Cusco, Peru

We walked the city, as we usually do, but this time, we thought we would keel over.  The altitude in Cusco was a killer, and even a few stairs left us breathless.  Thankfully, we planned a long stay here, so with nearly two weeks to use, we didn’t feel rushed.

Our first few days, we took it VERY slow.   Day 1, we managed to arrive and collapse into bed at the hotel.  Day 2, was an improvement, we dressed and got out to a nearby restaurant to meet up with another traveling family.  We had lunch and a great chat while the kids played in the plaza.  Afterwards, it was back to bed to rest.  By day 3, we were ready to see things, and took a quick side trip to Machu Picchu, returning to Cusco the next day.

Then, we were finally ready to explore!  From our apartment, it was a short walk to the main plaza, Plaza De Armas.  The square is home to not one, but TWO large churches, built atop Incan buildings.  Inside, each church tried to impress with more gold than the other.  Nothing like the European churches we have seen, with stained glass and lots of light, these Spanish Colonial buildings are gilded, top to bottom with Incan gold collected by the conquistadores and melted down.

The Plaza de Armas

La Compania Church in the main plaza

Later, after our feet hurt from touring churches, we visited the Choco Museo, a museum of chocolate.  The exhibits were fun, and the tasting exciting, but Boy begged for a chocolate class, so we signed up for a three hour cooking and history class, which took us through the different historical recipes for chocolate from the ancient Mayans through the conquistadores, to modern candy.  None of us were hungry for dinner after that day!

The Choco Museo

A cocoa tree

After that class, schoolwork seemed less exciting, but we continued with our Incan and conquistador studies, supplemented by field trips to the Spanish church, built atop the Incan palace at Quoriconcha, the Museo Inka,  the Museo de Arte Precolumbio, the Incan ruins of Moray Moras, and Sacsaywayman.  Boy even did a compare and contrast exercise of the conquistadores Pizarro and Cortes.

Quoriconcha, notice the church built directly on top of the older Inca wall, in gray

Agricultural terrace

Incan ruins

A good example of an Incan wall

Our hard copy books on the Inca were supplemented by a lot of ebooks this week:

We worked in some fun as well.  A day trip out to Piscac gave us the chance to see more Incan ruins, before we met back up with the traveling family from Cusco for lunch and a swim.  The kids had a great time.

Our final day in Cusco happened to be Dads birthday, a big number, and he wanted a challenge, so after fortifying ourselves with American style burgers and milkshakes at a local restaurant,  he was ready to do some mountain climbing.  It felt like mountain climbing, anyhow, as we walked the steps through the neighborhoods, up to the top of the hill above the city, where the statue of Cristo Blanco overlooks the city.  We rested on a bench at his feet for a long time, before taking a taxi back to the apartment.

The city of Cusco from Cristo Blanco

From here, we leave Peru and head to Ecuador.

Down to Machu Picchu

Despite being on top of a mountain, the ruins of Machu Picchu are actually lower in elevation than the city of Cusco.  You descend into the Sacred Valley of the Inca, from the higher city of Cusco.

We arrived during the rainy season, in February, when the train tracks are under repair and heavy rains lead to mudslides.  This meant we were not able to take the train, all the way from Cusco to Machu Picchu.  Our first leg, about half the journey, was by bus.  We transferred to the train only after getting through the steepest of the mountain passes.  In this month, also, the Inca trail, a walking path through the mountains to the ruins, is closed, reopening in March.  4 days of hiking mountain trails was beyond us, so we were not too disapointed to take the bus/train option.

The train

The train ends at Aguas Calientes, a town at the base of the Machu Picchu mountain.  From there another, local,bus takes you up a narrow, windy road to the ruins.  Boy found the twisty mountain road a bit rough, and was more than happy to stop moving when we reached the top.

We have been studying Incas all week, in preparation for the ruins.  These are a few of our books:

We got in a bit of astronomy studies, too.  The hotel at the ruins, is high on a mountain with little atmosphere and little light pollution.  When it got dark, they set up a telescope and we had a chance to view Jupiter, the moon, and several galaxy clusters before the cloud cover moved in.  Boy loved his first telescope experience.

Resting overnight, we hit the ruins at dawn.  The rainy season limited the crowds, so we had a few times in the morning where we were alone in the maze of buildings.  Despite his protests about visiting yet, another, old thing, Boy was inspired to take photos.  He took so many that he ran out the camera battery TWICE.

Here are a few of his shots:

After Boy ran out the camera battery the second time, we talk the bus back down to Aguas Calientes to board the train back to Cusco.  The train and bus took us back up to the higher elevation, and back to the city.

Deepest, Darkest, Peru: the Amazon

We did not see Paddington Bear. Not that we really expected to, but we were, after all, traveling to the Amazon rainforest in far northern Peru, his original home. We had strawberry jam sandwiches, not marmalade, so perhaps that was our problem. 

 We started our visit in Iquitos, the world’s most remote city. No roads connect Iquitos to the outside world. To come here, you can only arrive by airplane or river boat. Deepest, Darkest, Peru, indeed. 

 We spent our week at a wildlife lodge about 2 1/2 hours by boat along the Amazon and one of its tributaries. Boy’s biggest concern on arrival was that he would have to go all week with NO INTERNET! He was loud in his complaints the first two days, though this lessened to grumbles by day 3. 

 The lodge, thatched like the local villages and placed to catch the breeze, was built on stilts. This was extremely useful, as we were visiting in the rainy season and the ground below the lodge was underwater, reaching 3 or more meters deep in some places. From our room, we could hear the fish splashing under our floor. Mosquito nets covered the beds and the screen windows allowed in breezes, most enjoyable from the hammocks. 

Our most surprising discovery on arrival was how many trees and animals from North America were here. There were cardinals, kingfishers, squirrels, armadillos, and trees that would not be out of place in Mississippi or Florida. We expected the Amazon to look more exotic than it actually did. As we ventured further from the lodge, the trees and wildlife did change, but never reached my mental image of remote rainforest. 

We took the opportunity to study science this week, aided by the fact that our lodge is attached to several universities and boasts a remote Amazon Research Center, another few hours along the river into the natural reserve. We spent a couple nights in the research center, though it was a bit more basic than the lodge, with dorm style rooms and shared bathrooms. 

 Most days we went out in a boat or on a hike with our guide. We observed monkeys, fish, poison frogs, river dolphin and birds, even taking advantage of a microscope in the lab area to checkout some of the many, many, many insects. One of Boy’s school projects was to choose an animal and write a research report on it. He chose the Yellow Rumped Cacique, a bird that makes hanging nests and happened to be in the tree right outside the room where we were doing our schoolwork. The field guides in the lodge library filled in the details he needed. 

 It wasn’t all work, however, as we got in some canoeing, swimming, and piranha fishing, too. Boy was our champion fisherman, catching twice as many piranha as any of the other guests. 

It was still the jungle, so after a week of being hot, sticky, and covered in mosquito bites, we were happy to be heading back to the city for a hot shower. We also missed the washing machine.  Clothes rinsed in river water and hung to dry come out neither clean, nor dry.

Our Schoolbooks:


Our schoolroom

The local village and village school

Carnaval in the Amazon Rainforest

It was Tuesday, February 17 (Mardi Gras) when we landed at Iquitos, Peru. Reachable only by air or river, there are no roads connecting Iquitos to any other town or city!  Our next stop was by boat. 

 Leaving Iquitos, our motor boat sailed 2 1/2 hours along the Amazon River and one of its tributaries to reach our lodge. The rainy season began a month ago, so the ground along the river bank is flooded. The thatched buildings are all raised on stilts, so the water flows underneath. 

 After lunch and a short rest, we, and the other two guests at the lodge, a pair of British backpackers went out with a guide to do some wildlife spotting in a boat. After an hour or so, we began to return to the lodge, but heard drumming coming from nearby. The guide detoured to the local village, El Chino, where there was great excitement.  

A Carnaval tree had been set up in the center of the village. This consisted of a tall, thin tree trunk, with four curved branches made into two ovals at the top. From these ovals, brightly colored plastic dishes, cups, and containers were hung, along with cloth of every color, new dish towels, table clothes, and t-shirts tied to the tree. Beneath the tree, the ground had been saturated, to make a mud pit. The younger villagers, children, teenagers, and young adults were dancing around the tree, like a May pole, while the older ones watched. 

 As the drumming continued, the dancers circled the tree counterclockwise, holding hands in groups of 3 or 4. They went faster, and faster until people began to slip and fall in the mud. When the drumming stopped, the game was to pour or rub mud onto participants until they were covered. If a friend was spotted outside the circle, not joining the game, they were likely to be smeared in mud as well, with a great deal of laughing. When the drumming restarted, so did the dancing. 

 After watching a few minutes, we were invited to join. Dad and the backpackers ran right in, though Boy was a bit shy, and preferred to stand back and watch, so I kept him company and took the photos. Once completely covered in mud, Dad came over and gave us a big hug, sharing quite a bit of mud in the process. 

 We did not stay till darkness fell, leaving instead about sunset. Our guide explained this happens once a year to celebrate Carnaval, the party before the beginning of Lent. When it is too dark to continue, the Carnaval tree is cut down with a machete and the muddy participants scramble for the prizes, like a piñata. 

 It was like no other Carnaval party I have ever experienced.

 Here is the village, two days later, after the mud has been cleaned up



Lima, Peru

We had heard Lima was a city to miss. Many travellers make it only an overnight stopover on the way to Cusco. Undeterred, we planned four days here, though it was shorter than our usual city stays.

Our apartment was in Surquillo, a residential neighborhood next to the more fashionable Miraflores. Giving us a view of the mountains and the financial district, the spot was comfortable for relaxing, though a bit far out from the tourist stops. Taxis took us into the city for sightseeing, though the first thing we noticed was the traffic. We laughed when the GPS told us it would be 29 minutes to go 12 kilometers, but in fact the GPS estimate was low. It took longer. Multiple times we found intersections gridlocked as lights changed, but cars continued to push through, frustrated by the long wait and blocking cars coming from the other direction.

Our Balcony


In the main square, the Plaza Mayor, also known as Plaza de Armas, we watched the cavalry parade in front of the governors palace. The plaza is also home to the cathedral, built by the conquistador Francisco Pizzaro in 1535 when Lima was founded. The cathedral was closed while we were there, but is home to Pizzaro’s tomb. We strolled to the Monastery of St Francis a few blocks away where we saw a painting of the last supper depicting traditional Inca foods, such as guinea pig and chicha beer. The catacombs under the church are known for the skulls and leg bones arranged in geometric patterns.

The Parade



The Lima Cathedral where Pizzaro is buried


Also located a few blocks from the plaza is the intriguingly named Casa De La Gastronomia Peruana. This is a food museum showing the foods produced in the different regions of Peru and how they have been used and cooked throughout history. The permanent collection includes cook wear and pottery, as well as full scale models of historical kitchens from Precolumbian times through the 20th century. Dad quite liked the temporary exhibit on the history of Pisco and the Pisco Sour.

The Casa De la Gastronomia Peruana




Not willing to miss an archeology museum, I dragged the crew to two while we were in Lima. The first was the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia, Antropologia e Historian del Peru. The building is in the Pueblo Libre neighborhood and was once home to San Martin and Bolivar, the leaders in the Revolution against Spain. The museum’s building looked a bit worn, but inside held an impressive, modern exhibit on the PreColumbian cultures of Peru, including an outstanding exhibition on the mummies of the desert. Boy was not fond of the mummies and preferred to leave that section as quickly as possible, though the museum had done a nice job developing some children’s hands on activities corresponding with the exhibit.

A “make your own tapestry” activity at the Museo Nacional De Arqueologia


Leaving the Museo Nacional Arqueologia we found the blue line painted on the sidewalk and followed it about 1.5 kilometers to the Museo Arqueologia Rafael Larco Herrera. This large, well funded museum housed in an 18th century mansion showcases a private collection of an artist and collector. The wide ranging collection covers 3000 years of Peruvian history, with well preserved examples of ceramics, metalwork, weavings, quipus, and gold.

Our final archeology stop was the pre-Incan ruins of Huaca Pucllana. Dating from about 500 AD, the pyramid is made of mud bricks and was a ceremonial center for hundreds of years. Now it is home to a restaurant that overlooks the ruins, where groups of tourists make offerings of flashes of light while they illuminate their selfies.

Museo Larco


Huaca Pucllana



Our schoolwork this week has been themed around Pizarro, the conquistador and founder of the city of Lima. We also covered the pre-Incan cultures of Peru.

Our books


Nazca, Peru

The lines!

We organized a driver to pick us up from our apartment in Lima to drive us to Nazca. The 450 km journey takes about 5 1/2 hours, so we left at 5 AM. The route took us through Pisco, of the famed liquor, used in the Pisco sour.
The towns, traffic, and desert along the way reminded us of our travels in Rajasthan, India, right down to the tuk tuks.

Arriving at the Nasca airport at 11:30, we met our pilots and boarded the Cessna C206. We each had a map of the lines and a camera ready to go for the 30 minute fly over. Once boarded, Boy decided he would prefer a big jet plane to the little propeller aircraft and spent the flight in Mom’s lap with his eyes closed. Mom and Dad enjoyed the flight anyway, snapping pictures and trying to spot the figures. After a quick lunch, we climbed an observation tower alongside the highway for a final look at the lines before heading back to Lima. It was well after dark when we returned, tired and ready for sleep.

The Nazca Lines

Astronaut and Hummingbird



The flight





Our reading material