Sunday, November 11, 2012

We did it!

Machu Picchu - the trip to one of the seven modern wonders of the world.

Starting at the hotel at six, jumping on a bus that wound its way down the highway from Cusco to Ollantaytonbo a town forty eight kms from the newly named town of Machu Picchu Town, formerly Aguas Caliente (the Hot Springs). The highway was two lane but not full of traffic the only way to slow us down was to enter the many rural towns that the highway connected and suffer the curse of the dreaded "topes" - speed bumps higher than mountains. The geography of this part of the trip was rural flatland, very intensely farmed. But the small portions of cultivation must have made the way of life very inefficient to a modern farmer accustomed to large field and few hedgerows.

The sights that impressed us were the many small transit three wheeled taxicabs and the way the local houses were predominently adobe brick. In the towns it appeared to be the practice that one would make the bricks out of the earth that was carved from the hillside to create the building lot. In any case it was impressive to see modern looking houses made from mud.

Arriving at Ollantaytombo we  changed to the train. Waiting about thirty minutes gave us the chance to see the contrasts between rural countryside and a small urban centre. The same vendors swarmed us on the platforms trying to sell us hats, bags and anything they thought that we would need on the mountain. We swore off the mosquito repellent, thinking we would take our chances and eschewed the purchase of hats even though we probably would need them; turned out we did , my head is still burned. Boarding the train five minutes late we left the station ten minutes later, after all what is time - this is South America. Then began a most amazing journey along the banks of the Urubombo river. This river had carved enough space through the mountains to allow a track to be built. The riverbank on one side and the vertical mountainside the other, not much room for any of the components.

Ninety minutes of spectacular views brought us into Machu Picchu Town, a one horse town entirely dependent on the tourist trade. Along the lot line of the train station was the largest artisans market we have seen in a long time. The prices being very good, half of that of Mexico, there was much buying going on. These people were bimonetary, taking US dollars and giving change in Peruvian Soles automatically. While waiting for the train, we had two hours to kill, we dropped into a bar in the Municipal Square. The national drink is a concoction called "Pisco Sour". Doreen ordered one, I'm a beerman, tasting like a vodka and bitter lemon one would get in the "auld country" we were assured that the hidden liquor, distilled from green grapes would creep up on you just like a night of drinking tequila does. We only had one!

But this post was supposed to be about the wonder of the world but one cannot do justice to the day unless you set the context of how one gets there. After leaving the train the ubiquitous tour guide, ours was called Carlos, picked up the gathered travellers and walked down the hill to the waiting buses. The Peruvian Ministry of Culture only sells twentyfive hundred admission tickets each day so the traffic is well regulated and controlled. The buses take off up the mountain on a one lane road with many hairpin bends and we arrive at what appears to be chaos. Tour guides trying to assemble the pack, unescorted travellers buying tickets and all of us trying to get into line at the admission turnstiles. Once through and following Carlos's instructions - "Go through snd meet me at the top, we all looked for his orange flag. How many times have we ridiculed the gangs of tourists, in foreign places, who obediently follow the leader; well today it was our turn.

Up the first steps, the first of thousands, we met to be given further instructions, after being pointed in the right direction - "Meet me at the top of the stairs."  Well! steps by the hundred taking us up a few hundred metres was just the start. Us oldsters did have to stop a few times, we told ourselves it was to allow the people coming down to get through, but our bodies knew better. At the top we were treated to history lesson about the Incas and where the site fitted in. It was abandoned by the one hundred and fifty families because the Fifteenth Inca (the last one to exist) needed all the help he could get to fight the Spanish. It was discovered by an American history professor, called Hiram Brigham, who was looking for the "Lost City of the Incas". He found it in 1911 and until 1913 he chopped it out of the jungle. But he did remove, to America, priceless artifacts.

How can we describe the process, that lasted two and a half hours, of being awed and pained physically - climbing what appeared to be thousands of staircases does wonders for the heart and the sights inspired the soul. We managed to finish (what other choice did we have) but instead of just coming away as we normally would have done by snorting, "Just another pile of old ruins and rocks" we sat and congratulated ourselves for finishing the tour and not being underwhelmed. In fact because of the site, its location and the atmosphere of visiting a modern wonder of the world one felt truely awed.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cusco and the road to Machu Picchu

Up and out of the hotel by 7am to arrive at the airport two hours early for a 10 am flight. As expected we hit the end of the runway one hour later. Touched down in Cusco 55 minutes later. Cusco is a plaace of small streets and adobe brick homes and shops.

The Hotel Prisma is an unexpected surprise - a really good three star. The room is a big triple and overlooks the atrium.

We have been advised to drink cups of coca tea to combat the possibility of "altitude sickness" - headaches, dizzyness and nausea due to a restricted amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. At the hotel we received the first of many, "this is free and the hotel provides more" Unfortuunately the offer did not hold up when we went back for the second one.

After a laydown we did venture out into this mountain town. The place is built on a slope and as in Lima the streets have been structured well and kept clean daily. The narrow streets were crammed but the place did shut down for a siesta between 2pm and four. Starving for a meal, by this time we did have to wait until 6pm for the hotel dining room to open. After only eating what the tour guide recommended, "Only eat soup or salad today" we are still feeling a little woozy, perhaps a slight altitude thing. Tomorrow we have to be up for five and an early start.

Check out the pic on the left and think of "how many people does it take to change a light-bulb"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

City Tour Day

"You'd be crazy not to go to Peru and not go to Machu Picchu." So went the conversations before this trip. We stalled and said, "Well if we find a good travel agent we might see." So at the travel agent, in a swanky cliffside Mall which was arrived at after a twenty minute stroll down a wide boulevard, and running the numbers it looks as though we might be going. But just to finish the afternoon off we signed up for the obligatory City Tour. "Be outside the hotel at 14 hours and we will pick you up, but we might be a little late - ten minutes maybe." 14 hours plus fifteen and we get the bellboy runs out and says"You have a phone call!" "Mr Ben, we are a little late the bus will be there in ten minutes." It was and we then proceeded to fight the worst traffic we have seen in most of our travels. But we did get to see the Parque Amor, the City Centre and the Catacombs at the St. Francis of Assisi church. Over twentyfive thousand people had been entombed and we saw most of their bones. Prior to the place being opened to the public the bones were catalogued by archaeologists and it showed as in one part of the crypt there was a pit about five metres in diameter and laid out neatly in spirals were skulls and femurs. I asked the guide how deep was the pit, "about ten metres!"

Being dropped off we recognised a mercado which we had seen in our earlier walk. Looking for supper we found ourselves speaking atrocious Spanish and buying pastry wrapped hot dogs. Putting them together with a six pack and a wrapped flan we toddled off to the room and watched the Warner channel with its marathon of "The Big Bang Theory."

Still tomorrow hasn't been planned yet.

travel reflections

On the plane again - first leg. The fifth of November and the plane needs to be deiced - welcome to the winter travelling season. Free beer and drinks, a meal and more legroom than Sunwing what could a traveller ask for? Landed at Panama City  Paname - the Hub of the America,s home to Copa Air and its eighty planes and 1300 employees. A wait of an hour and a short walk to the next gate and we are on our way again. The second plane was only half full and that gives us plenty of room to stretch and easy access to the washroom. Anther meal - steak and gravy with roast potatoes.

Landing in Lima very modern terminal and very efficiently processed. One thing we had never seen before - a man who checks the bag in your hand against the baggage stub that one gets at initial checkin (yep, the one you usually throw away). Emerging from the door into the arrivals hall, very much like Pearson, one immediately looks for the man with the sign with your name on it. Yep one was there, he grabbed the bag and we followed him into the parking lot and into a top of the line Toyota.

First impressions of the landscape are: very busy, traffic chaos, crowded buses and that the journey would have been much more interesting in the daytime.

Breakfast looks good

Sunday, November 4, 2012

We're off again

Thanks to a promo flight by Copa Airlines and new five year passports we're on the road again. Firstly a night in TO to help pay for the parking - stay one night get free parking for a week. Then a casual move to Pearson for an 8.40am flight.

Land in Panama City at 2.12pm and then take off again on the Lima leg at 3.36pm and land at 7.04pm - that's the theory we'll just see what happens. We are accustomed to having anything happen and we have plenty of time to adjust if it does happen.

The wonders of the modern world kicked in a couple of days ago. Worried about the airport shuttle companies not answering their emails I decided to phone the hotel. Jumped on Skype punched the numbers and within seconds was talking to a young lady at the desk of the Hotel Las Palmas; our soon to be home for the next seven days. "Habla ingles?" I asked in my best Spanish, which isn't best by anybody's standards, "Yes" and we were off discussing the pickup problem, turns out to be no problem (we'll see!)

So see you all on this site over the next week, we will try to post daily but might get held up so regularity may not be the strong suit for this effort, but we will try.

We left early to attend the Home Show at the International Centre, failed to eat before we left, had a couple of hot dogs at the IC but only one each - 2 dogs $11.30 - wow. The food better be cheaper in Lima!