Friday, January 28, 2011

Our summer in Peru

January 27, 2011
January 11th was the last time either of us wrote on the blog and at the facebook request of Claire I am trying to correct our two week absence. What have we been doing for the last two weeks? - Everything. We took a bus from Lake Titicaca to the amazing city of Cusco. Cusco cannot actually be described very easily. It is a city of contrasts, its streets cobbled with myth and conquests and at one time gold. The city sits in a valley and the surrounding hillsides are terraced, as is much of Peru, for planting thousands of different types of potatoes and one type of corn. These terraces are not new: they were there when the Spanish entered the city in 1533 and they were there when the 1st Incan, Capac, found the “navel of the world” and claimed the area as the capital of his empire. These green terraces starkly contrast the grey stones that were chiseled to sit perfectly, one on top of the other, by the Quechua people for the Incans. (Incan means king and so only the kings were Incans everyone else was Quechua, which is the name of the language many still speak) In the city you can walk down narrow streets that the Incans once walked down.  These are also the same streets that Pizarro and his men marched on. Every building you enter is an archeological site. Sitting in a pizzeria one day I noticed that the wall was obviously Incan because it too had perfectly cut stone and these stones were marked with numbers that the owner had left after the archeologist marked them. Also, in this ancient capital city, you can watch women and little girls walk around leading Llamas behind them...animals very out of place in the urban landscape. This can all be seen while sitting on the steps of Cusco’s cathedral which was built on top of an Incan palace. So Cusco is pretty much amazing and it’s not even the primary attraction.
Machu Picchu…. “Discovered” in 1911 by a professor from Yale, Machu Picchu is one of the most spectacular sites on this continent. I would argue that it is more amazing than the Acropolis in Athens. I guess Athens is never hard to beat however, since it smells like urine. Anyways, Machu Picchu is frakin’ cool. Buffy and I didn’t have time to actually hike the Incan trail and we had heard that we wouldn’t want to anyways so we took a train from Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes.  Aguas Calientes really only exists to support the tourism of Machu Picchu. It sits at the base of four VERY large mountains, the top of which you can only see on the sunniest of days. This town is also flanked by a rushing brown river that is part of the end of the Amazon. We stayed one night there and then took a bus up the winding trail to the “lost city of the Incans”. This drive is splendid. From the bus you can see waterfalls, forests and mountain tops and as you get closer to the ruins you start to see the marks of a lost empire. Once we actually got to the site its size and grandeur were immediately visible.
In 1911, Hiram Bingham, the archeologist credited with the discovery, was apparently pissed off about the discovery of Machu Picchu (as he was looking for someplace else entirely). But in following years he began to excavate and quickly recognized the significance of this site.  It is literally a city on top of a mountain. The Incan priest or king who built the site took great pains to build it here. It is linked by an Incan road (just a sliver of an immense highway that stretched from present day Chile to Ecuador) and by bridges that were built along cliffs. There are many impressive buildings on this site as well as astronomical carvings and niches for worship (maybe for mummies). We spent about eight hours just walking around and being truly amazed. Also at Machu Picchu you can look at Llamas and we were extremely lucky because the night before we arrived, a sacred black Llama was born, and three days earlier a tri-colored one. They were both pretty cute and frolicking like baby Llamas do.
After Cusco and Machu Picchu, Buffy and I took another 21 hour bus ride to Lima. We had heard from fellow travelers that Lima was barely worth a stop and not to stay for more than a day, but we found it to be pretty cool and interesting. Lima is now the capital city of Peru and has been since 1535 when Pizarro made it so. But the city was destroyed by an earthquake in the mid 18th century and so all of the colonial architecture is less than three hundred years old-yawn. Just kidding. The city has some cool museums and we went to the most fascinating one yet- Museo Larco may be the most fascinating because of its large collection of ancient erotic pottery. J We spent a few days in Lima recuperating from travelers fatigue and enjoying the oxygen (we’d been at over 14,000 feet for weeks by that point) and then we headed north towards Ecuador.
On our way to Ecuador we stopped in a little town called Trujillo, which is not so little. Named after Pizarro’s hometown in Espana, Trujillo has colonial architecture dating back to the 1500’s. Trujillo is also surrounded by the remains of civilizations predating the Incans. The Moche and the Chimu were two cultures that built great pyramids and palaces using adobe. When we first arrived in Trujillo I was not too interested in these adobe ruins, having played in my fair share back home, but these sites proved to be remarkable-and a must see for any of you planning a trip to Peru. These ancient ruins made up the largest adobe city in the world back in 1300 c.e. And the sand and adobe served to preserve paintings and other important archeological artifacts that a visitor can see and take photos of. It is really difficult to describe the awesomeness of a 14 story building made of adobe. I really cannot do it justice.
Hanging out around Huanchaco, the fishing/surfing village we stayed in north of Trujillo, I discovered Papas rellenas! So… these things are amazing!!!! What they do is take a potato and mash it and then stuff it with meat or a hardboiled egg or veggies or all three and then they fry it! Now this process can be done entirely by a little old lady with a baby strapped to her back at a stand attached to a bicycle. And I love it! But I also pay for it each time since my puny American stomach flora can’t handle street food. But I’m working on that by eating as much as I can and spending everyday sick!

Anyways we left Peru after only a few weeks but what feels like a lifetime and rode three more buses for a total of 26 hours to Cuenca! We spent most of our three days in Cuenca sick in bed so not a lot to report there but now we are in Quito! I also don’t have a lot to say about Quito since we just got here about 15 hours ago but will report more in the future. What I can say is that you can buy a three course vegetarian meal including a drink for $2 and so I’m a bit in love.
Eating street food in Peru!
Street vendor express!

Terraces and fields around Cusco

Black Baby Llama chillin in Machu Picchu

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