table, we watched PeruRail’s freight trains and the luxurious PeruRail ‘Hiram Bingham’ train (right, Figure 117) pull into town on the tracks just 10 feet from us. The ‘Hiram Bingham’ train with its distinctive blue and gold livery consists of 4 cars: 2 dining cars, a bar and a kitchen car. PeruRail operates at wide variety of rail services over the narrow gauge tracks between Cusco and Aguas Calientes (trains actual start some 20 minutes north of Cusco at Poroy probably to avoid some very slow sections of track – see Figure 119). The price of a ticket varies widely depending on the class of service, e.g. a ticket on the Backpacker train between Cusco and Aguas Calientes cost US$31 to $48 while a ticket on the ‘Hiram Bingham’ cost US$330.
Figure 119. PeruRail line between Cusco (Poroy) and Aguas Calientes
Figure 120. Tourist with intravenous bag (left), blistered foot (center), in Backpacker coach (right)
After lunch we picked up our duffle bag and sleeping bag from a couple of our porters and headed down the tracks to the railway station. At the station, there was a European woman using an intravenous drip (perhaps heat exhaustion) being helped on to the train (left, Figure 120) as we got on one of the ‘backpacker’ railcars and were able to stretch out comfortably on the seats, air out Donna’s blistered toes (center, Figure 120) and watch the countryside pass by as we followed along the Urubamba River (center & right, Figure 121).
Just outside of Aguas Calientes we passed the ruins of Chachabamba (left, Figure 121). It is located at Km 104 where the two day trek to Machu Picchu starts. The ruins of Chachabamba were rediscovered in 1940 and are situated on the ancient Incan road that was located along the south side of the Urubamba River. Some archaeologists suggest that the style of buildings and precision stonework indicate that Chachabamba was an important religious site. In addition, Chachabamba is thought to have protected this entrance to Machu Picchu.
Figure 121. Ruins of Chachabamba (left), our train (center), Rio Urubamba (right)
Figure 122. Cloudy mountains (left), tired trekker (center), cattle pulling wooden plows (right)
The trip from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo took some two hours as the train moved slowly and at least twice had to wait for oncoming rail traffic to pass before proceeding. In any event it was an enjoyable trip (center, Figure 122) and offered some glimpses of glacier-capped peaks (left, Figure 122) and farmers plowing field using cattle to pull primitive wooden plows (right, Figure 122).
We arrived at Ollantaytambo at 1600 hours and boarded a waiting mini-bus for the two hour ride back to Cusco. For our return, we took a different route and headed south at the town of Urubamba and climbed out of the Urubamba Valley (left, Figure 123). Cresting the valley, we entered a large rolling plain covered with ranches and farms. The views of Nevado Chicón (18,143 ft or 5530 m) across the cattle ranches were impressive (right, Figure 123). We passed through the small town of Chinchero before descending into Cusco and its rush hour (left, Figure 23).
Figure 123. Urubamba River Valley (left), Nevado Chicón (18,143 ft) (right)
We arrived back at our hotel near 1800 hours and unpacked and then headed out for a farewell supper with our guide Jeremy despite being very tired and sore. At the supper we pooled our tips for him which were about US $20 per person (right, Figure 23).
I think that this is just about the last
chance that we would have to do the Inca Trail as my knees are really not up to
this type of workout anymore. The trail was a lot of up, followed be a lot of
down and I could really only use one leg to handle the effort. As a result, we
were very slow on the trail and finished last in our group each day - but at
least we finished and did not have to be evacuated or go to hospital.
Due to the popularity of the Inca Trail, there are several alternative treks available such as Salkantay, Lares and Choquequirao. While these treks have their merits, I wanted to hike on a trail made by the Incas that passes by numerous Incan ruins, ends up at Machu Picchu and would allow us to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. Taking any of the alternative treks would not meet these goals.
In the final analysis I found the Inca Trail to be challenging because the osteoarthritis in my knee caused the downhill sections to be trying due to the jarring. As I had done many such hikes in my younger days, I knew the effort that would be required for the uphill slogs and these did not prove more difficult than expected. Donna on the other hand had no experience with this type of demanding hiking and showed great perseverance to successfully complete the Inca Trail.
The enablers for our hiking were knee braces and hiking poles. The knee brace help me to avoid getting fluid on my arthritic knee. The hiking poles enable us to use our arm strength to assist our leg muscles and to stabilize us when on the uneven stone paved trails and irregular steps. Thankfully we never fell or suffered from diarrhea which indicates the quality of the food and water prepared for us.
I was glad to have made the trip to Machu Picchu over the Inca Trail as it fulfilled two of my long held goals. As well it showed us that we could still successfully complete a physically demanding activity of a multi-day duration and at altitude to boot. Therefore a climb up Kilimanjaro (19,340) is not unimaginable!
The most important lesson that I learned from our Inca Trail hike was that we could successfully complete this major physical effort by emulating the Galápagos tortoises that we had seen. They move slowly but steadily but they are well in the distance when you look for them having gotten bored and stopped watching them for awhile. At no time did we come close to quitting rather we were simply going at a pace that we could sustain.
In the end Machu Picchu was very interesting, with a wonderful setting, but our trip to the Galápagos was more interesting to us probably because the Galápagos is alive with creatures while Machu Picchu lacks any living Incas!
2.3.3 Amazon Jungle in Peru (27-30 August)
Of the 16 people on our Inca Trail trek, only 7 had opted to go on the jungle trip which was surprising as I did not even realize that it was an extension. In any event we would have taken the extension since we enjoyed our jungle trip in the Orinoco delta area of Venezuela. Five of the seven people were from Canada, apart from us there were Nikki, Ian and Pat from Calgary, so it was like a homecoming.
Again on the flight, we passed by the beautiful Andes but this time they were enveloped by what appeared to be smog (left, Figure 124). Nearing Puerto Maldonado we followed a river and saw several big bends that appeared to be an oxbow lake forming (center, Figure 124). At the airport we quickly got our luggage and then boarded a bus but while waiting to leave I went over to look at the old Antonov An-2 on display (right, Figure 124).
Figure 124. Haze over Andes (left), oxbow lake forming (center), Antonov An-2 at airport (right)
Puerto Maldonado is located in the state of Madre de Dios. It is 55 km west of the Bolivian border on the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios River, a tributary of the Amazon River. Nearby are mountainous cloud forests and low-lying rainforests containing some of the richest biodiversity and most interesting ecosystems on earth. They more than double the vegetative matter per year (2 kg/m2/yr) than temperate forests and have unsurpassed species diversity. Recently with the ‘global warming’ concern their importance as a carbon sink has been highlighted.
Flying into Puerto Maldonado I noticed many areas that appeared to have been deforested (left, Figure 125). When we drove from the airport into Puerto Maldonado, we passed a sawmill near the airport cutting up very large logs (right, Figure 125). As well on the drive from Puerto Maldonado to the landing on the Tambopata River, we saw jungle patches subjected to slash and burn agriculture (center, Figure 125).
Figure 125. Clearcut & farming in jungle (left), slash & burn (center), logs at saw mill near airport (right)
In 2005, Peru's deforestation rate was estimated at 716,000 acres (290,000 hectares) per year in part due to the Chinese rapacious demand for natural resources (Ref Q). Since Peru has a smaller area of forest and some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, the threat of deforestation is that much more immediate and profound.
Given the luxurious growth in this triple canopy jungle it is paradoxical that the jungle soil is not very fertile and in fact it is poor. This is because over the eons, some 95% of the soil nutrients have become locked up in the living matter and the recycling of nutrients from the dead is fast and extremely efficient. The poor soil fertility explains why farming on most tropical forest soils is non-sustainable and leaves permanent scars on land which cannot be colonized effectively by the forest again.
Puerto Maldonado was originally founded for the collection of wild rubber in the Amazon forest (there were no rubber plantations) at the end of the 19th century. The rubber boom ended as suddenly with the establishment of rubber plantations in East Asia using seeds stolen from Peru by the Englishman Henry Wickham in 1876. The area's importance quickly declined and workers left Madre de Dios in the thousands.
Attempts to colonise the area of the state of Madre de Dios began in 1473 when the Inca Tupac Yupanqui sent an expedition into the region which was repelled by the fierce Tacana Indians. Despite this, the Incas continued to trade peacefully with a number of the more friendly tribes and they placed great spiritual value on the forests. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores several expeditions were sent into the forests, more often than not in search of Paititi, the mythical lost city of gold reputed to be hidden somewhere in the vast jungles of the Amazon. Between 1567 and 1569, Juan Alvarez Maldonado explored extensively down the Madre de Dios River as far as the River Heath, the frontier with Bolivia. He returned eventually, frustrated by the difficulties of disease and the dangerous Tacana. The provincial capital, Puerto Maldonado, was named after him.
We found Puerto Maldonado to be a gritty frontier city (left, Figure 126). Its chief industries are logging, gold dredging, Brazil-nut collecting, boat building and eco-tourism. Currently the pull of the Chinese market is accelerating resource extraction and leading to enhanced deforestation.
We stopped in Puerto Maldonado at the lodge's office as we had to pack everything we needed in the lodge's two duffel bags provided to us (center, Figure 126). We left most of our stuff in storage in our big blue piece of luggage which meant that we luggage in storage across Peru, i.e. in Lima in the west and in Puerto Maldonado in the east. We reboarded the bus and drove out of Puerto Maldonado on a dirt road through farm and jungle areas for about an hour until we arrived at a landing on the banks of the Tambopata River.
Figure 126. Puerto Maldonado (left), repacking for lodge (center), heading up river to lodge (right)
The seven of us, our guide and boat operator boarded our long boat that had an outboard motor and then headed up the Tambopata River (right, Figure 126) towards the Libertador Tambopata Eco-Lodge. Once underway, our guide gave us a good box lunch.
Figure 127. Location in southeastern Peru (left), location on Tambopata River (center), closeup (right)
The Libertador Tambopata Eco-Lodge was founded in 1991 and it is one of nine rainforest lodges in the Puerto Maldonado area. With a capacity of 59 people it is one of the smallest lodges. The lodge employs around twenty Peruvian staff, the majority of whom are resident in Puerto Maldonado. In addition, they use the services of a number of naturalist guides. Our guide, Luis, was born in Puerto Maldonado and worked in the logging industry until he went to university to get his tourist guide degree.
Figure 128. Orange leaf tree (left), three river turtles (center), bird on river bank (right)
The lodge is situated on the banks of the Tambopata River in the heart of the Tambopata National Reserve (TNR) on the edge of the Bahuaja Sonene National Park. The TNR is a large area (680,000 acres) protected by the Peruvian law that supposedly restricts the entrance of people into such areas (except under very special circumstances). However, there are squatters within the reserve who have staked land claims and who cannot be ignored.
The trip on the river was like our trip down the Orinoco River Delta in Venezuela and I enjoyed every minute of it. The passing scenes were fascinating to watch and there was always the hope that we would see some interesting jungle wildlife such as a monkey, caiman or colourful parrots. We did see some trees with orange leaves (left, Figure 128) and a trio of turtles on a log (center, Figure 128) and some birds along the river bank (right, Figure 128 and center, Figure 133).
We stopped to pass through a control point located high on a bluff at the confluence of the Tambopata and La Torre Rivers. That this was the dry season was emphatically demonstrated by the landing at the base of the control point. We climbed up the steep staircase to reach the control point (center, Figure 129) where our passports were checked and stamped with an interesting stamp. Unfortunately our passports were damaged by water when they were in my pocket and we were caught in a one and a half hour long downpour while walking on a jungle trail.
Figure 129. Tambopata River (left), control post (center), our boat at control post (right)
In the patch of jungle around the control point our guide showed us a baby pineapple plant and a cashew bush. The later was ironic since I was carrying half a kilo of cashews bought at Wal-Mart back home in Ottawa – it was equivalent of carrying coals to Newcastle!
Apart from seeing the nests of the interesting weaver birds hanging high in the trees (Figure 137), we really were not seeing much wildlife. However, as we were approaching the lodge, I saw a group of black birds congregating on the exposed sandy river bank ahead so I decide to that their photograph. It was fortunate that I did since our guide pointed out that the reason these birds were congregating was because they were waiting for the capybaras to emerge from the water hole. As our boat approached, the herd of seven capybaras suddenly emerged from the water hole and I was able to capture them both on still photographs and on movie clips. Seeing the large capybaras up close made my day as I’d see pictures of them years ago on wildlife TV programs. They look so unusual (click here to see movie of capybaras).
Figure 131. Capybaras in water hole with cleaning birds (left), capybaras moving along river bank (right)
Figure 132. Capybaras exiting water hole in river (left), Capybaras re-enter river carrying birds (right)
The capybara (majas in Spanish) is the largest living rodent in the world and it’s related to chinchilla and guinea pig. The name capybara is derived from Kapiÿva in the Guarani language which means "master of the grasses". Capybaras can grow to 4.3 ft (130 centimetres) long and weigh up to 140 lb (65 kg). They are herbivores who eat mainly grasses and aquatic plants. To protect themselves from sunburn, they like to roll in mud.
Our guide mentioned that during the period of Lent, capybara meat is especially popular as it is claimed that the Catholic Church classified the animal as a fish in a special dispensation during the 16th century. Apparently a group of 16th Century missionaries who made a request which implied that the semi-aquatic capybara might be a fish and also hinted that there would be an issue with starvation if the animal wasn't classified as suitable for Lent.
We were amused that our key to our room at the lodge was attached to a wooden figure of a capybara so I used it to illustrate the size of the capybara’s three-toed foot prints that we saw later when we visited a local farmer’s farm (left, Figure 133).
Figure 133. Capybaras foot prints & room key (left), vultures in river (center), bird on river bank (right)
After passing the capybaras we docked at lodge and hiked up the long stairs on the steep bank – surprisingly the stair were a challenge even after having just completed the Inca Trail. Immediately we saw some beautiful moths by the river’s edge (left, Figure 134) and marmosets (center, Figure 134) and a chicken-like bird (right, Figure 134) beside the dining room.
Figure 134. Beautiful moths (left), Goeldi's Marmoset/Monkey (center), lodge’s resident bird (right)
We checked into our very nice room in the modern bungalow and had the afternoon free until supper at 1900 hours and our night walk along a jungle trail. Of course as it is a jungle there were a number of health and safety warnings amongst which the following stood out:
· Wear footwear at all times when walking around the lodge complex. Hookworm can be contracted through the soles of feet if walking on infected soil.
· Clothes should not be left to dry outside overnight as the Botfly, whose larvae are parasitic, tend to lay their eggs on wet clothing and the eggs hatch on contact with warm skin. All clothing should be hung up inside your room during the night.
The lodge itself combines native architectural style and materials with low-impact eco-friendly technology. The bungalows look brand new (left, Figure 135) and their rooms are simple but comfortable, with mosquito netting for individual beds, flush toilets (put toilet paper in garbage), showers (solar heating), and candles for lighting (no electricity). We did not notice any mosquitoes so we didn’t bother with the bed’s mosquito netting. The first night it was an ideal temperature for sleeping without the use of bed clothes but the second was considerably colder and we had to use the alpaca blankets provided.
Figure 135. Our bungalow (left), hammock on porch (center), refuelling kerosene lamps (right)
In the afternoon Donna decided to relax on the hammock and read her book (center, Figure 135) while I walked down a jungle trail for a swim in the Gallocunca Stream beside the lodge. The swimming hole was at the end of a jungle path and along the way I saw some marmosets high up in the trees. The swimming hole had warm brown water and a large fallen log across it (center, Figure 136). I swam around for a bit and then decided to see what was on the shady side of the log. To my surprise there was a large six legged spider which must have lost two of its legs to something (right, Figure 136). However to its left I suddenly noticed an even larger spider that had all eight of its legs (left, Figure 136). As I had never seen such large spiders, I got my camera for the shore to capture some photographic evidence. As I was in the water taking a series of pictures, something kept bumping into my leg and I started to imagine about a piranha or even worst a penis fish J, so I wrapped up my photographic session and exited the stream.
Figure 136. Large hunter spider (left), me in stream (center), hunter spider missing two legs (right)
I showed our guide, Luis, my picture of the spider and he identified it as a hunter spider. The hunter spiders don’t use webs rather they catch their prey directly which could account for why the one spider was missing a couple of its legs (left, Figure 136).
Arriving back at our bungalow, I watched the women refuelling the kerosene lamps for the coming night (right, Figure 135) and the weaver birds returning to their hanging nests (Figure 137). Nearby our bungalow was interesting bird of paradise plant that had a lone dark blue berry that initially I thought was someone’s discarded gum (Figure 140).
Figure 137. Weaver bird’s nest (left), weaver bird returning to nest (center), weaver bird at nest (right)
At 1900 hours it was time for supper which was good but perhaps not as high a standard as it was onboard in the Galápagos and on the Inca Trail. After supper at 2000 hours we went out our nocturnal walk along a jungle trail. It was very dark but we had our headlights and our guide had a powerful flashlight.
Right beside the dining room were a series of narrow trails that I had seen during the day and wondered whether a dog had made them. However at night we saw the trails alive with the never ending traffic of leafcutter ant returning to their nest with leaf cuttings (Figure 138). These ants feed on structures called gongylidia that are produced by a specialized fungus that grows only in the underground chambers of the ants' nest. In a fascinating symbiotic relationship, the ants actively cultivate their fungus by feeding it with freshly-cut plant material and maintaining it free from pests and molds.
Figure 138. Leafcutter ant returning to their nest with leaf cuttings
At night the jungle is alive with the noise of millions of insects and animals including the Giant Bamboo Rat. This rat makes a very loud noise that we heard in the afternoon from our bungalow’s porch and thought that it was construction noise.
The guide showed as a wide variety of insects and spiders that were interesting to see at night (Figure 139). The spiders included tarantulas. The highlight for me was seeing a tree frog on the side of a tree (Figure 139). I had wanted to see a vibrant green coloured tree frog but at least it was a tree frog.
Figure 139. Insects, spiders and one tree frog
The next morning at 0700 hours, we boarded the canoe to visit Condenado Lake – an oxbow lake upstream from the lodge. Ox-bow lakes are old remnant river courses, cut-off from the main river by the effects of erosion and the constant shifting of river channels. We walked along a jungle trail passed some very large trees including strangler figs; a giant ironwood tree (its barks looks like it has rust stains); balsam trees (they sound hollow when tapped); Brazil-nut tree; cannon-ball tree; the dipteryx tree; and the ceiba tree (stores water for the dry season and their trunks get pot-bellied)
Figure 140. Sunrise over river at lodge (left), interesting blue berry on paradise plant (right)
We saw and number of unusual and impressive trees. The 'telephone tree’ (R center, Figure 142) is called that because of its large, narrow buttress like root that when struck make a loud resonating drum-like sound that the Indians used to communicate with. Our guide told us that it was only for local and not long distance calls J Some of the palm trees store water in their swollen trunks for use during the dry season (left, Figure 141).
We saw a Brazil-nut tree and a fallen fruit at its base (R center, Figure 141). Our guide explained that the Brazil-nut trees produce fruit almost exclusively in pristine forests, as disturbed forests lack the type of bees which are the only ones capable of pollinating the tree's flowers. Most attempts at Brazil-nut tree have failed due to uneconomically low production.
There were giant strangler fig trees on the trail. We saw these trees overgrowing Ta Prohm Temple near Anchor Wat. The seeds of this fig tree would take root in the branches of a host tree and over time its roots would reach the ground, growing larger and surrounding the host tree and using the host for nourishment. Eventually the host tree dies, leaving the fig tree which typically has a hollow center that one can stand inside of (L center, Figure 141).
Figure 141. Water storage (left), Strangler Fig (L center), Brazil-nut tree (R center), big termite nest (right)
Some of trees host impressively sized termite nests (right, Figure 141).
The most unusual trees that we saw was the cannonball tree (L center, Figure 142) is an evergreen tree related to the Brazil-nut tree. The cannon-ball like fruits (left, Figure 142) grow on the trunk of the tree and fall from the tree at maturity and hopefully crack open upon hitting the ground to reveal the seeds are embedded in a fleshy pulp. You don’t want to stand near these trees when it’s time drop the seed pods.
Figure 142. Cannonball fruits & tree (left & L center), telephone tree (R center), Ironwood tree (right)
Figure 143. Coaxing tarantula (left), tarantula (center), army ants (right)
On the trail, the guide used a small stick to lure out a tarantula from its nest at the base of a small tree (left, Figure 143). There were several tarantulas that we saw on the ground (center, Figure 143). We also saw a line of army ants crossing the trail (right, Figure 143). These ants are renowned for their aggressive predatory foraging groups, known as "raids", in which huge numbers of ants all forage simultaneously over a certain area, attacking prey en masse. Unlike most ant species, army ants do not construct permanent nests, rather an army ant colony moves almost incessantly over the time.
Figure 144. Big ants (left & L center), Condenado - an oxbow lake (R center), big steering oar (right)
We reached Condenado Lake (center, Figure 144) and boarded a platform boat which our guide propelled using the big steering oar (right, Figure 144). On the lake we saw a Red-necked Woodpecker with patch of red on its head (R center, Figure 145); a Hoatzin or Stinkbird because of its manure-like odour (left, Figure 145); a black squirrel (L center, Figure 145); pairs of macaws flying overhead (they mate for life); and bats hanging under a dead tree in the water (right, Figure 145). However in the distance was a black sky and the feeling of rain was in the air.
Figure 145. Hoatzin (left), squirrel (L center), Red-necked Woodpecker (R center), bats under log (right)
The Hoatzin is an interesting bird as it has clawed wings that are used to climb up trees especially if the young fall out of the nest. The claws caused some to view the Hoatzin as a link to Archaeopteryx bird found in fossil but this is now discounted.
We landed on the far side of the lake and started walking along a trail that passed by a variety of very large trees as the rainfall and wind started to increase until a big branch fell down just off the trail in front of us and we were forced to take cover between the roots of a giant dipteryx tree (left, Figure 146). The guide thought that the storm would blow over in ten minutes but an hour and a half later we finally retreated when the rain eased up a bit. By that time everyone was cool and wet and our passports in my pants pocket were soaked. We returned to the lodge and I brought the four mugs of hot chocolates for the people in our bungalow. The lodge had unsweetened hot chocolate powder that required mixing with sugar if one hoped to enjoy it.
Figure 146. Sheltering under dipteryx tree (left), unhappy shelterers (right)
Lunch was interesting in that in came wrapped in the banana leaves that is was cooked in (left, Figure 147). Untying the string and then unwrapping the banana leaves was like Christmas and inside the package, we found a meal of rice and chicken (right, Figure 147).
Figure 147. Lunch wrapped in banana leaves (left), rice & chicken in banana leaves (right)
After lunch, we went a short way up river to a visit to small slash and burn farm where we saw mango trees, star fruit trees, lime trees, papaya trees (center, Figure 149) and macaws nesting in a tall dead tree (center, Figure 148). The farmer lived by himself on farm while his 6 children and wife live in Puerto Maldonado because of schooling. He raised some pigs, bananas (left, Figure 149), fruit such and corn (right, Figure 149).
Figure 148. Farmer & farmhouse (left), macaw on dead tree (center), ladyfinger bananas (right)
The farmhouse was basic but in good shape (left, Figure 148). There was no mechanization on the farm as all work was done by hand except for clearing the farm out of the jungle which was done by chainsaw and fire. The slash and burn aspect of the farm was evident in burnt trees (center, Figure 149) and cut trees (right, Figure 149) that we saw. As the jungle soil is generally poor, the farm probably will have to move in several years.
Figure 149. Banana tree (left), papaya tree & burnt tree (center), corn and bananas in clearing (right)
After our 1900 hour supper we went on an hour long night time cruise on the Tambopata River and saw several caiman along the shoreline. Our guide spotted the caimans by looking for the reflection in their eyes of his powerful light, i.e. jacklighting without a gun. Once he located one, our boat would move closer and a burst of camera flashes would occur as we sought to get a photograph – of course in general we were too far away and rocking too much to get a good photograph.
The Spectacled Caiman is a crocodilian reptile found in much of Central and South America. Its common name comes from a bony ridge between its eyes, which gives the appearance of a pair of spectacles (left & center, Figure 150). It can live in a range of lowland wetland and riverine habitats. Due to this adaptability, it is the most common of all crocodilian species. Males of the species are generally between 2 and 2.5 metres, while females are smaller, usually around 1.4 metres. They are not particularly dangerous to man.
During our boat trip to return to Puerto Maldonado, we saw a caiman lounging on a sandy riverbank (right, Figure 152).
Figure 150. Spectacled Caiman (left), caiman (center), big moth (right)
We were up at 0500 hours to finish our packing in the candle light (left, Figure 152) and have our last breakfast at the lodge. At 0600 hours, we left the lodge at the beautiful sunrise (Figure 151) on our boat trip to return to Puerto Maldonado. It was cold as the air streamed by us on the fast moving boat (center, Figure 152). The most interesting thing that we saw was a caiman lounging on a sandy riverbank (right, Figure 152). Unfortunately we did not stop or slow down so my photograph is not good.
Figure 151. Sunrise over river at lodge (left), interesting blue berry on paradise plant (right)
Figure 152. Packing up under candle light (left), cold boat ride (center), caiman on river bank (right)
On our drive back along the muddy unpaved road, we could we that previous’ day big storm had cause damage here since some trees were down and parts of the road were flooded (left, Figure 153). Back in Puerto Maldonado, we retrieved our luggage, tipped our guide and caught the LAN flight to Lima (center, Figure 153) which stopped in Cusco to pick up passengers.
Figure 153. Flooded road (left), our LAN Airbus 319 (center), Rio Madre de Dios (right)
Before we departed for Cusco, I spoke to Dania, GAP representative, about how we could arrange an overflight of the Nazca Lines. She offered that for US$300, she would arrange for a driver and van to pick us up from our hotel and take us to Nazca and reserve an overflight for us (additional US $67 pp). On our return to Lima we have to contact her as she left no message for us at our hotel. She then showed up at the hotel and we paid her US $140 in advance with the remaining US $160 due to the driver at the airport.
It turns out that I’m not alone in my desire to overfly the Nazca Lines. In December 2008, the cnn.com website had a list of “The World’s Top 10 Aerial Tours” and number 1 was Nazca Lines Flight, Peru (http://www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/the-worlds-top-10-aerial-tours/1). It was described as follows:
The Scenery: The high, windless plateau of the Nazca Desert, one of the driest places on earth, is home to these mysterious 2,000-year-old geoglyphs. The miles-long carvings—in the shapes of animals, human figures, and trapezoidal lines that some say were meant to be runways for alien spacecraft—can really only be appreciated from above.
The Ride: In one of Mystery Peru’s Turbo Centurion Cessnas, you’ll be given a map to help orient you to the geoglyphs you’ll see from the air. During the 35-minute flight, the pilot will make numerous passes above the earth-images of whales, monkeys, geometric shapes, weird human figures, and the unexplainable lines that point in every direction.
When to Go: The Nazca Desert’s consistently dry climate means visibility is good year-round—but since a haze of dust often hovers during the height of the midday heat, plan to fly in the morning or late afternoon.
Figure 154. 1968 Erich von Däniken's ‘Chariots of the Gods?’ (left), Nazca lines from space (right)
However, the overflights are not without risk. Accidents and emergency landings have occurred throughout 2008 due to pilot training and the dubious airworthiness inspections of the aircraft being used for overflight (Ref W). For example on 9 April 2008, a Cessana belonging to the Aero Ica tourism company, crashed near the kilometre 453 of the Pan American Highway killing the five French tourists aboard. The pilot, who survived, was a rookie on a debut flight. Fortunately in the event, our pilot was very experienced, however the GSP database was expired (right, Figure 164).
The Nazca Lines are geoglyphs located in a desert area near the town of Nazca some 460 kms south of Lima. I had always wanted to see the lines since I read Erich von Däniken's ‘Chariots of the Gods?’ in 1968 during my teen years. Däniken argued in "Chariots of the Gods?" (left, Figure 154) that the Nazca Lines are the remains of a giant extraterrestrial airport – all this in a book that sold for just $1.25 new.
The Nazca lines are large enough to be seen from space (left, Figure 154). In this view taken from the Ikonos satellite on 15 January 2001, the lines and gepmetrical shapes such as rectangles and triangles are clearly visible as are the large geoglyphs such as the birds and monkey (Ref V). Also visible is a Cessna overflying the lines, its shadow, Maria Reiche’s observation tower and the Pan American Highway that links Lima to Nazca. The visibility of the white lines against the grey of the desert pavement is evident.
The Nazca Lines cover a 35-mile (56-kilometer) stretch of desert and have mystified scientists. They were added to the United Nations' Cultural Heritage list in 1994 and are one of Peru's top tourist attractions. About 80,000 tourists fly over the site every year. However, the Nazca Lines are not the only such geoglyphs in the area as some 50 giant figures -- which include human figures as well as animals such as birds, monkeys, and felines – are etched into the earth near the city of Palpa just down the road from Nazca. These drawings are believed to have been created by members of the Paracas Culture sometime between 600 and 100 B.C.
There are several hundred simple lines and geometric patterns on the Nazca plateau, as well as over seventy curvilinear animal and human figures. The area encompassing the lines is nearly 500 square kilometres (193 square miles), and the largest figures can be nearly 270 m long (886 feet). The lines persist due to the extremely dry and constant climate of the Nazca region. The Nazca desert is one of the driest on Earth and maintains a temperature around 25°C (77°F) all year round. I’ve read that some feel that a lack of wind has helped keep the lines uncovered to the present day. However, in the afternoon, when returning to Lima, we saw numerous dust devils in the areas of the geoglyphs (Figure 155). These whirlwinds and their attendant displacement of dust, soil and small stones must have affected the geoglyphs over the eons. In fact Maria Reiche, who spent some 50 years studying the lines, discovered the animal figures that were not observable from the air until she had carefully cleaned away the dust of centuries that obscured them.
Figure 155. Dust devil on Nazca Plain
The following is the basic information about the lines that is based on scientific research and not unsubstantiated conjecture:
It was not until 1941 that the American professor Paul Kosock, from Long Island University, discovered the Nazca Lines properly. He hired one of the small airplanes the farmers used on those days to fumigate their fields in the Nazca valley and when he flew over the desert, he was amazed by hundreds of lines and geometrical forms lying down below. In one of his comments he said that he ordered the pilot to follow one particular line to see where it finished, but the surprise was even bigger when he suddenly found himself flying over a huge design of a bird. Paul Kosock employed Maria Reiche as a translator and she spent some 50 years following up Kosock's investigations.
In fact the mirador on the hill beside the highway on the Nazca Plain, we could clearly see the figure of the egret/heron in the distance.
Figure 156. Stones cleared from line (left), line to egret in the distance (center), plane overhead (right)
Maria Reiche said that “The figures, the drawings, are very superficial furrows never more then 30 cm in depth, and very shallow. For this reason the wind has obscured them by filling them with small dark pebbles from the surrounding surface like grain, making them difficult to detect from the air. To make them more accessible for viewing I cleaned them with a broom, one broom after another throughout the years. I went through so many brooms rumors circulated that I might be a witch!" (Ref H)
Figure 158 shows some examples of Nazca pottery that have some resemblance to some of the Nazca figures and lines. The whale-like pottery objects (left and center, Figure 158) resemble the whale figure found on the Nazca Plain (Figure 167). The lines on the face on the top left pottery jar in Figure 158 resemble the lines in the upper left corner in the right hand image of Figure 173.
Figure 158. Nazca killer whale/fish pottery (left & center), jars (right)
On Sunday 31 August, the day of our flight home, we were picked up from our hotel in Lima at 0430 hours. It was obvious that the driver, Victor, was sleepy. He was accompanied by a female passenger who we hoped would keep him awake. Once out of Lima we were on a brand new divided four lane toll road as good as highway 401 in Ontario. For the first two hours until sunrise, Victor appeared to be falling asleep as he wandered from our lane into the adjacent lane. His companion initially talked to him but soon she was asleep.
Fortunately, it was a divided highway so he could not wander into the oncoming traffic. He drove all the time in the passing lane and would not drive in the right-hand lane where he belonged. I was so concerned about his driving that after about 20 minutes I told him that we did not want to die that day and would return to Lima if he could not keep awake. While there was a strong language barrier, he seemed to have got the message but I continually reminded him when he wandered out of our lane.
His driving improved with sunrise and was OK until on our return trip when after sunset and again on the new divided four lane toll road his lane wandering resurfaced. He drove for most of the time in the passing lane despite other drivers honking and flashing their lights at him and passing him on the right-hand side. It appeared that driving in the left hand lane was a macho display to impress his female companion.
It seemed that Victor was driving a rental van as it was fairly new (left, Figure 159) and he was very hard on the brakes. He believed in cruising up to a stopped vehicle and then braking very heavily. This is dangerous and unsettling.
Figure 159. Rental van (left), chicken & potato sandwich (center), chicken sheds on beach (right)
At one of the toll booths south of Lima, Victor ran out of money to pay the tolls. He had to leave his driver’s license with at the toll booth while he pulled over to get the money. He asked if I have any soles but I replied that I did not. He then held up the paper indicating that we owed US $160. Although this was to have been paid at the airport, I give him US $20 and told him that we now owned only US $140. He then arranged to pay the toll and returned with some soles.
When we got close to Lima, he decided to exit the toll road and take a route through a dodgy part of town, perhaps to avoid more toll booths. However after a short while it was clear that he was lost and soon we returned to the toll road.
We were very relieved when we reached the airport, paid off Victor and left Victor, his van and female companion.
Soon after leaving Lima, we drove along the coast and passed by a beach with a large number of empty chicken sheds from what appeared to be a failed attempt to establish an industrial chicken raising industry (right, Figure 159).
Leaving the coast we entered a desert whose landscape remained me of Iraq (left, Figure 160). There were also huge sand mountains (right, Figure 160) and some giant sand dune with large ripples (center, Figure 160).
Figure 160. Iraq-like landscape (left), ripples in giant sand dune (center), sand mountains (right)
When driving through the area through the Pisco/Ica region, Donna remarked that there must have been an earthquake recently since many of the adobe buildings were damaged and being recontructed. We asked the driver who explained in Spanish that there was an earthquake a year ago. In fact on 15 August 2007, some 520 people were killed 40,000 homes destroyed after a massive earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale rocked the area of Peru south of Lima (Figure 161) for about three minutes. Fortunately even though this earthquale was centered off shore, there was no tsunami.
Figure 161. Location of 2007 earthquake south of Lima (Ref L)
The general cause of earthquakes in Peru is subduction, i.e. the Nazca oceanic plate slips beneath the westward-moving South American plate just off the Pacific coast. The two plates are converging at a rate of 3 inches (78 millimetres) a year (Ref K). Many of the damaged adobe houses have been replaced with shacks made of woven thatched mats (right, Figure 162) or more permanent house made of pre-fab wood panels (left, Figure 162).
Figure 162. Sand dune & new house (left), temporary housing & building material (right)
Towards Nazca, we passed by a white mesa (left, Figure 163) and a very lonely shack made of thatched mats in the desert (center, Figure 163). We were held up for a brief while as police directed traffic past an accident where a truck had slid off the road (right, Figure 163).
Figure 163. White mesa (left), lonely shack (center), truck slid off road (right)
Just before the town of Nazca, we drove past the observation tower build by Maria Reiche (left, Figure 175) for use by tourist so they would not be inclined to drive out on to the Nazca Plain and damage the figures. We did not stop as we were going to overfly the Nazca Lines. We also passed a mirador on top of a hill that we did stop at on the return trip to Lima.
We arrived in Nazca at about 1030 hours and our driver began his search for Senor Fernandez located at the Hostal Nazca and near the National Bank. He did not know where to go and wanted to stop at the Nazca Lines Hotel, however, I saw the Hostal Nazca near the Banco de la Nación. Amazingly Senor Fernandez was at his desk in the Hostal Nazca and greeted us when we walked in.
He took us in his old Nissan car to the Maria Reiche Neuman Airport located just outside of Nazca. At the airport he arraigned our flight and gave us the required tickets for the S/.20 airport tax. After a short wait we were ushered out with a group of three Italian tourists to a small Cessna. They wanted to squeeze us into the back of the Cessna but because of the very cramped space neither Donna nor I could fit in there so we were transferred to a slightly larger Cessna. In this Cessna we got the middle seats much to the chagrin of the Italian tourists and soon we were taking off for our flight over the lines.
We flew the normal circuit over the Nazca plain at around 900 ft (300 m). At each of the giant figures, we’d first made a pass when banked to the right and then quickly flip over and make a pass when banked to the left so that people on both sides of the aircraft could see and photograph the figures. The air currents over the plain made for a bumpy flight.
The flight lasted about thirty minutes during which the Italian woman in the back throwing up on a regular basis probably due to the tight turns, the bumpy flight, cabin heat and the cramped quarters.
We boarded the Cessna (Figure 164) and took off at 1140 hours for a 30 minute overflight of the Nazca Plain. Our flight followed the route shown in Figure 165. As seen in the inset in the right hand image of Figure 164, the airplane’s GPS Americas Database expired in 2007! Perhaps this is just the terrain awareness database which should not have changed in such a limited area.
Figure 164. Our Cessna (left), ready to go (center), overflight takeoff (right)
A movie clip of our overflight of the Nazca Lines is available here.
All the photographs of the Nazca Lines in this document are ones that I took. It is important to understand that most of the lines in my photographs of the Nazca Lines were made eons ago by hand and not recently with machines, except for the disgraceful tires tracks. In general the size of the lines and figures is enormous with the longest straight line going some nine miles across the plain.
There are many website with better photographs of the Nazca Lines than are present here, but this document presents what we saw during our time at Nazca. I adjusted the brightness and contrast of most photographs of the lines and figures to try and bring out the lines. For example Figure 166 shows the original photograph of the alcatraz (heron) and two manipulations of that photograph. As can be seen, all by original photographs of the lines and figures are basically grey with the shapes hard to make out.
The size of the alcatraz at some 280 metres is truly impressive. However size does not necessarily indicate that it took a long time to construct. As mentioned Joe Nickell and his team of six people easily outlined the 440-foot Nazca figure of the condor using simple tools in nine hours. Of course they did not remove any rocks as the Nazca builders of this figure did but the layout of the figure without any resort to aerial assistance is the key.
Figure 165. Route of flight over Nazca Lines
Figure 166. Alcatraz - Original (top), manipulation #1 (center), manipulation #2 (right)
The first figure that we saw on the Nazca Plain was that of the whale (Figure 167). For me this figure had a striking resemblance to representation of the killer whale in the art of the Haida tribe of the west coast of Canada (inset, Figure 167). Cutting through the figure are some lines including a very wide one that takes a right angle turn near the whale. It would appear that the lines were contructed after the figure and the builders did not feel that it was sacreligious to disturb the figure.
Figure 167. Whale (ballena) and Haida (Canadian west coast tribe) killer whale art (inset)
The line and other geometric shapes do not stop because of terrain obstacles. For example insecting lines continue straight across a dry river bed without a pause (left, Figure 168) and triangles continue right across a hill without a break (right, Figure 168). Obviously it was important to continue these lines and shapes until the desired size was attained.
Figure 168. Lines across dry river bed (left) triangles cross a hill (inset)
The types of geometric shapes include triangles and a ‘runway’ (Figure 169). There are also spirals, sine waves, triangle waves and other shapes.
Figure 169. Various triangles on flight line between whale and condor (top & right), runway (bottom right)
Perhaps the most mysterious figure is that of the anthropomorphic figure on the side of a hill. It is one of the few humanoid figures at Nazca. Unlike most figures, it is located on the side of a hill, hence it is visible from the desert below. The figure is about 98 feet high with one arm pointing skywards and the other down at his side. Since we are living in the space age, this figure has become known as the 'astronaut' although a less fanciful name is the owl-man which appears also in Peruvian pottery. The figure is also known as the shaman, i.e. a priest of shamanism or a medicine man, having one hand raised in a blessing. Shamanism is a religion based on the belief that the world is pervaded by good and evil spirits who can be influenced or controlled only by the shamans
The 'astronaut' figure resembles that found on an example of Nazca pottery shown. It also resembles some of the petroglyphs that I've seen in Hawaii. Two of these Hawaiian petroglyphs are the gourd man and Rainbow Man:
As well there is a resemblance to Gitche Manitou petroglyph near Peterborough, Ontario (center right, Figure 170) and the mysterious anthropomorphic petroglyph in the Three Sisters lava flows west of Albuquerque carved by ancestors of the Pueblo peoples (center right, Figure 170).
The point is one does not have to invoke an astronaut or extraterrestrial in order to explain what the figure represents. Doing so in my opinion is lazy as it is equivalent to saying, I do not know what this is so I opt for an explanation that is facile and requires no evidence. It is the equivalent to the argument of those who cannot understand how man could have constructed the pyramids so simply assert without any tangible proof that alien built them using levitation beams.
Figure 170. Nazca astronaut/owl-man, Puako gourd man, Gitche Manitou, rainbow man, something
Unlike the 'astronaut' figure, it is obvious what some of the figures like the condor (left, Figure 171), monkey (right, Figure 171), spider (bottom right, Figure 174) and hummingbird (Figure 172) represent. However even if one knows exactly what a figure represents, it does answer the question of “why did they make such large figures that are really only satisfactorily viewed from the air?” This is the more intriguing and important question. Given the period of time over which the lines and figures on the Nazca Plain were created and the obvious difference between lines and figures, it is quite possible that the motivation behind creating the lines and figures was different. Whether the meaning of the lines and figures on the Nazca Plain will ever be known is an open question.
Figure 171. Condor/eagle (left), monkey (right)
Figure 172. Hummingbird 1 close-up (left), Hummingbird 1 at ‘airport’ (right)
The well symmetrical and well formed spider (bottom right, Figure 174) is located at a group of lines that looks remarkably like an airport (left, Figure 173). There are lines all over the plain some that are singletons and some that are in parallel groups (right, Figure 173). The width of the lines varies from those just wide enough to walk alone and those that are very wide and resemble runways (right, Figure 174).
Figure 173. Spider at ‘airport’ (left), lines (right)
Some consider that the spider figure depicts a member of a known spider genus - Ricinulei. This spider just happens is one of the rarest spiders in the world which has only been found in remote and inaccessible parts of the Amazon. So these people ask why these coast-dwelling people traveled so far from their homeland and crossed the formidable barrier of the Andes Mountains to catch a specimen?
Figure 174. Parrot (loro) (left), comets (top right), spider and dog (perro) (bottom right)
In front of Maria Reiche’s observation tower are the tree (arbol) and the hands (manos) (Figure 175). It is not precisely clear what the hands figure represents but it was done in the same style as the monkey - an imprecise design unlike the spider (the most precise) and the humming birds (also more precise). Some feel that may represent an incomplete design or an abandoned attempt at a figure. However, assuming that the figure has the same orientation as the tree beside it then the "hands" look like feet and so the figure can be viewed as a bird with a small beak or perhaps a frog/toad.
Figure 175. Tree (left), Huarango tree (top right) and hands (bottom right)
Some identify the tree in Figure 175 as the Huarango tree although it appears to be without any leaves. The Huarango tree was so important to ancient Peruvian civilisations that they called it the ‘Tree of Life’. Left alone the tree survives in the windswept desert, binding the soil, providing forage for livestock, and shelter and humidity in the hot sun. As well it provides food in the form of sweet nutritious bean pods that can be made into flour and syrup, or eaten straight from the tree.
Figure 176. Town of Nazca with Cerro Blanco in distance
Returning to the airport, we got an excellent view of the town of Nazca with Cerro Blanco (White Mountain) in the background. At 2070m, Cerro Blanco is the highest sand dune in the world. It was considerate a sacred mountain for the Nazca civilization but now tourists sand board on its slopes.
We landed safely back at the airport a half hour after we took off and phoned for pickup by Senor Fernandez in his old Toyota.
Figure 177. Landing back at the Maria Reiche Neuman Airport
We returned with Senor Fernandez to his hotel at 1230 hours and paid him US$67 per person and went to look around Nazca for souvenirs and lunch (center, Figure 178). We found no interesting souvenirs and stopped at a pleasant restaurant that offered a good American breakfast for S/.10 per person (left, Figure 178). Unfortunately their coffee machine was broken so we missed out on our coffee.
Figure 178. Nazca restaurant (top), Nazca streetscape (center), our van (right)
We left Nazca at 1340 hours in our van (right, Figure 178) and stopped at the natural lookout (mirador) up on a hill. From there we could see some lines but only one figure in the distance (Figure 156). We walked down the hill and onto the red rock strewn plain where we could see that the lines were made by removing the iron oxide coated rocks to expose the lighter coloured ground surface.
Finally we started our journey back to the Lima airport at 1430 hours and reached the airport at 2030 hours.
We left the Nazca mirador at 1430 hours and arrived back at the Lima airport at 2030 hours. Amazingly, as we pulled up to the terminal we saw the other three Canadians in our group who were just arriving to catch their flight back to Calgary. We checked our two bags (both about 20 Kgs) in at Delta and were pleasantly surprised that our reservation included payment of the US$31 per person departure tax.
After check in, we eat at the airport’s MacDonald’s and then passed through security and started the following series of homeward bound flights on time (the three folks going to Calgary on Continental Airlines were delayed by an hour so we left before them):
Atlanta was busy with Labour Day travellers and planes were coming and going at a good clip (left, Figure 179). At US Immigration at Atlanta, they were scanning the complete fingerprints of most arriving foreigners. However they did not scan ours perhaps because we were Canadians transiting through the US. We had to retrieve our checked luggage and bring it through Customs and then return it to Delta for furtherance.
As we arrived at Atlanta’s Terminal D we had to take the subway to reach Terminal B. This Delta terminal was crowded as it was the Labour Day holiday and there were soldiers in fatigues waiting to fly to different destinations across the US (center, Figure 179).
The flight from Atlanta to Detroit was delayed by 30 minutes until Delta could find a replacement for the missing cabin crew member. On our flight to Detroit was a very tall 7’ 1” basketball player for the Detroit Pistons named Cheikh Samb. He was returning from a trip home to Senegal with his family in tow.
Figure 179. Busy Atlanta airport (left), US soldier at airport (center), Nazca-type lines near Detroit (right)
In Detroit, we have an hour’s wait until to jet out to Ottawa. The flight was about 30 minutes shorter than expected as a regional jet was used instead of the normal propeller-driven aircraft. In Ottawa we picked up my car in the Park & Fly lot and only had to pay the special rate of $68 (including taxes) for 3 and a half weeks of parking.
We finally got home at 1645 hours, some 37 hours after we got up in Lima at 0400 hours for our pick up for the trip to the Nazca Lines. It was time for a pizza and then to shower and get some sleep before we got up for work at 0545 hours the next morning.
In the 2008/2009 school year, Donna made a presentation about our trip to the Grade 2 class at her school. The class was studying a number of locations including Iquitos, Peru which is very close in spelling to Quito, Ecuador. She gave each of them a pin with little animals figures on them that were made from coloured dough. We bought the pins just outside of Quito on the way to Otavalo. The students wrote notes of thanks that included some interesting drawings (Figure 180 and Figure 181).
Some of the more interesting comments written on student drawings were:
· Kyle wrote: "Thank you for the pin. I welly like it. Thank you for the book. I like reading it at in door recess. I like the page with the tertel." The turtle that Kyle referred to was the one that Donna spotted in James Bay of Santiago Island in the Galápagos. His drawing (right, Figure 180) shows Donna snorkelling, the sea turtle, a shark and a submarine!
· Evan wrote: "I liked the pin. I will keep it. I like the picture of you on the Eqater." Evan is referring to the picture of us stand astride the equator just north of Quito (left, Figure 180).
· Ryan wrote: "My class loves the pichor and the pin. I love my llama pin. Favrate picher is the monkey." The monkey that Ryan is referring to is the monkey figure (right, Figure 171) on the Nazca Plain.
· Racheal wrote: “Thank you for my beuteful pin I loved it. I think that its cool when you went to Peru. I like the picture of the jugle.”
· Cameron wrote: “Thank you for the pin. I love it! I liked the picture of you on the equator. I might go some day” So hopefully Donna’s presentation encouraged some of the children to travel and get a better understanding of the world and its peoples.
Figure 180. Evan’s “Donna astride equator” (left), Kyle’s “snorkelling in Galápagos” (right)
Figure 181. Racheal’s jungle (left), John’s “snorkelling in Galápagos” (center), Ryan’s llama & Nazca monkey (right)
Overall the trip went as smoothly as we could hope for. The only delays were a 2.5 hour delay in our Air Canada flight leaving Toronto for Bogotá and a two hour delay in our LAN Airline flight leaving Lima for Cusco. We flew on Air Canada, Avianca, TACA, TAME, LAN and Delta airlines and experienced good service on all except for Air Canada.
We thought that sticking with Intrepid Tours who provided an excellent trip around SE Asia would be a good idea. However, their response after their charter boat, the Spondylus, sank in the Galápagos Islands left us high and dry. They did not point us to other boats to meet our schedule rather they tried to steer us to one of their land-based Galápagos tours. This was very disappointing.
Apart from changing the starting/ending hotel without notification, G.A.P Adventures ran a very good trip and overall we received good value for the price that we paid for the “PAA - Amazon to the Andes” trip.
Having to been introduced to Stride gum by viewing the very popular "Where the Hell is Matt?" video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNF_P281Uu4), we tried it and liked it. So we brought some with us on our trip. Unfortunately in a hot environment, the gum sweats a lot through its wrapper and becomes very soft. The result was that it was messy to get at it. This was surprising given Matt's trips to all points on the globe.
At the end of this trip to Ecuador and Peru I concluded the following:
The most significant conclusion was that the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire and the attendant destruction of most of the Incan culture and patrimony were great tragedies and heinous acts. The balm of Christianity cannot remove the stain created by this act of conquest.
Copyright © 2009 Thomas @ travelogues.x10hosting.com. All rights reserved.