Sunday, June 15, 2014

Off to South America (Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu and Cusco, Peru) - May 5 - May16, 2014

May arrived and we departed on our trip that we (which means Debbie) have been planning for two years and which we mostly financed with our seasonal job at Amazon.

May 5 we flew to Tampa, FL to hook up with my brother Danny and his wife Lorraine  for a visit with my father.  Danny and Lorraine live in Mentor, OH and my father lives in Palm Harbor, FL.  While there we went out to Honeymoon Island State Park, pizza in hand to eat at the beach, swat bugs and enjoy the sunset.

The four of us truly have a wonderful time together.  We are so darn funny.   Just ask us.  It was a great visit!  Love you both!!!

May 9, Debbie and I rented a car and drove from Palm Harbor to Fort Lauderdale where we boarded a plane to fly to South America.  So here's the plan: Fly to Lima, Peru spend the night then fly the next morning to Cusco, Peru.  From Cusco take a 90 minute taxi ride to Ollantaytambo, Peru.  Stay 4 nights then take a 90 minute taxi ride back to Cusco for two nights. May 16 fly to Lima then that evening fly to Quito, Ecuador. Two nights in Quito then fly to Baltra, Ecuador.  Spend a great week touring the Galapagos Islands then fly back to Lima for 1 more night.  May 27 depart Lima at 11:30pm for a 6 hour flight to Fort Lauderdale.   Another long day of flying brings us home to Green Valley arriving May 28.  Whew!!!!! 

Now for the specifics.  The flight from Fort Lauderdale to Lima gets off late and we don't arrive in Lima until about midnight.  Then starts a trend. A man is standing there with a "Debbie Rowe" sign.  He drives us to his neat clean home which is a Bed and Breakfast.  At night, the neighborhood looks a bit scary.  Our room is small and has an adjacent bathroom.  In the morning we eat in their dining room where our taxi driver's wife presents us with a very pleasant breakfast which includes cereal, fruit, bread, jam, yogurt and the infamous Coca Tea.  Infamous because it's made from coca leaves (you know like cocaine but no buzz) and it's popularity stems from the believe that it will minimize the unpleasant symptoms of altitude sickness.  We drink it steadily during the next week.

Coca Tea
In the morning our host drives us back to the Lima Airport.  The neighborhood around the Bed and Breakfast looks OK, but the area around the airport looks much worse in the daylight!  We then fly on to Cusco.  The plane traveled over the Andes Mountains.  We were impressed.

So we arrive at the Cusco airport and our new taxi driver, Ronnie, is standing there with a Debbie Rowe sign.  He speaks almost no English but we communicate enough to know where we are going.  Our ultimate destination is Ollantaytambo which is about 90 minutes away.  However, en route we have 3 stops.

The first is the weaving village of Chinchero. 

There, a wonderfully precious Peruvian woman demonstrated all the steps of producing Alpaca wool products.  She takes us through harvesting the wool, cleaning it with a grated root material that turns soapy, dyeing/cooking the yarn with plant material or crushed bugs and finally the weaving process.


I wish you could hear her sweet!

Wonder what an Alpaca looks like?  Here you go!.
Oh yes, this was capped with an effort to sell some of their product (we bought) but we didn't feel taken, we felt fortunate!

Next is Moray where we have massive, like 450 feet deep, sinkholes that are uniformly terraced.  The believe is that they were there for agricultural use but it may have been for spiritual activities.  The Incas didn't leave a lot of written history, like none.

Next is Salineras. This a site where the Incas collected salt from hundreds of shallow evaporation ponds and the locals continue this practice today.

The small salt rich stream to the left is endlessly diverted to each pond.
Each pond is only a few inches deep.
Finally we arrive in Ollantaytambo.   This is a 600 year old Inca village.  There's one road in and one out.  The rest of the community is a network of cobblestone paths and alley ways.  It's located in a severe valley with the Andes jetting up around it on all sides.  Beautiful!!!! 

View from our room
Unfortunately, it was pouring down rain when we arrived and our room is in a lodge down a cobblestone alley inaccessible to vehicles.


Not to worry.  A fellow shows up with a cart attached to a bicycle and hauls our luggage up the cobblestone hill in the cart.  Now that's service.  I did stop by later in the day to examine the cart.  I guess it solves the problem of no vehicle access quite nicely.

Our accommodations are at the Apu Lodge which is only about 5 years old.  I might have guessed 40.  It was neat, clean and nicely maintained but their building standards are nothing like what we  expect.  All of the construction materials were also rolled in on carts to the construction site, no roads! 



Our time in Ollantaytambo was serene.  We spent the evening of our arrival walking around town and eventually having pizza.  Early to bed and early to rise. Apu also was a Bed and Breakfast so each day began in a day room with the other guests having breakfast.  This included eggs, bread, fruit, granola, juice, coffee and coca tea.  At only $65/night we thought Apu Lodge was a great place to spend our time in Ollantaytambo.

Day two we spend hours hiking a mountain on the "Pinkuylluna" trail that begins minutes from our room.

The views truly were stunning and, to our amazement, there were Inca ruins all along the trail we were hiking.

Notice the ruins and trail on the mountainside
Now, the fact is we are not Inca history buffs.  But, when you start rambling around these ruins you have to be impressed with their location, the effort required to build, their design and the fact that they're still there. It may be said that we stood there in awe of the structures.

These are granaries, you know like for storing grain

Additionally, the views from the mountain overlooking the valley are so mighty impressive.

The trail was steep and rocky, but we took our time and hiked carefully.

We ended our hike with the increasingly popular "selfie".

Sefie of Duane
Afterwards, we took an enjoyable walk along the river running through town.

As we strolled I came upon an opportunity to do my good deed for the day.  We found two burros tied up at the edge of the river grazing on the tall grass.  The rope of one was hopelessly wrapped around a sign pole though and he couldn't move.  Duane to the rescue!

Later we strolled through town some more and closed the evening with a nice dinner.

Day three we visit the massive ruins that tower over the village. 


I was particularly impressed with the massive boulders.  How did they move them?!

Please note how they're carved to fit!
Again, the views overlooking  the town were breathtaking.

So you see, each day was a leisurely paced event that included breakfast, hike/walk, visit ruins, stroll through town, dinner and early to bed.

Day four is off to Machu Picchu.  We were up about 4:30am, walked to the train station, departed at 6:45 for about an hour and a half train ride to Aguas  Calientes.  Then we took a heart stopping bus ride up the mountain to Machu Picchu.  We worked hard to see all of Machu Picchu and more in a day, including hikes to the Sun Gate and the Inka Bridge.  The only downside of this adventure was that it was no where near as cool as we expected and we dressed too warmly.  But at the end of the day we felt that we had FULLY experienced all that this unique site had to offer.  I'll skip the narrative, please enjoy the pictures. 



Is it a rabbit?  Is it a squirrel?  Couldn't figure out what critter this was until we googled it.
  Of course! It's a Viscachas.


Debbie's personal Sherpa

Town of Aquas Calientes
The next morning, May 14, Ronnie our taxi driver is waiting for us as scheduled.  We have a quiet, scenic ride back to Cusco where Ronnie delivers us, literally, at the front door of the Hostal Wara Wara.

This structure is deceiving.  The front door is about 12 inches off the road. 

The door is well secured and you have to be buzzed in.  Once inside, we find our room to again be small, clean and it has a bathroom. The price was slightly less than Apu Lodge.

Probably the best thing about this place is the fantastic view of Cusco from their balcony.

Our hosts, a married couple, live there with their 2 year old son.  The young boy apparently has read the book entitled "The Terrible Twos" but his behavior, which really was not so terrible, simply added to the homeyness of the setting.  Coincidentally, the wife, who was originally from Lima, Peru had lived in Tucson (we live 25 miles south of Tucson) for a couple years after graduating from high school. Again it was a Bed and Breakfast and we were served eggs, toast, fruit, juice coffee and tea.  On day one we were heavily engaged in a robust conversation with a couple from Dallas seated at our table when our server delivered Debbie eggs.  I yakked on with the couple while Debbie enjoyed the eggs.  We later realized the server had delivered Debbie and my portion of eggs on one dish so Debbie enjoyed an "ample" serving.  I had toast.  Big laugh!   Debbie considered many things when selecting our lodgings.  A significant variable was whether or not the hosts spoke English.  Folks at both Wara Wara and Apu spoke excellent English.  In fact, throughout our trip the fact that we don't speak Spanish was mostly no issue at all.  We spent more time with locals in Peru then elsewhere and we were continually pleased with their hospitality.  People there just seemed greatly invested in ensuring we understood all that we needed to know.  Quite charming!

So we spend our time in Cusco walking and enjoying the ambiance of the town.  Cusco is much bigger than Ollantaytambo, still charming, just not as much as "Ollanta" in our opinion.

Now let me address three subjects.  (1) Altitude - Ollantaytambo was about 9200ft.  Machu Piccu about 8000ft.  Cusco about 11,000ft.  So we (Debbie) planned our trip so we would have the opportunity to acclimate prior to staying in Cusco.  We also took prescribed altitude medication and steadily drank coca tea.  I would say that to a large degree we successfully avoided the ill affects of altitude sickness.  (2)  When one is on such a trip one must be careful to not drink the local water, and must be very careful about what they eat.  No  fruits or vegetables that can't be peeled or are not fully cooked, watch the eggs and be sure all meat is fully cooked. Wash your hands frequently.  Carelessness can result in the dreaded heebee geebees.  I'm so juvenile. OK, gastrointestinal disorder.  I would like to say that we were again quite successful but that is not true.  For whatever unknown reason by noon of day two in Cusco I was oh so sick.  I woke up not feeling so well and already enjoying the heebee geebees but I figured I would power through the symptoms so we walked way down a hill into town.  It was all I could do to get back to our room.

Struggling uphill.
I believe my "condition" was exacerbated by the altitude because I could only walk a few steps and I would have to sit to catch my breath before moving on.  So I went to bed at noon and stayed there until 6 the next morning.  I felt like I was going to live but I was slow moving for the next couple of days.  (3)  Toilet facilities in Peru.  Almost without exception you won't find toilet paper in a public restroom, there often is no toilet seat and you never can flush the used toilet paper.  There will be a receptacle to dispose of your paper.  That applies to hotels as well as public facilities.  These requirements were certainly unique but it is somehow managed so it wasn't as funky as you might think.  Love that international travel.

So on the morning of May 16 another taxi arrives at the Wara Wara and takes us to the Cusco airport.  We smoothly fly out and arrive in Lima about 1pm.  Our flight to Quito, Ecuador does not depart until 9:30pm.  Originally we were scheduled to have a driver tour us around Lima.  However, due to my delicate condition, Debbie cancelled the tour.  Consequently, we sat in the Lima airport for 8 hours.  Frankly, that was fine with me.  I could rest my "ravaged" body, use the facilities as often as needed (we carried our own paper - Debbie's planning) and save my energy for the next leg of our trip.  Our flight out of Lima, Peru was a little so slow getting off the ground, plus it seemed to take forever to get through customs, so we didn't arrive at our meeting place in the Quito airport until about 12:30am.  When we did finally arrive what do you imagine we saw?  Yes, it was a young man standing there with a Debbie Rowe sign.

Can you hear the music?  I am now singing Debbie's praise.  Up until arriving in Quito, we were entirely dependent upon arrangements booked on the local economy by  Debbie !!! We had Peruvian money, train tickets and even admission tickets to Machu Picchu in our hands prior to arriving in Peru.  Every room was available exactly as planned.  Every plane, train and taxi was where it was suppose to be like we had called from the corner payphone.  Debbie truly spent hundreds of hours working out every last detail. They even changed one fight by 12 hours but didn't promptly tell us.  But because Debbie checks and rechecks, she caught it early and made the necessary adjustments.  Even some of the emails and flight info were coming to her in Spanish. "El no espanol."  I'm telling you now.  It was no accident that there were so many folks standing around with Debbie Rowe signs.  MIGHTY IMPRESSIVE!!

More to Come.


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