Our next stop in Cuzco was El Mino. the black market, where everything from CD’s to name-brand shoes was sold for incredibly low prices. After lunch at a local pizzeria, we returned to the central square and trooped into the Incan Qoricancha Sun Temple whose walls were once covered in 700 sheets of gold. The 16th century Cathedral boasted a lot of silver and gold plus a “Last Supper” which featured the disciples eating guinea pigs, a delicacy, and drinking purple corn juice.
Dinner was “on our own” tonight, so Kathy and I took a taxi to the Archeological Museum which housed a cafe completely enclosed in glass so all the diners could see the courtyard of a former hacienda.
At our New Year’s Eve dinner in our Cuzco hotel, Walter, our guide, provided hats, masks, whistles balloons and streamers. We all received good luck by being sprinkled with rice and yellow confetti and eating grapes.
Day 7 – We visited a local market to observe what was sold: such things as chirimoya (custard apple); pancae (a long cucumber-looking fruit with edible seeds); a bunch of camomile which resembled small daisies; and yellow confetti in everyone’s hair.
Day 6 – I stayed at the hotel while Kathy and some others returned to Machu Picchu to climb to the summit of Huayana Pichu (young mountain).
After lunch at our hotel which jutted over the rapids of the Urubamba, we traveled by train and bus to Cuzco with several stops along the way for more personal encounters. In the Quecha village of Chinchero the women were using hand built backstrap looms to keep the traditional designs of each village alive. Their spokesperson demonstrated how the wool is spun between their fingers onto a spindle and native plants are used as dyes.
Upon entering our hotel room, Kathy called to me,”Mom, look at what’s in our shower!” I thought maybe some special shower device. No. It was a very long insect wiggling along the floor. The bell boy who came in and removed it said that it was a mariposa (butterfly) caterpillar.
Buses transport tourists up a switchback road to the entrance of Machu Picchu. I followed our group up the steps and along the paths until we were in full view of the best known sacred site on the South American continent. When I tried to step up onto one of those Incan stone steps so I could get closer to some of the religious buildings across the valley, I knew I had met my match. So, while the others scaled the rocks, I sat on a bench shaded by a thatched roof and contemplated the archeological masterpiece which was “discovered” (for the outside world) by Hiram Bingham in 1911 in the course of his research.
While I sat there, many other hikers passed me – including a wedding party where the bride wore a long white dress and heels – and some even wanted to have their picture taken with me.
The train ride from Ollantaytambo to Agua Caliente (base camp for Machu Pichu) was one hour and 20 minutes in a vista dome coach car with an included snack served by the porters. Since there”s only one track that runs by the Urubamba River. there’s one train for day tourists; another one for backpackers who are going to hike parts of the Inca trail; one for locals who bring their animals and our special coach.
As we approached Machu Pichu, the vegetation changed from cacti to ferns which indicated the beginning of the jungle that requires hats, ponchos, suntan and mosquito lotion. Roberto, our local guide, met us and led us across the railroad tracks to our hotel, the Hanaqpacha Inn, which was literally 2 feet from the tracks. I could see the top of the train from our second floor window.
Day 5 – With only an overnight bag we climbed onto the bus for our adventure to Machu Pichu; however, before we boarded the train, we went for a city tour of Urubamba by way of a moto-taxi for every 2 people. One of the highlights was a stop at a typical local cemetery which featured very ornate mausoleums.
At one time the deceased person was buried in a sitting position and the families brought food and chicha to sustain their loved one in the after-life. They even paid professional mourners to weep and wail. Households can rent or buy their grave sites; however, if they’re renting and miss a monthly payment, the bones are removed.
On our afternoon adventure to the Incan fortress of Ollantaytambo (one of the few places where the Incans defeated the Spaniards in 1536), we saw families tilling their plots with oxen and many small boys and girls herding sheep and cattle with only a small stick.
When we stopped at a roadside inn where the red balloon advertised that Chicha was available, we learned how to play “sapo.” Each person took a turn tossing large wooden coins onto a small table with six holes and a frog with an open mouth. The object was to get the coins into the holes which dropped into a divided drawer and were added up. It was a lot of fun and harder than you might think. No one was able to put a coin into the frog’s mouth which was the ultimate victory.
In the evening we were hosted in a large dining room with dinner prepared by a local family: Quinoa soup, rice with pareta, boiled potatoes, corn tamales, popcorn, duck, guinea pig, purple corn juice and a cookie. Very often our meals would include rice and several different kinds of potatoes.
Urubamba River Trip continued: The other four members of our entourage learned how to hold the paddle correctly and follow the captain’s commands of “forward,” “stop,” and “back paddle.” All I had to do was enjoy the gorgeous scenery with networks of hand-constructed terraces on either side of the high river walls which were used by the Incas centuries ago to help feed their civilization. There is still evidence of Incan canals and homes interspersed in the agave cactus and Scottish broom (yellow gorse.) We only encountered one level 2 rapid and avoided the protruding rocks.
At our landing point, Edgar and the boat crew served our picnic lunch of fried chicken, yucca, avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, pita bread, cookies and coke. Placido and several other Andean boys demonstrated one of their local dances and we all participated. Since the elevation made us extremely thirsty, the daily bottled water that we received was very welcome.
y 4 - Full day today which started with a bus ride up the Andean highway witha photo-op for a glacier on the second highest peak (22,000 ft. elevation) in the Andes. Walter said that global warming poses a threat to the scant vegetation which provides some food for the donkeys, cattle, lambs and goats. At the drop off point “el grupo” disembarked and hiked down a twisting path to visit the “Salineras” comprised of multitudes of large salt ponds and then followed a path that went to the Urubamba River. When they emerged near the site of our former lunch stop, Edgar, the bus driver and I were there to greet them and it was on to our rafting float trip.
Because no shoes were allowed in the rafts. everyone had to wear water shoes. Then, there was the challenge of getting me into the raft. Juan Carlos, our captain. referred to me as “La Reina” (the queen), plsced me in the 3rd row with a small Andean boy, Placido, beside me who manned an oar. When I mentioned Placido Domingo, the opera singer, the Captain said, “Canta (sing), Placido” and he sangt several Quecha songs.
At our Day 3 lunch stop, I had alpaca in sweet and sour sauce over rice, elderberry syrup over polenta, lamb from a large skewer, maize fried in oil and a sampling of tasty desserts. And then a female voice called out, “Pat Feldhaus!” Imagine my surprise to see a church friend from Chico which reinforces my “Small World” theory.
Next stop was Pisac (elev. 9,500- 11,000 ft.), another Inca site, situated at the top of a switchback road. Our group took a walking tour on the cobblestone streets of the town and we were invited into some of the homes where good luck dolls along with dried corn hung from the ceilings while guinea pigs scurried around on the earthen floors.
Since I believe that discretion is the better part of valor, I explored the lower levels of the historic location while the others climbed around some of the huge agricultural terraces. Then we descended by bus further into the valley to sleep at the Sonesta Posada del Inca in Yucay where the mattresses were on the floor.