Peru, final chapter

Peru, final chapter

 

       Paul and I retrieve our backpacks from the hotel storage room then go to the pool to relax until it is time to make our way to the train station.  We are traveling to Poroy station on the edge of Cusco which will take nearly four hours. We aren’t on the scenic side of the train this time so a good part of the time outside our window all we see is just the side of the mountain. It doesn’t really matter as after we have eaten our beautifully presented snack of cheese, nuts, raisins and Kinua cake the staff on our car has an evening of entertainment in store for us.

Farm fields

Farm fields

  

       One of the stewards dressed in a dazzling costume similar to those we saw in the Ollantaytambo festival dances up and down the aisle. There is a group of Japanese on the train and two of the women jump up and stop his dance long enough to have their photos taken with the gyrating performer. Next the dancing dynamo chooses a young woman near us and gets her to dance with him. When the one man show is over us passengers reward the fellow with well-deserved applause and cheers.

      A beautiful woman kicks off the next part of the show by using the aisle as a fashion runway as she models a beautiful shawl she is wearing over her work attire. The Japanese women reach out to touch the shawl and one of them decides she must try it on. Once she has the shawl on the middle-aged woman parades up and down the aisle completely hamming it up. The Peruvian woman regains ownership of the shawl and returns to the front of the train, disappearing behind the cloth barrier only to reappear in a couple of minutes modeling a gorgeous coat. After the woman has showcased a few more articles of top of the line clothing the curtain is drawn back and a tall man with GQ looks steps out. He has a woolen scarf wrapped around his neck and dramatically strikes a pose. The women on the train react with whistles, clapping and laughter.

     After a while the two Japanese women can’t bear it any longer and invade the curtained area of the staff. Soon one of the self-proclaimed models reappears from behind the curtain doing her best to prance down the aisle. Due to the rocking train motion she finds the normality of walking challenging and is bumping into seats quite often. I have no clue what she was modeling as I am too busy watching her antics. She has everyone howling with laughter which is the reaction she was looking for of course. During a lull while the fashion participants are changing clothes one of the Japanese men decides to model his Peruvian hat. His hat is a wool stocking cap with ear flaps and the small man with a huge grin plastered on his face, struts down the corridor lifting and lowering the ear flaps like a bird trying to take flight. Everyone finds this hilarious and the laughter booms throughout the car.

I have no photos of the fashion show so you get to look at Paul and I at Machu Picchu

I have no photos of the fashion show so you get to look at Paul and I at Machu Picchu

      Naturally this fashion show is put on in hopes of selling the clothing to us tourists. When the show is over the staff pushes a luggage cart laden with items of the modeled clothing down the aisle. Their intent is to start the sales at the back of the train car and then work their way to the front. When they reach the Japanese folks midway down the aisle the cart comes to a screeching halt as the women eagerly begin to look over the clothing. I lost count of the times one of the train crew would hurry by our seats to their compartment and return with several plastic bags in order to wrap up clothing items that the voracious shoppers are purchasing. Paul and I are facing away from the buyers but the woman sitting across from us keeps us up to date on the feeding frenzy. I glance back now and then, half expecting to see clothing flying into the air as the enthusiastic customers dive into the cart offerings. When the Japanese are finally sated the cart rolls by us devoid of much of its original load. Our companion reaches out to read the price tag on a shawl and tells us the sticker price is 250 bucks. We know via our friends’ account that the mid-calf length coat along with shawls and sweaters are packed away in the carry-on luggage of the Japanese.  We all agree that the train staff probably earn a commission on the clothing they sell and this is the reason for the happy laughter that is drifting out of their curtained cubicle.

      We arrive at Poroy after 7 p.m. and once we gather our backpacks among the pile of luggage we walk the gauntlet through the drivers waiting for their customers. When it is apparent that no placard is embossed with the name Miller, Paul utters “not again” and I too echo the sentiment. I look outside the train station and see a thin man hurrying towards us carrying a placard in his hand. He sees us staring at him and raises the white cardboard which has our name scrawled in black across the sign. Thank goodness because I was not looking forward to another episode like we experienced in the airport. It seems our driver was unable to find a parking place close by and we walk several hundred yards to where his car and several others are parked. There are no street lights and our driver has hired a young man to guard his car while he came to get us.

     When we get to Maytaq we go through the same procedure that has become rote for us. We receive a warm welcome from the staff, retrieve our luggage and return to the room we have been in three out of the four times we have stayed here. We eat some of the carry over food from our Machu Picchu lunch for supper. We are both very tired but must pack all we can before we shower and retire for the night.

     Paul and I are up by six this morning and finish our packing before going to eat breakfast for the last time in the Maytaq hotel. We truly enjoyed this clean and friendly hotel, well except for the momentary money misplacement, and express our appreciation to the staff. Our driver arrives and we leave for the airport. The flight arrives in Lima before noon and a driver is waiting to transport us to the Allpa hotel, the same hotel we stayed on our first night in Peru. We arrange to leave our luggage for the day and then go to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant. Since we are next to the ocean I decide to have scallops which are beautifully presented and extremely rich. Paul had macaroni but it doesn’t remotely resemble the American dish although this version is delicious.

      We are booked on a city tour of Lima at 2:30 this afternoon to kill time until our 10:30 flight. When a man enters the lobby asking for a party of two under the name of Yoone we shake our heads. The man appears to be perplexed and makes a phone call. He approaches us again and asks if we are the party of Yoone Crenshaw-Miller. We say yes still puzzled by the Yoone part until the light bulb goes off for Paul who figures out he is saying June (my middle name). J in Spanish is silent after all.

Paul in the Center Square in Lima Peru

Paul in the Center Square in Lima Peru

    

     We are taken to another part of Mira Flores where a tourist bus is waiting and we join a large group of visitors climbing into the bus. The people are a mixed group of Spanish and English speakers so our guide must explain all of our stops twice, poor guy. We go to one of the many art museums in Lima to look at the best Incan artifacts we have seen on our trip.

Incan pottery

Incan pottery

      Our next stop is the main square of Lima where we follow our guide who plays a wooden flute so we can keep track of him in the crowd. I’m not kidding you; most guides have a flag they hold above their heads so I guess our guy wants to be unique. The city square does not impress me anymore than the city itself. The most interesting part of the square are the police lounging along one side of the street holding protective shields. Our guide informs us that they are always here as people often come to protest near the presidential mansion.

Riot Police in Lima

Riot Police in Lima

     We climb aboard the bus and proceed to a Franciscan monastery and tour the catacombs. It is musty, claustrophobic and creepy to see all the human bones and skulls in the enormous pits where people were buried. I am glad to see daylight and enjoy the pigeons that cover the ground around the monastery. Occasionally the birds all take flight which is a fun thing to see. One of the couples at Manu told us they had spent two days in Lima and it was at least one day to many. I concur as there is no historic charm in this dirty crowded city of eight million! We are trying to make our way back to the Mira Flores district where all of us on this bus are staying and the trip takes two and a half hours. We move a couple of blocks and then sit for five or ten minutes while the traffic cops direct the traffic with flashlights. Good Grief.

Pigeons taking flight

Pigeons taking flight

     We finally arrive at our hotel at 7 p.m. and walk around the area close by our hotel to see if we can find a fast food place to buy a quick supper. We see a McDonalds and figure why not but after Paul checks his supply of soles, a whole 20 soles, our plans change. We can’t buy much with that so we return to the Allpa and we each order soup handing over our travel card to pay for the yummy meal. Why are soups so much better in foreign countries than what we have here in the U.S.?

      Our driver arrives at 8:30 to drive us to the airport and as we are checking in the young man helping us informs us our flight has been delayed an hour. As the fellow is issuing us our tickets he says “this won’t work” and explains that we would only have 30 minutes to catch our flight out of Houston. He is right, on an international flight just to get your luggage and go through customs will take longer than that. The man changes our flight out of Houston to one that is an hour later than the original flight giving us an hour and a half in-between flights. There are other people on our flight who didn’t have a check-in person as alert as ours and do have only 30 minutes to make a connecting flight. It ain’t going to happen.

   When we reach Houston there is a lot of grumbling among the long line of people trying to get through security and I’m one of them. They only have one processing line open and the workers are clowning around with no effort to expedite the process. Finally after at least half of the line has crawled through this slow line someone decides maybe they really should open another security point. When I get to the table I remove my shoes, belt, money belt etc. and deposit the items in plastic tubs shoving it onto the conveyor belt along with my back pack. I exit the x-ray booth and am shuffled over to the side for a pat down. Aw crap, I forgot to take my passport out of my pocket. When the woman begins patting down my pant legs I can feel my trousers begin to slide down my hips. Since I am in the spread eagle position all I can do is give a yelp. The woman immediately ceases her action and asks what is wrong. I tell her I’m losing my trousers due to the fact I have no belt on so she allows me to pull them back up and is a bit gentler as she finishes her task. My loose slacks are the result of the weight I lost on our Peru journey, all that walking for hours in a day paid off. I wish I could say that those lost pounds had stayed lost, sigh.

     

Paul and I make our flight with time to spare. When we arrive in KC all our luggage shows up and the car starts right up, all is good. We stop at Legends on the outskirts of Kansas City and have a meal of hamburger and fries at Five Brothers. This eating a great burger on our return to the states has become a tradition for us. We feel a satisfaction in seeing our pastures full of grazing black cattle as we near home. Taz races through the yard to me as soon as I call and for a brief moment allows me to pick her up and pet her as she purrs loudly.  As much as we loved this adventure in Peru it is good to be home.

That’s all! Nancy

    

    

    

    

    

   

     

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Peru, part 15

Peru, part 15

It was Paul's idea to include this photo!

It was Paul’s idea to include this photo!

 

    

Paul and I walk to the main square of Ollantaytambo but just before reaching the square we encounter our first group of festival participants. They are decked out in glittering outfits but aren’t wearing their masks. Several of the men are walking down a side street so Paul and I follow them as we are hoping for a photo-op. It suddenly dawns on me the reason for this side trip and I turn around and walk back to the main street. Paul however continues trailing them and it isn’t until he has taken a photo of the group that he realizes that the group was on a bathroom break. How embarrassing!

Dancing girls

Dancing girls

     We reach the main square and the sight of the dazzling garbed dancers is something to behold. Each group dresses in unique costumes and masks as they cluster along the edge of the street waiting for the parade to begin. Musicians playing flutes, drums and some instruments unfamiliar to me accompany each group. There are two beautifully clothed little girls performing an impromptu dance to the delight of tourists and natives alike. Vendors somehow find spots along the crowded street to grill meat which adds a delicious aroma to the energy charged air. Some troupes are a mix of men, women and children while other groups are strictly men. The masks the people wear include decorated ski masks or factory made masks with oversized features such as long noses or enormous lips. As Paul and I watch the little girls dancing one of the men wearing a mask with large lips prances over to me and with a flourishing bow takes my hand and “kisses” it. Paul is laughing so hard he didn’t get a photo of the debonair fellow pressing those fake lips to my hand.

Our favorite group

Our favorite group

     When the parade of dancers begin performing it is obvious that each group has put in a lot of time rehearsing their routines. The dancing is excellent but Paul and I agree that our favorite performers are the men dressed in long-tailed coats wearing masks with Pinocchio-like noses. Their enthusiasm is catching and the extra pizzazz they put into their dance makes them stand out among their peers. The true crowd pleaser are the children particularly the little ones who try to mimic the grownups. Many of the tots do a good job of dancing, while others are overcome with awe of the pageantry surrounding them.

      Darkness is falling when the reason for the celebration, the town’s patron saint, is presented to the crowd. Sixteen costumed men carry the elaborately decorated litter on their shoulder where a banner honoring El Senor de Choquekilla sits atop a miniature altar. The parade of the patron saint subdues the mood of the crowd but once the litter bearers finish the circuit around the square the performers once again begin whirling and parading through the town square.

     

My young friend

My young friend

Paul and I are hungry so choose to eat at a wood fire pizza place. We ate a pizza prepared this way in Puno and loved the taste. While waiting for our pizza pie I am reviewing the photos on my camera when I realize a husky boy is trying to see them too. I smile at him and move my camera over so he can get a better view. His dramatic verbal response, which I can’t understand, is always the same for every photo. I can’t stop my laughter when his eyes grow big and he enthusiastically repeats the same phrase for each photo. When I come to the end of the pictures my young friend begins to mime out characters of the parade for me which brings more laughter from Paul and me. This kid is a character.

     Although it would have been fun to stay for the fireworks we only know that they are shot off some time after midnight. The time frame is too vague for us so we decide to call it a night and walk the dark street back to our hotel. We were told the dance troupes will take turns dancing until dawn. Wow, I can’t imagine the energy a person must have for this all night celebration.

This young man certainly stands out from the stone around him

This young man certainly stands out from the stone around him

     

We are up at six a.m. and it is another gorgeous day. After eating breakfast we have time to explore the town before our train leaves. We see one tired-looking, troupe of dancers leading a procession of villagers towards the town square but other than that the costumed revelers are few and far between. We admire the Inca stonework throughout the village and enjoy watching the people who are going about their daily lives. An old man carrying a heavy load on his back, a handsome young fellow in his festival costume perhaps on his way home, tethered pigs and cattle in the backyards of some houses, a simple but beautiful church gracing the edge of the town. It is quiet and peaceful on this Sunday morning and not another tourist is in sight, it pays to get up and out early.

Plowing with oxen and a wooden plow

Plowing with oxen and a wooden plow

     Paul and I return to the hotel, gather up our backpacks and check out of the El Albergue. We literally step outside the hotel door to board the train at ten a.m. I have a great window seat that looks over the river and though Paul’s seat is across the aisle he joins me once we are underway as no one is sitting next to me. There are wonderful rural scenes along the way and best of all we see three men working a field with oxen pulling a wooden shaft plow. We have seen the plows but not the actual use of the old plows.

     When we arrive at Machu Picchu a young man from Inkaterra, the hotel where we are staying is waiting for us. He leads us to the hotel which proves to be top-notch from the beautiful rooms to the stunning grounds. When we check in we find that they have upgraded us from the cheapest room to a Jr. suite replete with a fireplace! We have no idea why this was done but we sure aren’t going to argue about it. After settling in we wander the trails that meander through the hotel grounds. We run into the professional photographers who were at The Amazonian and later the couple from New York that were at Manu. They have already been to Machu Picchu and both groups give the ruins rave reviews. We make our way to the pool and settle into lounge chairs to watch hummingbirds sipping nectar at feeders as we nibble on the refreshments provided for us hotel guests. Life is so tough here:). There are 120 species of hummingbirds in Peru, we saw 22 of them.

     Our inclusive dinner is at 6 p.m. and there are a variety of starters (appetizers), main course and desserts to choose from. I opt for the beef tenderloin on mashed potatoes, Paul chooses the pork tenderloin and both meals are delicious. Even though I couldn’t finish my main course I still order a hot fudge sundae for dessert, described in the menu as a delightful, messy treat. The description is perfect as the dessert arrives in a tall glass full of ice cream and brownies with thick chocolate fudge encasing the outside of the glass. It is fun to eat and I devour every last spoonful. Our guide came to introduce himself just before our meal. Victor Hugo is his name and he tells us he will fetch us at the hotel tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m. so we can arrive at the ruins by sunrise.

     I knew eating all that chocolate last night was a mistake as I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning. Oh well, my gluttony was worth the short night’s sleep. We eat breakfast at 5 a.m. and pick up the sack lunches we ordered from the restaurant last night. It is a ridiculous amount of food and we wish we had just had them fix one lunch especially since the box lunches cost 15 dollars apiece. That is a pretty stiff price for a cold lunch. We stuff a couple of sandwiches, chips and sweets in Paul’s day pack and put the rest of the food in our big packs for supper tonight. We check out of our rooms at the receptionist desk but leave our backpacks with them. Victor Hugo arrives on time and we walk to the bus terminal to join the line of tourists waiting to board the buses for Machu Picchu.

     We are not on the first bus to leave by any means but we still get to Machu Picchu before the sun rises above the mountain peaks. As we drive the road, which is a series of switchbacks, we catch the first glimpse of Machu Picchu about half way up the mountain. The sight of this ancient city growing out of the mountain top is jaw dropping. The other ruins we have been to were impressive but Machu Picchu is in a class of its own. I wasn’t the only one on the bus that let an involuntary gasp escape.

Inca trail to the Sun gate and the road we traveled by bus. Paul's photo

Inca trail to the Sun gate and the road we traveled by bus. Paul’s photo

      

Once off the bus, we join the long line of tourists waiting to hand their tickets over to the gate keepers. When we enter the archeological park, Victor suggests we walk through the ruins first as most tourists climb up to the watch tower and wait for the sun to appear above the mountain peaks. We agree with Victor and know we have made the right decision as we watch hundreds of people snaking their way up the trail to await the sun. There are very few other groups touring the astounding ruins so there is no peering around or over other people in order to see all the incredible buildings, sacred areas and tremendous vistas. I can’t even begin to describe this wonderful Inca city and will join the chorus of folks who say Machu Picchu is a must see place.

      Victor might be a small man, (I feel like an Amazon next to him) but he is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to Machu Picchu and the Inca. He points out the stone replica the Inca made of the Southern Cross. He shows us a stone in one of the walls which archaeologists removed so they could count the angles the Incas cut to make it fit perfectly, thirty-two angles! He describes the various stone buildings and the purpose of the many unique things that we are seeing. Victor talks about the incredible things the Inca did during their short reign over this part of the world including building 30,000 miles of rock-paved roads. Not only did they build the roads but they shored up the mountainsides with rocks to prevent landslides from destroying the roads. Again I ask myself how in the world did the Inca do all this, a people with no written language and had not discovered the wheel.

Early Morning in Machu Picchu

Early Morning in Machu Picchu

    

We have our own tremendous sunrise experience as we are standing in front of a line of buildings sitting atop several terraces. A perfect shadow of the structure is projected on the grass as the sunrays light up the mountain peaks. The throngs of people high above us erupt into cheers the instant the sun peeks above the mountain crest, its rays lighting up the ancient city.  It is an awe-inspiring event. We are nearly finished with our tour as the horde of sun worshipers begin to descend into the city of Machu Picchu. Holy Smokes I am glad we were contrarian in our decision on how to tour this wonderful place.

     

Victor leaves us now as he has another group to bring up for an afternoon tour. Paul and I thank and tip him for giving us such a great tour. We walk to the path that leads to the guard-house and find ourselves following a large group of tourists. Some of the people trying to hike the steep trail are struggling due to age, weight and one woman even has a knee that doesn’t flex, perhaps she has a brace on. There is one point where the challenged group stops to rest so Paul and I are able to pass by them. I admire their tenacity but the people who must help drag them up the rough trail sure have a tough job. Once we reach the summit Paul and I sit down near the watch tower and soak in the view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding landscape. We are sharing this high point with a few people instead of the hundreds that were here an hour ago.

View of Machu Picchu from the Sun gate

View of Machu Picchu from the Sun gate

     

    

The sun is high overhead and the heat is cranking up. Despite the temperature Paul and I proceed to hike to the sun gate and the road we are walking is part of the original Inca trail. The stone path has a steady but gradual incline though in a few places we have to clamber up steep steps. All in all the worst part of the hike is the heat but there are shady spots where we can stop for a few minutes to cool down. Machu Picchu itself sits at just over 8,000 feet so I have had no problems with altitude at all. As Paul and I approach the enormous vertical stones of the sun gate a half-dozen youngsters lounging on the walls begin clapping and offering encouragement to us. Hey, I know we look ancient to these young whippersnappers but we certainly aren’t gasping for breath plus we are striding out as we approach the finish line. We aren’t really offended by the kids and acknowledge their applause with smiles and waves. The view of Machu Picchu from here gives a whole other perspective of the ancient city and the hour hike to reach the sacred gate was totally worth doing. The temperature continues to rise and on our way back down we meet several people who are really struggling with the climb and heat. Most ask us how much farther the sun gate is and many are dejected when we have to tell some of them that they are only halfway to their destination. We encourage them to continue as the view is worth the effort. When we reach the watch tower we sit down on a terrace, our legs dangling over the edge, to eat our lunch and enjoy the atmosphere of this unique place.

Ruins in Machu Picchu

Ruins in Machu Picchu

      After we finish eating, we take a bus back to Aguas Caliente. Upon leaving the bus we have walked several blocks when a young man runs up to us and asks if we have lost a camera. I confidently pat my camera case and I feel my face drain of blood as I touch an empty bag!  The young guide and his client explain that they noticed the camera lying on a bus seat and remembered that I was carrying a big camera case. Talk about being observant and extremely honest. He tells me that they left it with the bus station people as they went to search for us. I am in panic mode and immediately turn back for the station at a fast walk. The fit young man tells me to slow down that the camera is safe and not to worry. My adrenalin is flowing much too strongly to follow his advice. When we get to the bus depot the Peruvian man talks to the people he left the camera with and to my deep relief they hand my camera over. I profusely thank the guide and young woman with him for their honesty and for tracking us down. Paul hands the guide 20 soles which he accepts and as we part company my hero advises me to be more careful with my camera. I smile and agree that indeed I will. I still am not sure how the camera was left behind. I often leave the latch of the camera case unhooked so I can remove the camera quickly if a photo opportunity arises. I would guess that when we stood up to get off the bus, the case tipped on its side when I hoisted it to my shoulder and silently dumped the camera on the seat. On our walk back to the hotel I occasionally touch my camera bag to remind myself how lucky I am to still have my camera!

Train in Aguas Calinte Yep, my camera is still there

Train in Aguas Calinte
Yep, my camera is still there