Saturday, November 29, 2008

Machu Picchu stones

Time here has been tumultuous; teeming with possibilities and despair. Strolling through histories of violence and occasional inspiration, fit to boggle the mind with complexity. My spanish is much improved (I have come to utter the words ¨no, gracias¨ with the ease of a native) and South America has taught me many lessons. My most recent day of note was at the fabulous Machu Picchu. After a series of bus rides and a shortwinded bout of food poisoning (giardia?) I made it to Cusco, Peru where I sit today. A town of 400,000 people and the historic capital of the Inca Empire (1200s-1532). Despite Spanish influence, the Incan influence is still quite evident in the structure of the city. Stone structures, set in the 1300s serve as foundations to todays markets and churches.
View from street in Cusco, there is an alpaca in the shadow

One is able to take a train from Cusco to Aquas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo, the stopping off point to enter Machu Picchu) everyday. It is three and a half hours, fairly expensive and a joy to endure.
Aguas Calientes is wild with unplanned tourism and not much of a place to hang out. But a 1 hour bus ride at 5:30 am brought me to a monument shrouded in mystery.

The Guard Tower at Machu Picchu

I didn´t see the mountains until the mist blew away

Wandering the ruins
View from Huayna Picchu, a nearby peak that offers lovely views of the former empire. After the severe hike to the top of this mountian I decended to share a good bottle of wind among the ruins.
What a cool place to build an empire.

The Tomb beneath the Temple of the Sun

At about 11am thousands of people began to arrive, and the place was flooded with people. School groups, tourists, a man with a whistle who whistles at you whenever you are stepping on something inappropriate.

Here are a few interesting facts about Machu Picchu:
-Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders Of The World.
-The site was built around 1460 but abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers after a century.
-The site was forgotten by the world until 1911, when it was discovered by Hiram Bingham, an American historian.
-Machu Picchu was the center of the Incan Empire through which the Urubamba River flows. The river is a partially navigable headwater of the Amazon River.
-Machu Picchu is built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls.

-Machu Picchu comprises of around 140 structures.

-The Intihuatana stone located at Machu Picchu is one of many ritual stones in South America. Researchers believe that Intihuatana stone was built as an astronomic clock or calendar.

-In 1911, some people were found living on the site and a number of female mummies were also discovered.
Now, back in Cusco, purchasing tickets, wandering the streets, enjoying music, and looking forward to Lake Titicaca.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mountain Time

Peru. I came to this country with almost no expectations. All that I had heard was that it was easy to get giardia and that the people were friendly. After more than a week here I can say that it is all of that and much more. I am currently in Huaraz, a northern town at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca, a mountain range in the Peruvian Andes.

It is a small and pretty town of about 100,000 people. Women in tall hats and mountains at every angle. Huaraz is clean and well organized, and even though the locals don´t use turning signals in the streets, they are more or less kind and gentle to travelers.

view from my hotel

street in Huaraz

I was able to take a four day trek through the Cordillera Blanca on the Santa Cruz trail. It is a stunning trek through mountains and valleys. Our second camp was at 4278 meters, which I think is the highest I have ever camped. I had the help of a guide, a burro (donkey) tender and a daily ration of coca leaf tea. Plus the good company of two Italians, a Frenchman, a Brazilian fellow and Carla. Many people do this trek without the help of a guide, but I have become a lazy man. And it was helpful to garner information from someone who was raised in the area.

The highest mountain in Peru, Huascarán (6,768 m), is located here in Huascarán National Park.

Proud Warrior at Vaqueria, the start of our trek

girl on her way to school

working my way down to the trail, you can see it in white, snaking through the valley

valley floor, after our descent from 4750 meters

The cows are basically wild. The local villages take one or two for food as needed, but for the most part they live and die naturally. I saw one dead in the river, just upstream from where we gathered water for the night.

local man walking across a bridge

turquoise lake

our burro tender and his stallions

wild goats, roaming the countryside, drinking the same water as me

Tomorrow evening I will board a bus and move south to Lima and then, on to Machu Picchu. I have a good book (Riding the Iron Rooster), a bottle of wine and some terrific scenery to look forward to.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Life is a Whirlwind of Change

Sao Paulo, the frantic mingle near the mercado municipal

Goodbye to Ilha Grande, my avalon! I am back in Sao Paulo, living the life of a city-man, through market throngs, eating sushi and buttoning my pockets. Tomorrow, or rather in 4 hours, I leave for Peru. First, to Huaraz to do some treking and then on to Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Hilarious Monkey, Ilha Grande

Goodbye, island life

Lovely wooden boat at Saco do Céu

It has been good to wear my flip-flops, and enjoy the sun and caipirinhas these last few weeks, but now it's back to the dusty trail. With all of the people, worries, history, and happenstance that make travel seem so profound (usually on hindsight).

Andrea, my Sao Paulo host and friend, and I tonight after dinner