Tag Archives: Inca

How do you wrap up 9 months of travel??

Us at Lunch
Us at Lunch in Ollantaytambo

In less than 2 weeks time, we return to our homeland after 9 months of travel in South America. I have been reflecting on this and thinking of how I can distill this amazing time into one blog post and its really not easy. Just scroll down and go back to each month since December 2009 and you will see that we have seen and done and experienced so much.

It has been an amazing privilege to have been able to do this at this time in our lives….to coin a cliché, it has been life changing and I really mean that. South America has been an amazing place to explore, we have travelled through Argentina, Chile, Peru and were fortunate enough to go to Antarctica for 11 days. These experiences have shaped our thinking, moulded our ideas and brought us to the cliff edge of things that we never thought we would experience in our lifetime, let alone in 9 months.

We have been to one of Earths Last Edens…Antarctica. A place that truly embodies everything it is made out to be and so much more. It is almost like landing on another planet, a planet untouched by human habitation, unblemished by mans greed and materialism, a place of audible silence and silent magnificence. It is a place unlike any other I have visited and probably will remain so. To say that Antarctica is breathtaking is an understatement, to say it is majestic, does it no justice, you simply have to see it to believe it…and I believe that I will go back and see it again. The reason for this lengthy discourse is because on our way to Antarctica was one of my first crazy experiences that defined part of this trip. Our experience happened in the Drake Passage, the foreboding, treacherous stretch of sea from Ushuaia in Argentina to Antarctica. It was here, while “crossing the Drake” as it is known, that we experienced one of the most frightening experiences on this trip. On the morning of the second day we hit a gale force storm at sea that lasted for 2 and a half days. Massive 15 meter swells threatened to rupture our vessel, the sea angrily frothed and battered our ship. Fortunately it was a former Chilean navel ship and was built to cross the Drake Passage and was designed for precisely those conditions, but still, the water was a dark inky colour and ferociously smashed against the ship as if trying to expel us from the passage. There was a snowstorm at sea, a horizontal snow storm, that iced the ship up, making it look like a white phantom on the black sea. The windspeed was 100km per hour which pushed our ship around like a toy boat and made the 15 m swells even more ferocious and in my opinion more spectacular. In spite of this, we landed in Antarctica, much to the joy of 90% of the passengers who had been able to keep little food and liquid down as the ship was violently tossed to and fro for 2 and a half days, an amazing experience, one not easily forgotten.

Another memorable experience was seeing the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. Before this trip, glaciers held no particular fascination for me, in fact I never really thought much about glaciers. So we left the partly frozen town of El Calafate and drove off to the National Park of the Glaciers. When you enter the park, you can’t see the glaciers, but once you round a particular bend, you get a glimpse of the massive monolithic bulk of the glacier called Perito Moreno. It is a sight that I will never forget, it was astounding, bigger than I ever imagined and more spectacular than any photo could ever convey. Once we got to the top of the hill where visitors can walk on a boardwalk to get a closer view of the glacier, you realize that we are very small beings in comparison to the sheer size of a force of nature that is a glacier. Perito Moreno Glacier towers 75 m above the water surface, its front wall is 5 km long and the whole glacier stretches for 30 km up the mountain valley. It is basically a moving city. It seems as if the glacier itself is alive, glaciers move as a result of pressure from ice forming high up in the valley. So when you stand in front of the glacier, it creaks, crack, groans and sounds like gunshots go off occasionally and this is because this massive ice city is edging ever closer to where we were standing. Millimeter by millimeter, this glacier moves, occasionally visitors are fortunate to witness a calving, this is when a chunk of the front wall of the glacier breaks off and a magnificent display of ice hitting water is seen. It was incredible to be standing before such a gigantic natural phenomenon and to be honest, I never wanted to leave.

Just in case we were short of experiencing natures power, we had the most terrifying experience yet, in Santiago, the capital city of Chile. We were there when an 8.8 earthquake shook half of Chile, the fifth largest earthquake on earth in the past 100 years. You can read about my remembrance of the quake here, but suffice to say that it was only the second time in my life that I truly believed that I was about to die. It is a sobering thought when you are faced with imminent death, I didn’t experience the “life flashing before me” thing, all I remember is that I was praying that it would stop. It didn’t….it went on for 2 and a half minutes, it felt like half an hour. I was genuinely surprised when it did stop and we were not dead, quite a surreal feeling of relief  and then the realization that once again, our lives had been spared, but to what end?

We moved on from Chile to Peru and in many ways Peru has been the highlight of our trip. We have loved it here and it really is an amazing place to visit. The Inca ruins and the pre Columbian civilizations remain a mystery. Machu Picchu is a site that still confounds most experts with its architecture, water systems and positioning, but Machu Picchu is only one of many such sites, some still to be discovered, Inca sites. There is a new site that has been opened up in the past few years called Choquequirao. This site, it is said, is bigger than Machu Picchu and in many cases even more spectacular if that were possible…having visited Machu Picchu, that statement amazes me and excites me.

So as we come to an end of nine months, it is impossible to summarise what we have seen, felt, done and experienced on this continent known simply as South America. We have learnt to speak a new language, even though we are not proficient, we can be understood, we have eaten unusual foods, sometimes we have not been sure what it is, but it tasted good, other times we have known what it is and it has been great (delicacies like Cuy, or guinea pig, and Anticucho, cow heart, cooked on a skewer, to name but a few)

Of course the best thing that has happened is that we have met amazing people on this trip, from university professors to cab drivers, you name them, we have met them. People from diverse backgrounds like a polish woman who escaped from Poland and sought refuge in Canada, Russian Jews who fled from Communism and rebuilt their lives in the USA, A Dutch man and his family who live in the Carribbean and are involved in helping the government of Bonaire integrate into the Dutch system. We have met Australians, New Zealanders, Orientals, Asians, Russians, Europeans from just about every country in Europe, Americans and of course Canadians. We have been astounded at how many new friends we have made and how many of them we are sure we will see again.

So at the penultimate leg of this incredible journey, we know we have managed to capture many images photographically, we have tasted new flavours physically, we have felt the violent shakes of an earthquake under our feet, but more than all of that, we have grown richer in this time. We have memories that will last as long as the rest of our lives.

We have seen things that in many cases seem unbelievable, but only when you emerge on the other side do you look back and see just what has happened. It has been an honour and a privilege, “once in a lifetime” cannot encapsulate the true meaning. Either way, we are greatly blessed to have done this and that the next leg of our journey will begin again shortly… we hope that you will travel with us again!


More images of Ollanta

Ollantaytambo is a small village but there is always something happening. The other day was Ollanta Raymi, a festival that celebrates General Ollanta. So there were lots of processions and there was a whole production that took place at the ruins. I never went in to the ruins, but took some images of the processions and of Ollantaytambo as I wondered through the 500 year old Inca streets. It is amazing to think that when we leave here, we would have lived in an original Inca village in the high Andes for 3 months, amazing.

The dancers on the ruins at Ollantaytambo
The procession starts
The procession starts

Dancers ging to the ruins
The Inca Emperor rounds up his subjects...
Ready to go
We havent seen Starbucks in Peru yet, but there is Inca Bucks!!
The Ruins..
More of the Ruins...
Great stonework
Old door in the town...

Cameo’s of Ollantaytambo

Apu Lodge - our home until August

Ollantayambo is a small town, but has a lot of character. The surrounding mountains are imposing and in many ways define Ollantaytambo, its look and its feel. It really is an amazing setting, there are some walks that take you up high into the terraced mountains, well over 3000m above sea level, the views are breathtaking and the drop offs sheer. It is amazing to be here…what a privilege.

Panoramic View during our walk to Pumamarka
Sign to the bakery in Ollantaytambo
Mountain in the distance....majestic
Mountains again...
Side street in Ollanta, by night!

Mountains of Ollanta

Tunupa's Face in the mountain

The town that we are living in now is called Ollantaytambo (pronounced OH-YUN-TA-TUMBO) It is in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and is in fact a real living, breathing and authentic Inca town that has survived the Spanish Inquistion and was left pretty much in tact. We are here until August, working at Apu Lodge. The towns setting is breathtaking, it is set in the cleft of a Mountain and is completely surrounded by mountains. Also, according to Inca mythology, Tunupa’s Face (Tunupa was a god that the Inca’s believed created just about everything) has been enshrined into the mountainside just above the lodge that we are in. So, take a look at the top image of this post and see if you can see his face.. We are so happy to be living in such a beautiful place, the mountains are amazing and the setting is spectacular…

Fortress on the mountain
Last light on the mountains
The sun sets on Ollanta

Chinchero Market – Sacred Valley Peru

Colourful Belts for sale

Last week Sunday we went off to the Chinchero Market in the Sacred Valley. Chinchero has a market every Sunday and it is a great place to buy Andean handicrafts and knitted goods like jerseys, beanies, scarves etc. With winter on the way, we decied we would go and see what was for sale. Well the market was really interesting. Firstly, it is a meeting place for the locals, so all the farmers and indigenous people from the area congregate at the market to trade their agricultural goods like potatoes, beans, corn and so on. There is also an open air butchery and of course many of the men and women are dressed in traditional dress. The handicrafts for sale are colourful and beautiful, so it makes for an amazing sensory overload, lots of colours, interesting smells and people in traditional dress, whats not to like. We had a great time and bought one or two hats and will return to buy some winter woolies as it gets a little colder…

Alpaca wool products
Lady in traditional dress
Flutes and instruments made from Llama bones
Lady selling vegetables, beans, corn etc
Young lady in the market
Open air Butcher
Sisters in the Market

Machu Picchu – The City of the Incas

Machu Picchu appears from the mist

Remember to CLICK on the images to enlarge them, especially the Panoramics, its worth it…

Machu Picchu is possibly the most famous icon of the Inca world. It is located 80 km away from Cusco, which was the political centre of the Inca world and is 2430m above sea level. Much like Antarctica, there are no superlatives to describe Machu Picchu when you see it for the first time. We arrived on the site at about 08:30 in the morning and were greeted by the most incredible view of….mist. Loads of thick mist. It was so thick that I wasn’t even sure where Machu Picchu was as the visibility was down to about 20 metres. Francis and I perched ourselves on a rock that supposedly overlooked the citadel and waited. As the mist began to lift, we caught glimpses of the ruins below us, but soon more mist would blow in and they would disappear ethereally again as soon as they had appeared. It seemed that we weren’t going to see anything for a while and we decided that if the mist hadn’t lifted by 10:00 we would move on to other areas of the site. The mist began to lift at about 9:55 and we were treated to an amazing display of nature. Fast moving and swirling mist lifted and revealed the magnificent beauty of the city that is Machu Picchu. Within minutes we had an incredible view of this wonder of the world and pretty soon I found myself just staring in awe at this amazing place.

Machu Picchu simply spectacular
More Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu from a different angle

Waynapicchu with the ruins in front
Close up of the Ruins

The site itself is set on top of a mountain, it is a breathtaking setting that is very commanding. From the top of that mountain, the Incas had a view of all the surrounding peaks and Machu Picchu was at the centre of it. The sacred geometry that the Incas used to design the place and position it so precisely remains largely a mystery. Rocks are carved to millimeter precision and fit exactly together. The design is on purpose and not simply for aesthetics. It is believed that some of the patterns were used to prevent collapse during an earthquake. The structures look almost like a tetris game as the rocks are cut into different sizes and patterns, some as big as a car, others small stones the size of a mans hand make up the rocky puzzle. It remains a mystery how they managed to take these massive rocks up to the site as well as place them so carefully in place.  The effect is incredible, the symmetry remarkable and the workmanship and beauty simply unlike anything I have ever seen before. There is even running water in some parts, the Incas had waterways and canals that fed certain parts of the settlement and you see this running throughout the place. There are also some very sacred areas that would have been used for rituals and sacrifices, the Incas would do human sacrifices from time to time. As I stood there, marveling at this masterpiece of architecture and design, I couldn’t help but think that some part of that place had run red with the blood of humans that had been offered up to the Inca gods.

Francis enters the main gate to Machu Picchu
A sacred temple, note how neat the stonework is...

We visited and walked the whole site and it is BIG. We spent over 6 hours there and we could have spent more, but were pretty tired and hungry by the time we left. We walked up to Intipunku or the Sun Gate and saw some very unique views of Machu Picchu. We then walked along the other side of the mountain to the Inca Bridge and looked at that. That walk was along a narrow path along the side of a cliff and it could be a little sheer at times!

Orchid on Machu Picchu
Doorway of stones

All in all, Machu Picchu was one of the highlights of our trip so far, and certainly a highlight in Peru. I somehow think that we will return there someday, but until then, I will always remember how incredible it was to see one of the 7 wonders of the world first hand and realize just how breathtaking Machu Picchu really is!

Main Square
Great view of a great place

Time passes idly by in Ollantaytambo

View of Ollantaytambo from the Inca Ruins

We have spent the last 8 days in Ollantaytambo, in the sacred valley in Peru. Ollantaytambo is a small hamlet that is one of the last stops on the way to visit Macchu Pichu. You may know that in January, Peru suffered some torrential rains and flooding in the sacred valley and these floods and the resulting landslides took out large sections of road and rail. 2000 people were trapped at the small town just below Macchu Pichu and had to be helicoptered out of town. Macchu Pichu was closed and only re-opened on 1 April 2010. In the past, it was possible to catch a train from Cusco to Macchu Pichu, but now, with the landslides, much of the railway line disappeared into the mighty Urubamba river or was damaged beyond repair. This forced the Peruvian government to move quickly to restore a way into Macchu Pichu as it is one of the top tourist sites in Peru, certainly in South America and possibly the world. In normal times, apparently 2500 people visit Macchu Pichu a day. Its not easy to get to, so it is clearly a very popular destination. The rail and road transport was down for 2 months and we were worried that we wouldn’t get to see Macchu Pichu. The railway lines have still not been completely restored, but there is a patchwork method of getting there, it is roughly as follows:

  1. Catch a collectivo (a mini bus taxi) from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
  2. From Ollantaytambo you need to get to the next train station called Pisco Cucho.
  3. Once you are there, you need to catch a train from Pisco Cucho to Aquas Calientes
  4. From Aquas Calientes, catch a bus up the last 8km to Macchu Pichu.

This assumes that you have bought your train ticket to Macchu Pichu and your entrance ticket to the actual Macchu Pichu site. Well, we did all this and decided that we would go out and stay in Ollantaytambo for the few days leading up to our trip to Macchu Pichu and we have loved being in Ollyantaytambo. We are staying in a really nice hostel, good bed, and a really good shower (things that we have come to appreciate after nearly 5 months on the road)

Inca Ruins
Inca ruins, possibly used to fortify the town during Spanish invasions

Also, Ollyantaytambo is a living Inca town. It is an original Inca settlement but has not become a ruin, the people actually live and work in the town and it has the Inca architecture and the high walled and cobble stoned streets that Inca towns have. It is in a great setting with tall jagged mountains surrounding the town. There are also some Inca ruins on the outskirts of the town which are easily accessible by a 5 minute walk. We really took it easy here and spent our days wandering aimlessly around this lovely little village or exploring some ruins. We ate some fantastic Burrito’s and traditional Peruvian Cuisine which was not only cheap but very tasty. Often we ended our days off with banana pancakes at the local café. We idled here lazily until the 19th and then we visited Macchu Pichu… and that will be the topic of my next post.

Narrow street in Ollantaytambo
Delivery vehicle!
Inca Ruins on the mountainside
Inca Doorway
Street Scene
Old lady in Ollantaytambo