Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Peru

Pacific Ocean from Mira Flores
After 20 hours of travel, we finally made it to Lima, Peru!  We headed over to our apartment in Miraflores and crashed.  We all slept in until 2pm the following day!  I could not believe that we had slept in that long.  We headed out into the sun to try to adjust to the time difference.  The kids thought it was pretty cool that since we had crossed over the International Date Line we had gained 1 day. Although, they are a little bummed that, they will now need to wait 2 whole extra days for Christmas (2016 is a leap year).  We walked around Miraflores and took in the amazing sites of the city.  I loved the view out to the Pacific Ocean with the islands in the distance.  We had a great time walking along the sea.  The city itself is situated high on the bluff, so the ocean is about 80 meters below.  With this elevation, you have a really outstanding vantage point to the north and south.  We needed to pick up our Peru rail tickets so we ended up at an upscale mall called Lacromar.  I love the way that they designed the mall so that what you see from the street is a park and the mall is actually built below so that the view is not obstructed.  At the park, they had a playground so we let Eden run around and play.  We easily found the Peru rail office and had our tickets issued.  At this point, we were all starving and asked the nice man if he had any suggestions for a restaurant nearby that offered Peruvian food.  He directed us to Tanta, which thankfully was only a few steps away.  We had a wonderful meal.  Caleb decided to try something called Causa, I ordered some Tequenos.  Both were amazing.  We found out that Causa is a cold, seasoned mashed potato terrine filled with different types of fish or eggs.  Caleb's dish was a take on that but offered up in a sushi roll style. There were several different varieties and each of them were fantastic.  My Tequenos was filled with beef and beans in a rich sauce accompanied with a pepper crema.  It was outstanding.  Justin got a beef Chifa dish that was so good all three of us ended up sharing.  The kids ordered some fun fruit drinks, kind of like a smoothie and Justin and I decided to try a couple of cocktails containing Pisco.  Pisco is a Peruvian white brandy.  I got the classic version and Justin ordered a strawberry/mint/lime flavored one.  Wow!  They were amazing.  We had so much fun at the restaurant and had such good food that we decided to try to go back so that we could try more of the traditional appetizers.

In Mira Flores
Tanta - A great Peruvian restaurant
The following day we flew to Cusco.  It was rather impressive to land at this airport.  It's pretty windy and it is right in the middle of some very steep mountains at about 10,000 feet in elevation.  We had a pretty steep and fast descent but a smooth landing.  We headed into the city center to purchase our tickets into Machu Picchu.  After that, we headed over to have some lunch.  We found a nice little restaurant on Plaza Regocijo.  Then we headed to catch a collectivo (large van, small bus) to get to Ollantaytambo.  We had wanted to take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes but the train rails were closed for maintenance between Cusco and Ollantaytambo, so collectivo it was.  One thing I have noticed is all around the world there are different driving styles.  For example in South Africa, drivers will move into the shoulder to allow people to pass.  In Peru, we have noticed that they drive rather fast and brake really hard.  A lot of the cars' brakes squeak.  The collectivo was no different. He was passing all sorts of other vehicles along the way.  There were a few times when I thought we didn't have much room to pass until the oncoming traffic got in the way, but he made it, barely, every time.  I had wondered how many times a day he did this drive.  Once in Ollantaytambo we headed to our hotel.

Caleb on the tarmac in Cusco

Ollantaytambo main street.  They have a "Kwik-E-Mart"

The following day we took the train to Aguas Calientes then a bus up to Machu Picchu.  On the train we chose the Vista dome so that we could see the scenery better through the overhead windows.  We were very happy that we did this because you really had a wonderful view of the soaring peaks.  As you may have figured out by now, it is not a very straightforward journey to get to Machu Picchu, which is why, with the kids along, we broke it up into 2 days.  I chuckled to myself that our journey involved planes, trains and automobiles.

Train to Aguas Calientes

Town Square in Aguas Calientes
Once at Machu Picchu we hired a private tour guide.  This was absolutely the best thing we did.  We got this recommendation from a very good blog that we read.  Our guide, Odes, was a vat of information.  We climbed to the top and started there.  The views were amazing!  The mountains are so unique.  Along our travels we have seen quite a few mountains and yet we had seen nothing like this.  They are so steep and lush with vegetation and grass.  I also loved seeing the Urubamba River below.  Odes explained everything about the ruins and we all learned so much.  I did feel for him because Caleb asked question after question that he barely had time to breathe.  Luckily for us Odes did not seem to mind and expertly answered each of his questions.  Justin and I were delighted at how much the kids enjoyed the visit and were so interested in all of the dynamics involved in the lives of the Incas. After our tour I asked each of the kids what their favorite part was.  Caleb said he loved how they kept track of the calendar using the shadows from the temple windows.  Joel said that he loved how they figured out such complex things with their high levels of observation and ingenuity. Danielle loved how they were able to cut and smooth each stone used to build their city.  I loved the way the city blends seamlessly with the mountain, like it emerged from the mountain itself and was part of it.  What an amazing place! It is so unique and we can see why it is considered to be a "Wonder of the World".  We were also impressed at how much Eden climbed and walked in Machu Picchu.  We needed to help her in some places and picked her up from time to time because there was a group of people behind us, but for the most part she did it all herself.  Afterwards, we checked Justin's Fitbit and it said we climbed 100 flights!  She did about 70% herself, way to go Eden!

Machu Picchu!!

Near the top

Urubamba river below
Some of the homes in the city

Main Entrance Gate

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Three Windows

Taking a quick break

Huayna Picchu ruins near the top of the peak
Farming terraces

One of the llamas wandering around
Temple of the Condor.  This was on of the wings.

On one of the many terraces

We grabbed a light lunch at the base then headed back to Aguas Calientes.  Here we had a nice ice cream treat and walked around this quaint town.  We picked up some fun souvenirs and headed back to Ollantaytambo via train.   We did a quick visit of the ruins at Ollantaytambo.


This hairless dog (except his mohawk) was on a roof looking at the people below in Aguas Calientes

Ruins at Ollantaytambo 
The following day we took a collectivo to Cusco.  We ended up going straight to our hostel because we were all sunburned and needed a break from the sun.   I had been keeping track of the weather outlook using my Weather Channel app and the whole time it said that we would get rain and it would be in the upper 60s.  When we were in Machu Picchu it was anything but that, we had sunny skies and  the temperature was in the mid-80s.  I had prepared for rain so I forgot the sunscreen.  I felt terrible looking at my family of tomatoes.  Later in the afternoon, when the sun was not blazing overhead we put some sunscreen on and headed out to grab an early dinner.  We walked around the city, I love how it is dotted with plazas.  It was so fun to just sit down and people watch.  We saw women dressed in beautiful traditional clothing carrying a lamb or walking with their llama.  We all thought that it was super unique.  At 4am we were awaken by a bang, bang, bang.  It continued for the rest of the night. We had no idea what was going on, but later found out that it was firecrackers for the San Sebastian Festival.  Once we were out and about we saw a couple of parades for the celebrations.

Cathedral in Plaza de Armas, Cusco

Women in Cusco with a lamb

Parade in Cusco
We headed up to  Saqsaywaman, which is another site of Inca ruins.  These are a little different because of the amazingly tight fit of these massive stones.  It is incredible at how precise the fit of the stones are.  We also walked over to the statue of the Cristo Blanco and had a marvelous view of Cusco below.  It was a disheartening to see that there were literally hundreds of stray dogs wandering the streets of Cusco.  Seemed like wherever there was a garbage bag, a dog was ripping into it scavenging for food. Made me think of Bob Barker's famous quote to control the pet population and what happens when you don't.  After lunch we headed to the airport to fly back to Lima.  The following day I caught up on the laundry and prepared for our departure the following day.  But we headed back to Tanta for another fabulous meal and delicious drinks.  Did I mention the ceviche is awesome!  Thank you Peru for a unique and magnificent experience, it surpassed our expectations even with the high expectations of a must-do bucket list place to visit.


Saqsaywaman ruins

Up close you can see how tight the stones fit together

View of Cusco

Some of the doors we saw are really short! Danielle looks really tall next to this one.



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