Did you know: The Incas administered intelligence tests to Incan children and based on their results they were either taught a trade or sent to school to become administrators or part of the nobility.
South American culture will be a whole new experience for me and now that I’ve paid the balance on my trip to Peru in July, and with only a little over two weeks to go, I’m getting excited.
Before choosing GATE ONE TRAVEL I spent considerable time researching tour companies that offered a small group tour with a single supplement that was palatable, and a decent price. I’ve used Gate 1 before for the Danube Cruise I took with my mother in 2007 and a fly drive trip to Greece in 2006. I’m not terribly impressed by their reservation staff but they get by – as do most travel companies with kids who can answer basic questions but aren’t paid to think or solve problems. However the tours seem to have good reviews, and it looks like there are only 12 people going so I’m psyched.
Day One of the tour ironically leaves at one AM the next day so essentially Day 1 will be me flying to Miami to wait at the airport for 6 hours to catch a flight in the middle of the night (ya gotta love it!). My original flights had me arriving in Miami at 9:30PM for an 11:55 PM flight to Lima but that’s a whole other story of airlines rescheduling flights leaving customers inconvenienced powerless. I think a day pass to the Admiral’s club is well worth it.
Day Two The flight arrives in Lima in the early morning and after a 4 hour layover we leave for Arequipa and arrive mid morning. BTW – Peru is in the same time zone as Eastern Massachusetts; however Peruvians don’t change their clocks for daylight saving so Peru will be an hour earlier while I’m there.
We have the rest of the day to recover and adjust after the overnight flight. There is a wonderful market (San Camilo) that I’m itching to explore after a short nap. That night we’ll take care of tour business while sipping a Pisco Sours, a local drink which is a mixture of Peruvian Pisco, lime or lemon juice, sugar, ice, egg white and angostura bitters. (I thought Pisco was a plant but it’s actually the name of a port in Peru (Pisco) where the drink was first served in a bar called Morris’ Bar! It’s really a mixture of hard liquors similar to the Whiskey Sour – thank you Wiki)
That night we have dinner at a restaurant that specializes in local foods. Peru has a growing reputation for its cuisine which is a mixture of Spanish, Japanese and Chinese influence – (who would have thought) There is a whole history around Japanese and Chinese immigration to Peru. I’ll get to that another time.
Day Three – we tour Arequipa. The city is colonial in architecture and known as “Cuidad Blanca” or “White City” because the buildings are made of white volcanic rock that gives the effect of shimmering in the sun. (picture)
There are two 16th century structures that are ‘must see’ in the historic Plaza de Armas; the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa and the Santa Catalina Monastery. I’ll research those before I go so I can better describe them on the day. That night we have a lecture on Peru’s natural resources and economy and have dinner on our own. (Need research on restaurants)
Day Four – We leave Arequipa to drive to Colca. The drive takes us through unspoiled countryside and terraced farm land (picture). We pass small villages, farms and fields of grazing alpaca watched over by descendants of the indigenous tribes.
We arrive at the Colca Lodge for the night – hot springs and thermo-medicinal baths here I come. (Reminder to self, book a massage) I’m already relishing soaking in the hot baths, a spa treatment, good meal, and bed. Although apparently the hotel has an observatory and the sky is reported to be quite a site. Unfortunately we only have one night there.
Day Five – We’re off to Puno and Lake Titicaca. Enroute we visit Colca Canyon the world’s deepest canyon, at 13650 ft it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The drive is reported to be spectacular, not only because of the dramatic scenery, but the probable sighting of the Andean Condor, a main tourist attraction. I’m not especially into birds but I hope to be amazed. That night we arrive in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world). We’re staying the in Hotel Puno Libertador (free oxygen in the lobby!)
Day 6 – Today we go to the villages of the humble Aymara people http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aymara_people and have been invited to lunch on food grown by the Aymara. Aji a hot pepper is used in much of the cooking to season dishes of potatoes, grains, quinoa, staples of their diet. The climate is hard at this altitude so food has to be stored and handled differently, fish of course, is a staple of their diet. One of the things I like about small group tours is they afford more opportunity to meet people and learn more, first hand, about their lives. We’ll also learn about construction of the floating islands on which they build there houses and live, and the boats they get around in. Another night at the Hotel Puno Liberator – the hotel sounds interesting – apparently all the rooms have a water view and the sunset and sunrise are spectacular.
Day Seven – Back on the bus today headed for the Sacred Valley. Apparently here I have to start thinking about altitude sickness. http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/altitude-sickness-topic-overview I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the effects of the elevation in the Andes, more on that later.
The travel day will be long but broken up with some quite interesting sites as we go through the Sacred Valley. The Sillustani Tombs are cylindrical above ground chambers called “chullpa” built in pre Inca times and served as burial houses for entire families. We stop for a picnic lunch in a scenic spot then visit Raqchi, one of the holiest sites in the Inca Empire. At the end of the line we stop at our chalet style hotel the Cassa Andina Private Collection in Urubamba for 2 nights. I love it when I have time to do some hand washing (I try to travel with carry on only so it helps to have a chance to wash clothes!)
Day Eight – We’re visiting a small village of Chinchero today where we’ll meet with villagers and learn about the wonderful back strap weaving for which Peru is known. I’m fascinated by the vivid colors in Peruvian weaving; the dye process will be one of the topics I’ll enjoy. The dyes are natural and I’m curious what they use to make such strong colors.
After lunch we visit Ollantaytambo, the ruins of the Incan Emperors Royal estate. During the Spanish invasion it was a stronghold of the Incan resistance and the scene of one of the rare Incan victories over the Spanish conquistadors.
Day Nine – We leave the Sacred Valley today VERY early and take the Vistadome train to Aquas Calientes and to Macchu Pichu. We have a guided tour, then time to explore and day dream about all the mysteries surrounding this monument to a lost civilization. At the end of the day we check into our hotel in Cuzco for 3 nights. Hotel Novatel Cuzco The hotel is walking distance to everything so I’ll be able to explore.
Day Ten – Cuzco is surrounded by the Andes and the setting is dramatic. The buildings were literally built on Incan foundations and you can see the precise stone work that has puzzled historians for years. We’ll visit the Cathedral and its major collection of colonial art, and the Coricancha or Golden Temple, which once had walls adorned in gold plates in Incan times.
Dinner is with a local family tonight. The beauty of a small group tour is there are so many interesting things you can do with a small group of 10 instead of a bus load of 50.
Day Eleven – We travel to Sacsayhuaman (pronounced sexywoman) an archeological site surrounded by a trio of colossal walls (that unbelievable stone work again) that zigzags along side each other for more than 1000 ft. I hope to learn more about the meaning and use of the site by doing further research before I go. Late we visit Kenko, a “huaca” or holy place where sacrifices were held. While there we talk to locals who describe the ceremonies and sounds of these times. We’ll be cooking our own lunch, the result of a cooking lesson – what fun. We end the day at Almudena cemetery to learn about burial customs.
Day 12 – This morning we have an early flight to Lima for our last night. Tour in the afternoon of the city, the cathedral where Francisco Pizzarro is entombed, pre-columbian art at the Larco Herrara Museum and the inevitable farewell dinner. Our hotel is Estelar Hotel Miraflores.
Day 13 – flight back to Miami connecting to my flight to Miami and work the following morning! Oh well, I have to earn money for my next adventure.