Amazon Cruise Tuesday, Oct 26 2010 

Sunset in Iquitos

Sunset in Iquitos

A full day of travel was required to fly from Cusco to Lima, then Lima to Iquitos.  The only way to get there is by boat or airplane.  There is discussion, however, about constructing a train from Lima.  Our departure from Iquitos was delayed because the luggage for one member of our party did not arrive with everyone else’s.  While we waited for him, we were treated to a colorful sunset while comfortably situated in an air conditioned bus.  His luggage was located in Lima but could not be delivered during our cruise.  Therefore, he went shopping in a nearby village on the day following our cruise departure.  Iquitos, with a population @400,000, has one road that traverses 94 kilometers to Nauta, our destination for embarking on a riverboat cruise.  After passing crude dwellings, we received welcoming drinks in a handsomely constructed thatch roofed structure while our luggage was delivered to our cabins.

The Delphin II accommodates 28 passengers.  Our room was ideally located on the second floor at the front of the boat on the starboard side.  Four 6 foot windows provided fantastic panoramic views in air conditioned comfort.  The room’s lights included an inlaid backlit glass piece of art as well as individual spot lighting.  The shower with its rain shower head refreshed us after excursions.  The gourmet food included many native products prepared and presented with flair, and the table decorations for each meal were unique.

Moon Rising on the Amazon

Moon Rising

From Nauta, which is on the Marañon River, we traveled to where it merges with the Ucayali.  It is at this intersection where maps show the beginning of the Amazon.  Three guides individually joined with a driver to take 10 passenger skiffs on various adventures.  Aronay used a machete to carve a trail through the jungle of the Yanalpa Private Reserve.  After we returned from the heat and humidity, we were greeted with refreshing fruit drinks as we boarded the Delfin II.  In the afternoon, we boarded a skiff for a trip up the Dorado River for wildlife watching.  Another outing took us up the Pacaya River and another to the Atun Lake, which seemed more like the intersection of two waterways, where we swam in the warm water.  We returned under a full moon.   On an early morning fishing excursion up the Caro Curahuayte, piranhas and other fish were caught.  We also went up the Tapeche River, including one of its small tributaries, for bird watching.  We observed many fishermen on the rivers.  The rivers are their roads and used to transport goods to them as well as to deliver their fish to Iquitos.

Some of the animals we saw on our outings include: three toed sloths, red howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, monk saki monkeys, pink river dolphins, gray dolphins, a tarantula, iguanas, and black caiman.  Birds are present everywhere.  Here are a few of the ones we saw: muscovy ducks, cormorants, various herons, great egrets, cattle egrets, vultures, black collared hawks, black cara cara, yellow-headed cara cara, at least one type of kingfisher, cuvier’s toucan, swallows, chestnut-bellied seedeaters, tanagers, and orioles.

We visited native villages.  In one we met a government paid school teacher and his students after walking to see a giant tree.  In another we saw how the native population lives and had an opportunity to purchase their crafts.  We were shown how sugar cane is squeezed using wooden implements.  Rice and peanuts were being dried on plastic sheets exposed to the sun and available for chickens and other animals to taste at will.  The people collect water directly from the rivers and consequently have developed natural processes for killing the parasites that invade their bodies.  The mosquitoes were less prevalent than we expected, perhaps because we visited near the end of the dry season.

Sunset on the Amazon

Amazon Sunset

On our return by bus to Iquitos, we stopped at a rehabilitation site for rescued manatees.  Adult manatees are eaten by the native population and some attempt to raise the offspring of the females they have killed.  Baby manatees, however, nurse for two years.  Thus, this unique conservation effort attempts to raise the young and reintroduce them in the wild.

During our time on the Amazon, we were gifted with exquisite sunrises and sunsets.  The moon, too, was full and especially beautiful on one of our night excursions.  Truly, this was a memorable visit in a remarkable country.

Cusco, Peru Tuesday, Oct 26 2010 

Catedral at Night

Catedral at Night

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire.  Our hotel, Casa Andina, was located a block from the central plaza.  Two Catholic churches, built by competing Jesuits, are located on the plaza.  We toured the main Catedral (which doesn’t allow pictures).  My description of the magnificent altars and art work could never do justice to this sacred place built atop an Inca temple.  The first altar we saw upon entering surely would have been inspiring to the Quechua as it glitters with gold.  The Spanish sent some of the Quechua who were promising painters to Europe to further their studies.  Upon their return they were commissioned to adorn the church with huge paintings.  Images and symbols from the Quechua culture were slipped into their work in obvious and subtle ways.  One altar presents a black Jesus.  We were told that this statue was paraded around the plaza by local citizens during the earthquake of 1650.  As a result of their thankfulness for being spared, they lit candles which are said to have colored the wood black.  The church and plaza fountain are particularly beautiful at night.  A large statue of Jesus, donated @1950 by Palestinian Arabs, sits atop a nearby hill and overlooks the city with outspread arms.

120 ton stone

120 ton stone

We toured the Sacsayhuaman ruins which are adjacent to that statue of Jesus.  There is evidence that the city of Cusco was laid out in the shape of a puma and that this site was the puma’s head.  The Spanish covered this site with dirt thereby preserving it.  Excavations started in 1942 and continue today.  One solid limestone rock within this complex is estimated to weigh 120 tons.  The Quechua method of placing stones so tightly and perfectly that no mortar was needed was evident as well as pre-Quechua stone work.  A large field that may have been used for large gatherings was constructed with excellent drainage.  The day following a heavy rain, we were told, the area is dry.

Our stop at the one time Dominican convent, formerly Temple of the Sun, took an unexpected turn when a member of our group fainted, perhaps instigated by the high altitude.  The 1950 earthquake caused some damage to the structure which revealed elements of its heritage.  The Spanish had plastered and painted over the Quechua stone work.  One stone on display has a perfectly drilled hole.  How did a civilization that knew only soft metals drill such a hole?  In another location an entrance features a huge stone with 14 faces, each perfectly angled in various ways to match the requirements of an elaborate entry.

We stopped at La Perez where knowledgeable Marcia told us the difference between vicuna, alpaca, baby alpaca, and maybe alpaca.  We each splurged and exited with new hand knit baby alpaca sweaters.

La Tama offered another tasty luncheon buffet along with musical entertainment by Gener Acion Andina.  Later in the afternoon Gustavo Leôn displayed examples of the musical instruments used in Andean music and demonstrated their sound.  My simplistic summary is that many are wind instruments such as the quena, quenillo, pan flutes, antara, zampona; others are stringed such as the bandurria (20 strings), charango (12 strings), guitarra; and a variety of percussion instruments.  The instruments are made of native materials such as cow horns and an armadillo backed guitar.  After this informative program, Gustavo was joined with other members of his group.  They played traditional Andean music accompanied by two young couples dancing every other song in different costumes.  Another buffet dinner, this time at Tunupa on the Square, featured Andean musicians and costumed dancers.  Without a doubt, Cusco is a remarkable place with a high level of culture.

Machu Picchu Monday, Oct 25 2010 

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

The most popular tourist attraction in Peru is Machu Picchu.  To get there we road the PeruTrain from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, a 1.5 hour trip covering only 27 kilometers.  For almost 3 months earlier in the year, Macchu Picchu was inaccessible because of major flooding of the Urubamba River which parallels the train track.  Once we arrived in Aquas Calientes, we transferred to a bus which made the long climb from the bottom of the valley to the saddle between two mountains where Machu Picchu is located.  No matter how many pictures you have seen, experiencing the engineering feats first hand is truly awe inspiring.  In the morning our guide, Eddie Pizarro, gave us a good introduction to most of the important elements that compose this wonder.  After lunch near the ruins, many of us returned for individual explorations.  My walk to the guard house was rewarded with a classic Machu Picchu snapshot.  One surprise was that the terraces and much of the stone work was pre-Quechua.  The Inca left his mark in several places, however.  Nowhere is the incredible engineering more evident than with what is known as the royal enclosure.  Here smooth, perfectly matched white granite sits atop living rock and has rounded corners.  Interestingly, the stone work changes on purpose between the royal enclosure and the priest’s quarters.  One temple has a wall with an area that is still rough.  It is a mystery how they were able to make the walls so smooth.  Further, how did they create steps with sharp right angles?  Additional mysteries concern how they created accurate astronomical bearings on a living rock on a high place within the complex.  The mountain with the name Machu Picchu actually sits opposite and out of sight in classic photos of the site.  The mountain in such snapshots is Waynu Picchu.  A ceremonial rock was positioned in the shape of a mountain it faced.  One interesting room features two shallow bowls carved in the stone floor that are filled with water.  Look into a bowl and see the sun’s reflection.  Another room is designed with steep walls on bothe sides of a wall with holes.  It is theorized that this was a form of air conditioning and air flow can be felt even without the outside wall.  Another spot features a carved stone work that looks like a condor.  Quechua believed in three spheres represented by the condor, the puma, and the serpent.  Thank God the Spanish didn’t find Machu Picchu during their conquest or we wouldn’t be able to appreciate its wonders today.

Train Ride Entertainment

Devilish Fun

We spent the night at the Hatuchay Tower in Aguas Calientes.  The city is built adjacent to the river and is still recovering from the catastrophic flood earlier in the year.  A crew of workmen was digging a trench on one side of the road.  Other workers use carts to remove garbage and to deliver goods coming in by train. We enjoyed a fine buffet lunch at Pueblo Viejo, owned by the mayor and managed by an affable gentleman.  La Familia Roque entertained us with Andean music. Our return train trip included a fashion show and entertainment by the stewards.

Sacred Valley Monday, Oct 25 2010 

Sacred Valley

Sacred Valley

From Lima, located adjacent to the Pacific Ocean and representative of the coastal desert, we flew over the Andes to Cusco which is at an elevation of 11,200 feet.  OxiShot was available in the baggage claim area for those feeling the effects of the high elevation.  After we boarded our tour bus for this part of the journey, we were greeted with coca tea which is supposed to have a soothing effect at this altitude.  We traveled by bus to the Sacred Valley at an elevation around 9,000 feet above sea level. It is composed of several separate cities such as Pisac where we stopped at a market composed of vendors selling their wares geared for tourists.  I shopped for a sweater.  During my walk up and down the narrow aisles, I spotted one sweater whose color attracted me at 3 separate booths.  At each I got the initial price offer and did some bartering but waited until I saw a similar colored sweater with a finer mix of baby alpaca before buying for $12.  Another tourist item that I noted here and in later markets was the proliferation of chess sets with an Inca theme.

We stayed two nights in the small community of Yucay at Posada del Inca, a converted monastery.  A small church was located on the grounds and is especially beautiful lit at night.  The grounds are well manicured with many varieties of flowers.  The food was excellent and included musical entertainment at lunch and dinner.  Ruben Orellana, former director of Machu Picchu, lectured on Inca culture with an emphasis on their different views on time and space from current Western thought.  I most liked when he referred to his own accomplishments at Machu Picchu and would have liked to learn more about the trail he discovered leading away from the site.

The following day we visited the Center for Weavers of Chinceros, one of nine locations organized by Nilda Callaňaupa Alvarez that are members of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco.  The objectives are to:

  • weave the ancient patterns, revive the use of natural dyes,
  • produce high quality textiles of natural fibers,
  • reintroduce the traditional dress and the use of traditional textiles in the home.


We observed students receiving instruction and practicing weaving techniques appropriate to their individual skill level.  We were shown the natural sources used in dying yarn, drop spinning, and weaving mainly using a back strap but also a technique for longer pieces where two women throw the yarn to one another.  Nilda has also shared her expertise in a beautifully produced book with an intriguing title, Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands: Dreaming Patterns, Weaving Memories.  We purchased a hat and coin container, but avoided some of the expensive albeit beautiful items.

Maywa Blanco, a biologist, displayed examples of representative Peruvian agricultural products.  She also demonstrated the use of a chaki taqlla, a hand plow used on steep slopes.   During our bus rides, we only saw one or two tractors on flatter land and a few oxen teams on slightly steeper land.  Our lecturers claimed different numbers of potato varieties.  Vicarel said that there were about 4,000.  Orellano maintained that there are 6,000 and that another 1,000 have been lost.  Blanco, however, told us there are 1,000 varieties and that there may have been another 1,000 in earlier times.  Her numbers are probably more accurate.  One type of potato is very tiny, another covered with nodules and, of course, there are different colors, too.  Our meals included many different potatoes, grains, and vegetables prepared many different ways.

In the afternoon we traveled to Ollantaytambo and visited the ruins there.  Much of the work is pre-Quechua, but there are also examples of distinctive Quechua rock work.  On a nearby mountain could be seen a granary and to its left an exposed open spot where that the sunlight hits on the solstice.  What is considered the royal purification site is especially interesting with the water channeled through stone work to form a sort of shower.  But how in the world did the Quechua carve the stone in three sections with right angles?  Also, how did they transport the pink granite used here from high quality.a quarry some distance away on the other side of a mountain?

The last educational portion of our day was a visit to the Pablo Seminario Ceramic Studio in Urubamba.  We saw potters at work and women smoothing and painting items.  The owners display examples of the ancient Peruvian ceramic techniques.  Their work, however, is very modern.  As we toured the grounds, I was interested in the wildlife the owners have collected such as blue & yellow macaws, a scarlet macaw, a monkey, and llamas.  The grounds also have beautiful trees and flowers throughout.  The streets of Urubambo are filled with motobike taxis.   From the time of this visit until we departed for Cusco, a river of mud descended on this city through one of the roads through town.  The high mountains and such natural catastrophes require hard labor from the local residents.

Lima, Peru Monday, Oct 25 2010 

Lima's Coastline

Lima's Coastline

Our adventure in Peru began in Lima.  We arrived at 10:30 p.m.via a Continental Airline flight from Houston.  Our hotel, Casa Andina Classic, was located in the Miraflores San Antonio district of this city of 9 million which is divided into 43 separate entities, each with its own mayor.  Our tour, “Exploring the Inca’s Sacred Empire and the Amazon,” led by Ofelia Larco, involves an educational component.

Michael Vicarel, a biologist, lectured on the rich natural and cultural diversity of Peru.  After his presentation we boarded our tour bus and traveled across several of Lima’s districts seeing the housing of rich residents in one district and later where middle class residents dwell, as well as several countries’ embassies and other public and governmental buildings.  Claudia was our tour guide for this part of the day which included a stop at the Archaeological Museum where we learned about the many cultures in Peru from the Chavin to the Incas.  Many of the exhibits are under a roof that circles two separate courtyards with grass and ornamental plants in their center.

Peruvian cuisine is distinctive.  We enjoyed fine food at Seňorio del Sullco for lunch and Tanta (which is Quechua for “bread”) for dinner.  During the afternoon we visited La Catedral, originally built in the 1500s, located in the central plaza of Old Lima.  The main sanctuary is quite beautiful and surrounded with distinctive smaller altars. A great first day in a country with a rich history!

Granite Basin Lake Monday, Oct 4 2010 

Granite Basin Lake

Granite Basin Lake

Our Sunday morning hike in the Granite Basin Recreation Area included parts of several trails.  After parking in the Metate parking area, we hiked counter clockwise on Trails 261, 353, 351, and 345.  This flat 1.4 mile loop started at an elevation of 5,600 feet and never exceeded 5,700 feet.  In addition, we walked along Mint Wash for .75 mile to the junction with Trail 352.  With Granite Mountain Wilderness on one side and the wash on the other, there were nice views with leaves changing color.

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