Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sacred Valley, Peru

I hope you enjoyed the first installment of our trip (even with the many grammatical errors I noticed after rereading it). We thoroughly enjoyed our trip. We were gone for 8 days and it was awesome!

Our third day had us wake up bright and early for an hour and a half, in-country flight from Lima to Cusco, where we would spend the rest of our days.

Lima's elevation was about 5,000 feet and we were flying to 10,800 feet in Cusco to end up in the Sacred Valley which is about 9,100 feet. To give you a perspective of the altitude difference, it is about 1,300 feet here where we live in the states. It was a huge difference and this took a toll on us the first day we arrived in the Sacred Valley.

When we arrived, we were picked up from the airport, which is really small, and was taken to our hotel. The hotel and its grounds were beautiful. We had rearranged our itinerary to get the room with an outdoor pool and waterfall shower, but the hotel messed up and gave it to someone else. They comped us $400 USD for the mistake as this was the difference between a normal room and the one we reserved originally. They had also given us a better room that still had an outdoor waterfall shower, a huge tub, a king bed and an patio set with a lovely view of a mountain.

 On our way to the hotel, we finally got a glimpse of what it was like to live in this area. It is very cheap to live here, as you must depend on the earth to provide what you need. The people here are hard workers and very resilient. I mean, they had gardens on the sides of the mountains and hiked there to plant, care, and harvest their crops. Crops ranged from potatoes, quinoa, corn, and others. Most were dressed in traditional garb and all the women, no matter the age, had dark, black hair. We found out later that they wash their hair with the same root that they use to clean alpaca fur (which is a white root that suds up).

So, after checking into our hotel, we were off on another tour. This time of the Maras Salt Flats and Moray which is the largest horticultural site in the world (not in use any longer). Before we headed to Moray, our guide took us to a place where they served us our first cups of coca tea with mint and showed us how they cleaned alpaca fur, dyed it, made it into usable threading material and how they created garments using home-made hand looms.

They used different plants, minerals, and animals to dye the alpaca.

 First, they shear the alpaca, then they use a white root, which they grated into some hot water, then strained it and washed it in the soapy water (this is the same root I mentioned above-each guide we had mentioned that there is no gray in the women and men because of using this root to wash their hair). Once the alpaca fur was washed down to a nice, soft white, it was hung to dry. Once dry, they would dye it using hand-made clay pots over a hand-made clay oven with a fire within. The concentrated color depended on how long it boiled and how much of the dying ingredient they put in the pot.

Once it was dyed and dried they began to hand spool it onto a spinning spool that they carry around while maintaining other chores. It is a technique that is second nature to them. It is a pretty thin thread, but probably not as thin as sewing thread. To make thicker thread, they would twist two or more together. Once thing that we thought was pretty neat, while others (Im sure you too) was that one of the dying ingredients was a white bug that was found on the cacti. It was used to dye the alpaca fur red, but it was also a beautiful shade of red for the lips. Yes, we saw a demonstration.

 Those bigger white chunks are the white bugs.

Also, driving through the area was just absolutely stunning! Rolling hills with snow-capped mountain peaks with glaciers in the background. It was much lovelier to behold than the beach and I love going to the beach.

Once we were finished with the demonstration on the process of making garments from alpaca fur, we went to Moray. It was enormous. The people at the bottom were very small; the same can be said when we visited Maras. There was also a smaller area that was created to do the same thing beside the original. The tiers were created because the Incas realized that crops grow better at different elevations. Hence the many varieties of potatoes. All the sites we visited were protected by the government, but you could still walk around and see parts, if not most of the historic sites. Can you image the digging and piling of big rocks in an ornate way as to keep from eroding without the use of wheels? Well, this is just a small part of the vast building the Incas did in their time.

We also saw what we termed the, 'Dr. Seuss Tree'

Next up were the Maras Salt Flats; used by the Incas and still in use today. The salt water comes from the mountains and it is by far saltier than ocean water. Each section is a bit longer than a mans height and each section also has its own tributary feeding it the salt water. It is about six inches deep and once it dries, people come in and begin 'shaving' off salt and selling it. This is where we bought some pink salt and fried corn and banana snacks. They were yummy, especially the banana. My MIL said it was an instant 'dry your mouth out' snack, but a very nice drinking snack none-the-less.

Can you spot the family working on their salt flat? This is zoomed in as far as my camera will allow.

See the top of the mountain? We drive from way up there, to way down here and we still had to walk some to get to the salt flats. This picture does not do it justice on the depth and height we drove.

As for driving there; Oh My! It is basically a winding, dirt road that is passable, but only slightly so. There are no guard rails and Peruvians honk or flash their lights before going around a turn to make on coming traffic aware. It is intense.

I also did not take as well of notes because the altitude difference had taken its toll on me and I was exhausted. I even cat napped in the back of the car and my hubs got a picture of me snoozing and couldn't believe I could do that.

That night, we went to the hotel restaurant and we ordered two appetizers and for the main course I tried alpaca and hubs tried guinea pig. The alpaca was a mix between pork and steak and I wasnt a fan of the taste. The guinea pig was not fired on a stick, which we saw later in our trip, but was a nice texture that tasted smooth and delicious like rib meat. That was the only time I tried either. We also had a glass of local merlot and I am not a fan of merlot, but it was smooth and enjoyed two glasses.

Then we went back and prepared for our next big adventure. That meant we had to pack backpacks for two nights, three days of clothes and essentials and have the rest taken to our last hotel in the city of Cusco.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lima, Peru

It is really interesting to see how other countries are different from our own. I have been to two very different countries and each has given me a greater appreciation for how the United States operates.

How it all began: 
I wanted to go back to Japan and visit some friends and was going to travel a bit (about a week by trains) to see northern Japan), but my dear friend found out she was pregnant and the time I was going would be about a month until her due date, so we thought it best to wait (Congratulations my Japan friends!). So, I remembered that one of my husbands top places to ever visit was Machu Picchu and began doing research on how to get there. I found a company called Latin America/Peru for less (PFL) and began to chat with a travel agent. After many back and forth emails, I settled on an itinerary and received a quote; it was a nice chunk of money, but I already knew it would be and had saved for such an adventure. I was going to keep it a surprise for my husband and just tell him to pack and he will see, but after much debate within I decided to tell him and let him also have a choice on where to stay and things to see. So, the emails to my agent began again asking about a Galapagos tour and two Incan treks. One trek was hiking four days or so from one spot and ending at Machu Picchu. The other was hiking from lodge to lodge with the same ending point. All were a bit out of our budget, but our biological minds really wanted to see the Galapagos and my husband really wants to go back and hike the Inca trail. My husband chose two different hotels from what I had chosen, a five star in the Sacred Valley and a five star in Machu Picchu. They were phenomenal hotels, but more on those later. The itinerary even needed to be changed so that we could get our preferred hotels, but that worked out to our benefit anyway considering the altitude differences. So, we made plan, bought our plane tickets and prepared for an amazing adventure. This would be the second time I have ever flown (the first being to Japan, but my husband is a seasoned flyer) and this would be the first time both parents would be leaving their beautiful daughter back in the States, but in capable and trustworthy hands. I was a bit stressed, as one could imagine, but I prayed and asked for prayers and in the end, all was happy and healthy. 

On April 5th, early in the morning, we prepared to leave. Our flight left around 9:30am and arrived in our first location of Lima, Peru around 7pm. We were met by a PFL representative and the driver, who would take us from the airport to our first hotel in Mira Flores, Lima. The different areas are considered neighborhoods in Peru, where we would consider them different counties. 

Some facts about Lima, Peru:
  • Lima is the capital of Peru.
  • It is the largest city in Peru.
  • Population is almost 9 million people.
  • There are no skyscrapers.
  • The tallest building is 34 floors. 120 meters - Westin. That is as tall as they will make them because of the earthquakes that occur.
  • Driving in Peru is scary!!! I mean, bumper to bumper, driving over lines, passing all the time, people fighting to be first - very aggressive driving. This may sound like here or in big cities, but multiply by 10. Seriously, no joke.
  • Lima reaches from the mountains to the sea cliffs.
  • It is relatively clean (at least where we stayed).
  • People jump off the cliffs and para glide with motors attached. 
  • The beach is not really for hanging out and relaxing in this area. People drive to another beach an hr or so away for beachy activities. 
  • Surfing is a big thing.
  • Their tsunami evacuation routes are right next to the ocean :/
  • There are ruins within the city.
  • There is a 'Cat Park' - seriously, there are cats everywhere. Probably the only place they can feel safe because the country has a huge community dog population.
  • Service at restaurants is not as quick or thoughtful as in America
  • Water is not drinkable from the tap.
We arrived at our hotel after an astonishing drive through the city, checked in, and walked to a cliff/sea-side shopping and dining area that sold anything from Prada and Ugg to local shops and food that consisted of American dining such as TGI Fridays, to more local fares. We chose TGI, for comfort food. 

The next day we had our first tour. Someone met us at the hotel to take us to a larger bus to begin our tour. 
These ruins are 900 years older than Machu Picchu. 

The second tallest building in Lima.
This was once a palace, which has now been turned into apartments occupied by lawyers.
 This is Jose de San Martin the Liberator was an Argentine general and the prime leader of the southern part of South America's successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire.

The United Nations building.
 Most of the above were taken as we were driving to the Plaza de Armas. Once on site at the location, we were able to see a huge Catholic church, a mountain in the background with a cross on it, the presidential building in which the president can hold the office for five years. Beside the church is a red and cream building which houses the arch bishops and others. The fountain in the middle was made completely out of bronze in 1861. 

While we were at the Plaza de Armas, there was a type of catholic parade going on, where they carried a tall float with what looked to be a mourning Mary, mother of Jesus. The church bells were also going off. 
Once we had a nice half hour to walk around and then boarded the bus again to head to another area that contained a church with some of the oldest known catacombs. The church was built in 1674, which also had a monastery attached to it. In the monastery, the ceiling has had to be replaced three times because of earthquakes and the fact that they were made of wood. The entire second floor was open to the elements, so that also contributed to the refinishing of the ceiling. The second floor also accommodated friars and monks, a total of about 33-35 monks. 
Out of the entire place, there was one area that had me in awe; and of course there were not pictures allowed. There was a library, the San Francisco, with two, small spiral staircases one either side with old, I mean old, books. It was blocked off from entering, but in the front they has two big, old Bibles and a Gregorian chant choir book. It was lit by natural light coming from the ceiling and the side windows and was just beautiful. Something from a movie or story. My husband bought me a magnet that showed the room, but it does it no justice. Follow the link to see it:

Once we were done with the monastery and church, we headed down to the catacombs. Dum, dum, dummm.
The catacombs consisted of roughly 25,000 bodies; we did not only see bones layed in an array, but they were also buried underneath our feet. There were gated off rooms where bones of the less important were just thrown in. When the catacombs were found, the important ones were enshrouded with 3-4 bodies per wrap. There were wells with skulls set in the sides of the wells and the rest of the bones set in a circular pattern. These were the most important. As I mentioned before, we were not allowed to take pictures, but we had an awesome tour guide who told us, that "you are not allowed to take pictures, but if you were going to, this would be the time and place to do it." I jumped on the opportunity and here are two:

Once we arrived into the above air, we continued to tour the church where there were carvings and paintings of all the saints. There were carvings of Saints Andrews, Thomas, Simon, Peter, James the Elder, Paulo, Bartholomew, Matthew, Philip, Thaddeus and the paintings consisted of Saints Peter, Paul, Matthew, James the Youngest, Matthias, Thomas, John, James the Elder, Judas Thaddeus, Bartholomew, Pedro, Augustine, Ambrose, Andrew, Anthony from Padua, Diego from Alcala, Simon and Philip. 

There was also a garden, which we could not enter that consisted of tiled pillars brought over from Spain. There were also paintings on the walls that had been covered up, but are being restored as much as possible. 

Once the tour was over, we headed back to our hotel, but we met a very nice Canadian couple who traveled with us for about four or five days, though through a different travel agency. We found that she was a travel agent herself and had bid on the trip they were on for a much better price and more things to see. I will refer to them as Miss Travel and Mr 'Eh' (seriously, he said it a lot and it was awesome). We thoroughly enjoyed their company and will work together to share pictures that we took of each other during our times together. Me and hubs look forward to staying in contact. 

As we neared our final destination to get back to the hotel, our Canadian friends and us decided to be dropped off at the shopping area near the ocean to grab a bite to eat and a few pisco sours (a popular alcoholic drink in Peru). We took our first photo together and shared many fun stories. 

Then we walked around, ending at the Cat Park, serioulsy cats everywhere, and then was kindly and forcefully dragged to a club which contained maybe 6 other people and danced for about an hr and then headed back.
So ends our first two days in Peru; Lima to be exact and the next post will be about flying to Cusco for the rest of our trip!