Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Journey of a Lifetime ( Part 6 ) Machu Picchu " Lost City of the Incas "

If you were to sit down to make a list of the top tourist destinations in all the world, you would undoubtedly have to include Machu Picchu. It is  a journey of a lifetime, a dream travel destination to one of the top  pre-Columbian archaeological sites in the planet. These are just a few of the possible ways to describe Machu Picchu. You could never justify it in words, and as amazing as it looks in photographs, there is simply no match for seeing it in person.

Machu Picchu is one of Peru's famous tourist spots, and thankfully the country willingly shares its crown jewel with anyone who is fortunate enough to make the trip. Whatever your expectations for Machu Picchu are, they are sure to be blown away when you finally get there, as nothing can truly prepare you for its intoxicating power. It is also referred to as " Lost City of the Incas ". According to Jesus, the government has limited the number of visitors to Machu Picchu to just 2500 people per day. To avoid disappointment it is essential that visitors purchase their Machu Picchu entrance tickets well before arriving at Machu Picchu. It is better that you go to Machu Picchu with a tour group than going there on your own.

Our wake up call was set for 4:00am. All of us were ready at 5:00am at the lobby when Jesus came to get us. He informed us that we will be going to the train station at Ollantaytambo to take the train to Machu Picchu. We had to make sure we brought sun screens, sun glasses, hats, bottle of water ( in case we get altitude sickness ), our passport and the most important item -- our cameras with lots of SD cards.

It was still dark when we arrived at the train station. I thought that I am going to be one of the lucky ones to get a SUNRISE shot in Machu Picchu.. I was wrong!! Our train left at 6:00am. The train ride to Agua Calientes was an hour and a half, and we had to take another bus ride ( 30 minutes -- on a narrow dirt road ) up to the site.

Aboard the train, Jesus explained to us that there was another way to get to Machu Picchu. Using the Inca Trail. There are 2 Inca trails to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is by far the most famous trek in South America and is rated by many to be in the top 5 treks in the world. There are 2 Inca trails to Machu Picchu. One was a 4-day trek which would cover 26 miles ( or 43kms ) which manages to combine beautiful mountain scenery, lush cloud-forest, subtropical jungle and a stunning mix of Inca paving stones, ruins and tunnels. Or you can opt for a shorter trek ( 7 hour trek ) to the site. Of course this shorter route to the site would largely depend on how fast you walk!

We passed several camp sites of the trekkers on our way to Agua Calientes.

We reached Aguas Calientes at 7:30am. According to Jesus, Agua Calientes is the closest access point to the historical site of Machu Picchu, which is 6 kilometres away or about an hour walk. The surroundings reminded me of Baguio.

There is little in the way of shopping to be found around Machu Picchu itself. The closest selection of shops are located in the small and rather commercialised town of Aguas Calientes. The market stalls of Aguas Calientes are particularly convenient and a good place to begin shopping for souvenirs of your trip to Machu Picchu. The stalls sell all kinds of Peruvian treasures, such as elaborately decorated wall hangings, alpaca woollen sweaters and blankets, ponchos, hand-painted T-shirts, and an array of folk art .

The bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu takes about 20 minutes and costs US$8 each way ( US$16 return ). We expected that since it was still early -- there would be not much of a crowd ( the gate opens at 5:00am ), but we were wrong!! There was a gigantic line waiting for the buses! It didn't take all that long actually, and before I knew it we were heading on a very narrow uphill zig-zag road toward the site. The scenery you see as you ride up the mountain is a lush cloud forest with great views of the sacred mountain on the opposite side of the valley. The ride itself was spectacular as the narrow track winds its way up the mountainside. It can be a bit scary at times with almost vertical drops plunging down into the valley below especially when you meet a bus coming in the other direction!  I kept being paranoid that the bus would veer off track and we'd tumble down the cliffs to our imminent death. Finally --- we arrived at our destination! I was so so excited!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Journey of a Lifetime ( Part 5 ) The Maras Salt Mines

From Moray -- the group headed towards the famous salt mines of Maras. It is also known as Salinas de Maras. Maras has an elevation of 11,500 feet above sea level. This picturesque town is home to the most important salt mines in the region. The salt mines date back to Inca times and at one point was the largest salt producer in the Sacred Valley.

Our driver stopped at the top so we could get a nice overview of the salt mines. It was amazing! What looked like a patchwork quilt of white and various shades of brown cascading down a hillside were in fact thousands of terraced salt mines that have existed since pre-Inca times yet are still operable till today. Fascinated by its beauty and astonished by the fact salt can actually come from ancient mines and not only from sea water, I was left speechless by the site of salt encrusted ponds before me.

According to Jesus, our guide, there are approximately 5740 pools dug into the mountainside that each yield about 150 kg of salt per month. Each salt pool is worked by a family. He explained to us how the process was done.  The salt is actually not mined but rather it all comes from a tiny stream above the hill that has been redirected to ponds.  The ponds are stacked over and over on the hill side, with the top pond spilling into the lower one until it reaches the cliff side. Once a pond is full -- the stream is directed to new ponds as the ones that are full are left to evaporate, leaving the salt behind. 

Being very curious, I asked him why did the Incas build these salt mines high up in the mountains --- this is what he answered, " the Incans believed that by building these mines up in the mountains they will be closer to their Gods "..

Lulu and I decided not to go down and get a closer view of the salt mines. After taking souvenir shots of the salt mines, we were going to our next stop --- to have lunch with a Peruvian family. This was going to be our first Peruvian meal. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Journey of a Lifetime ( Part 4 ) Moray an Incan Ingenuity

Lulu and I took an optional tour to Moray another archeological site in Peru today. Moray has an elevation of 11,500 feet above sea level. The bus ride to Moray was very scenic --

When we finally arrived in Moray,  we were not disappointed. We had seen pictures of Moray's perfect circular terracing. The massive and perfectly circular construction under the huge Andean sky makes you absolutely venerate the Inca architecture skills.

According to Jesus, Moray is one of the "agricultural laboratories" the Incas used. Here they learned how to cultivate crops on different altitudes. Moray is an amazing site to see. You need to go  down to the circles in order to feel the difference in temperature and appreciate the strong echo in the middle of the largest circle below.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Journey of a Lifetime ( Part 3 ) Urubamba and Ollantaytambo ruins

After breakfast the next day --- we checked out of our hotel and headed out for the airport with the tour group. We flew to Cusco ( 2 hour flight ) and then took an hour bus ride to Urubamba. It was a pleasant day --- the weather was sunny and the temperature was not cold. Jesus advised us to bring our jackets ---- just in case the temperature dropped when we get to Urubamba. Traveling during the winter months in Cusco ( June till end of August ) can be very unpredictable. You can have perfect weather in the morning then the temperature starts to cool down around 4:00 pm. It gets very cold in the evenings --- you will need to turn on the heater in your hotel room.

Urubamba is the largest town in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.  It is regarded as a good location to go to in order to acclimate yourself to the elevation to prevent altitude sickness. The altitude of Urubamba is approximately 9000 feet above sea level.

While on the bus, Jesus, our tour leader explained to us that since Cusco is 11,000 feet above sea level, we might experience altitude sickness. The symptoms of altitude sickness are: fatigue, severe headaches, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea and diarrhea. He advised us to acclimatize ourselves  by drinking lots of water, walking slowly and when we feel we are out of breath -- we should stop and breathe deeply. 

There are some remedies for altitude sickness which helped Lulu and me throughout this trip. They are:

1. COCA TEA -  this tea is commonly seen in the Andes region. Coca tea acts as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, headache, hunger, and thirst. It is considered particularly effective against altitude sickness. 

Jesus warned us that we should not take Coca Tea after 4 pm because it contains high level of caffeine which will cause insomnia, and it also acts as a diuretic which may cause problems when we go on long bus rides. The maximum intake of Coca tea should be 4 cups a day. 

2. AGUA FLORIDA - I personally prefer this remedy than drinking coca tea. Put a few drops on your palms and rub them together. Put your nose between your palms and inhale deeply ... one whiff of this relieves you of your headache immediately!!

3. COCA LEAVES steeped in hot water for 10 minutes and  drink as tea. You need 2 - 3 pieces of coca leaves per cup of hot water.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Journey of a Lifetime ( Part 2 ) - The Larco Herrera Museum

The Larco Herrera Archaeological Museum is located in Pueblo Libre, near the upscale neighborhood of Miraflores. It was founded in 1926. As you enter the Larco Herrera Archaeological Museum you will be greeted by at least 20 beautiful bougainvillea varieties. 

The Larco Herrera Museum represents an architectural heritage of national significance. The museum is known to have the biggest private collection of pre-Columbian art that exists in the world. You will find over 45,000 archaeological pieces on gold, ceramics and textiles that have been classified by renowned specialists and scholars. The Larco Herrera Museum is one of the most visited Peruvian tourist attractions. Here you can also find an incomparable collection of “Erotic Huacos” or Erotic Art ( pre-Hispanic ceramic relics representing animals, persons and objects). This museum is more famous for its Moche art.

The main idea of Rafael Larco Hoyle, an archeologist and the founder of the Larco Museum in 1926, was to share his passion for pre-Columbian art and its development until the Spanish arrival. This passion made him investigate and discover important masterpieces that are considered today as  worldwide icons of Pre-Columbian art. 

Each area of the museum is fascinating and offers a complete collection of the pre-Columbian everyday life objects including crowns, earrings, nose ornaments, garments, masks and vases, finely wrought in gold and decorated with semi-precious stones. In the erotic gallery you will be intrigued by all the Moche jars and by the ceramic pots showing, in a certainly realistic and humoristic way, their sexual habits.

We were able to see the highlights of this museum. I will enumerate the rooms as we go along the way.

With 45,000 artifacts found in this museum.... it will take you a whole month to view each and every artifact. I have decided to divide the artifacts into several groups and took photos of which artifact I liked best. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Journey of a Lifetime ( Part 1 ) The CIty tour of Lima

All of us have a bucket list of places around the world where we would like to visit... My friend, Lulu and I have decided to make one incredible journey to Peru. It has been our longtime dream to visit Machu Picchu, known as the Land of the Incas.

After carefully planning our trip to Peru for almost a year... our dream was about to be fulfilled. Lulu found the perfect tour schedule. Come and follow us while we discover the beauty of Peru. Let us share with you what we have learned about Peru. Its history, culture and the beauty of what Peru has to offer. Through my blog and photos we will share with you what we experienced on this trip.... here is our story..

We flew from Los Angeles to Peru aboard COPA airlines, with a lay over in Panama.  When we arrived in Lima, Peru we were met by our tour guide, Jesus and we were escorted to Hotel Antigua Miraflores located in an upscale district in Lima. It looked like a house that was converted into a small " boutique hotel ".

Set in a Spanish-style mansion and oozing colonial period charm, this hotel offered a much more intimate and authentic experience than staying in a chain hotel. The decor is old fashioned, and the staff was very helpful and courteous. The hotel is made us feel like we were staying in a home!!

After breakfast we had a brief orientation with our tour guide and off we went on a tour of the city of Lima.