Thursday, 31 December 2015

Peru 2015/16 - Cusco - Juenes - Saqsaywoman

Chris, Jason and I hiked up to the Saqsaywoman site today as a practice run for the Inca Trail. They were using the walking poles for the first time. It went well, back down and Chris and Jason went shopping and I sketched. At 4:30 there was a G-Adventures briefing and the we went out to supper. Wake up call is 6:30am and it is New Years Eve so I'm not sure how much sleep I will get. It is 10pm so I am not doing my blog and will be leaving my computer at the hotel for the next 5 days so no blogging til I get back to Cusco. I will be taking photographs and keeping a diary so will get this back up to date when I get back to Canada.
I am nervous and excited. This is one of the base hotels for G Adventures and another tour company so every day people are returning from the Inca Trail and they are all so excited but all say it is tough.

Peru 2015/16 - Cusco - Miercoles - Horseback Riding

It is another lovely day, blue sky with fluffy white clouds, warm enough to be in a t-shirt. I have a sun burnt nose! It has been like that since I got here though dark grey, angry looking clouds can move in rapidly. Once there was a thunderstorm overnight and I have dodged a couple of brief showers. It is rainy season, Robinson at G Adventures says it is unusual and to prepare for rain on the trek. I bought a rain poncho today in the hope that will prevent it from raining. I also bought ear plugs (I have been warned that New Years Eve will be very loud and its the first night of our tour), bug spray and a flashlight.
Chris and Jason came to my hotel and we were picked up for our horseback riding excursion here. The drive out of town was fun with clogged streets, honking horn and a very creative approach to traffic lanes (basically as many as you can fit between the buildings) but it didn't take us long to get out of the congestion. I was happy to see that we were provided with riding helmets.
Jason's horse had to give her foal a little snack before leaving. Then he went back to grazing.
Chris mounted and ready to go.
My horse, named Super. He was fine but I'm not sure about super.

We rode up the road a bit and then onto trails through a field with lots of free range horses and foals. First stop was the Temple of the Moon.
Gabriel telling us about the site.
Altars cut into the side of a rock outcropping and caves where ceremonies were performed for the dead. They were mummified in the fetal position and buried in tombs with food, clothing, tools etc. The Inca believed in reincarnation.

Mounting up again (believe me the mounting part is not as easy as it used to be) we set out over the mountain. The horses knew which way to go, climbing in a zig zag pattern up the steepest parts. The scenery was magnificent with Cusco in the valley below us and mountains all around.

Passed llamas

Storms were coming in and twice I put on my poncho but it never actually rained. We heard thunder and watched lightening above the mountains. I can only imagine what that will be like when trekking.

We stopped at a flat spot near the top and Gabriel (our guide and co-owner, with his brother, of the horses) talked about the Aug 1 ceremony on that spot to Pachamama (Earth Mother).

Passing storm with a great light show.

Glimpse of Cusco in the valley below.

We ate the snacks provided and then remounted (this time the young boy, along to help, was having a great time giggling at my difficulty mounting - we had to find a bigger clump of grass to use as a mounting block). Down hill, through trees and meadows, over streams and gullys. |My poncho made it difficult to get to my camera so no pictures of that part.

As we returned to the "ranch", we were greeted by Jason's horses foal looking for another snack.

Gabriel fed the horses before we left and as the food was in the back of the car
the car was mobbed.

Super knew something was going on
A couple of them took matters into their own hands.
 It was an expensive excursion by Peruvian standards, $45 US, however we were gone for 3 1/2 hours and much of that was on horseback. Gabriel and his young helper were with us all the time often on foot, keeping us safe. Gabriel's English was excellent and he was a willing guide.
As we drove back into town it started to rain, great timing and after a short wait for the shower to stop we headed back to Chis and Jason's apartment to make supper. While there the rain was so torrential on their corrugated plastic roof that it was impossible to talk. Oh that will be fun when trekking!
Market at night

Home to do the blog and again Internet too slow to load up pictures so this was finished on Thursday morning

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Peru 2015/16 - Cusco - Martes - Free Walking Tour (FWT) and Chris and Jason arrive.

The best news for today is that my luggage finally arrived. I hugged the hotel receptionist when she told me it was in my room and later I went to to the G-Adventures office and hugged Robinson. What a relief and so nice to have G-Adventures take care of it for me.
Oh Happy Day!

I took the Free Walking Tour (FWT) of Cusco today. Started in Plaza Regocija (also known as the Place of Happiness in Quechua, the Inca language) at 10:30 and our first stop was the coffee museum where we were told how coffee was grown, harvested and roasted in Peru.

I didn't try the free sample (had enough coffee with breakfast) but was told it was excellent. From there we walked into Plaza Des Armas where our guide talked about the name (it was where the Incas gathered their weapons for the, failed, revolt against the Spanish) it is also know as the Place of Crying in the Quechua language as it is where the Inca hero of the revolution was killed by the Spanish.
The two churches that border the Plaza and the other 12 catholic churches in the city are all built on the foundations of Inca Temples as Cusco was the religious capital for the Incas. Next we walked around the central area while she showed us how to differentiate Inca architecture from Inca imperial architecture and Colonial architecture.
This is an example of Inca Imperial Architecture
 The Inca Imperial was utilized by a specific Inca era when many of the religious and government buildings were completed. It has straight lines, standard stone sizes, trapeziodal shaped stones and uses no mortar.
Colonial - uneven stones, lots of mortar
Inca - huge stones, multi-faceted, no mortar.

We were taken into a handicraft area where Inca music was demonstrated by a couple of musicians dressed as Incas. Opportunities for photos for a tip. I took a picture of the modern kick pedal he was using for his base drum. I thought Mike would be amused, the Inca guy was a little puzzled by this but happy with the tip.
Inca actors. The music was haunting and beautiful. Drums, horns, pipes.
Dried llama or alpaca hooves used as a rattle.

There were also 5 camelids there and the differences between Llama and Alpaca were explained. Again opportunities for photos for a tip.
The nearest one is a llama the other 4 are alpacas
Llamas have a longer neck and can be more than one colour.
Anther photo taken for Mike, they are nicknamed Rasta due to their dreadlock like coats.
 Next stop was an Inca ruin that was discovered after the last earthquake destroyed the Spanish built plaster walls, leaving the Inca foundation and some walls. The Incas built in such a way that their buildings could survive earthquakes.
I didn't pay to go in as I could see none of my addiction, information boards.
 Our guide told us that the origional Inca came from the Lake Titikaka region where they were expert hydraulic engineers. They migrated to the Sacred Valley, near Cusco, which was more fertile and formed an aliance with the warrior tribe living there. This amalgamation became the civilization we know as Inca  who were both engineers and warriors.
Lastly we went into a Ceviche restaurant and were taught how to make Ceviche and had the opportunity to try some. Fresh white fish, lime, coriander, sweet chili pepper, red onion. Mix for 4 minutes and its done. Served with corn and sweet potato cooked in sugar and orange juice. It was delicious.
The Inca started the development of different varieties of corn and potato and now Peru has 90 varieties of corn and 200 of potato.

This was a 3 hour walking tour and we each paid what we felt was fair. It was varied and often interesting  however short on historic information. The guide repeated herself so many times I wondered if she didn't have enough knowledge to fill the time or thought that we weren't paying attention. There was also the sense that part of how the tour was funded was through taking the group to places where they would spend money then or later. Chris tells me that free walking tours in other parts of the world don't seem to operate that way.
It started to rain as I headed home so I popped into a restaurant for a huge bowl of Sopa de Mais Crema and then returned to the hotel to meet Chris and Jason. They had just got in and were pretty tired and hungry. We stopped at a little hole in the wall place and they each got a bowl of chicken, vegetable and barley soup and a plate of rice, chicken and fried plantain for 10 sol, $2.50 each! Next we shopped.
Fruit and vegetables at the market, cereal, meat, milk at the supermercado.
 Back to their Airbnb apartment. It is a charming little spot with everything they need; a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living/dining room and very well equipped. It is literally half a block from the market, about 3 blocks from the main square. They are staying there for 2 nights before moving to y hotel for the start of the tour.
Ceviche recipe on the wall at their apartment.
 We discussed the next few days itinerary and went to G Adventures to book a horseback riding trip for tomorrow. Cooked supper, ate and then I left them to get some sleep. The internet was so slow I couldn't load up a single picture. It was better today, so posted a day late.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Peru 2015/16 - Cusco - Lunes - San Pedro Market and the Inca Museum

I woke feeling much better after 12 hours sleep. Still no bag, so, after breakfast, I found the G-Adventures office and asked Robinson to see what he could do about the situation. Today I bought some basic toiletries, a sketch book and a T-Shirt to tide me over. If it hasn't come by tomorrow I will have to start shopping for the things I need for the trek and a suitcase to take everything home in. I really hope it doesn't come to that.
It was another day of walking and aside from the occasional bouts of breathlessness when going up stairs I felt fine. I passed a poster on a building that described an Inca canal discovered below the road.

This is how the street looks now.
Another street poster showed a map of Cusco with the Inca roads going out in the four directions. Cusco was known to the Incas as the "navel of the world".
I had wandered out of the tourist section.
Here many of the buildings were vacant and dilapidated. This street was a dead end so I turned around, headed down hill and found what I had hoped I would, eventually, in my wanderings: the market.
It is across from the Church of San Pedro
 It is huge. Most is under an old corrugated metal roof but it is also surrounded by stalls covered with tarps of many colours. It is full of sights and sounds and smells, people and animals, flowers and produce, a place I could spend all day. Every market I have ever been to has a list of similarities but each is also unique. Markets in Mexico (Oaxaca, Merida), France (Paris, Ceret), the USA (Cleveland, Palm Springs), Canada (Toronto, Port Dover) all have a unique flavor and I love them.
Although the bright woven fabric is all over the tourist shops it is actually in everyday use.
I was there at about 8:30am and some booths were still covered or just being displayed.
The bread aisle with Christmas decorations.
Corn, multitudes of uses.
Three ladies in blue in the cheese aisle.
One of the commonalities of markets, they all have a place to eat.
The tarped stalls around the market are a Walmart of products; shoes, fabric, clothing, toys etc. Unfortunately no sketch books. Although cynical about the qualifications of the individuals selling paintings in the main Plaza, both of the "art students" I asked were able to direct me to art supply stores and I found a small sketch pad and some pens in one. Hungry I stopped for an empenada and a custard tart for lunch.
The Museo Inka is in an old colonial mansion about a block from the main plaza. Taking pictures in the display rooms was not allowed.
The courtyard of the museum.
The museum has a couple of rooms with Pre Inca material documenting some pretty sophisticated civilizations from as far back as 1100ad in Peru. The Inca Displays were dioramas and pottery, weapons, tools, fabrics and jewelry from when the Inca were primarily around Cusco and when they conquered much of Peru and some of Brazil. There were models of Inca ruins and some descriptions of the archaeology. The last section documented the Inca resistance to the Spanish and the subsequent destruction of their religion and way of life.
Top of the Cathedral from the Museum balcony
I think this is called a back strap loom unfortunately no-one was demonstrating today.
I wandered some more, sat in a number of squares and sketched. When you sit down on a bench you are a sitting duck for those selling their wears but once enough "no gracias'" are said there are some nice conversations, they learned some English, I learned some Spanish.
I had an e-mail earlier in the day from Christine and was able to locate the Airbnb they are going to be staying in. They arrive tomorrow and we have a date to meet at 3pm.
The last photo is of supper. I had a huge bowl of pumpkin soup with grated cheese on top followed by the ensalada mixt. It was the 12 sols tourist menu, delicious and about $6 Canadian.

Then back to the hotel to struggle through blogging on the slow internet.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Peru 2015/16 - Cusco - Domingo - walkabout.

I left home at 6am yesterday and got to my hotel at 6am today, literally 24hrs of travel. Toronto to Miami was delayed so I had a mad dash from one side of sticky, hot Miami airport to the other but made the connection. Miami to Lima was fine but unfortunately my bag didn't make it. The LAN official said that the US security had decided to search it but it would come on the next flight. Guess they didn't like the look of my trekking poles in the X-Ray. Had a massage in Lima airport and a nap then the hop to Cusco. On that flight I realized that I had never been in South America before, Southern Caribbean being the closest. Descending into Cusco airport is quite exciting with the mountains all around. The G-Adventures employee was there to greet me and take me to the hotel, so nice.
A short nap and then I got outside and walked around a bit. Rain was in the forecast but it was  warm and occasionally sunny all day.
There are sculptures, often involving water, everywhere.

The buildings around the hotel are 1 or 2 stories with ornate balconies (Spanish) or single story with a large door. These look more like the ones we saw in Mexico and they quite often showed a bland face to the road with ornate, pretty courtyards behind.
About a block and a half took me to Plaza des Armas, the central square.
Dominated by the Cathedral on one side
and the Church of Jesus' Companions on another.
There was a sign asking tourists not to enter during services so I saved that visit for another day. The square, and all the other squares I walked in today, were teeming with Peruvian families more than tourists. Dressed up for Sunday and many carrying food or flowers (perhaps going to an extended family meal)

Many of the families were also carrying these embroidered little cradles (these were for sale by the Cathedral) or little wooden carved chairs with elaborately dressed dolls in them. (too church? an altar at home? gifts?  I really don't know but am curious and will try to find out) 
Joseph in the almost life sized nativity scene in the square
Central fountain made into a Christmas ball
topped, I'm assuming, by an Inca king.
The internet at the hotel is pretty slow to load up pictures so the posts from here wont be as "picture rich" as I would like. I am just going to post a few more from my day of wandering.
Mountains are in the background of every view, climbed by houses.
Flowers in the square look like snap dragons.
A political rally in one of the squares I visited.
Few strollers, babies and toddlers are carried around.
There are plenty of people trying to sell tourists stuff: carved gourds, little yarn dolls, woolly hats and mitts, jewelry and "art students" with portfolios of paintings as well as people selling guided tours and those wanting to show you their restaurants menu. They take a few "non gracias" to convince them but all are friendly and want to chat anyway (where are you from, you look at my stuff tomorrow, promise).
A llama for photographic opportunities
My first sighting of the Peruvian delicacy: Roast Guinea Pig
I'm not sure if it is the altitude, repercussions of the travel day or a bit of both but I have a slight headache, am very tired, have no appetite and just feel a little foggy. I have napped three times today, between going out and walking around, had a couple of cups of coca leaf tea and drank lots of water. Hopefully a good nights sleep will set me right.