Peru Trip #12 – Final Thoughts

My Peruvian adventure has been both fascinating and – strangely enough – restful. A change is as good as a rest, so they say, and I have to say that have really done well in escorting me around the country – meeting me everywhere and ensuring I get the buses, trains and planes in my itinerary, picking me up from hotels to take me to train stations, bus stations, and airports, and collecting me from them to transfer me to my new hotel, each time. It has meant the entire holiday has been stress free, as far as making arrangements is concerned – all of that is taken care of. The fact that the vast majority of the time I have had ‘private service’ – a driver, a guide, and me, either in a small minivan or private car – has meant that I’ve had a more personal experience than the description ‘guided tour’ usually implies, able to have a one-to-one with each guide, getting the most out of each place I have visited. Worth every penny – and the exchange rate has really been in my favour: Peru is cheap. And, of course, as my conversations with fellow travellers in the Cusco restaurant and at Intipunku proved, this is the surest way to insulate oneself from the potential downsides of being in a very poor country.

Me at Machu Picchu
The highlights of the trip include, of course, the Lords of Sipan
Museum, which was an extremely well thought out, brilliantly executed,
and fascinating museum, which taught me more about the Moche people than
any other visit; and Machu Picchu, the deserved crown of Peruvian
ancient architecture, unmolested by anything but the jungle for 500
years since it was abandoned, an absolute jewel set in some of the most
stunning scenery I have been fortunate enough to discover. These two
really stand out as the most amazing visits of my trip. But also of
course Huaca de la Luna was an eye-opening masterpiece, too, showing
that the Moche produced all the stunning artwork known so well from
their ceramics, in relief on the walls of their temples, too. I really
enjoyed the extensive collection of Moche ceramics at the Casinelli
Museum, and the Lady of Cao pyramid and museum at El Brujo proved the
Moche had great Queens as well as Kings. I was suitably awe-struck by
the megalithic scale of the Inca architecture at Saqsaywaman, despite
only the foundations remaining, and only 20% of the site open to
tourists, and I really enjoyed the stunning Inca palace at
Ollantaytambo, with its technical wizardry, wonderful location, and
still living streets and squares.

One of the shapes of the Nazca lines
Lowpoints, if there were any, were principally Nazca – I’d say ‘not to
be recommended’, in the end: the discomfort of the experience outweighs
the opportunity to take poorer photographs than one is able to google at
a moment’s notice.

Perhaps to be considered a lowpoint, but also a welcome rest, was my day in bed in Puno trying to breathe at 13000ft!

But probably the only real ‘lowpoint’ as such, was, certainly during my
first few days, that my hip was still giving me grief, and the
associated inability to do much walking, or, later, any serious climbs.
The damage done to my hip through compensation issues related to my
congenital back problem, came about as a result of my ThomasCook
sardine-can trip to Vancouver and back, in June. [KLM to Lima were much
better, and I paid extra for a good seat.] Having been using a stick
as recently as days before departure, and wearing a strap daily right
through the holiday, I am nonetheless grateful that, in the end, this
really did not overly impact upon my Peruvian trip. I was restrained,
cautious, and careful, and it paid off. Only on a couple of occasions
(including the walk to Intipunku) did I really feel I was pushing it,
and, towards the end of this three week adventure (especially on the
walk to Intipunku) my general caution and care seemed to have nurtured
enough healing for me to achieve the things I really wanted. All I
would say that it has cost me (apart from the nuisances associated with
the strap) were: I didn’t climb the pyramid at Tucume; not wanting to
climb Amantani contributed to my decision to stay in bed on my first day
in Puno; and of course Wayna Pichu, the mountain peak overlooking Machu
Picchu, was out of the question, even though, by that point, I was
actually feeling not bad. But only 400 people are allowed up it each
day, and it’s apparently a seriously taxing climb, an absolute no-no for
anyone in my condition. But going to Intipunku, the Sun Gate, instead,
was lovely! The Inca Trail, four days for 20 year olds on gap years or
Uni summer breaks, was clearly exhausting even for those I saw arriving
at Machu Picchu for the dawn, and it’s more than 20 years since I last
walked a long distance for several days in a row.

The Church at the village near Chucuito.  The cross out front is the marker of the Inquisition. The dancers are on day four of a wedding celebration
On my New Zealand holiday in 2007 there were quite a few stops arranged
by my travel agent that I really found superfluous (at best) or simply
spurious. I think I had greater control over this tour, with, and managed to keep silly stuff to a minimum.
Nonetheless there were a few things I could’ve foregone on a tour of
ancient Peru: the horse show was definitely the most irrelevant – even
tiresome – hence this being its only mention; the brief stop at the Inca
Bar to drink Chicha was charming but unnecessary; and the half dozen or
so churches I visited that I haven’t even mentioned in this blog. Most
were actually ok, even quite interesting, but only for the syncretistic
incorporation of pre-Columbian symbols and motifs into Peru’s unique
brand of Baroque Catholicism. I have to say that I concur with the
long-held English tradition of anti-papism, and have been struck more
than ever before by how (to use one of their favourite words) ‘evil’ an
institution the Catholic Church is. [Do see Stephen Fry’s wonderful critique of the Catholic Church.]
OK, so the British (with help from the Germans, Irish, French, Belgians
and Dutch) exterminated much of the indigenous population of North
America, and left a poisonous legacy in Africa, the Middle East, and
elsewhere. But the surviving First Nations, in Canada at least, have
managed to keep an unbroken line of tradition going, there; Africa is
proudly reasserting its own culture, and flexing its muscle in the
Anglican family. India is returning to her former glory after the brief
period of colonial nuisance. Here, in South America, following the
vile practices of the Inquisition, 90% of the people are still Catholic,
speak Spanish, and view the darker skinned, more purely indigenous
people who still speak Runisamy (the Quechua language) or Aymara, with
distaste. I knew the British had a lot to answer for around the world.
Now I have seen how much the Spanish have to answer for, too.

Final Thoughts

Machu Picchu from Intipunku

Finally, in a sort of sad, geeky kind of way, for a solo traveller in a
foreign country, I have to say that my Mac is my friend. It has given
me Facebook; enabled me to do all this blogging; iPhoto and access to
Flickr have enabled me to process and display all my holiday pics as I
go along; and Hoyles games has wiled away the odd hour of an evening in a
hotel room before sleep. The iPhone of course is the compliment – and I
am very glad of the new EU cap on data roaming charges introduced in
July: I have spent more than in the past, it’s true, because I simply
didn’t do data roaming in the past. But the cap means I now know what
the max cost will be, and I have spent that: ergo the new rules are good
for the telecomms companies. Foursquare
I have to say has been lots of fun, on my iPhone, and I have become
Mayor of two hotels in Peru, and, amazingly, became Mayor of Machu
Picchu, on Foursquare, too! How cool is that?!

Peru Trip #11 – Machu Picchu

Classic view of Machu Picchu - click to see more on FlickrMachu Picchu. Superlatives fail me. Just the train journey (much better than the famous Inca Trail, which is a four-to-six-day walk) was fairly spectacular, bringing home how deep and winding the gorge is here. It is made by a river that almost completely encloses the mountain upon the top of which the sanctuary of Macchu Picchu was built. The town was constructed from the huge rocks that were already there, some of which are still scattered about the summit in the few areas that have not been built on. Here and there the huge stones have been left in place, and the houses and temples built around them, using them as platforms.

The place was started probably around 1400CE, and was still ongoing and unfinished in parts, when it was mysteriously abandoned around 1500CE, abandoned to such an extent that later Incas – including the one overthrown by the Spanish, did not even know of its existence. Which of course means that neither did the Spanish. Of all the Inca ruins, this one is untouched, untainted by the Spanish. This site was not destroyed by them, there is no church built on top of it. It was lost to the jungle before Pisaro even set foot in South America, in 1533. The Quechua people, and their king, the Inca, the Son of the Sun, had abandoned this place long before.
View of the mountains at Machu Picchu

The mountain territory, and the fact that here, at 2400m above sea
level, and towards the east of Cuzco, we are almost in the Amazonian
jungle – at its gate, in fact – all make this already an incredibly
special place, the awesome beauty of the natural surroundings surely a
big part of why it was chosen as a royal sanctuary. The town is built
on the summit, and surrounded by a wall, and includes, typical of other
Inca settlements, especially of the high empire period, a ritual sector
with temples and astronomical stone artefacts, a royal compound where
the royal family and probably the main priests lived or stayed, a
‘commons’ sector where the people who built and maintained the town
lived, and an agricultural area of terraces.

View of Machu Picchu

Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu
The Temple of the Sun here, as Hiram Bingham called it (most of the
names of the buildings came from him, and his guesswork, as he cut back
the jungle from this place in the years following his discovery of it in
1911), is perhaps the most interesting, to me. There are two main
windows in this semi-circular temple. One faces the point on the
horizon where the Winter Solstice, on June 21st, rises, the other the
point where the Summer Solstice, on December 22nd, rises, over a small
temple on the top of an overlooking mountain called, Intipunku – ‘The
Sun Gate’.

The Sun Gate temple - Intipunku, from Machu Picchu

On these Solstice mornings, the first rays of the sun shine into the
temple through these windows and light up the altar stone in its heart.
The masonry – especially of the royal compound and the temples – is
simply awesome. This place seems in many ways, certainly as it has come
down to us molested not by the Spanish, but only by time, bushes, and
trees, perhaps the finest example of Inca High Empire architecture,
hydraulic mastery and urban planning. Almost in the jungle here,
drainage of the buildings and the terraces is of paramount importance,
and provision of fresh spring water for the populace without the need to
climb down the mountain to the river, absolutely essential. The
drainage remains perfect. To this day, a fresh spring from a mountain
on the other side of the river runs through complex buried channels down
to the bottom of the valley, the pressure making it rise again up to
the summit of Machu Picchu where it flows gently, unceasingly, with
unchanging flow and temperature, all year round, still to this day, five
hundred years after it was built.
The place is simply amazing.

The top fountain at Machu Picchu

The astronomical observatory at Machu Picchu
At the highest point of the main area of the town is the astronomical
observatory, a carved rock with its corners pointing North, South, East,
and West, and to the four mountain peaks around Machu Picchu, crowned
with a sundial obtrusion that casts its shadows with precision around
the year, allowing precise calculations of Solstices and Equinoxes. It
is famed to have power within it, and all the tourists hold their hands
an inch above it, trying to feel the power. I’m sure if that were
possible it would have been sucked dry long ago by now – there are only
1000 tourists here today: it’s a quiet day.

Llactapata, from the Western tower at Machu Picchu

The Western tower at Machu Picchu facing Llactapata
To the west, in the distance, is Llactapata – another Inca temple that
is aligned to the East and where the Sun can be seen rising over Machu
Picchu at one of the Solstices, precisely over where, here at Machu
Picchu, there is a viewing tower overlooking Llactapata.

Me at Machu Picchu

My guide takes several good pics of me here, and I am grateful. He is
knowlegeable, polite, friendly – as they have all been – and my morning
tour is a great introduction to the place. After another big tourist
buffet lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge, I return alone to take a few more
pics of the Temple of the Sun, and make a last climb to the astronomical
observatory, and then head down on the bus to the delightful El Mapi
hotel, for a shower, and a dry Martini, and a light supper. First thing
in the morning, I am on the 5.30am bus to see the dawn rise over Machu
Picchu. And what an experience this is!

I have ‘seen in the dawn’ on a number of occasions, and got up for the
dawn as often, but this has to be one of the finest of them all.
Climbing to the highest point of Machu Picchu where the ‘watchman’s
house,’ as it is known, looks out over the summit town, one gets an
amazing view of the moment of sunrise, as it crests the tops of the
mountains surrounding the site. Some short distance on its journey from
the the Winter Solstice point, in June, towards the Summer Solstice
point, at Intipunku (Sun Gate), in December, the appearance of the sun’s
orb above the mountain peaks is an awesome sight.
Sunrise at Machu Picchu

The top fountain at Machu Picchu
From the watchman’s house I went down to where the first fountain
produces the flow of spring water that runs in its channels and from
other fountains down through the centre of the royal compound and into
the commons sector. Here, where the royals themselves would have got
their water, I washed the silver, serpentine, smokey quartz and obsidian
jewelry I had bought in Pisak, in the hope that I might take some of
the blessing of Pacha Mama and Pacha Tata back to my home land.


Then the walk up to Intipunku. It’s about an hour each way, said the
guide, but I managed it a little quicker on the way down. On the way up
it was a good 50 minutes, and a hot and sweaty journey with frequent
panting stops. Glad of the strap around my hips, I took it easy, but I
am definitely on the mend, it seems, and the walk was worth the risk!
The reward was absolutely fantastic. Gobsmacking is about the best word
I can think of. From Intipunku the view over Machu Picchu is
incredible. I sat there for over an hour, just drinking in the view. I
met an English girl doing a good bit more of South America, there, and
we agreed on many things. I recommended the Lords of Sipan museum and
Huaca de la Luna to her. It was so peaceful, sitting up at Intipunku –
about five of us at one point, three Dutch half asleep on the terraces,
and us two English types. Absolutely peaceful, at the Gate of the Sun,
with the great orb high in the sky behind us, shining down over one of
the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life, bathing perhaps one
of the greatest pre-Christian temple complexes in the world.

Machu Picchu from Intipunku

And then, from the wall of the terrace at Intipunku where I sat, I stood
up to begin my journey home. It will take me three days – journeying
this afternoon to Cusco, overnight there at the Don Carlos again,
collecting my suitcase, then flying Monday to Lima, overnight there
before finally the intercontinental flight on Tuesday back to Amsterdam.
I will bring home with me some incredible memories. And I will be

Peru Trip #10 – Cuzco to Ollantaytambo

Condors at the Animal Rescue Centre, near Cuzco - click to see more on Flickr
So last night I decided to throw caution to the wind and try out one of the posh restaurants of Cusco – with my credit card. Bistrot was recommended by my Cusco tour guide so I got the hotel to book me a table, and went up for dinner there at 8pm. The food was excellent – clearly a properly trained, imaginative chef. The service was worse than amateur – embarrassing. Once I had got past the language difficulty of wanting a decent bottle from the reasonably good list, rather than just a glass of the local Peruvian Tacama white wine – not bad, but not appropriate for a posh dinner – I had to offer to take over opening the expensive bottle of wine, wincing as the waitress struggled with it, with all the promise of bits of cork ending up in the wine. A nice enough girl, friendly, willing, but with barely any English and barely any training as a waitress. My Jumbo River Prawns were cooked to perfection in a delicious sauce, but again I had quite a struggle (and an empty side plate delivered) before managing to get a small bowl of warm water to wash my fingers. Hopefully they’ll serve one with the prawns to future guests. I realised this was quite a new venture, only open a short time, with much to learn. The best thing about the dining experience, however, was the other two diners in the restaurant, a couple from London in their ‘gap year’ between work and retirement, touring the world. Had a really nice chat with them. Bolivia, they say, is even cheaper than Peru, Argentina about the same, but Brazil as expensive as Europe. Like me, they have found everyone they’ve met to be very friendly, and felt no threat at all, despite all the warnings. We conclude that it must be backpacking poor student travellers in cheap hostels that tend to experience the underside we have been warned of, and that we are cushioned by the reach of our wallets. Having to buy a bottle to get a nice wine with my delicious River and ShellFish ‘Parihuela,’ which came with the lovely Peruvian garlic rice I already enjoyed in the north, I of course was pretty happy by the end of the meal, chatting with the other diners. It was a shame that the service was so poor, and that, in the end, despite the signs, they seemed incapable of making their EFTPOS handheld work, either with MasterCard or VISA, and I had to part with half of my remaining cash for this lovely dinner – money well spent, but which I had wanted to put on the credit card to pay later, not pay for out of the rest of my holiday cash. I made no bones about ensuring they knew my displeasure. My fellow guests were equally put out by this, though perhaps less surprised than I that the signs turned out to be misleading, at best. I still made sure they complimented the chef though !

Me drinking Chicha in an Inca bar

So this morning I awoke somewhat hungover – from wine rather than
altitude, for a change – and was treated as a first stop to an animal
rescue centre, caring for exotic Andean creatures with injuries, or
saved from the black market, and returning them, when ready, to the
wild. I met three condors – huge carrion birds – a couple of pumas, and
some large parrots. On the road away from here, the devastation caused
by the flooding in the last rainy season becomes all too apparent, with
the road washed away in places down to a single carriageway. Six months
ago, this area experienced twice the normal rainfall and, among other
things, the railway up to Macchu Picchu was severely damaged (and
repaired by June, thankfully!) The next stop was a traditional Inca bar,
a homely pub where they make their own ‘chicha’ – a maize corn beer,
served straight to the men and brewed with strawberries and served with a
sprinkling of herbs on top to the women. Very nice, I’d say!

Silversmith grinding semi-precious stones and shells into small pieces and gluing them into silver jewelry with tree resin

Third was Pisak, and its famous market, where I was able to use the
credit card to stock up on Peruvian silver (95% alloy with copper, like
Britannia Silver, better than Sterling Silver which is only 92.5%)
beautifully worked by local craftsmen, with the famous Macchu Picchu
serpentine (flecked with iron-pyrites and haematite), Peruvian smokey
quartz, local obsidian, and a particularly lovely skyblue local
sodalite, worked into the silver casings with local tree resin for glue.
Very lovely. I also parted with some dollars for the rug I have been
looking for ever since I arrived in Peru, and had a sneaking suspicion I
might find here. Natural dyes and hand-woven, I got one with the Inca
calendar in red, black, and blue. Very nice. I feel like a good
tourist now, with my souvenirs and gifts for friends back home.

Ollantaytambo - click to see more on Flickr

So the main event of the morning, and I am thankfully quite awake by now
(parting with money often has that effect). Ollantaytambo sits at the
junction of three valleys, including the Cusco valley, and the Sacred
Valley where Macchu Picchu lies. The winds combine here and the Incas,
great technicians that they were, built their storage houses just where
the winds meet and keep the temperature a good 3-4deg lower than on the
valley floor. Either side of the river in the middle of the valley they
built houses for the common people on one side, and the royal compound
on the other. A tambo is literally that – a staging post for the royal
household on its journeys around the empire.

The Terraces at Ollantaytambo - click to see more on Flickr

The terraces here are extremely cleverly formed, with different clays
and soils and at different altitudes to create a series of
micro-climates perfect for potatoes, beans, fruits, and coca leaves –
yes jungle coca leaves growing in the corner of the Sacred Valley,
rather than imported like pretty much everywhere else.
The Profile in the Mountain overlooking Ollantaytambo - click to see more on Flickr
The mountain with the cold storage houses also sports a carved human
profile near its peak, as viewed from the Temple of the Sun at the top
of the terraces behind the royal compound. On the winter solstice on
June 21st the sun rises over distant mountains right at the third eye of
this profile, and shines directly across the valley hitting the Temple
of the Sun first before anywhere else. Coming from sources unknown,
pure mountain spring water at constant temperature and flow appears from
spouts into channels to snake around the terraces as irrigation, and –
most beautifully of all – to create a series of pleasure garden channels
through the royal compound. One wonders if they maybe even had
fountains, after the moorish fashion of contemporary buildings across
the Atlantic like the Alhambra. The whole place is like a holiday
resort in that sense, with the old Inca town square with its flowing
water channel today’s tourist market at the entrance to the
archaeological site: the royal compound, terraces, and what remains of
the Temples the Spanish left behind, when they broke them down to use
the stone to build their churches. The common people’s side of town is
still lived in, Inca streets running up the hills from the main street
into town.

Water feature with tap at Ollantaytambo - click to see more on Flickr

Last stop is at Tunupa, a fantastic buffet restaurant for tourist buses,
with excellent food, and a delightful riverside garden, where I eat
heartily before being dropped at my hotel prior to tomorrow’s early
morning trip to Macchu Picchu.

The river at the bottom of the gardens at Tunupa Restaurant - click to see more on Flickr

Peru Trip #9 – Saqsaywaman, Cuzco

Me and one of the megaliths at Saqsaywaman, Cuzco - click to see more on Flickr
Well, the Incas were truly extraordinary masons. For all that this was – in European chronology – a medieval culture, in the 15th and 16th centuries CE, it was a megalithic culture. Not the megalithic culture of thousands of years BCE, on the Atlantic fringe of Europe and the Mediterranean, but a megalithic culture that had mastered building with stone in an extraordinary way. There are mortice and tendon joints, and metallic rings sunk into carved grooves between stones, inside these huge walls, and carefully graded horizontals that incorporate subtle ratchets at strategic points. The basic shape is trapezoidal: walls and doorways and niches that stand with legs apart. All this makes Inca buildings effectively earthquake proof – both supremely stable and protected from horizontal movement.
Example of masonry techniques at Qoricancha, Cuzco - click to see more on Flickr

Churches built by the Spanish on top of Inca temples (Christianity,
after all, built on top of pagan sites the world over, to cancel out the
old gods with their new religion) fell in the earthquakes of 1650 and
1950 and 1986. The Inca temples are only ruined by deliberate Spanish
destruction, and by having been treated as quarries right up until legal
protection in 1936. Cusco city is an image of the Puma, with the
Temple of the Sun at its phallus, and the complex of Saqsaywaman at its
head (the name Saqsaywaman literally means, Puma’s head).
Our guide shows us the Puma on the map and satellite photo - his finger on the phallus, Saqsaywayan the head
A drawing of the Cuzco puma

The layout of the Saqsaywaman site

The zigzag walls of Saqsaywaman main temple site

The zigzag construction is the hair on the lower jaw of the Puma, the
three tiers the three levels of the cosmos – underworld (snake), earth
(puma), and sky (condor). All that is left now is the foundations – you
can see the drainage holes that kept the place dry during the rainy
season. There were three towers on top of Saqsaywaman – one 160km
square, and one circular with three concentric rings of stone, that was
an enormous water tank. The hydraulic mastery of these genius
stonemasons, furthermore, continues to work perfectly where these
temples still stand, serving water at constant temperature and flow
regardless of season, from sources modern archaeologists have simply not

The ritual cleansing site

There is ample evidence of how they were able to take water from high
places, channel it through carefully carved stones down into valleys and
back up to high places on the other side of valleys, using the pressure
created by shrinking the bore of the grooves they forced the water
through. These technologies, moreover, were sacred – stone and water,
and the knowledge of their manipulation, were pure. There is no mortar
holding any of these stones together. The water flows through holes
bored through stone, along channels paved with stone tiles, never
through clay pipes. Sand, clay and ramps were used, but only to
transport the stone: the quarry for the main temples at Cuzco is 17km
away, and it is estimated that it took 20,000 people working every day
77 years to build just the one large temple as Saqsaywaman on the hill
overlooking the city. They did not have the wheel. Yep, that’s right,
they did all this without using wheels. The Incas were truly
extraordinary masons.

A doorway from one level to the next of the zigzag surround of the main temple site at Saqsaywaman

Peru Trip #8 – The Inka Express from Puno to Cuzco, stopping at

Statue of a Pukara Priest c400BCE - click to see more on FlickrThe Inka Express is an extremely long bus ride – usually a 6hr drive – which takes over 9hrs, due to all the stops along the way. But time goes quickly, and it doesn’t seem to drag, as a journey, at all. Leaving Puno, barely having slept, with an altitude headache only partly dulled by 10minutes attached to the oxygen bottle before getting up, jacked up on matte de coca (coca-leaf tea) I half expected the journey to be awful. But I managed to dose during the first part of the journey, awaking to be delighted by the Pukara museum, sporting a whole collection of statuary from the ‘mother culture’ of southern Peru, who lived here around 400BCE. The catfish and the frog turned out to be particularly important animals for these people, but the puma and the snake made early appearances – they both figure heavily in later cultures – and the quality of the carving is really quite special.

Statue of a Pukara Priest c400BCE - click to see more on Flickr

Returning to the bus, I am exhausted just by this short tour around the
museum. Our next stop, at 4335m (14,200ft) above sea level, is at Abra
La Raya where the two mountain ranges the girt the Altiplano, where Lake
Titicaca rests, meet and join, and the Sacred Valley down to Cusco
begins. There are snow-capped peaks here, although my Puno guide says
they were much whiter in his youth. The smoke clouds from the 25 fires
burning in Bolivia adds a haze to the sky. The Vilcanota River that
beings in this valley eventually joins the Amazon, and flows out to the
Atlantic Ocean. By this point, my head is hurting, the ibuprofen I
took at breakfast has worn off, and I am just glad that the descent has
at last begun. Over the next 40mins we descend more than 1000m to our
buffet lunch, and the Sacred Valley proper.

Here we find our first proper Inca archaeological complex – Raqchi,
which means ‘ceramic.’ Unusually for Inca architecture, the main temple
is built half in stone, their preferred building material, and half in
adobe – the mud brick of older cultures. The entire complex, moreover,
is completely surrounded by a huge wall. The thinking is that the
Tihuanaco people who were being supplanted by the Inca here were
rebellious, and the complex had to be built quickly, and defended. In
the Temple to Wiracocha, the most important Inca god, there are, also
unusual for Inca buildings, circular columns, which used to hold up the

Temple to Wiracocha, Raqchir

By the time we reach Cusco the air is just so much nearer what sea-level
dwelling folks like me are used to, and although a bit thin, (it is
still 11000ft, after all) I can think, I can move around, I have no
headache, and the constant fatigue of the last few days in Puno is
finally wearing off. It’s like getting well again after a massive
hangover. Speaking of which… a glass of wine might now be in order!

Peru Trip #7 – Uros Isles and Chucuito, Lake Titicaca

Reeds at Lake Titicaca, with the mountains in the background
Two fascinating trips today: to the floating Uros islands, and to the Aymara/Inca fertility temple at Chucuito. The Uros islanders, although their own language is lost now, and they have absorbed some of the physical characteristics of the Aymara as well as their language, are nonetheless still distinguishable by their short, squat bodies, their barrel chests with powerful hearts and lungs, and their ‘black blood’ – in truth just a little darker, but proven to have a higher haemoglobin content than sea-level dwelling people like me – and probably you. These people have been here a very long time, and have completely adapted to this environment. The Pukara people (more on them tomorrow) were the first recognisable ‘culture’ or ‘civilisation’ here, between 200 and 600CE, and they were gradually displaced by the Tihuanaco, who were then forcibly conquered by the Aymara, who were in their turn
conquered by the Inca, and lastly, in the 1530s, by the Spanish. The
Uros Islanders, therefore, have been there a long time.

Google Earth view of the islands at Uros - click to go there


One of the islands at Uros

Me taking on some oxygen
This was my morning trip, and on my way back I enjoyed the views of the lake, and took a little oxygen on board

The Uros Islanders – only a few hundred of them now live there on the islands still – clearly exist mainly on the income from tourists, above and beyond their traditional subsistence existence making their land, their huts, their fires, and their soup out of the reeds in the lake. My guide was very informative, but it was clear enough to the eye that much of their lives are now geared toward the tourists. It was also clear, during these years of world economic turmoil, that the tourist trade has really suffered. The two arms of the village, north and south, have been taking it in turns, this year, to receive tourists, each
morning. In a normal year, both arms receive tourists all day. So I
decided that if I was going to spend my tourist dollars on textiles and
reed figures anywhere in Peru, then it was going to be here, rather than
a shop in Lima or Cuzco. I spent about £65 and the couple were clearly
delighted – she gave me a hug and kiss in a quite spontaneous gesture.
It was somewhere between gratifying and embarrassing – still not sure
quite where. So now I have a delightful, ‘primitive’ Andean tapestry
depicting Pacha Mama and Pacha Tata (Father Earth), along with a puma, a reed boat, and the ubiquitous Tumi knife with which the sacrifices were
made. This was woven by the woman who kissed me. I also have a small
replica reed boat, made by her husband. Lastly, I have one of those big
seed pod maracas, with a scratchboard, covered with some carving, which
looks to me rather mass produced, but never mind. These items will
retain both a memory of meeting their makers, on their island, and the
sort of charitable glow to make any tourist feel his conscience is

After some soup and a midday sleep back at the hotel, my guide came to
collect me again and we set off to Chucuito, a tiny but charming village
further down the coast toward Bolivia, where there was an Aymara/Inca
fertility temple. Much of it destroyed by the Spanish, of course, who
used the phallic totems to tie their horses in the yards of their
colonial houses around the lake, until in the last decade or so the
local authorities have gradually repatriated them all and set them up
again inside the temple. There is a strange and imposing looking hotel
in front of the temple, where mystical but infertile tourists come from
all over the world to take part in ceremonies, led by the hotelier, at
the temple, apparently with some success, though my guide reckons its
all psychological. The signs of recent libations on the main phallic
altar are clear enough.

The main phallic totem in the Chucuito temple - click for more on Flickr


Peru Trip #6 – Arrival at Lake Titicaca

Pool at Villa Jazmin at Nazca with Dune in background
Both an eventful and uneventful few days. After a morning reading Mercia
Eliade’s classic text, The Sacred and the Profane, soaking up the
sunshine at Nazca, I took the long bus journey back to Lima – the bus
arrived late and made a number of unscheduled stops (including for the
driver to buy some oranges from a roadside vendor) arriving in Lima
80minutes late. My restaurant of choice was fully booked by then, and
arriving by taxi at the alternative I found it too was fully booked,
despite the Hotel receptionist shrugging that I would not need to book
there. They took pity on me though and put me on a bar stool at the
bar, where I enjoyed a fabulous meal, generosity from the talkative
barman, and a thoroughly good Saturday night out. I can thoroughly
recommend the Brujas de Cachiche to any visitor to Lima.

Sunday was then all about flying up to the mountains – an airbus from
Lima airport at lunchtime stopping over briefly at Cusco, without
disembarking, and then heading on up to Juliaca, the small city on the
plain overlooking Lake Titicaca. From the moment I got off the plane I
could tell we were very high up, and that the air was thin! Walking
suddenly became a struggle, and the effort of any exertion seriously
taxing on one’s reserves of strength. This immediate fatigue receeded
in the car, replaced by consciousness of having to breathe really
quickly – a shortness of breath one would normally associate with the
moments after major exertion, but experienced whilst sitting in the back
seat of the guide’s car. On the way to my hotel in Puno, we stopped to
visit the Silustani Tombs.

The Silustani Tombs - link to Flickr

An Aymara Tomb
This proved to be a fascinating visit, despite the fact that I was only
capable of pigeon-toe progress with frequent rest-stops, and the fatigue
was gradually turning into a dizziness of absolute exhaustion. But the
history of this area, as my guide described it, was fascinating. The
Pucara people were the first known civilisation here, and I will see
more of them on the Inka Express bus journey to Puno later this week.
After this culture had faded, the Tihuanaco came, and populated the
area. At the height of their civilisation here, the Aymara, a warlike
people from the south and east, perhaps Argentina, conquered the area,
forcing the small remnant of surviving Tihuanaco to embark on a long
wandering in the mountains, until they settled north in the sacred
valley, and became the Inca. The Inca, of course, later reconquered
this area, along with the whole of the rest of the Andes, in the largest
empire of all pre-Columbian South America – of which more, of course,
in Cusco and Macchu Picchu. Up here in Juliaca and Puno, despite the
arrival of the Spanish conquerors, who looted the ancient sites and
brought Catholicism to the area, much of the original pre-Christian
religious practice and the two ‘nations’, Aymara and Quechua
(Inca/Tihuanaco people) survive to this day. My guide is Quechua, the
driver Aymara.

Inca Tomb with lizard
The Silustani tombs are mostly Aymara, with some later Inca tombs as
well. Alongside the tombs are three other sections of the site: the
ritual area, the workshop, storage and living area, and the quarry where
the rock was carved out of the mountainside. Like the Moche practice
in the far north, and Egyptian and other practices in other continents,
not only the Lord but his wives, boys, servants, priests – between 30
and 50 bodies – were buried in each of the tombs. All the precious
metal artefacts were looted by the Spanish, but archaeologists have
found ample evidence of human bones, ceramics and other remants to gain
understanding of these monuments.

The largest of them, an Inca one, with exquisite stone work, also had a
relief carving of a lizard on it, pointing in the direction of the
Temple of the Sun, the island on the Bolivian side of the lake where the
Inca absorbed the Tihuanaco origin myth and made it their own, with a
splendid temple.

Stone Circle at Silustani

In the ritual area, I was introduced to a very familiar stone circle.
My guide clearly had real respect for the place: he pointed out on the
horizon to south and east among the mountains where the villages of his
mother and father were located, and spoke with genuine appreciation of
the Quechua Mother Earth ‘Pacha Mama’ and Mother Waters ‘Cucha Mama’
whose spirits were in everything, in every stone. The archaic religious
mind, as described by Mercia Eliade, was here almost in its raw aspect,
for all that this son of tribal people now worked in the tourist
industry, using his excellent English. Having asked permission, I
entered the stone circle, and paid my respects to the Earth Mother of
the Mountain, here at the roof of the world, my body the tree through
which earth and sky communicate and become one, pillar of every house,
tower of every city, altar of every temple.

The Silustani Guardian Rock
On the descent from the hill of the tombs, though the thin air was
really starting to get to me by now, (hence the not very good photo) my
guide showed me the guardian stone at the foot of the ancient stairway.
He asked me if I had a compass. A spiral carved on one side of the rock
zeroed in on a particular patch of the stone where the compass on my
iPhone suddenly switched to point west, instead of north, directly at
the centre of the spiral. Yes, indeed they believe there is some
lodestone or other in this rock, and yes, indeed, the Aymara clearly
knew about this. The other side of the rock sported the carved face of a
Puma, facing up to the stones.

But my reaction to the thin air was rapidly turning into full-on Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS),
or altitude sickness, and we headed on to Puno as the sun went down and
the cold wind of the mountain winter began to bring the temperature
down sharply. At the hotel I practically collapsed for an hour or two’s
nap, and then managed to pigeon-toe down to the nearest restaurant, a
couple of doors down from the hotel, for a light supper, and pigeon-toe
it back up to my room, completely exhausted, to sleep again. It was
9pm. I awoke almost hourly, drinking water, feeling exhausted, my pulse
rapid and persistent, breathing short, dizzy and suffering awful
fatigue. Finally, at about 4am, the pulse and shortness of breath had
begun to recede, to be replaced by a headache. I took some ibuprofen at
5am, and finally decided to cancel my tour to the Lake Titicaca
Islands, to stay put and get a day of complete rest. By 9am, worried
for me, the travel agency had called in CondorAssist, the medical
insurance with my fortnight’s tour, and a very nice young Quechua doctor
arrived, with a translator. It was agreed by all that it was altitude
sickness, that the worst was over, that I had done the right thing
cancelling today’s tour, and he sat me with an oxygen mask plugged into
an oxygen bottle that they keep at the hotel, for 20 minutes, which
cleared my headache!

An Andean woman in Puno using her mobile
By lunchtime I was able to take a little walk, buy some alpaca socks and
a straw sun hat, and get a bowl of Inca Soup – guinea pig and alpaca
meat and soft cheese cubes in a nourishing soup, which I ate most of
with a large glass of freshly juiced papaya. It is interesting how, up
here in the mountains, many of the local people still maintain the
traditional dress, at the same time as embracing the all-encompassing
information revolution. This excursion, however, was very tiring, and I
returned, again very slowly to the hotel, to sleep for a couple of
hours in the afternoon.

So – not only do I get air-sick on little Cessna’s doing wild
manouevres, I am among those who suffer from altitude sickness, too.

Peru Trip #5 – Underwhelmed by the Nazca Lines

One of the shapes of the Nazca linesWell here’s a turn-up for the books. For the first time in my life, I have
suffered from air-sickness. I got up at 5.30am, grabbed some breakfast, got picked up at 6.15am and taken to the bus station for a 4hr 30m bus journey – again in one of the comfy airline style coaches – arriving in Ica at 11.30am, to find my Nazca trip delayed til 3pm. I could have got a later bus. Not particularly pleased, but acquiescent, I wandered about the gardens of the Las Dunas hotel, a sort of oasis in the desert here, where a big conference was taking place, and then ate a very light salad lunch in the restaurant. Finally taken to the airfield, I and four other passengers and the two pilots took off in the little Cessna at 3pm, for a 30min journey across the desert to the plain where the lines are carved into the ground, 30mins flying over them, and then the 30min return journey. The updrafts from the mountainous surroundings made conditions quite choppy on the journey out there, but nothing worse than my similar Cessna journey from Milford Sound to Queenstown in 2007. But once we got to the lines, the pilot very enthusiastically ensured both sides of the plane got a very good view of each and every one of the twelve big patterns amongst the lines, by turning steeply and sharply in both directions. By the fourth shape I was feeling very hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable, and spent the next 10mins vomiting my lunch into the plastic bag provided. Only by the last little group of shapes had I recovered sufficiently to doggedly point my camera at the ground. I closed my eyes and left my body for the trip home, feeling, as I told anyone who asked, “awful.”

So now I know: I can – and will – get air-sick, in a little Cessna doing wild manouvres. And now I am stuck in a small villa hotel in the middle of nowhere for the evening, where after a long nap recovering I am at last going to have a small dinner, and then a long sleep and lie-in, to get the bus back to Lima tomorrow lunchtime. All in all, I have to say, considering the huge discomfort incurred on the overflight itself, and the 9hrs of bus travel to get here and back, I am distinctly underwhelmed by my trip to the Nazca lines. What photos I did manage to take are not as good as the ones you see in books. One wouldn’t expect
them to be. So why be here to take them for oneself? For the experience? You can keep it.

Update 3/10/10 : “Britons killed in Peru aircrash”
So – for anyone in any doubt that this pilot was displaying typical macho bravado and not only making people feel sick but playing fast and loose with common-sense safety – here is the tragic truth. I count myself very lucky, indeed, and hope that Health & Safety crawl all over that little operation. I feel very sorry indeed for the families of those bereaved – I think it was an accident waiting to happen.

Peru Trip #4 – El Brujo, Huaca de La Luna, Chan Chan

Huaca Prieta - 2500BCE Pyramid
Another long day with another punishing schedule, but SO worth it. Picked up from the hotel at 7am for a 90min journey to El Brujo, to visit the very celebrated Senora de Cao – the only Moche Queen discovered so far, clearly as powerful as the Lords of Sipan in her day (c250CE) with her own pyramid with all the usual Moche accompaniments.
But El Brujo is more than just her pyramid – here, too, is Huaca Prieta, the as yet unexcavated 2500BCE pyramid of the pre-ceramic originators of the El Brujo complex, followed later by the Cupisnique, and later still by the Moche, and the Chimu, and even a Dominican Church built by the Spanish. To this day, the local ‘brujo’s, (shamen) still practice their folk magic at the Moche Huaca El Brujo (named after them) facing the Huaca de Cao, the only part of the site so far excavated, opened to the public with an impressive museum, in April 2010.

There’s been 5000 years continuous sacred occupation of this same site,
overlooking the crashing waves of the pacific. A truly stunning site,
with my first sight of how the Moche ceramic style appears in
high-relief on the walls of their temples! In this warrior culture,
where soldiers paired off for ritual battle, the loser was stripped
naked, chained, and led to the top of the pyramid to be beheaded, where
his blood would sanctify the martial rite, and be presented in the
ceremonial cup to the Lord (or in this case Lady) to be drunk in
celebration of the life-death cycle epitomised in their primary deity,
Ai-Apaec: the beheading lord of death and creation.

Senora de Cao prisoners

Wall paintings at Huaca de Cao

But I was yet in for a real treat. For our next stop was Huaca de La
Luna. Two huge pyramids with a small town in between them, one slightly
larger than the other, named by the Spanish as the Temple of the Sun,
and then looted and destroyed, the other, smaller, named Temple of the
Moon, left alone for the archaeologists to discover, as late as 1990,
that there are five temples here, one built literally on top of the
other, like the top halves of Russian dolls. It seems after about a
century a particular ruling elite would simply completely renew, burying
the previous set wholesale by building directly on top of their temple –
a new temple for the new ruling elite, but all in essentially the same
cultural style – five times over, here at Huaca de La Luna. What has
been revealed is just simply stunning! Here is taster – check out Flickr for the MANY photos I took of this site.


The wall of the fifth temple with the sacred corner sanctuary

Glimpse of the fourth temple behind the walls of the 5th

This entire complex was just truly stunning and left me quite
gob-smacked. My guide told me, as we stood a little away from three
suited gentlemen in heated discussion, that they were the principal
archaeologists who had discovered and were managing the excavation of
the site, debating the need for and likelihood of getting substantial
new funding to continue the work. This is already a World Memorial Fund
site, but needs more help from the EU, the US, etc etc.

Last of the day, then, after a delightful seafood lunch overlooking the
waves crashing onto the pacific shore at Huanchaco Beach, nearby, was
the rather disappointing mud walls of the Chan Chan archaeological site.
This vast Chimu city, 14km square, was simply abandoned and looted
when the Spanish arrived, and not covered up like the Moche pyramids
that preceded it. No paint survives, therefore, and the reliefs are
barely distinguishable. What is on show is reconstructed, and
unremittingly brown. Alone, on a day without the glories of the Moche,
it might have been impressive, if only for its size and extent.

A view at Chan Chan

And then the flight from Trujillo back to Lima, a late dinner at the
Haiti Cafe near my hotel, and a very very welcome bed, after writing

Peru Trip #3 – Trujillo and the Cassinelli Museum

Trujillo outskirtsCon-Air : Cameron Poe the honour-bound dominant dysfunctional male, somehow apposite here in Peru with its macho culture and all the crime and violence I have been warned about, where armed security men check bus passengers for weapons and video everyone’s face once all aboard, seated in our airline seats in this double-decker coach, watching the dubbed movie. I am grateful for the comfy seat on this 3hr drive, but listen to Anthony and the Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright, and Aqualung on shuffle on my iPhone – a much softer, more varied, more interesting selection of masculinities than those on Con-Air.

Seeing a bit more of northern Peru, from the bus, I take a few random
photos to try to capture the state of (un)development here. One thing I
will say, however, despite all the warnings, all the security, etc etc –
everyone I have met here in northern Peru has been very friendly, very
helpful, very warm. I know I’m in a bubble, chaperoned everywhere I go,
but I haven’t sensed any threat at all.

And so Trujillo! It’s a Spanish imperial town, in the centre at least,
and I am taken quickly around some of the grand houses they left behind,
and the ones built shortly after the start of the republic in the early
19th century. It is strange to see so much European architecture and
furnishings here. But what I am really looking forward to today, and
which we quickly move on to, is the Cassinelli Museum. Signor
Cassinelli, about 85yrs old now, is in the reception room, with his
young wife, when I get there, and personally greets me. He has been
buying ceramics from the haqueros (the grave robbers) for decades, and
is well known and liked for saving these ceramics for Peru, rather than
letting them go abroad where they could never be seen. The basement
where a third of the collection is on view, is under a petrol station,
and it is dearly hoped that this private collection will one day get a
better building! His son is downstairs, guarding their treasure, as my
guide and I look around. I took a LOT of photographs – all on Flickr
– but here are one or two to get a flavour. This is without doubt a
bigger and better collection than that at Larco Herrera, for all that it
is in such a tiny room in comparison.

A gay couple ceramic in the Erotic Moche ceramics cupboard

A shaven Moche priest?

One of many Moche portrait ceramics

At the end of my visit, I am honoured to have further (interpreted)
conversation with Signor Cassinelli, and even a picture with him. My
guide has made it clear to him how very much I was looking forward to
seeing his collection, and how with how much delight I have enjoyed it.
He, in return, is honoured to have me visit him, all the way from

Me with Signor Cassinelli