The Bus Ride to Puno

Our room on the fourth floor of the hotel had views of some of the mountains surrounding Cusco.  This is what daybreak looked like.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was going to be one of the longer travel days of the trip.  We were about to go on a bus ride that was expected to take about 8 hours.  We were going from Cusco to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

The trip started off in a small bus that was to take us to Gate1’s bus depot closer to the edge of town.  It seems that their bigger buses were not allowed into the area of town where the hotel was located.  We were going to transfer to a bigger bus at the bus depot.

Here are some street scenes along the way.  Billboards like the ones below are a characteristic of cities all over the world.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Inca Kola, advertised on the delivery truck below, is the national soft drink of Peru. For some reason or other, the significance of Inca Kola to the Peruvians had not been noted by the tour manager or any of the guides.   Some folks from our tour group did try the drink during this visit.  The general consensus was there was nothing noteworthy about it.  Maybe the management had a good reason not to talk about it!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could not help but notice the mess of cables on the lampposts lining the city streets.  This is fairly typical, not just in Peru, but in many developing countries.  I have no idea how people keep track of where particular cables go, and for what purpose.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was surprised by the size of Gate1’s bus depot when we arrived there. There were many vehicles in the facility, pointing to the existence of a very big operation out of Cusco.  The bus that we got on for our onward trip to Puno was big and comfortable.  It even had a restroom that we could use while the bus was moving – so that we could minimize bathroom stops.

We got out of the city of Cusco, and on to the highway to Puno, shortly after we left the depot.  In a little while, we entered a big and wide valley with mountains on both sides.  The valley was quite lush, but it was also better visible from the other side of the bus from where I was seated.  The others who had the view seemed to be enthralled by it.  I was enjoying the view of the green mountainside beside the bus.  There were plants and trees, and flowers of the fall season, and even little streams.

The first stop was at the village of Raqchi.  We first visited a school that Gate1 supports financially (for equipment and buildings) .  Gate1 supports 28 schools in all in Peru.  We met with the kids and interacted with them.  This was an elementary school setting.  There were children in a range of ages.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a fun time.  They sang for us and we sang to them (try singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”).

We visited the ruins of the Temple of Wiracocha in Raqchi.  This huge structure used to once have a roof over it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt looked very different from the other temples we had seen thus far in Peru, which were usually open structures on tops of hills.  This is what remains today of the temple.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther structures have also survived from the time of the Incas in Raqchi, including warehousesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand some living quarters.

We passed by the small village plaza and the open air market area. There were shops lining the pathways, manned by locals selling small trinkets and souvenirs to the tourists. I also went to the small church that bordered the plaza.  It was an addition to the town from the 20th century.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a wall in the church was a picture of the Last Supper at which cuy was being eaten.  If the reader has been following my blogs about Peru, he or she will remember that we were not able to see the more famous version of this picture in the cathedral in Cusco.  So, it was a very nice surprise to see this particular picture here, in a humbler setting that seemed more appropriate.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn old caretaker silently appeared from the back of the church as I was walking around.  He started talking to me in Spanish.  I did not understand a word he was saying.  He might have also indicated that I could give some money to light a candle, but I was not trying to follow carefully.  I regret that I did not do that.

All of us got boxed lunches as we boarded the bus once again to continue our trip.

The railroad track from Cusco to Puno, and the Urubamba river, also ran through the valley, and beside the highway, we were traveling on.  The Urubamba looked like a modest stream at this point. It was hard to imagine that it grows in volume over distance to become a significant tributary of the great Amazon river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA short while after that, we passed the place where the Urubamba river begins.  There was smoke from a fire that somebody had set in the vicinity of that location.  The place that was pointed out to us had the look of the remains of an old crater. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon after that, we reached the Continental Divide and the highest point of the bus ride.  We were at an altitude of 14200 feet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeing a railroad fan, it was a great thrill for me to see the train from Puno to Cusco stopped at that location.  It looked like a regular stop for the train, and it also looked like the train was going to be stopped for a while.  Passengers had gotten out of their carriages and were walking around.  This train is meant for the tourists.  It is considered one of the highest railroads in the world.  Considering that the train does not operate every day of the week, I was very fortunate to see it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPano - Peru Rail.jpgWe continued our bus ride on the Altiplano, the high plains of the Andes.  Dramatic and wide open landscapes lay before our eyes.  The place looked lightly populated.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did pass by a few small villages and towns.  Here are some random pictures.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAP4250170.jpgI am quite sure that the people who live in these parts, at these altitudes, are very hardy. I wonder how tough life is for them.  I wonder if they are a happy people?

During the bus ride we were shown some videos to keep us occupied.  They were all related to Peru.  We saw a movie about Thor Heyerdhal and the Kon-Tiki expedition.  In the 1940s, Thor Heyerdhal sailed the Pacific Ocean for the first time in a raft that had been designed to the specifications of the ancients of Peru, i.e, their indigenous people.  He managed to sail from Peru to the Polynesian Islands, depending primarily on the ocean current for movement.  Thor was attempting to show what the people of South America (and more specifically, Peru) could have populated the Pacific islands, and might have even brought elements of their culture with them.  Apparently, there is even some suggestion of ancient South American building practices inherent in the design of the statues on Easter Island.

A second video that we saw was about the practice of child sacrifice among the ancient religions of South America.  The indigenous people believed that the mountains are gods. In those days they used to sacrifice children to them and bury them on mountaintops.  The bodies of these children are being uncovered in recent times by archeologists. It was difficult to watch this video.  While many of the practices of the old religions seem to invoke the human connection with the forces of nature and the earth in a somewhat harmless way, this particular aspect of their practices was in my mind extremely cruel, and, in the end, hard to even understand.   I had a hard time just swallowing the fact that the child who was about to be sacrificed sometimes knew what was going to happen to it, and reacted in a way you would expect scared children to do.  There is evidence in this regard in some of the remains that have been found.

Our next landmark during the bus ride was Juliaca, a commercial town. Juliaca was also the location for the airport that we were going to fly out of to get back to Lima.  The town was not very impressive, and we were told that the local government was not very functional.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn ice-cream seller on the street in Juliaca.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Bajaj autorickshaw service location in Juliaca.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrowded street in Juliaca.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring this trip, I began to notice little structures like the one below all along the highway.  I confirmed that these were memorials to people who had died in accidents.  These look a little more permanent than the roadside memorials we see in the US.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got to Puno descending one of the hills that surrounds it.  We got our first view of Lake Titicaca.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe city looked big.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause of the city’s narrow streets, we were dropped off a few blocks away from our hotel.  We had to do the walk between the hotel and the spot we had been dropped off every time we needed to catch the bus or return to the hotel.   Walking the streets gave us a little better feel of the town.  It certainly looked commercial.

Our hotel was next to the main square of the town.  For dinner, we walked from the hotel across the square to one of the two restaurants that had been recommended to us by our tour manager.  The two restaurants were next to each other, and it was an amusing situation, with folks from both restaurants trying to entice us in.  We selected one, telling the other person that we would go there for lunch the next day (and he did remember us the next time were on that street!).   The dinner was OK, but the loud, live, music, was disruptive.

It started to rain heavily as we were having dinner.  We had to wait for any small break we could get in the rain to make a dash back to the hotel.  It was an adventure crossing the streets that had now turned into swiftly flowing steams with a large volume of water.  We had to do this while dodging traffic that did not want to slow down either for the rain or for the people walking across the street.  But we made it back to the hotel in one piece in spite of the challenges presented.

Puno is a big city.  Like I mentioned earlier, it is also very commercial, similar to Juliaca.  We were told that this is so because of the closeness of this area to Bolivia.  There is a lot of trade across the border. There is also a lot of smuggling that goes on, and an “illegal” contraband open market exists in Puno that the authorities turn a blind eye to. In fact, the authorities apparently shop at these places themselves.

Puno is supposedly not that well developed for tourists. We were warned a few times to be cautious about the nature of the food that we consumed, and the water that we drank.   We got a daily quota of bottled water from Gate1 to keep us safe and hydrated at the high altitudes.  We did have a few people in our group get relatively minor upset stomachs at some point or the other during the travels.  One person in our bigger tour group had severe stomach problems (that actually seemed a little scary) towards the end of the trip.

Puno is at an elevation of 12,500 feet, which makes altitude sickness more of an issue for visitors than in some of the other places that we had been to.  The hotels have oxygen tanks to help visitors with their breathing if needed.  We saw the tank in our hotel being used in the lobby.  We had folks in our group who were feeling the effects a little bit.

More adventures await us tomorrow.

Machu Picchu

There are a few challenges involved in making a visit to Machu Picchu.  The primary issue is access.  And then there are the crowds that you have to deal with once you are there.  The uncertainty of the weather is also factor.  It rains a lot in Machu Picchu.

The only way for tourists to get to Machu Picchu is to first take the train to Aguas Calientes (also called Machupicchu Peublo), and then take the bus operated by the authorities up the mountain to the ruins of Macchu Picchu itself.  You cannot drive to Machu Picchu, but you can hike the Inca Trail to the place if you have a few days to spare – and the determination, stamina, and physical fitness, to undertake the challenging walk.

We had to get to Machu Picchu early to try to avoid the crowds.  Our train was to leave Ollanthaytambo at 6:40am.  We were up early,  to have breakfast at 4:30am, to prepare our bags to be picked up for checkout by 5:00am, and then checkout and depart from the hotel in Urubamba at 5:30am by bus.  Early morning departures tend to play havoc with the internals of the human system, especially as you get older.  There was a mad rush for the restrooms in the station at Olantaytambo once we got there, before we boarded the train.P4230014.jpgA short while after the departure of our train from Ollantaytambo, the valley that it was traveling in began to narrow, and we entered a canyon with Urubamba river flowing next to the train tracks.  We were getting into the park area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe train ride was very comfortable and there were some nice views.  It was difficult to take pictures of the scenery through the window.  We were in the woods and among the trees.  In a short while we were offered some complementary snacks and drinks.  We were traveling on the Inca Rail. (The other train operator to Machu Picchu is Peru Rail.)P4230058.jpgOur tour manager was determined to get our group to our destination quickly, before the crowds.  Based on his experience from trips past, he knew that most people were delayed because they had to stop at the restrooms in Aguas Calientes before boarding the bus.  He devised a strategy that required all of us to use the restrooms on the train before we got to our destination.  He was going to signal to the group when we should starting lining up in front of the restroom on the train in order to use it.  And that was what we did!  It was somewhat amusing to see folks queued up in the narrow corridor, blocking the way, concerned that this might be the last pit stop for a while.  The other passengers in our carriage who were not part of our group must have been wondering what was going on.

The train stopped along the way at a station for the start of the famous Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu.  It is called the Camino Inka-Inka trail.  It covers 26 miles and takes 4 days to complete.  It starts at KM 82 of the train tracks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou have to cross the river from the train stop to start your trek.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail rises immediately on the other side of the river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt had started raining by the time the train arrived at Aguas Calientes.  Members of our tour group quickly assembled and exited the train.  We headed off in a line towards the bus stop on the other side of a bridge across the Rio Aguas Calientes.  We managed to follow our leader who was carrying a sign above the crowd with the name of the group.  We followed him through an enclosed space of small shops while trying to get ourselves organized with our ticket and the rain gear.  I almost lost my raincoat in the process, but one of the other members of our group picked it up from the floor behind me.  In the chaos of the situation, I could not even get myself organized to take pictures.

Very soon we were near the front of the line for the buses.  We boarded a bus and headed towards the top of the mountain on the Hiram Bingham Highway.  It was quite a steep climb of more than 1000 feet.   There were 13 hairpin bends on this road.

We finally got to use the restrooms once again (for a small fee) before entering the park itself.  These were the last restrooms we saw for next 3 to 4 hours!

Once past the entrance gates, you come upon this sign commemorating the civil engineering work involved in building the Machu Picchu complex.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a good climb at the beginning of the walk.  Machu Picchu is close to 8000 feet high.  It is a challenge for some people.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we arrived at one of the well known viewpoints, we were greeted by a cover of fog  in the valley.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the clouds were moving rapidly, and one had to be patient in order to be able to get a view of the ruins.  The mountain to the right side in the above picture is called Huanya Picchu.  You can hike to ruins at the top of that mountain.  That sounded tempting, but that will probably only happen in my dreams!

Our patience was rewarded when I was able to take the picture below from the same location.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe walked further up the hill, and on to the Inca trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture below shows the Inca trail headed in the direction of a pass in the mountains.  This place was full of temptations to do some real hiking!P4230134.jpgThere were a lot of llamas around the area.  This one looked particularly majestic with its long neck.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was munching on the grass on one of the terraces.

It rained for a short while we were walking in this area.  Fortunately, the rain did not last too long, nor was it very heavy.

Here are two other views of Machu Picchu from up on the mountainside from which the Inca trail approaches the ruins.  The pictures were taken before we descended into the area of the ruins itself.  The actual peak of Machu Picchu was behind us.  (Again, no time for a real hike!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the crowds that throng the place in the picture below.  I had thought that the authorities managed the number of tourists visiting the site at any particular time, and that tourists had to be accompanied by guides, but this obviously was not the case.  The place was packed!  Navigating our way through the crowd while staying with our tour group proved to be a challenge.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe passing clouds and the fog gave us some amazing views of our surroundings.  This is indeed an intimidating and otherworldly place to live in.  The Urubamba river flows at the bottom of the valley surrounded by the towering mountain peaks. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile descending to the ruins, we walked past the Temple of the Sun, or the Torreon. Two of the windows face the direction of the rising sun during the solstices.  There is an altar in the middle.  Observe the stone work in the construction of the walls.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture below once again shows the nature of the crowds visiting Machu Picchu.  We ourselves had been up there in the higher sections of the mountain that you see in the picture during the initial part of our tour. (We did manage to cover a few miles during our visit to the place!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture below shows the temple in the main plaza.  Unfortunately, a part of the wall is collapsing.  Note the precise work with the rocks.  Behind the temple is a hill with the Intihuatana, a rock structure whose function is not exactly understood today.  We climbed to the top to see the rock.  (Inti means sun in Quechua, the language of the Incas.  The sun was a very important deity for the Incas.)  The Intihuantana is the highest point within the complex of the ruins.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe four sides of the Intihuatana represent the 4 cardinal points (north, south, east, and west).  There are mountains particular mountain peaks surrounding Machu Picchu in these directions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the ruins after walking through the central plaza area.  I will not post any of those pictures.  I took so many pictures during this visit that I had a hard time selecting the particular ones to show here.  I did not wish this blog to be overwhelming.

The visit to Machu Picchu was supposed to take a couple of hours, but we ended up taking three to four hours.  If I had been on my own, I might have ended up hiking the peaks surrounding the ruins, getting me away from the crowds, and also providing some even more fantastic views of the ruins.  I would actually like to go back, but I have my sincerest doubts that this will happen.

After using the restrooms at the exit to the park, we made our way back by the bus to Aguas Calientes.  We had a nice lunch in a restaurant there, and then caught the 2:30 train to Ollantaytambo.  The picture below was taken from the train.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople took time recover during the ride back.P4230286.jpgThese were our tour managers.  They looked exhausted.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArrival at Olantaytambo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt Ollantaytambo, we boarded our bus to Cusco, our stop for the next two nights.  The day had been busy and tiring so far.

On the way we stopped to stretch our legs.  This place had a store for tourists, and also hostel rooms for the young and the adventurous.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe travelers were encouraged to take part in a game of Sapo at this stop.  It is a Peruvian game. The general objective is to throw the coins into the open mouth of a frog seated on the box.  You are looking at the winner in action below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun set while we were on our way to Cusco.  We stopped along the way to look at the night sky.  I tried to take some pictures but I have not yet mastered the use of my camera in the dark.

Back in Cusco, we checked into our rooms and walked across the road to a restaurant for dinner.  We were advised to eat light because of the altitude.  No red meats, we were told!  I enjoyed a simple plate of spaghetti, something I had not done in a long time.

And then it was off to bed after a very long day.  The next day was to be spent exploring Cusco.

 

A Stop at Chinchero on the Way to Urubamba and The Sacred Valley

There was no way for me to create daily blogs on the fly while we were traveling in Peru since were too busy visiting places.  Internet connections were also not always reliable.  Very often the days would start before 8 AM.  There was this day when we even departed in a bus for the train station at 5:30 AM after having checked out of the hotel!

Nevertheless, I did expend a few brain cells during the trip thinking about how I should structure this series of blogs.   I came to the conclusion that I should simply follow the flow of my heart and let it take whatever direction it wanted.  This might be considered a case of not have a well defined structure and/or principle of operation. A lifetime of experience has taught me  that having well defined principles of operation sometimes places unnecessary constraints, and can also diminish the joy of the process.  So I will allow this series of blogs to be more free flowing.  At the same time, I am sure that some sort of structure is bound to emerge, considering that this is a case of a former engineer’s brain cells being applied to the task.

But now that the trip has come to an end, I also need to move into action quickly, lest I forget all the details!  They say that memories last forever, but I am not at all certain that this is true.  Sometimes, these memories get lost in the crevices of one’s mind, and dragging these memories out becomes difficult.  Leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in these blogs might help the process!

To get to the Sacred Valley from Lima, the place where we had arrived at in Peru, one has to get to Cusco first, and then proceed further by road or train.  We flew into Cusco with our tour group.   Cusco is at an altitude of 11150 feet.   We had been warned ahead of time to prepare ourselves for the altitude.   We had already started taking our Diamox pills in Lima.  We were now about to be introduced to the practice of chewing of caco leaves, an activity that the natives practice regularly.

We arrived in Cusco somewhat late in the morning.  We could see the mountains of the Andes all around us as the aircraft approached the city.  Because of the thin air and the need for additional lift to keep the aircraft from stalling, it came in for a landing at a greater speed than I am used to.   As we exited the aircraft and waited to board our bus, we breathed in the thin air of the mountains for the first time.  It all seemed good!

The plan was to head immediately out of the city on the tour bus that was waiting for us.

The next couple of pictures were taken outside the airport building after we got our bags.  What is noticeable in all of the places that we visited in Peru is that many buildings do not have a layer of plaster on top of the bricks.  It is standard practice in the country.  In some cases the buildings are complete and occupied in spite of looking unfinished.  In other cases, especially in some homes, you might even find rebars sticking out of the roof.  This is because the building is being constructed by the family a little bit at a time as money becomes available for construction. This does not mean that the part of the house that has already been completed cannot be occupied immediately.  You will probably see more pictures showing this type of construction in future blogs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe picture below is an advertisement for transportation to what may be the most popular destination in the country for international tourists.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we drove out of town, we passed a hill with a statue of Pachacutec, considered one of the greatest Inca kings, on top. It is now believed that he was responsible for what has been built on Machu Picchu.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was another monument to the Emperor Pachacutec, beside the road that we were driving along.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe climbed out of the valley that Cusco is situated in using a series of switchbacks. The bus made a stop somewhere along the way, on the hillside, to provide views of the city. While we were stopped we got instructions on the use of coca leaves to fight the effects of altitude sickness.  Our tour manager produced a bag of coca leaves that were safe to chew on. Essentially, one grabs a bunch and gently chews on it, or simply bites on it, on one side of the mouth.  It dissolves slowly over time. For people who do not know, coca leaves are also the source of cocaine when processed in large quantities.  The leaves, and any product made with coca, are banned in the United States, but its use is legal and accepted by all of Peru.  The locals chew on it all the time.  We used it regularly during the trip to help avoid altitude sickness.  There is little danger of addiction at the levels of our usage.  We also drank coca tea and enjoyed coca candies! Here is a view of the city.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see the kids walking down the hill in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped for lunch at the village of Chinchero.  We were visiting  a cooperative where the ladies make products from the wool of alpacas.

Lunch was served to us by the ladies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cuy, or guinea pig, pictured below is considered a delicacy in these parts.  It is a good source of protein.  The animal is domesticated for food.  It is difficult for some visitors to get used to eating cuy, especially in the form that it is usually presented in.  I found the little piece that I was given at lunch a little too tough to chew.  This was the only time I tried cuy.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was fascinated by the way the kids were carried around by their mothers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWho can resist pictures of cute children!  This one continued to turn around and look at me as mom walked away.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALunch was followed by a demonstration of the process for creating different colored threads from the wool. This thread is used for making the different products sold by the cooperative.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of the people in this part of Peru are Incas.  The Inca religion is polytheistic in nature, with Pachamama, or mother earth, being one of the more important deities.  The Spanish invaders brought in Catholicism in the 16th century, and the locals in some parts of the country now practice a form of religion that seems to mix of customs from the two ways of living.   Depending on where we were in the country, we saw either the combination of the cross and the bulls, or just the bulls, on the roofs of homes, meant for protection of the people living in the home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile walking through town we passed a procession.  It could have been the procession in celebration of Easter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere also seemed to be some kind of meeting going on in town.  I heard two different accounts regarding the subject of the meeting.  One was that this was a funeral service.  The other was that this was a meeting of the mayors of the local villages.  They are sitting to the left of the picture below.  I was told that the mayors carry their official staffs with them, and these had been collected in a standing pile in front of where they are seated.  A good amount of cerveza was being consumed by the mayors.  Some music was also being provided on the instruments that you can see in the foreground of the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was onward to our destination for the night.  The view beside the mountain roads was beautiful. We stopped for pictures.  The snow-capped peaks of the Andes appeared in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe valleys were covered with meadows, green fields, and clumps of trees.  There were flowers by the wayside.  For some reason I began to think of The Sound of Music.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe clouds moved swiftly across the sky.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we began our descent into the Sacred Valley following a series of switchbacks down a steep mountainside.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was beginning to set as we got to our hotel on the outskirts of the town of Urubamba.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUrubamba is a small place beside the Urubamba river, one of the headwaters of the Amazon river.  We went out to a local restaurant for dinner with our tour group after checking into our rooms.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt dinner we were entertained by a musician playing music on different kinds of pan flutes.  He was quite talented.  Indeed, he had also made all of the instruments that he was playing.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile you are in Peru, you will hear the song El Condor Pasa almost everywhere you go.    We heard the song being played most beautifully that evening.  Most of us from the US associate this song with Simon and Garfunkel, but the song actually originated in Peru.  The condor, puma, and snake, are the sacred animals of the Inca people.

We returned to our hotel after dinner and crashed out after the long day of travel.  So far there have been no issues in dealing with the altitude, but Urubamba is at an altitude of only about 9400 feet.

Next blog in the series here.