Turkey 2012

Visiting Turkey; Istanbul and Ephesus in 2012

Turkey 2012 Turkey 2012

Vietnam & Bangkok 2009

Vietnam & Bangkok- 17 days July 2009

Vietnam & Bangkok 2009 Vietnam & Bangkok 2009

Morocco 2012

Morocco; Marrakech, Fez, Volubilis, Meknes and Casablanca in October of 2012

Morocco 2012 Morocco 2012

Japan 2011

Sushi, Shrines and Shinkansen; 8 Days in Tokyo and Kyoto in April 2011

Japan 2011 Japan 2011

Rome 2009

Mozzarella, Museums & Macchiato; A Week in Rome, October 2009

Rome 2009 Rome 2009

The Road to Cusco; Of Llamas And Stones

by wired2theworld on October 20, 2014

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For our last day in the sacred valley we hired Percy to take us to Cusco by car with stops at various sites along the way, combining transportation and sightseeing. As I said in the post about Pisac, knowing what I know now, I would have scheduled Pisac for this day, and perhaps skipped the stops at Tambomachay and Pukapukara. That would have saved us a couple of hours in the car the day before and allowed for more relaxation. All of the entrances to the ruins were covered under our Bolleto Touritstico Pass.

Our first stop was at a cultural center clearly set up for tourists but it was interesting nonetheless. There were several large pens with all the different pack/wool/meat animals in the region including llamas, alpacas, vicunas, all of which could be hand-fed grasses. There were people demonstrating weaving and exhibits about how the various natural dyes are made and examples of the hundreds of types of potatoes and corn grown in the area. Worth a stop. No cost (unless you buy souvenirs) and they have clean restrooms.


The next stop were the sites of Tambomachay and Pukapukara which are across the road from one another. Tambomachay, also known as Los Banos del Inca (the baths of the Inca) is the home of a freshwater spring and most likely used for ceremonies by priests and royalty, rather than public bathing. Water still flows today.

 

Across the road is Pukapukara which has a stunning view of the valley from the top of the site.

Pukapukara is thought to be a fortress or a resting place for travelers on the way from the Sacred Valley to Cusco as it sits right on an ancient pathway between the two.

The next stop, Q’enqo, gave us our first look over the city of Cusco. This site was a temple and has limestone rocks which have been hollowed out. We walked through the passageway to see the carved altar inside.

View of Cusco from Q’enqo:

The last stop before going to our hotel was the site of Saqsaywaman (yes, like everyone says, pronounced “sexywoman”). This is a huge site with acres of land around it, often used for festivals, including the world famous Inti Raymi festival. Percy said he remembered coming here as a child for it. There’s so much land and grass that we saw several herds of llamas grazing in the area.

The stones at Saqsaywaman are big. Really, really big. They make you wonder how they were cut and moved there and if it would even be possible today.

View of Cusco below, including the main square at the bottom of the photo.

 

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Ollantaytambo and Pisac

by wired2theworld on September 27, 2014

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Percy picked us up at 9am in his car, with just him driving his personal car. David sat in front which meant a lot of the discussion was in Spanish, but when it got too detailed for me to follow he switched to English no problem.

Our first stop was the town of Ollantaytambo, in the direction of Machu Picchu. In fact, the train from Urubamba stops there to pick up most of its passengers before heading up to Machu Picchu. Many people choose to stay there instead of Machu Picchu Pueblo because it’s more central for seeing the rest of the Sacred Valley, like Urubamba. From what we saw, it’s a cute little town, definitely geared more toward tourists than Urubamba, meaning more hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.

Ollantaytambo Street

Percy drove through town and parked in a dirt car park which while big enough for several dozen tour buses, was thankfully empty. We walked a few blocks through the town which was very traditional at its center; cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and water from mountain snow runoff flowing down open irrigation channels along one side of the street.

Ollantaytambo Street

At the base of the Ollantaytambo ruins there are three or four rows of souvenir stands. On Monday we’d purchased the Bolleto Turistco and our tickets were checked at the entrance to the ruins. Then it was a long, long way up to the top. Make sure you bring water. And snacks. It’s tiring. In the photo below you can barely see the people and yes, we climbed all the way to the top. It’s worth it. The views are spectacular.

Ollantaytambo

At the top of about 200 steps is the unfinished Temple of the Sun and the Temple of Ten Niches. Here it’s possible to see how the stones were moved. There are little rock nubs on the large stone faces used to help move the stones into place. Had the temple been finished, it’s thought those would have been chiseled off. You can also see how the stones are carved to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, which makes them stronger and less prone to movement than if they’d just been straight stacked one atop the other.

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

The view below is across the valley toward the river, road and train tracks at the base of the hills.

Ollantaytambo Valley

It’s thought that the giant stones for the temple of the sun (below) came from the top of the mountain across the valley (above).

Ollantaytambo

Ollanantaytambo

The face of the “man of the mountain”, above.

Ollantaytambo

Across from the temples. It’s possible to hike up there but we didn’t have time. Thought to be for grain storage.

Ollantaytambo

Looking down into the town of Ollantaytambo, above.

Ollanantaytambo

Above, a walk along the un-guardrailed top of the ruins. Photo bottom right is the Temple of the Sun as seen from a distance.

Making Chicha

After Ollantaytambo, we stopped at a place set up so that tourists could see how chicha (fermented corn beer) is made (above). Top left; sprouting corn kernels. Top right; chicha. The beer on the left is flavored with strawberries. Let’s just say the flavor was “interesting”. Bottom right; room where the chicha is brewed. Bottom left; how the mash is poured though a hand woven basket.

We also stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Dona Clorinda. It was acceptable, but mostly set up for large tours. We did get to try Inca Kola here, a soda only made in Peru and which outsells Coke and Pepsi. It tastes like bubblegum and frankly, I’m surprised it’s not pink. I had the avocado “salad” and the soup which was made with quinoa. David had a heart-stopper plate of steak, eggs, fries, avocado and plantain.

Dona Clorinda Lunch

After lunch we drove back toward Urubamba, passed it, and went about an hour towards Cusco to the ruins of Pisac. Knowing what I know now, I would have arranged for us to visit here on our way to Cusco the next day because this turned out to be a long tiring day with half of it spent in the car.

It took about 15 minutes to drive from the base of the valley floor up to the entrance of Pisac. Looking down into the valley at the homes and villages dotting the mountainsides,  it reminded me very much of Switzerland, sans the window boxes filled with geraniums.

Pisac

Pisac

Pisac

Pisac

Pisac

Look closely at the photo below. See all the bright blue spots? Those are all government installed outhouses (2nd photo below), complete with running water. When asked why they were all painted blue, Percy said it was so everyone would know who was responsible for putting them in.

Pisac Village

Our final stop was at the Pisac market. I had to buy a few of those little salt bowls with spoons. I also bought some beautiful alpaca scarves and a wrap, but in general the market has the same stuff we saw everywhere else.

Pisac market

Then of course, there was this lovely little lady. She was quite the character!

Pisac Market Woman

From the drive back to Urubamba, below (photos by David).

Pisac Road

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A Day at Machu Picchu

September 15, 2014
Thumbnail image for A Day at Machu Picchu

They say that Machu Picchu will take your breath away. It did, just not in the way I anticipated.

We arrived, after a 2.5 hour train ride from Urubamba in which we spent the first half alone in a car for 50 people and the second half squeezed in like sardines with a group of boisterous Australian tourists and their mountain of luggage.

Some photos of the view from the train:

View from the train to Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

View from the train to Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

View from the train to Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

View from the train to Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

 

Through the Vistadome upper window.

View from the train to Machu Picchu on wired2theworld.com

While it was clear when we left Urubamba, in Machu Picchu Pueblo it was overcast and misty. The town exists solely for the sake of tourism and every hotel, restaurant and shop to cater to traveler’s needs and desires. Want coffee, cocktails and wifi? It’s here. Cheap tourist menu lunch for $8? It’s here. Fine dining? I’m sure it’s here somewhere.

Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) on wired2theworld.com

Finding the bus up to Machu Picchu ruins should be straightforward but somehow we managed to walk in an extra circle or two until we found the ticket window and the line for the buses. The line moves quickly and there are lots of buses lined up and ready to go as soon as they can be filled. The drive up is a bit hairy and if you have a fear of heights, I recommend you sit on the aisle and don’t look out or down as the bus winds its way up 19 switchbacks.

Once off the bus, we took our tickets to the gate and entered. We stamped our passports with the official Machu Picchu stamp which is right past the gate on a little table. Somehow I think the US government might not approve of people placing random stamps in their passports but, not thinking of that at the time, we did it anyway and so far, so good.…

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Dining Out in Urubamba Peru

August 30, 2014

We were at the Tambo del Inka in Urubamba for four nights and while our days were so busy we never really saw the town, we did walk from the hotel each night to find somewhere to eat dinner. Of course the hotel has a lovely restaurant, but menu prices were steep and there was someone there each night playing cheesy live music (picture a guy with electronic keyboard and mike). Honestly, that alone was enough to keep us from dining there. So, where to go? There are literally dozens of places within 6 blocks of the hotel, so you are spoiled for choice in Urubamba.

Please forgive the poor quality of the photos; all of them were taken with my cell phone because I didn’t feel like bringing my DSLR to dinner. All prices are in Peruvian Nuevo Soles which at the time we were there (April 2014) were about 2.8 to the dollar.

Q’anela Cafe and Restaurant

On our first night we went to the concierge recommended Q’anela. She’d told us she liked it better than El Huacatay which did not have any reservations available. Armed with a little map, we walked the 4 blocks or so to the restaurant where we were the only people dining save two women at another table. There are two small dining rooms with traditional furniture overlooking a small garden. The restaurant bills itself as having “slow cooked traditional cuisine.”

UrubambaQnela

Our meal at Q’anela included a small bowl of complimentary broad beans to snack on while waiting. I had some ravioli while David ordered our first taste of Alpaca in the form of the traditional Lomo Saltado. This came with a green tinted rice and yucca fries. Unfortunately, I was so exhausted from our long trip I didn’t write down any details …

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Moray and the Maras Salt Pans

July 28, 2014
Thumbnail image for Moray and the Maras Salt Pans

After a couple hours in Chinchero,  it was on to Moray and the Maras Salt Pans. The drive to Moray took about 45 minutes over a dirt road which was questionable for the vehicle we were in. But the views were spectacular. There’s a paved road too, because large buses arrive at Moray, but for some reason we took the scenic route.

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

Moray is a series of large concentric terraces forming a circle which gets progressively smaller and warmer the farther down you go. We walked as far down as we were allowed to go (not to the very bottom level) and down there, sheltered from the wind and yet in full sun, it was probably 15 degrees warmer. Hiking back up and out was when I really felt the 12000 feet of elevation and myself gasping for breath as we neared the top.

Moray, Peru

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

Moray, Peru

Moray, Peru

Moray, Peru

Moray, Peru

 

Moray, Peru

Our last stop, the Maras salt pans were a short drive away.  Up here, at over 10,000 feet, water comes out of the mountainside salty and for hundreds of years people have worked the land, forming shallow pans in which the water evaporates leaving the salt behind. These pans remind me a lot of the tannery dye pans in Fez Morocco in their shape and scope. However, instead of being the center of a walked city these sit high up on the mountainside.

Each pan is owned by a family and thus the $7 admission is separate from the bolleto touristico. Our time there was quick, less than half an hour, but we enjoyed it and bought several small bags of salt as gifts for friends and for ourselves.

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

 

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

 

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

Maras Salt Pans, Peru

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Market in Chinchero Peru

July 1, 2014
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While up at the church, I’d mistakenly thought that’s where the market also was for the town. So imagine my surprise when we got the bottom of the town and saw the dozens of rows of market stalls covered with open air thatched roofs, a small black pig rampaging though seller’s vegetables laid neatly on the ground, and hundreds of people doing their weekly marketing and bartering.

This was the market I’d wanted to see. Yes, there were several stalls selling local handicrafts, but most of them were food; dozens of types of potatoes, herbs, vegetables, fresh fish, cut up chickens. There were stalls selling soup which I desperately wanted to try but alas, did not. Below are the photos from our walk around the market.

The pig, above in one of his calmer moments.

Chinchero48

I’m not really sure what they were, some sort of puffed and baked flour based thing, but the treats on the left above were a bit sweet, chewy and delicious.

We saw these three wheeled bikes all over, used as local “taxis”, all with their own signature decoration. Very much like tuk tuks in Thailand.

 

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Chinchero Peru; Church and A Wedding

June 28, 2014
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At the top of the hill the church sits low atop stones which predate Columbus, whitewashed against a blue sky with looming clouds. At 9am sharp a man climbs into the bell tower and the clanging of the bells begins. We’d come to Chinchero, high up the mountains of the Sacred Valley, and suddenly bells were clanging and banging instead of ringing and pealing. There was no gentleness in the sound, but as soon as it stopped there was a silence tempered by only a bit of wind and a baby’s cry.

Video of the clanging bells and church square:

The morning, our first full day in Peru and Palm Sunday (though we saw little evidence of celebration), started at our hotel where we were met by one of Percy’s colleagues, a young Peruvian woman with a name so unusual that neither of us can remember it now. She met us in the hotel lobby and escorted us to the car which was one of the ubiquitous Toyota sedans seen all over the world.

Our first destination was the high mountain town of Chinchero which sits at almost 12,500 feet. I was nervous that the altitude might affect how I felt on the first day, being up that high, but I felt fine save a bit winded while walking uphill. Before we left, I really debated the order in which we’d do our 3 days of sightseeing in the Sacred Valley. Many people visit the town of Pisac because the market is supposed to be the largest in the region on that day, but I’d also been told the one in Chinchero was smaller and more “authentic”. I wanted to see a real working market, filled with food and goods for the local residents, not just stuff for tourists. So …

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The Tambo Del Inka Resort, Urubamba, Peru

June 19, 2014
Thumbnail image for The Tambo Del Inka Resort, Urubamba, Peru

As we pulled into the Tambo Del Inka (TDI) it was just coming on dark and almost 24 hours since we’d left home. Needless to say we were a bit road weary but the beauty of the resort was evident as soon as we got out of the car. Soaring wood ceilings and a giant fireplace greet you (as well as friendly door men) as soon as you walk in. We were met by a reservation concierge, and rather than checking in at a “front desk” we were brought to seats in the lobby, offered tea, and the check in process was done there.

TamboDelInka14

Because of our SPG Gold status we were upgraded to a Deluxe Room from a Superior Room. As far as I can tell the only difference is that the Deluxe rooms are on the ground floor and open out onto a private patio with lounge chairs. Superior rooms are up one level and have what looks like an enclosed “balcony” but you can’t get outside.

TamboDelInka01

 Above, our room. Below, our patio.

TamboDelInka16

The room is huge with a king sized bed, walk in closet, sofa, desk, and two chairs set in front of the terrace doors with a small round table. The bathroom has three separate areas with double sinks and mirror in the center, a frosted glassed-in toilet room, and a clear glass “wet room” with tub and separate shower. Our room was on the river side of the property, and while we could hear it, it was only slightly visible through the foliage.

TamboDelInka02

 

TamboDelInka03

The grounds of the hotel are beautiful as is the pool. I never used the pool but David did once and said it was heated and nice. Half of the pool is inside and half extends outside.

TamboDelInka05

We never ate in …

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