UPDATE#21 08/25 thru 08/26/08

Howdy Everybody,

Adventures from 2006, 2007, and including this year through 08/24/08 are available on the website.  We continue now with this latest edition.  

 UPDATE 2008 #21   08/25/08 through 08/26/08.

At last update, we were enjoying our adventure trip to Peru and the exciting region of Cusco that was once the capitol of the Inca Empire. 


08/25/08    MONDAY   CUSCO

     After the 6am alarm sounded, we lazily got around to our showers and breakfast.  When we got down to the central Plaza area, we encountered a group of folks in an honorable procession carrying the statue of their Catholic religious patron.  Accompanying them was a municipal-style band that followed in parade style.


     Our tourist ticket included several local museums.  The first on our list, “El Museo Histórico Regional” (the history museum), was closed because it was Monday.  The beautiful building was once “La Casa Garcilaso del la Vega”, the colonial mansion of the renowned Spanish-Inca historian.

     Fortunately, it wasn’t far to the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Set in an old colonial mansion near the Plaza Regocijo, the displays were interesting and enjoyable.  A very nice photographic exhibit was my favorite.


     Extensive repairs were underway on the roof of this museum.  In the typical style of this city, the construction was red clay tiles placed over lashed bamboo and stick support structure.


     The fountain at Plaza Regocijo and another small, nearby art museum entertained us for the next little while.


     The ornate stonework of “El Templo Y Convento De La Merced” is very decorative in design.  Although totally destroyed in the earthquake of 1650, it was quickly rebuilt to its present glory.


     This ornate side door opens into a courtyard near the entrance to the Monastery and museum.  In retrospect, we should have paid the additional entrance fee and taken the extra time to visit the collections inside.


     A little bit of a walk south brought us to the underground “Museo del Sitio de Qoricancha” (site museum) included in our tourist ticket.  Along with various art and historical objects from Inca and Pre-Inca cultures, the display of “mummies” especially caught our eye.  As you can see, the mummified bodies were buried in sort of an infantile or sitting position.


     Similar to what we had seen in the Central Highlands site of the Wari Citadel in Ayacucho, there were several examples of those elongated skulls.  As you may remember, these distorted heads were the result of intentional, extremely tight binding during infancy and early childhood. The abnormally different shape became significantly distended while the youthful bones were still soft.  People with these unusual head shapes were often given special status and favored treatment. 


     As displayed here, several skulls had evidently been operatively opened up.  Was it for surgery or was it for experimentation?


     An upscale textile shop in Cusco sells very high quality weavings that are hand crafted.  These weavers demonstrate their skill to prospective customers.  It would be best if you have an “extended line of credit” from your loan institution, as prices might tend to exceed your budget limits.


     This waterfall fountain, located near the Mercado Artesanal (craft market), recognizes the once powerful Inca Empire and is a small tribute to its people.


     After a very short nap, we returned to Qosqo Tours to begin their “City Tour”.  Arriving early, we were able to obtain excellent front-row seats on the small bus departing at 2pm.  Nathalie guided our tour bilingually, although her English was a little difficult to understand at times.

     The first stop was “Qoricancha”.  The “Convento Y Monasterio de Santo Dominico” was constructed over the site of the Incan Qoricancha Temple.  At the base of the church, the magnificent wall of Qoricancha was constructed with near perfection and magnificent curvature.  The integrity of the wall was virtually undamaged in the violent earthquakes that leveled most of the colonial construction in the city.


     Admission to the Convento and the museum is not included in the Boleto Turístico (tourist ticket); therefore, we had to purchase separate tickets. 


     The Dominican Order acquired this former Inca Temple site a few years after the conquest.  Following the extensive looting and confiscation of the wealthy treasures of the temple, Spanish leader, Francisco Pizarro gave the site and property to his brother, Juan Pizarro.  During the Battle of Saqsaywaman in 1536, Juan was killed and the property passed to the Dominicans as bequeathed in his will.


     Some of the Inca construction blocks still exist; however, much of the former glory has been altered or destroyed with the building of the Convent and Monastery.  Many of the building blocks for the new Catholic Church were brought here from nearby Inca sites such as Saqsaywaman.


      The exact methods remain a mystery, however, it is believed that the Inca used this site as a sophisticated observatory from which to monitor the astronomical events.


     Some of the area is of actual Inca design and represents impeccable trapezoidal construction.  The tapered cut-and-fit of these temple blocks is so well done that you could not even slip a razor blade between the joints.  Because of the precision workmanship and interlocking design features, no cement was used.


     This was the richest temple in the Inca Empire.  Many walls were completely covered with sheets of gold and silver.  The niches may have contained solid gold or silver objects of religious significance in the worship of the Sun God.


     After the Spanish conquered the Inca around 1534, all of the precious metals of gold and silver were looted, melted down, and sent to Spain.   In the 17th Century, the Catholics already had established their church here and evidences of their murals painted over plaster have been protected for display.


     The Inca had developed and constructed amazing systems for transporting water and irrigation to the temple site.


     The distinctive, angular shape of window openings is a common feature in Incan architecture.  Any imperfections that you might see in the joints are due to shifts and changes caused exclusively by the later construction by the Spaniards, not because of faulty Inca methods or design.


     Numerous paintings representing the Dominican Order of the Catholic faith are displayed throughout the Convent.


     The familiar arches of typically Spanish Colonial design are prevalent throughout the Catholic construction.


     Within the remains of the Inca “Temple of the Sun” and “Temple of the Moon”, the amazing stones and an altar can be seen.  Imagine the elegance when all of this was adorned with massive amounts of the finest gold and silver treasures.


     …A clear example of Inca trapezoidal architecture…


     …A clear example of typical Spanish Colonial architecture…


     Our tour incurred a significant delay because one European gal got in a “snit” with her boyfriend and became separated from the group.  It took much too long to find her.  Believe me, my friends, I’d have left her go on her own way long before.

      The tour proceeded uphill to the site of Saqsaywaman.  The name is often joked about because its pronunciation sounds a little like “Sexy Woman”.  Of course, properly annunciated, it sounds quite a bit different.

      High above the city, this important temple was constructed of huge, cut boulders quarried from nearby pits.  Although much of the intricate stonework was torn down and later used for the construction of colonial buildings in Cusco, that which remains is nothing less than astounding.  


     The sheer size of the boulders and the major fitting and cutting that existed boggles the mind.

     It might probably be just my idiosyncratic, tainted observation and strictly personal opinion, however, I am thinking that one of the reasons that these ancient people may have been able to accomplish so many constructive, time and labor-intensive projects is that they did NOT have any “Blondes” to distract them.  Sometimes, I personally find it difficult to think about anything other than just “being with Judy”.


     The site is extensive and requires a lot of climbing and walking at high altitudes.  The hikes are physically demanding.


     Note the many intricate cuts that were required to fit these wall boulders together.  Remember, also, that no cement was used to bind them together.


     This was said to be the largest cut boulder at the site.


     The curved end design and trapezoid-angled doorway, with a huge lintel, indicated a place of great importance and reverence.


     The strenuous climb to the top to the Temple resulted in a spectacular view of the City of Cusco.  Our guide showed us how the entire city area is in the pattern of a “Puma” or jaguar.  The temple site here is said to resemble the head and teeth of the highly revered symbol in Inca belief.


     The bus was ready to depart for the next location; however, two inconsiderate gals from Argentina were not on board yet.  Once again, we were annoyed and delayed because they wanted to buy some souvenirs and that caused them to be late.   My level of tolerance ranks very low for those self-centered persons that intentionally inconvenience others with their inconsiderate tardiness.   “There, I’ve said it again!” 

     By the time we arrived at “Quenko”, the sunlight was waning significantly.  Getting good photo shots was difficult in the subdued light of late afternoon.  Quenko was an important site to the Incas.  It is believed to have been the site where the mummification of prominent Incas took place.  Various altars, tables, and platforms used in processing the mummies were evident at the site.  Of course, many of the building materials and blocks have been pilfered to make colonial structures in the city.


     Several carved areas within the huge boulders indicate sacred areas that were closely associated with “Pacha Mamma” (Mother Earth).


     This may have been an altar or an area out of the direct sunlight that may have been used in the process of mummification.


     Even some of the passages between huge boulders had been carved with flat panels cut deep into the rock faces. 


     Although our tour was supposed to include the site at “Pukapukara”, our bus just slowed down as it passed by.  The tardiness caused by the “inconsiderates” may have had a role.  The guide simply explained a few facts and dismissed the site as being of little interest.  “WRONG!”

     By the time we arrived at the site of “Tambomachay”, the sunlight had all but gone behind the hills.  In the dusk, we hiked back along a gravel path to the remains of this smaller temple area.

     Several important fountains and associated stone ceremonial baths were likely used for making the privileged people “clean” to approach the place of the gods. 


     Of course, the exact purposes of all these sites are hypothetical because the Inca left no written histories.  Everything must be discerned from archaeological findings.  The methods and quality of the construction helps to identify the level of importance.


     This fountain has two portal areas carved into the stones.  The site is sometimes termed as “El Baño del Inca” (the Bath of the Inca).  Historians and archaeologists expound differing theories that there may have been an Incan “water cult” associated with this area.


     As we hiked back to the bus, it was already dark out.  The tour bus finally arrived back in Cusco about 7pm.

     Were I to take this “city trip” again, I would undertake the tour of the local sites on our own.  I think that most of the other tours we have taken were good values and were very enjoyable.  This particular tour is much too rushed at the important Inca sites and one needs almost a full day to see everything adequately.  Of course, part of the overall problem was caused by the “inconsiderates”.  

     In Cusco, we enjoyed dinner, changed some more US currency to Peruvian “Nuevo Soles”, and had more pictures transferred to DVDs.  With our hotel bill paid up through tonight, we rested well in preparation for our excursion by train to Aguas Calientes and the most famous Inca site, Machu Picchu.



     At 5am, the alarm awakened us to the still darkness of early morning.  We showered and repacked our luggage intended to be stored here at the hostal.  In a few days, we will be back here again so we won’t need to carry everything with us this time.  The Coriwasi Hostal is very accommodating and with a quick call, a young man came to carry our main luggage to their storage room.  We would only carry in our little backpacks those bare necessities for our side trip.

     After a light breakfast, we took a taxi to the “Estación San Pedro” (train station).  This was a different area station than the main station where we picked up our tickets several days earlier.  That other location is only for the trains headed south to Puno.  Trains leaving Cusco for Aguas Calientes only depart from “Estación San Pedro” (Saint Peter).

     Punctually, at exactly 6:50am, “El Tren” (the train) departed. We had been assigned to seats 50 and 51.  Although we had been told they were together, they were actually separate.  Once again, Judy was the good luck charmer and we were fortunate to switch seats with a woman traveling alone.  This was extra lucky because the two seats facing us were also empty thus giving us lots more room for our legs.  The left side of the train might have provided a slightly better scenic advantage, however, we were happy with our viewpoint and content with the extra legroom.


     Two levels of train service depart from this station in Cusco.  “Vista Service” operates a slightly more comfortable seating area.  We were traveling on the “Backpacker Service”.  The cleanliness and comfort of these coaches are very nice and well maintained.  In addition to a lower ticket price, it was the only service available for the day we wanted to travel.


     The train climbed steeply out of Cusco city through a series of switchbacks and continued its journey into the mountainous areas.  The weather was nearly perfect to fulfill our desire for endless sightseeing.


     After four hours of travel, we arrived at the new train station in the town of Aguas Calientes.  In as much as the train is the only mode of transportation here, the representatives of the various hotels and hostals were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their guests.  Expecting to see our names, we found only the sign for our hostal without any mention of us.  The woman from the “Wiracocha Inn” readily escorted us to the hotel located a bit uphill from here.


     The small village of Aguas Calientes (Hot Water) is named for the hot springs located nearby.  Nestled in the awesome beauty of these mountains, the basic to moderate facilities provide accommodations and support for the thousands of tourists that pass through here everyday.


     The Hotel Wiracocha is set in a quiet and tranquil area that overlooks a lovely, babbling stream.


     Fortunately, we had arrived on an early train.  For some reason, there was a problem with our reservation.  I presented a printed copy of my confirmation and we were shown a room.  I didn’t particularly like the multiple, single bed arrangement.  Emphasizing that our confirmation promised a bigger bed, the manager reluctantly showed us to our accepted room, #19.  I guess the later arrivals will have their own problems to deal with.

     We had a nice view of the passing stream and the gentle sound of rushing water was delightfully relaxing.


     Our first order of business was to purchase our entrance tickets for Machu Picchu.  The admission fee must be paid at the central office down here in the village.  They are not available at the actual site.  One-day tickets now sell for S./122 per person (about $50 US).  Prices have risen sharply over recent years.

     When I visited here about 12 years ago, I made a 4-day trek across the Andes Mountains to Machu Picchu.  At that time, transportation from Cusco to the trailhead, guide service fees, all food and prepared meals for the four days, tents and camping equipment with porters to carry them, admission fees to the sites, and train transportation for the return to Cusco cost me $70 US per person.  Today, that same trip will cost almost $1000 US dollars.  There are now major restrictions as to numbers of persons and various equipment limits that make it virtually impossible to get a trekking trip during the dry season without almost a years advance reservations.  Interestingly, cancellations are not available to be rebooked.  The next available slot would not be available until November.  I’m sure glad I was able to experience that trip when it was available, affordable, and when I was in the kind of physical condition that it required.

     Although the capacity restrictions are only in place for the “Inca Trail” at this time, there is already talk of more restrictions at the site itself. They have already succeeded in restricting access to the Wayna Picchu viewpoint to only 400 visitors per day.  Unless you arrive at the gateway very early, you will not make the cutoff for that day.  At 7am, 200 hikers are permitted to begin; the next 200 are placed on the waiting list to depart as the original hikers return.  If capacity limits are placed on the overall site, it will become increasing difficult for the average person to see this magnificent treasure.  If you want to see this fabulous site that is one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”, try to do it as soon as you can.  Remember to arrange it for travel in their “dry season”.

     In years past, all the trains arrived along this extended platform.  Café after café, restaurant after restaurant compete fiercely for the tourist dollars.  Prices are grossly inflated and the prudent visitor needs to take care in choosing and then bargain for a more economical price, which is usually available.  In times long past, many areas of Peru were made wealthy with gold and silver mined from the hills, however, much of today’s wealth comes from the “mining” of lucrative tourist dollars.  I recommend that you always ask if they offer a “Menu del Día (Menu of the day).  Many times, a much less expensive choice of meals will be readily available on a separate card.  We chose a nice little café and enjoyed a delightful lunch.


     After lunch, we walked up the steep hill to the aguas termales (hot springs).  Even though we had forgotten to bring our suits, we could have rented some rather unflattering styles.  I wasn’t feeling as well as I would have liked and Judy didn’t want to go in the water by herself, so we decided to forgo the pleasure of a nice “soak” and returned to our hotel for a nap.  With an open window and the gentle lull of the stream below, I slept soundly for nearly 3 hours.    

     With darkness settled in, we walked back to the center of the village.  Having thoroughly enjoyed the delicious lunch, Judy wanted to dine at the same trackside café.  Once again, her choice was very enjoyable.

     Knowing that tomorrow would be a necessarily early rising, as well as a physically demanding day, we retired to the hotel rather early to get all the rest we could.



     The next update will be devoted entirely to the wonders of Macchu Picchu.

     Please let us know if you have any special suggestions and thoughts.

    Thanks for allowing us to share our life and adventures with you.

Lotsa Luv,

Fred Reed and Judy Law




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