Trip to Machu Picchu

Saturday, February 16 — Cusco

The ship arrived in Callao about 10:00 and we got off a short time later for our bus ride to the airport that’s located between the port of Callao and Lima. We had a buffet lunch at a banquet room at the Wyndam Hotel at at the airport. The food was disappointing, as we’ve heard good things about the food in Peru. Hopefully we’ll have some great food at Peruvian places. After lunch we walked the very short distance to the airport. Airports in South America can be chaotic when compared to ours in the U.S. and this was no exception. It was recommended that we bring only carry-on luggage as we were only going to be gone for 2 nights. You’re allowed to carry a bottle of water on domestic flights and they aren’t concerned about your liquids, although we put ours in quart bags as we usually do and didn’t have to take them out of our bag. HAL hadn’t printed all our boarding passes, so we were told to pick them up at the gate. We asked what gate, and were told that would’t be known for awhile. Airlines here don’t have dedicated gates, so when we found ours a different airline had a flight leaving. It was the right place, but when we finally got our boarding passes Jay was in row 3 and Barbara in row 24. The flight was only about 1 hour to Cusco and it was uneventful. Some of the people with the excursion had to come on a later flight because ours had been overbooked. When we arrived in Cusco about 4:30, our group of about 100 from the ship was divided into 6 small buses, each with it's own guide. Michael was our guide, and he told us some good stories and was very sociable. His English is quite good (he learned English by watching cartoons). Cusco has a population of about 350,000 people and our hotel was in the old part of the city. We were driven to it, the Palacio del Inka, directly from the airport. It was formerly a palace and is now run by Marriott. The hotel is lovely, but very dark inside. They had several desk people checking us in, and when we got to the front of the line they didn’t have any paperwork for us. We waited for 10 minutes or so and they found that someone else had signed our check-in papers. We had a cup of coca tea (caffeine and cocaine to help with the altitude which is 11,000 feet, definitely as high as we’ve ever been) to pass the time. When it was straightened out, we met the couple who had signed the wrong papers, and she asked “your husband’s name is Ron, too?” and said it was dark and she thought the hotel had spelled their name in a strange way. Crazy people—it made us realize why we don’t often do tours with a large group. The weather was a lot cooler and there was a light rain. About an hour after we arrived we boarded our little buses to go to a local restaurant where we had a buffet dinner and a show with local music and dance. The food was excellent (although not very warm) and there was a large choice of beef, chicken, fish, soup, rice, salads and some good desserts. We were all happy to get back to the hotel to hopefully get a good night’s sleep. The hotel has a few quirks—no air, so the room was kind of stuffy, and the roll of toilet paper was about 3 1/2 feet from the toilet. Everything else was very nice and didn’t disappoint.

Our little bus in Cusco

Our hotel, Palacio del Inka

Our hotel, Palacio del Inka

Our hotel, Palacio del Inka

Dinner Show

Dinner Show

Sunday, February 17 — Machu Picchu

Today is the big day—Machu Picchu. We got a wake-up call about 7:00 and had a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel. The fresh fruit, especially watermelon and papaya, was exceptional. We met Michael, our guide, at 8:30 and got on the little bus for a 2 hour ride to the Urubamba train station. The elevation drops from 11,000 feet to 8,000 feet at Machu Picchu and we stopped along the way to take some photos at a scenic place. At the station we boarded The Sacred Valley train for a 3 hour ride mostly following the Urubamba River to the Aguas Calientes station at Machu Picchu village (a distance of only about 47 kilometers, but we stopped for some time in Ollantayambo and slowed quite a few times, presumably to let trains going the other direction pass). Lunch was a 3 course meal served in the dining car on white tablecloths—an appetizer, chicken and a yummy dessert. We got off the train and on a good-sized bus to make our way to Machu Picchu. It took about 25 minutes and the driver seemed to be going way too fast along the narrow road with many switchbacks. We arrived safely, thankfully, at about 2:00, and began the adventure that is the highlight of this trip. The Incas built this spectacular village in about 50 years, but their empire extended north and south along the Andes-- north to Columbia and south to Chile. The Spanish conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizzaro, killed the Inca king Atahualpa in 1533 (our guide said he was drawn and quartered and then decapitated) so they could claim much of the Inca treasure, including gold. The Incas were only around for about 100 years, and it wasn’t until Hiram Bingham “discovered” Machu Picchu (as the leader of the Yale Peruvian Expedition) in 1911 that the world learned about this amazing place. We had expected to be some of the oldest people on this excursion, but many seemed older and even used canes. Our guide, Michael, led most of the group up many uneven steps to the highest viewpoint to start the tour. We stayed behind after climbing 30 steps or so because we felt challenged by the uneven steps without any railings.  Maria, a guide but not a Machu Picchu expert, led us to the Temple of the Sun and left us as she had to help a woman who was having difficulty. We had met this woman and a younger man who either was her husband or her son at dinner last night. He looked like a tall Adolph Hitler and seemed not to care much about her well-being. He was a retired chaplain with the military. His mother/wife took the picture of us and did get down safely, as she was on the bus at the end of our time at the site. We lucked out, as a guide from another bus, Martin, gave us a good description of the temple and described its purpose. He then led us to the temple named for its three windows. The Incas may not have left us a written history but archeologists have determined that they knew their astrology and this temple’s windows face east for a reason. On the summer solstice it is believed they developed a way to reflect the first rays of the sun to other important locations in Peru. It’s not known exactly what Machu Picchu was—one explanation is that it’s like a Camp David or Club Med. They grew corn and other crops on the terraced fields and now roaming llamas keep the grass trimmed. This site has become so popular in the last decade or so that they now limit the number of people that can be there at one time. Our stay only lasted about 3 hours, as we had to take the same long trip back to Cusco at the end of our visit. It drizzled off and on during our stay but we’d all been given ponchos. We were told to dress in layers and kept our jackets on the entire time as it was cool and comfortable. All of the HAL tourists seemed to breath a sigh of relief when we were back at the entrance. As far as we know no one on the our excursion had any serious problems. Many did the most strenuous climbing but we did what was probably the moderate climb. We waited a long time for the bus trip back to the village. We had hoped to be able to buy some souvenirs but Michael wanted us to go right to the train station for the 7:30 Sacred Valley train. Before dinner we went to the Club car and sampled a drink called a Pisco Sour. It’s a traditional drink in Peru and was good. Dinner was a tasty beef dish with potatoes. The train trip back was much shorter, perhaps because traffic was lighter. On the bus ride back to Cusco we saw that there were some large rocks scattered in the other lane. We got back to the hotel about 11:00 after a long day of wonderful sightseeing. We would advise anybody who wants to visit Machu Picchu to do it before they’re in their 70s. We’re glad we decided “it’s now or never” when we planned this trip. It was exhilarating but we were extremely tired at the end of the day.

On the bus from Cusco to Urubamba train station

Alpaca along the road

Llama at the same bus stop

Bus from Cusco to Urubamba

Sacred Valley train

Sacred Valley train (from back of observation car)

Little vehicles on road behind train

The Urubamba River from the train

Working on the blog

Lunch on the train

From the train

The Urubamba River from the train

From the bus to Machu Picchu

From the bus to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu - llamas apparently have the right-of-way

Martin at the Temple of the Sun

Amazing stone walls at Machu Picchu - no mortar

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu - The Temple of the Three Windows

Monday, February 18 - Cusco tour

After another good buffet breakfast we met Michael around 8:30 for some touring around Cusco. The cathedral in the town square wasn’t open, so we toured the Convento de Santo Domingo, which was across the street from the hotel. The same group of men and women selling artwork, jewelry and clothing they said was made from alpaca (but Michael told us were made of synthetic material) were out for one last time aggressively asking us to buy. One had pictures of our arrival in Cusco and she misidentified me and tried to sell me a picture of another woman in our group. At the church Michael pointed out the foundation that had stonework like that at Machu Picchu. No one knows how they did it, but the Incas cut large stones so they would fit exactly without mortar. Our hotel had a similar foundation. When earthquakes have occurred over the centuries other structures have fallen but the Inca carved stone foundations are still standing. It’s pretty amazing. After exploring the church we got back on the bus to go downtown to the city square. Michael took us to a large store where real alpaca sweaters and other goods were sold. We shopped for a Christmas ornament but found nothing but a key chain we can use. We find this surprising in a country that’s mostly Catholic. Barbara bought a pair of silver earrings that are shaped like the Andean cross. This is the first real shopping time we’ve had on the cruise which is very unusual. In the past the tours usually included too much time for shopping.  We had about 20 minutes to walk around the city square and take some photos. There’s a statue of an Inca king in the square that’s been the center of controversy for a few years. Barbara read about it online and didn’t understand the complicated issues. Although we didn’t get to see it in Cusco, there’s a painting of The Last Supper (photo below) with a guinea pig on a platter in front of Christ. It is a popular food in Peru, although we don’t think it was ever served to us. We then went to the airport where we stood in a long line for about 45 minutes to board the plane. We left about an hour late and arrived at the Callao/Lima airport around 3:30. They gave us a cold box lunch when we got on the bus to go back to the ship. The lunch didn’t look very appetizing and we surprisingly weren’t very hungry for having last eaten at 7:30. The ship was such a welcome sight and everyone was happy to be back where we’re pampered all day. It was only the two of us at dinner until a lady was seated at our table. She was from Indianapolis and talked about some great trips she has taken. We were happy to let her do most of the talking. We skipped the show and Jay, who has a cough and cold, went to the cabin and Barbara went to the casino. Our luck has changed so we aren’t as interested in spending our time there. When Barbara was ready for bed she couldn’t find the knee pillow she’d forgotten to pack for the Cusco trip. A call to the front desk brought our cabin steward Subi and he found it in the laundry! They had washed the sheets while we were gone and Barbara must have left the pillow in the bed. All’s well now but Barbara should keep track of this pillow as she’s lost others in the past on cruises and on our road trip to France.

Convento de Santo Domingo, Cusco

Convento de Santo Domingo, Cusco - how did they make the round holes?

Church of Santo Domingo, Cusco

Controversial Inca stature in Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Last Supper with guinea pig

La Compania, Cusco

Returning to airport near Callao

© Jay 2020

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© Jay 2020