A Travellerspoint blog

Cuzco

and the Inca Trail

rain 12 °C
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Cuzco
Cuzco is possibly the most beautiful South American city that we have been to. The mix of colonial buildings with inca ruins makes for an impressive site, indeed most of the more modern buildings have been built upon inca foundations. The city is awash with religious buildings (both pre and post columbian) interspersed with upmarket hotels and eateries. It is also the most commercial city that we have been to; with every local eager to make money out of the "gringos".

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Plaza de Armas, Cuzco.

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An Inca wall in Cuzco.

Further out from the city is the more impressive "sacred valley" with some of the best preserved inca sites outside of Machu Picchu. We saw the sites of (amongst others) Sacsayhuaman (which appears to be pronouned "sexy woman" - talking about Lisa again), once thought to be a fortress, but now believed to be an astronomical site and royal temple.

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The stone to the left of Andrew weighed in at around 130 tonnes!

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The Sacred Valley.

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Terraces and Inca ruins at Pisac.

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Anyone for a bacon butty? Pigs head for sale at Pisac market.

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The Brunton's at Pisac.

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Why the long face?

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The sacred mountain at Ollantaytambo.

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Close up of the mountain. Can you make out the face of the mountain god complete with crown?

The Inca Trail
The 4 day trek to Machu Picchu began with an early morning call at 5:45am, to catch the minibus to Km82 at Pisacucho (the beginning of the walk). The first day was a "test day" as we only walked around 4 hours and thought it was easy despite the altitude and the backpacks (we were the hardcore who didn't require an extra porter!) The crew of porters certainly make the trail more comfortable. We went with SAS and they thought of everything; from bowls of hot water to wash with at the end of a day's walk, to waking us up with a cup of coca tea each morning. The food was also something else - 3 courses at dinner AND tea (which was actually too much on the days where you hadn't exerted yourself), plus "happy hour" which entailed cups of chocolate, tea, coffee and popcorn, plus biscuits. It was comparable to the B-Meister's cooking skills (even the veggie food was fabulous). We also happened upon a good bunch of people to walk the trail with - once Lisa had overcome the shock of being the oldest member!

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The start of the Inca trail.

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The group and the porters.

The second day was slightly harder, walking for around 10 hours in total, and overcoming "dead woman's pass" the most difficult section of the walk. Andyb raced up, whilst Lisab decided on a leisurely stroll to the top!

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Lisa on her way up dead woman's pass.

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The Brunton's at the top of dead woman's pass.

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And everybody else made it too!

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Flora on the trail.

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Winya-Wayna, one of the Inca sites on the way to Machu Picchu.

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Another group shot whilst on the trail.

We were slightly disappointed on the last day to walk through the sun gate and see fog as opposed to Machu Picchu! (well, it is rainy season). However, because we are such fit types, we decided to walk up Waynapichhu (the big mountain you see behind the typical postcard shots of Mahu Picchu) and were chuffed to get great views from there instead.

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Machu Picchu

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Inca doorway.

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Inca window.

Posted by bruntonal 10:01 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Colca Canyon

and the search for the elusive condors....

semi-overcast 14 °C
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We made a whistle stop tour of the Colca Canyon, as time was running out in South America. The main reason for the visit was to see the condors. Unfortunately, in wet season, it was unlikely that we would get up close to them, but we wanted to try anyway. Whilst it was nice to see the towns along the way, it would have been better to get straight to the canyon and to spend longer there. Our tour didn't include any trekking in the bottom of the canyon, which perhaps was a mistake. We were fortunate however to see the floor of the canyon from the viewpoints up above (something tour groups a couple of days earlier didn't manage due to the fog). On the second day, we saw what we came for (albeit for a very brief moment and quite far away) - the condors made an appearance! The highlight however, was the buzzard eagle that darted past our heads in search of a catch. The lowlight was the incessant voice (amplified by a microphone in an 18 capacity van) of the guide. We got told invaluable snippets of information, such as how the Gloria milk company had recently acquired the concrete factory - how we giggled at concrete flavoured milk.....

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The Colca Canyon. You can just make out the Rio Colca, if you look hard enough.

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The Colca Valley.

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This rodent is related to the Chinchilla, but we forget the name. The locals are known to feed them banana skins which immobilise the poor little things due to indigeston, they are then easier to pick up for the pot!

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This plant called the Yareta grows only 1mm a year and, because of it's compactedness, is rock hard to touch. We reckon due to the size of this one it could be at least a few hundred years old.

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Agriculture in the Colca Valley. Mainly potato's, the Peruivans grow around 3000 different types!

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The Condor.

Posted by bruntonal 09:41 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca

Bolivia and Peru

overcast 12 °C
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On our way to Copacabana we had to cross a part of Lake Titicaca. This platform was used to transport the coach over, and we had the pleasure of a rickety boat. Health and Safety does exist in Bolivia!

Because travelling can be very tiring (honestly!) we decided to have a mini-break. Originally, we were only going to spend a couple of days on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, but then we came upon the beauty that was "La Cupula" accomodation and restaurant, in Copacabana. For only $34 per night, we were treated to a beautiful studio apartment, complete with mini kitchen and a bed on stilts where Lisa hid in the afternoons to read her book, while Andrew was happy to make do with one of the hammock's.

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The view from our apartment.

Whilst there, we decided to have an afternoon messing about on the water and hired a canoe for a couple of hours. Bolivia is the only land locked country in the world to have a navy, and it's main base is on Lake Titicaca. How we laughed as we were whistled in by the naval officer to move away from their territory (they appeared to have no boat to catch us with!) The only navy without a fleet, or so we thought. However, when we went out on the boat to Isla del Sol the next day, we noticed a swan pedalo outside the naval base, and supposed this might be their only means of water transport.

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The Bolivian Navy out on patrol.

Folk lore suggests that Isla del Sol was the birthplace of the Incas. A sacred rock at the northwest of the island is said to be the birthplace of Manco Kapac and Mama Ocllo (the children of Viracocha - the god creator of the Incas) where they sprang from the waters to create Cusco and the Inca culture. Isla del Sol is a lovely little island and some Inca ruins still remain. Whilst taking a leisurely stroll from the north to the south of the island we came across a human sacrificial site, which is still complete with the slab upon which bodies were placed. Fortunately now, it is merely used to sell tat.

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The Inca sacrificial site.

Some views of Isla del Sol.

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With reluctance, we moved away from our hide out to Puno, Peru, to see the "floating islands" or "the Uros". These are the islands which are made from reeds. The reeds are also cultivated to make their boats as well as used for food. It was quite touristy, and our guide made the local women "role play" to explain how they barter with their goods (they still exchange produce with the people on the mainland). The women appear to while away their days making local crafts to sell to visitors; the men apparently fish (though we saw no evidence of this - well it was a Saturday). Although some bartering still goes on, they appear quite comfortable with the reddies, and when we bought some cushion covers, they were the only people in Peru who were able to change a 100 note!

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Puno and Lake Titicaca.

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The floating islands.

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The local women perform a sing-song.

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A mock-up on how to construct a floating island. At first you lay down blocks of reed root then several layers of reeds before building your house.

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I'll swap you two potatoes for some of that quinoa!

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A typical reed boat (perhaps from the past) but now for the benefit of the tourists. These boats take several men around two months to complete and then only last one maybe two years.

An afternoon was also spent touring the funeral towers at Sillustani. These are amazing structures; architects and archaeologists are still trying to figure out how they were engineered. Apparently the largest of the structures housed the tombs of very important people, whilst the commoners didn't get a look in at this site.

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Posted by bruntonal 08:09 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Tiahuanaco

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We spent a pleasant (but cold) morning visiting the Tiahuanaco (in Aymara language) or Tiwanako (in Quechua speak) archaeological site, near La Paz. This contains the remains of pre-inca civilisations. Although in the West, people are well aware of the Inca civilisation, less is known about the Tiahuanaco culture, which lasted for full 3 thousand years before the Inca's came along, second only in length to the Egyptians. This site has been used for hundreds of years as a local quarry, and not much of the city remains, however, excavations are still continuing. Ruins include various temples and astronomical buildings, built in mathematical alignment to the sun and stars (such as the sun gate). One of the most important monuments has been housed in the on-site museum for only six years , previously the 20 tonne, 8 metre, lump of red sandstone was situated outside La Paz's football stadium (it had been moved there after the monument was discovered in the 1930's). It was freqeuently bombarded by bottles when angry, losing fans left the stadium; this was when the local police weren't using it for target practice! Today, it is missing half its face and nose.

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The Sun Gate. The iconography at the top depicts an astronomical calendar. The lower vertical columns would have been covered in gold and silver plate.

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This is one of a 175 stone heads that adorn the walls of the underground temple. It is reputed that the faces represent all of the races of the world, including aliens! Another theory is that they represent faces in differing states of heath, as the temple was thought to be a place where people came to be healed.

We also saw a traditional Aymara wedding ceremony taking place, on this sacred site (special permission is required to get wed here). They were accompanied by pan pipe musicians (we felt like we were living through a "fast show" sketch!) and drummers. We watched them as they prepared offerings to Pachamama. These include coco leaves, minature symbols of good fortune, including llama foetuses (ugh!) which they burn in a ritual.

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The mother in law. This is traditional Bolivian woman dress. We have heard that the hat is placed straight on the head to signify that a woman is married, and if she is available, the hat is tilted to one side. Lisa wonders how many married women, at the sight of a fit Bolivian man, sneekily cocks her hat (much easier than removing the wedding ring).

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The wedding band

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Fast Show off!

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Llama foetuses for sale in the witches market, La Paz

Posted by bruntonal 07:52 Archived in Bolivia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Salar de Uyuni

The Bolivian Salt Flats

sunny 18 °C
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Our initial concern regarding the salt flat tour was that we were going to be stuck in a four by four for three days with four soap dodging, bongo playing hippies in happy pants, as they were waiting in the same vicinity as us. We needn't have worried, as they got into another vehicle, and we had the pleasurable company of a Bolivian couple (from La Paz) and a mum and daughter from Rosario, Argentina. All acted as our translators for the 3 day tour, as our guide wasn't bilingual.

The first day we visited the train cemetry, and the salt flats themselves.

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The train cemetry. This occured because of the revolution in 1952, after the workers abandoned the railways.

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Andyb in his silly hat at the Salt Flats

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Lisab in her silly hat at the Salt Flats

At this time of year (rainy season), the salar is covered in a few inches of water. This gives the effect that (from a distance) the vehicles are travelling in the sky, and appears very surreal. We were unable to visit Fish Island (we were told the water was too deep there) and would like to visit the Salar again in dry season, for the contrast. Despite this, we saw some amazing sights, and witnessed some of the most dramatic scenery we've seen in South America.

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One of the lakes

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One of the rare James flamegoes that we spotted

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Our transport for the 3 day tour

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We visited the volcanic mud pools, which bubble away at very high temperatures. We thought they were fantastic, but we haven't visited Iceland (yet!)

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On the last day we visited the "Daliesque" desert. Apparently, he camped nearby for about 3 months; this view testifies to how the landscape influenced his paintings.

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Laguna Colorado.

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This is one of the Llama's we saw during the trip, complete with carnival ribbons. The farmers dress up their livestock for the duration of carnival!

Posted by bruntonal 07:34 Archived in Bolivia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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