post

Cusco to Lima to Pisco

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 – Day 16 – Cusco to Lima, then to General San Martin/Pisco, Peru to embark Rotterdam

We are up at 6AM for a 7:20AM transfer to the airport for our 9AM flight to Lima. These early mornings will come to an end after today, once we return to the ship (thank goodness). Our LAN Peru flight arrives in Lima on time at about 10:30AM, but the checked bags take awhile to show up on the belt before we go to meet our driver in the Arrivals area. He only speaks Spanish and there appears to be an issue with something, so he calls the office so I can talk to them in English. They explain it is a 3.5 hour drive, and they want to ensure we arrive on time, so want to know if skipping the lunch stop along the way is OK with us. I readily agree and hand the cellphone back to our driver, so he can be told of our decision in Spanish.

JoeTourist: Lima to Pisco &emdash; Heading south on the freewayWe are out of the airport parking area by 11:00AM, which gives us plenty of time to drive south on the Pan American highway to the deep-water port of General San Martin, where Rotterdam is docked until a 6PM scheduled departure. All three of us are out of bottled water, so we know the Spanish word is “agua” and the driver understands we need to purchase some water before we go too far. Clearing the worse of the traffic snarls in Callao and then heading south through the coastal area of Lima takes the better part of an hour before we hit the toll road where our speed increases to 90 kmh. After picking up some bottled water at a gas station convenience store, we are ready for the next 3 hours in the Hyundai minivan. The air conditioning is on, and we are all in good spirits as we head south down this toll road, which is a freeway most of the route we take.

Just south of Lima is the high-class areas of Miraflores, Barranco and Chorrillos. Beautiful, mostly empty beaches dominate this area, with lots of beach facilities available. The changing scenery outside is amazing: huge mountains of sand I have not encountered since my trip to the Libyan Sahara. There is sand everywhere…dunes, beaches, hills and mountains, conglomerate ridges, and lots of beautiful colours. Further south along the coastline are numerous communities near the beaches, which are obviously vacation homes since they are within an easy commute from Lima. I see three vultures and one hawk sitting quite close together on a gravelly hill, which is odd to see these predators together.

Winding our way through Pisco is tricky, since the main road along the shoreline is closed for repair. All the big trucks are all turning tight corners in city streets, which aren’t designed for heavy traffic. Once we leave that congestion behind, we drive along the coastal road south of Pisco, and soon spot Rotterdam in the distance across the bay! This area is called Paracas, and is very sandy and incredibly flat. A tsunami would do some serious damage, since the bay is shallow and the land is flat. Even with a warning, it would be virtually impossible for residents to escape a tsunami since there are no elevated areas for many kilometers inland. There are refineries on the inland side of the road, and there are also fish processing plants in this area. The stink takes awhile to clear out of our vehicle as we proceed around the bay, heading for the ship.

We arrive at the ship by 3:30PM, so we are early, since the ship departs at 6PM. Our driver did a great job manoeuvring through all the traffic today…he must be exhausted. We are very glad to be back aboard the Rotterdam – our home away from home. We are looking forward to exploring new ports as she sails northward up the Pacific coast of South and Central America during the last half of our trip.

post

Machu Picchu

Monday, December 05, 2011 – Day 15 – Machu Picchu, Peru

Today promises to be the highlight of the whole trip. Rocio and Felix arrive at 5:50AM to transfer us to the Poroy train station, a few kilometers outside the city. Cusco has a train station dedicated to Machu Picchu, but the residents in the area had it closed down because of noise problems from the train running up a series of switchbacks to climb out of Cusco. I can sympathize with their concerns. Of course the city now fills up with all the tourist buses and taxis heading to Poroy station, but at least they are quieter than the train, although they cause much more pollution.

JoeTourist: Machu Picchu &emdash; Train running through the valley belowThe PeruRail Vistadome train leaves Poroy station at 6:40AM, traveling through the agricultural valley of the Rio Cachimayo through several small towns. Once it passes through the town of Huarocondo, it starts to descend down the steep valley carved by the Rio Huarocondo. We are served a very nice continental breakfast snack, including good Peruvian coffee or soft drinks. At the half way mark down this valley, the train carefully negotiates a switchback built on the steep sides of the valley before traveling down to the junction of the Rio Huarocondo and the Rio Urubamba. We are now in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the train soon arrives at Ollantaytambo station, where it makes its only stop for five minutes.

JoeTourist: Machu Picchu &emdash; Peruvians pose for usWe arrive at Aguas Calientes on time at 10AM. This small community is jammed in a narrow valley where the only road is to Machu Picchu. Our guide Grimaldo meets us in the train station, and we then take a transfer bus to Machu Picchu. The bus climbs to the top of the hill on a gravel road with many switchbacks, some 800 metres above the valley below. We soon catch our first glimpses of Machu Picchu – it’s hard to describe using words or photos. It is a wonderful feat of engineering if you consider it has survived virtually intact for centuries through countless tropical rainstorms; hot sun, fierce winds, and yes…the onslaught of tourists.

We spend two hours walking the site, learning all the fascinating concepts, which Grimaldo so skilfully conveys to us. I would not want to see Machu Picchu without a guide, at least for a first visit. I can see where it would be wonderful to just go up there to sit and soak up the ambience of this sacred place on my next visit, which would require staying in a hotel in Aguas Calientes for several nights. We see the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows in the Sacred District. We also see a sundial, which still has perfect alignment with the cardinal directions.

There is a single hotel right at the entrance to Machu Picchu, where we had a nice buffet lunch after our walking tour of the site. I expect the rates to stay there would be very high. There are several hotel and hostels in Aguas Calientes, which no doubt offer less expensive options. We take the bus to the bottom then board the Vistadome train from Aguas Calientes back to Poroy Station near Cusco. As the train makes its way back, the crew put on a fashion show and dragon dance. Of course they then come down the isle and sell the alpaca clothing they modeled.

Our trusty driver Felix and tour coordinator Rocio are waiting to transfer us back to Cusco and the hotel. By then it is 8PM, so we decide to skip dinner and go to bed since it was such a full day.

post

Sacred Valley of the Incas

Sunday, December 04, 2011 – Day 14 – Sacred Valley of the Incas Tour, Peru

I am up ahead of our wakeup call at 6AM, and go down to the buffet breakfast included with the hotel rate. It is wonderful to have some Peruvian coffee and a nicely prepared omelette before our day begins. Felix is our driver and Boris is our guide for the day. They pick us up at 8AM for our full day tour of the Sacred Valley. Grain and corn were cultivated for the Inka, his family and the upper class in this valley. Original Inca agricultural terraces are still being used today, and are visible everywhere we drive through this valley.

Wendy mentions to Boris she is interested in textiles, so he decides to reverse the order of the tour, taking us to Chinchero for our first stop this morning. The Peruvian women at Expo Andina serve us cocoa tea and then put on a very amusing and informative textile demonstration. Afterward, they have their wares for sale. We end up buying quite a few items, since they are original and locally made.

The local Sunday market in Chinchero is also close by. It’s a very interesting market, where some people are trading produce rather than paying cash. There is a lunch area, fresh spices, produce of all kinds, flowers, a shoe repair, including sandals for sale made from recycled tires, and cooking pottery is also being sold. The varieties of corn and potatoes available in this market are nothing short of amazing. There is also a large area dedicated to souvenirs made for tourists. I think we are their only tourists this morning, because we were pestered pretty well.

Next stop is Urubamba, the community where the Peru Rail train joins the Urubamba River and the Sacred Valley on its way to Machu Picchu. We get a super workout at our next stop at Ollantaytambo, an Incan town and temple fortress – we climb to the top! The granite stone used for this fortress were moved by human muscle from a quarry on the side of a mountain, located across the river . Boris offers to take us into an Incan house, but we decline since we are so exhausted after scaling the fortress.

We drive to our lunch stop at the Sonesta Posada Yucay, a resort and a hotel. They offer a very a nice buffet of traditional Peruvian food. I really appreciate having some coffee to start with. After savouring the coffee, I go back to tackle the buffet, which consists of virtually all Peruvian food. Yucay is in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which is a fertile and verdant valley, and still produces maize as it did for the Incas so many centuries ago. We drive by a soccer game being played with sheep on the field, which nobody seems to notice or care about.

Pisac Market is our last stop before returning to Cusco. We all assure Boris we can do without visiting this market, and would appreciate an early return to the hotel so we can rest. However, he talks us into a quick visit, since it is on our way back to Cusco. The market is huge, and there are many interesting things for sale, but we buy nothing and leave after 15 minutes. We see more Inca terraces on the hills above the Rio Pahuaycoc valley, as we return to Cusco.

We go to La Pizza Carlo again for dinner this evening and order the loaded pizza. Perhaps we are not very adventurous, but we are exhausted from the day’s activities and just want to go to bed to get lots of rest for tomorrow – the big day when we go to Machu Picchu.

post

Lima to Cusco

Saturday, December 03, 2011 – Day 13 – Lima to Cusco, Peru

I am seated with an Ecuadorian couple (who live in San Diego) at breakfast this morning in the dining room. The man is very impressed that I am on a self-booked tour to Machu Picchu, and validates my expectation that this site will be the highlight of the trip. He tells me Machu Picchu is actually in a tropical climate, which will be wetter and warmer than Cusco, and which will also be cool in the mornings but pleasantly warm by afternoon. I have my trusty Hally Hansen sailing jacket with me, which has an outer rainproof coat and an inner fleece jacket, so I should be able to cope with changing conditions, including rain, which is common at Machu Picchu this time of year.

Rotterdam arrives on time at 10AM despite being delayed by a Peruvian navy ship that had priority in the harbour. It’s exciting to finally be in Callao and on our way. I debark the ship and immediately see my name on a placard, and meet the young woman who will guide us to the airport and help us find our flight to Cusco. Although I’m sure we would have managed on our own taking a taxi, it is so much easier to have someone else deal with the transfer and check-in using Spanish. This is the start of our private group tour (just my two friends and myself) which I booked through Bestway Tours and Safaris.

Since the port and the Lima airport are both located in Callao, we don’t have to drive through Lima proper, so the transfer to the airport takes less than a half hour. We have about three hours to kill in the airport before our flight departs, so we settle into the food fair area outside the secure gate area – Starbucks and MacDonalds are both available, as well as chicken and sandwich places. We eat our own snacks instead. I spot quite a few passengers from the Rotterdam in the airport. Flight announcements are in Spanish and English. We find this area of the airport to be very noisy, so we move through security to the boarding gate waiting area, which has nice padded seats and is a bit quieter.

Our LANPeru flight to Cusco leaves on time, and it is not full. The scenery outside the window is nothing short of spectacular. As we climb away from Lima, we can appreciate just how huge the city is. The flight across Peru on our way to Cusco takes us over the Andes mountains, which are simply amazing. As we approach the valley where Cusco is located, there is beautiful scenery at every turn the aircraft makes on approach. After landing and retrieving our bags, we find the bonus outside – the weather is warm and sunny in Cusco, unlike the coastal cities of Lima and Trujillo, which were cold, foggy, and overcast.

Our guide and driver meet us at the Cusco airport and take us to our hotel, the Casa Andina Private Collection – an amazing hotel right in the centre of the city. Although we haven’t had a chance to explore it fully since it is so labyrinthine, what we have experienced is very nice indeed. Our three nights here will be very comfortable. Our rooms have king beds and all rooms look over courtyards, which means they are very quiet. The hotel was created from an 18th century manor house. Having free access to high speed Internet is a real bonus for me…hopefully I will have time to catch up on blogs and email while I’m here.

We all are a bit wobbly and not feeling 100%, although it is hard to tell if the cause is spending the last 11 days on board a ship, or the high altitude, or a combination of the two. In any case, we are coping well, since the symptoms aren’t preventing us from exploring this interesting city. Cusco is a safe city to wander around day or night, since it is so tourist-oriented. We have a wonderful wood fired pizza for dinner at a little pizzeria only a block from the hotel called La Pizza Carlo – recommended by our guide, TripAdvisor, and me too!

A painting of the Inca Cross: a snake, a puma and condors with Machu Picchu

A painting of the Inca Cross: a snake, a puma and condors with Machu Picchu

After dinner, I buy a watercolour painting from an artist hawking his wares outside the hotel. It is an abstract of an Inca, an Indian, a puma and Machu Picchu, which I find out later depicts the Chakana or Inca Cross (see Inca mythology). I sometimes purchase small paintings as mementos while traveling, since I routinely pass by all the other souvenirs.

It is time for bed and some rest, since we have a full day tour of the Sacred Valley tomorrow, and I want to be ready for it. I wake up at 3AM and decide to get up for awhile. By then I’m feeling considerably better than I was earlier, which is encouraging. I use my time to update my blog and drill through a bunch of emails. After an hour, I crawl back into bed and rest for an hour or so before arising again as the morning starts.

post

Trujillo, Peru

Friday, December 2, 2011 – Day 12 – Salaverry (port) and Trujillo (city), Peru

Rotterdam creeps into port of Salaverry this morning sounding the ship’s horn as she goes through the thick fog that envelops the area. The Cruise Director tells us later that we almost had to miss the port due to the fog. My friends explore the city of Trujillo, taking a shuttle bus from the port to the city centre in Trujillo. They report that the central square is charming, but the abject poverty in the rest of the city is shocking.

I take a shore excursion to the Huaca Dragon (Temple), the Chan Chan complex, and to see the fishermen with their reed boats at Huanchaco, a popular beach resort area. Huaca Dragon is a small temple on the outskirts of Trujillo, and has a ramp up to the top of the single temple and also has some fascinating rainbow decorations on the walls. A pre-Incan culture called the Chimu built this edifice as both a temple and a place to store food.

Chan Chan is an immense adobe city (20 sqkm, 30,000 residents) also built by the Chimu people, but closer to the coast than Huaca Dragon. In fact, from high points in the complex, the Pacific Ocean can be glimpsed. We visit the three huge plazas and former living areas used by the Chimu people before they were conquered by the Aztecs, who destroyed much of this complex. The vast majority of this city is still buried in the coastal sand.

The reed boats at Huanchaco are an interesting diversion. A couple of our tour members have a ride on them or try to paddle them in the ocean. As we travel around to these various sites, I also take note of the disturbing poverty in this region, other than at the resort town of Huanchaco, which is rather posh in comparison.

Rotterdam leaves port on time at 5PM. My friend and I try to see the Green Flash of the setting Sun from the Sports Deck, but no joy since there is too much fog out to sea this evening. After dinner in the Lido this evening, I pack my bags for our departure from Rotterdam tomorrow for a three day excursion to Machu Picchu. We rejoin the ship in the port of Pisco on Dec 6th.