Pisco after the earthquake
7.9 on the scale of Richter. Less than 10 days before I was going to fly to Peru, the country suffered a tremendous earthquake with more than 500 people killed. It made havoc of archeological objects, museums had been collapsed and on Paracas many rock formations were damaged (a.o. "The Cathedral"). The town of Pisco was vanished for most part. Very sour...
After a long flight I arrived at J. Chavez international airport in Lima. I stayed in the tourist friendly district Miraflores at the hotel "Casa Andina" (the outside looks more attractive than the inside) on Av. 28 de Julio not far from the Larco Mar, a shopping mall right beside the cliffs high above the beach and the sea.
Lima, Archbishop's Palace
To be honest, little of the original splendour of Lima
is left. However, there are a few representative pieces of early Spanish architecture which are quite spectaculair. Lima is situated right near the sea almost half-way along of the Peruvian coast. Unfortunately it has a climate which can best be descriped as fog-bound. The historic heart of the city is formed by the Plaza de Armas, a huge square surrounded by many of Lima's most important buildings. If you're only a few hours in Lima, you should go here! In the middle is a fountain, on the north side the Government Palace (watch the changing of the guard and I don't mean the heavily armed cars aside the building wth that), the east side is dominated by the cathedral and the Archbishop's Palace.
Pachacamac, Sun Temple
Lima was founded by the Spanish soldier Francisco Pizzaro in 1535. In the cathedral I visted a small chapel dedicated to him. His remainders are sealed in a wooden coffin. Opposite the cathedral is the town hall. Walking north I passed the Desamparados Station, and continued to the San Francisco Monastery, the most interesting building in the city. The square in front of the monastery could be a location for Hitchcocks movie "The birds", it is full of pigeons! The exterior of the monestery is painted in colonial yellow, the interior is mostly decorated in Mudejar style showing panels with carvings, murals and paintings. The library is unique and the catacombs contain hundreds of skulls and bones.
Leaving Lima south bound I soon arrived at the ruins of Pachacamac, once the largest pre-Inca settlement on the Peruvian coast.
It was excavated since 1896 by the German archeoligist Max Uhle. Two major sanctuaries rise well above the ruins. One dates back to pre-Inca times, the other, a vast celebration of stone and adobe, shows the typical sacrificial platforms associated with the Inca civilisation. The Sun Temple is the eyecatcher, on top of a sand hill overlooking the sea.
My next hotel was planned in Pisco, from where I was going to visit the Paracas peninsular and the Ballestas Islands. However, due to the earthquake on August 15th the town was entirely ruined and it was bearly possible to travel south. Traffic had to leave the Panamerican Highway to make a side-tour along collapsed houses, mostly not more than piles of brick. It was a sorry sight. Fortunately assistance was already present for the infatuated inhabitants.
Obviously no stop here, but on to Ica
. I didn't see the city, but visited the Laguna de Huacachina
, an oasis resort surrounded by large dunes challenged by sand surfers and buggies. In the evening I arrived in Nazca
, home of the mysterious lined drawings, which were studied for years by Maria Reiche. First I went to the "Puquios", wells connected by human made underground aquaducts. All set along a dry river bed. While in Nazca
you have to get airborne. A flight is a must to get a good view of the Nazca lines. I must admit that after a while I missed the figures and got more concerned about the contents of my stomach. I rather do a bungy jump than fly in a small aircraft doing flips, turns and all sorts of aerial stunts to show the Whale, Astronaut, Hummingbird, Monkey, Spider and so on.
It isn't me! Chauchilla
Happy to have ground under my feet again, it was on to the fascinating cemetery of Chauchilla
. This is pre-Inca littering on its best. Sun-whitened bones and skulls, pottery shards and mummies can be seen in roofed pits spreaded around on a vast dry plain. Also worth seeing near Nazca is the temple of Cahuachi. To make the visit of Nazca complete I rented a mountain bike, was dropped high in the Andean mountains and made a spectacular descend back to town. Gosh, how I love this!
From Nazca to Arequipa is quite a drive. Crossing the Atacama dessert (the driest dessert on earth) is not the most pleasant way to spend your holidays, but still it shows some interesting landscapes. Arequipa is called "The white city" and is situated 2,300 m above sea level, 1,000 kms south of Lima.
Arequipa, Santa Catalina Convent
This really is a beautiful city. I stayed at "La Casa di mi Abuela", a charming tranquil pueblo hotel in the middle of a bustling city. Here you can enjoy the sun, while lying next to or in the lovely pool. The city heart is, again, the Plaza de Armas, one side fully occupied by the twin-towered cathedral. The two-story arcades gracing the other sides of the square invite you to have a bite and a cerveza/vino, but be aware of suddenly appearing music groups (if you want to enjoy a quiet meal, unless you're in to local folklore...). What impressed me the most in Arequipa was the convent of Santa Catalina, a village within a town. It offers spacious patios, narrow streets, arches, gardens and even a big fountain (on Zocodober Square). The first word you can read on an arch after entering is "silencio".
Arequipa, El Misti
Indeed, it is quiet here. Almost every wall is terracota coloured, except the Orange Tree Cloister, which is...blue! Arequipa has an interesting indoor market, where you can buy refreshing juices made after you have chosen the pieces of fruit. I hopped on the Arequipa bustour, performed with a roofless, yellow double decker. It took me to Plaza Yanahuara with a beautiful small church (tierra volcánica) and a nice viewing point. I visited very poor suburbs with an impressive graveyard and great views of the Misti volcano.
The road towards Misti goes further up the Andes mountains. After the Zona de Vicunas (it's easy to spot the animals), I crossed the highest pass of my Peru-trip (Mirador de los Andes 4,910 m.) and headed down to Chivay, which you enter by a lovely village gate.
Chivay is a traditional village with a market and a square where small children with there baby llamas walked around camera-armed tourists to get them photographed. It can be very cold here at night. I almost got frosen in my room of the Inkari Eco Lodge, but managed to save my toes thanks to an electric heather. Next day (after defrost) I got up early to travel into the Colca canyon, said to be the deepest canyon (more than 3,000 m.) in the world and only recently explored in its entirely. The canyon is ideal for spotting the elegant Andean condor, a majestic bird which is best been seen at the "Cruz del Condor". The Colca area has some nice villages to stop for, like Yanque and Maca. Near the rebuilt church of Maca I got a big Andean eagle on my head.
Chivay child labour
Luckily it already had its breakfast.
From Chivay I drove on the altiplano with beautiful landscapes housing many herds of alpaca. Via Juliaca I ended up in Puno. Puno is an unattractive town situated at an altitude of 3,800 m on Lago Titicaca, which makes it the highest navigable lake on earth. Note that it is 15 times as large as lake Geneva in Switzerland! In Puno (watch out for the train running through the streets) I took a boat to the floating islands. These islands were developed by the Uro people out of tortora reeds which grow in the shallows of lake Titicaca. In fact, not only the islands, but also the houses, boats, embroidery, wall hangings (for sale!) and some costumes are made of reeds.
Taquile is a "real" island further up the lake. It takes a good pair of lungs to walk up from the boatlanding to the central square, from which you have a great view. The island has no hotel, but there are a few restaurants. I don't know if it was the Taquile food or the storm on the lake during my boattrip back, but that night in Puno.... I have had better nights. Near Puno is a unique burial place called Sillustani
. The chullpas (towers) are fascinating examples of ancient pre-Inca stonework set in a beautiful area.
The road from Puno to Cusco is long but interesting. The landscape is slowly changing from altiplano to lush valleys with rivers. Cusco has become my most favourite city in South America. The Navel of the World, the capital of the Incas.
Cusco, Plaza de Armas
It breathes history. Much of the original Inca constructions survived, colonial buildings were built upon the old Inca stone walls. Most striking example is the Inca temple Koricancha at the base of the Santo Domingo church. Another example is the wall with the twelve angled stone. Once again, the centre of the city is called Plaza de Armas. Imagine that in Inca times it was twice as large as today. On the square is the not to be missed cathedral. Worth mentioning is the painting of the Last Supper with a roast guina pig on the table. The title "most beautiful church of Cusco"goes to La Compañia, nearly opposite the cathedral. There are so many churches in Cusco. On the Plaza San Francisco, a square planted with Andean flora, is the church and monastery with the same name. As I walked in the church, there was a rehearsal in classic music by a student orchestra.
Hopefully they were well insured against breaking glass windows... It appeared that the church was closed for public and that I had slipped in, but my presence was still appreciated. After my ears were back to normal functioning, I headed to the San Blas church, surrounded by streets with artists including a charming little square. When I was wandering through the city, I witnessed a long and colourfull traditional parade of dancers, grotesque masks, banners, dressed up groups (some carrying statues of saints), all accompanied with matching music. This was great!
I took a bustrip to see the sights just outside Cusco. First stop was Sacsayhuaman, a ruined fortress overlooking the city. The Incas thought that Cusco was laid out in the shape of a giant puma and this fortress was its head.
The zig-zag walls formed it's teeth. At present this is the location of the Festival of the Sun, the Inti-Raymi festival. Higher up the road to Pisac
, an Inca shrine with a circular amphitheater and a big stone block. Next is Puka Pukara
, a ruined complex near Tambomachay
, the sacred Inca bathing place, which water is still running.
Pisac is dominated by the ruins above the town, but I stayed in the village to watch the local life on and near the main square. Here, in front of the small and peculiar church, is the market. In Pisac traffic exists out of hurds of cows. As a tourist you must be aware of schoolchildren who are rushing towards you to watch themselves in your camera.
It's great fun to let them enjoy your pictures.
The Urubamba river flows through El Valle Sagrado, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, to Ollantaytambo. In a natural scenario I stayed here, by way of exception, in a tent. That evening I enjoyed a real Pachamama dinner. The food had been prepared under ground and was served after digging it up. The worms must have had a good feast meal before they got roasted. A campfire was lit and sitting around this well of warmth the Peruvian sky was admired showing all its twinkling stars. This could have been a romantic night! Ollantaytambo can best be seen from its mysterious temple- and fortess complex. Steep stairs lead along terraces to the higher part with fundaments of houses built from rough pieces of rock. A long wall seems to exist of big, polished and well formed stones ending at a trapezium shaped gate.
The complex treats to a splendid view of the village, the valley and the mountain opposite with some exceptional Pinkuylluna deposits. There's also an old Inca bridge.
A nice train ride through the valley leads to Aguas Calientes, a vilage with hotels, restaurants, a tourist market and some hot springs (ergo the name). It's an ideal springboard for the most famous site of Peru, Machu Picchu.
What can I say about Machu Picchu? It really was the highlight of my Peruvian adventure. It is magnificent, so beautiful! Even more astonishing than on pictures. MaPi is deservedly chosen as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. I arrived here early in the morning long before the first trains were going to dump masses of tourists over the site.
I could absorb the site and its setting in its entire splendor. Luckily the weather was clear, no clouds covering the surrounding mountains. I admired the steep mountains of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in their full glory. Each travel guide provides extensive information about Machu Picchu, so I won't go into detail. All I can say is, don't stay too short. You can spend an entire day here wandering around. Climb up both mountains and enjoy it. Machu Picchu is a great place to end an unforgettable trip through Peru. What a lovely country!