Jan 26, 2008

People of Peru

Click here to view slideshow in a larger window

Las Islas Flotillas (The Floating Islands)

After a wonderful 10 days in and around Cuzco, Amanda and I had a fitting farewell to this beautiful part of the world with some tea overlooking La Catedral in the Plaza de Armas.

The next morning we crammed into a bus full of gringos headed for Lake Titicaca; Puno, Peru to be exact. After Cuzco, Puno is a sad sight. Gone are the beautiful stone Inca ruins and cobblestone streets. Here in Puno we have mud buildings, muddy streets, and mud everywhere else you look. What Puno does have going for it is the beautiful Lake Titicaca; the largest lake in South America, and the highest navigable in the world at over 12,600 ft.

We couldn´t wait to visit the famous Floating Islands of Uros. We booked our tour and hopped on the slowest boat ever built to began our crawl towards the only islands in the world made entirely of grass reeds. For centuries, the people of Uros have lived in peace on their man-made islands. Floating in roughly 60 ft of water, these 28 islands support 8-15 families each. They each last about 10 years after which the inhabitants begin constructing another reed island that is about 7 ft thick. It is not uncommon for islanders to remove their anchors and float away from ill-behaved neighbors, or loud house parties. They use solar panels for their televisions and eat trout three times a day."Strange" and "confusing" might be the simplest way to describe these ancient, yet constantly refurbished islands.

After 2 hours on Uros we headed 3 hours south by boat to the island of Amantani. This bona fide land island was a tranquil stop on our journey. We stayed in a local family´s home and enjoyed vegitarian meals. After playing soccer, we did some hiking to get an amazing 360 degree view of the 4500 sq. mi. lake. We had dinner and then dressed in traditional clothing for the big party. It was entirely staged for the tourists but Amanda and I danced our hearts out soaked it all in.

After a brief visit to the neighboring island of Taquile, we headed back to the not so beuatiful Puno. Tomorrow we depart for Bolivia, the second country on our list of 11. Now things are really getting interesting!

Jan 22, 2008


Amanda and I celebrated my 26th birthday in grand fashion. There was live Peruvian music and dancing at the famous "El Truco" restaurant in Cusco. At one point the lights went dim, the band sang happy birthday in Spanish, and an enormous chocolate cake was brought out. The waiters threw their metal trays on the ground for noise. It was fantastic.


The last 10 days in Peru have been filled with vibrant cities, scenic vistas, ancient ruins, and frequent rain. After Nazca, we spent 2 days in Arequipa, and then headed to Cuzco.

Known as the white City, Arequipa is a beautiful metropolis constructed almost entirely from an off-white volcanic rock. It rests in the shadows of the massive El Misti. This active volcano is the source of the sillar from which the city is built. In Arequipa we strolled through the beautiful Monasterio de Santa Catalina and dined in the surprisingly European restaurants. It is a very beautiful city indeed.

Cuzco is a city steeped in cultural history. It is known as the capital of the all-encompassing Inca Empire of the 14th and 15th centuries. Although the city was mostly destroyed by the Spanish Conquest in 1533, many ruins of the ancient Inca city remain as the foundations for newer buildings. The narrow cobblestone streets take us back to a time before trucks and before the Europeans. Many ruins of ancient cities surround Cuzco making this city the most visited location in South America and also the longest continuously inhabited city. It was from Cuzco that Huayna Capac, the last great Inca King ruled his empire that spanned from Ecuador south to Argentina – The largest in the Americas.

Since the Spanish conquest, by far the biggest event to hit Cuzco was the rediscovery of the lost Inca city Machu Picchu in 1911 by Yale professor Hiram Bingham. This hidden city was never discovered by the Spaniards as it rested high atop an Andean Plateau. The Inca’s worked hard to keep the city a secret as it was considered the most sacred in the Empire for its location relevant to the sun, stars, the Urubamba River, and snow-capped mountains.

Our 4 day trek on the Inca trail to the lost city began on a cloudy day. We hiked 45 KM in 4 days. Along with the 14 foreigners and 2 guides, 20 local porters carried everything from sleeping bags to food to dining tents and propane tanks. We had multi course meals at every sitting and enjoyed the company of 14 travelers united to hike one of the oldest roads in the Americas. Each morning we were awoken by a porter with a cup of tea for us. We would eat and begin our trek while the porters packed up camp and passed us on their way to the next camp site. Along the way we heard endless stories of the mysterious Incas, roamed through countless ruins ranging from lookout points to agricultural and astronomical research facilities, and climbed thousands upon thousands of stairs through the cloud forest and Andean jungle. It was an absolutely amazing experience pinnacled by an 8 hour visit to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is the epitome of Inca architecture. It features active plumbing and shadow-less city planning. Devices for viewing the sun and monitoring the stars are built into its temples. Terraced microclimates gave the Incas the ability to harvest hundreds of different crops; all this from carved granite stones. It is unfortunate that so little is known of this once great empire. Amanda and I have been in awe of their amazing architecture and beautiful ancient cities. We will never forget our Inca trail journey and the many memories we made along the way.

Jan 10, 2008

Nazca Lines

Consisting of over 300 geometric figures, 800 straight lines, and 70 biomorphic drawings in the sand, the Nazca Lines in Peru are one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries. It is widely believed that many generations of the ancient Paracas and Nazca cultures dating from 900 BC to AD 600 constructed the lines by simply re-arranging the desert floor. The unique environment of this 500 square km of vast desert, named the Pampa Colorado, has preserved these ancient drawings for thousands of years.

Discovered in the 1920’s by the first commercial flights over Peru, the Nazca Lines are best viewed by air.

While the various birds, whales, hands, and other geomorphic figures can span up to 180 meters across, it is the miles upon miles of straight continuous lines criss-crossing this vast desert that truly captivate one’s curiosity.

Why did this primitive culture spend hundreds of years creating such curious shapes in this seemingly lifeless land? Were they gifts to the gods, landing strips for alien ships, a map of various underground water sources, or possibly the world’s largest astrological calendar? Furthermore, how could they have been constructed with such precision if they can only be viewed from above?

Many theories abound. None are very convincing.

We spent about 35 minutes flying above these fascinating creations in a small Cesna 172 airplane. While the world may never know the true meaning of these archaic lines, they are truly a captivating sight. Once in the air, it is clear that this desert is one of the largest pieces of canvas on which an ancient culture has created art on a truly magnificent scale. It is a beautiful mystery that not even Robert Stack can likely solve.

Jan 6, 2008

Huancavelica of a good time!

Huancavelica, Peru is a small town crammed between the walls of a massive Andean valley. We arrived via a terrifying highway that meticulously wound its way through the high Andes. We were greeted by a week-long festival to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings after the Birth of Jesus. Locals danced down the streets while a 20-piece orchestra followed their slow progression. The smell and sound of fireworks has become a staple in our short visit to Huancavelica.

Huancavelica is steeped in controversial history. When they arrived, the Spaniards exploited the native Incas to mine the extremely poisonous mercury that rests in the hills. It is estimated that 11 million Incas died in the two hundred years of the mines’ existence. Once the entire Inca population of the area became extinct, Africans were shipped in to continue the genocide. Furthermore, to feel more at home, the Spaniards would organize a running of the bulls. However, these bulls would simply chase the natives into the mines where they would eventually die from mercury poisoning. There even lies somewhere deep within the Santa Ana Mine a vacant city where workers used to live as they were exploited.

Despite this very grave history, the town sure knows how to party. The culmination of this festival to honor Jesus Christ came last night. As Amanda and I perched ourselves on the steps of the ancient Iglesia de San Francisco, we couldn’t believe our eyes as locals began carrying out massive, fire-breathing contraptions constructed of bamboo, rope and enough pyrotechnics to put Disneyland to shame. These 40 ft tall monsters named Caballos (Horses) would spit every color of flame, sparks, noise and light into a spectacular crowd of onlookers.

Small children would dance in the falling flames and massive fireworks exploded in every direction not more than 20 feet from our stoop. It was one of the greatest parties ever and will truly hold a special place in our hearts.

Today we climbed roughly 1000 feet out of the canyon that holds Huancavelica to a church that overlooks the town. It was a spectacular vista that made for some unique photos as locals attended mass in an unfinished cathedral with no walls.

We plan to head for the beach early Monday morning to Pisco. It will be a nice respite from the cold before we return to the Andes to hike the Inca Trail. We will miss this gem of a city that lies so far off the tourist track. However, we feel extremely blessed to have met its people and shared in their celebration.

Jan 3, 2008

A very Yellow New Year

After doing our time in Lima, we hopped on a 7 hour bus ride to Huancayo. Located in the Mantaro Valley of the central highlands of Peru, this city has become our headquarters for the time being.

We arrived on New Years Eve to a massive party in the streets. Huancayo uses the color yellow the celebrate el Año Nuevo. From balloons, to hats, to streamers, to shirts, to big yellow underwear, the night markets specialized in anything dyed this special New Year’s hew.

After taking many photos on the streets, we settled into La Cabaña Restaurant. We ordered a plate full of meat and then danced the night away with our full bellies. As the bell tolled midnight, there were hugs, kisses, and a lady that kept shoving confetti down Amanda’s shirt. Our hotel room is still littered with small yellow dots of paper. We had a blast. We awoke late on the 1st to find the party was indeed over.

In the last three days we have done three separate day trips to various towns. Our list includes Changos Bajo, Aco, Mito, Jauja, and the Inca ruins of Tunanmarca. This ancient town was once home to about 3000 Incas more than 1300 years ago. Their circular huts of stone have withstood the elements remarkably well.

The Mantaro Valley is a very tranquil place. During the summer months the heavy rains support the agricultural community. The hills are full of color and life as Peruvians tend to the land that has been harvested since their ancestors arrived in the seventh century. It is very easy to strike up a conversation with these friendly farmers. Though they have very little, they are always willing to give. Amanda and I hiked back in time through miles and miles of lush potato farms surrounded by groves of eucalyptus trees and Inca ruins. The Andes rise violently on all sides of us. Small, run down villages centered around a Catholic Church house many culture-filled lives filled with history.
After finishing our hike through the ruins we stumbled upon a party. It was a coming of age party for 4 beautiful Peruvian women in their late teens.
We danced, ate, and enjoyed visiting the home of this Peruvian family. Their hospitality and generosity is truly honorable. They brought us to their home, let us dance with their women, and fed us some amazing cuisine – and all we had to offer was a smile and a laugh. This was a truly memorable experience.
We finished our hike today, Jan 3rd with a New Year’s fiesta in the town of Mito. Please allow the picture to do the talking for this event.

Amanda’s camera has been snapping away. We are not sure where we will journey next, but we have fallen in love with Huancayo and its surrounding villages. We have only seen 2 other gringos in the last 4 days and have not spoken English to anyone but each other since we left Lima. My rusty Spanish is improving quickly as it is truly the only way to communicate.

We still miss home and wish everyone a very wonderful 2008 filled with health, wealth, and love. Until next time, Adios.