Peru: Day 9+

Our last partial day in Cusco began with a trip to the Choco Museo to learn about the history of chocolate and its manufacture. And an extremely sloppy but fun lesson where we learned how to make our own chocolate. Apologies to Yulia, the young Russian woman who was stuck making chocolate with our group!

Prize-winners for fastest chocolate mashing:

After a final lunch in the Plaza de Armas, and a sad leave-taking of our exuberant and informative host Victoria, we headed to the airport for our flight to Lima.

Day 10 began with a hearty breakfast in our charming hotel in Lima’s Miraflores district. Our new guide Alex took us via bus to Lima’s old town center and government district where, once again, we ran straight into the Peruvian love of spectacle: parades ran into parades, which merged with other parades. According to Alex, a typical weekend in Lima. Touring this very historic area, we came across, among other buildings, the Peruvian version of the White House and the former Art Deco train station now converted into a library honoring Peru’s own Nobel Laureate in Literature, Federico Garcia Lorca.

Views of downtown pageantry, including nuns selling snacks outside their church:

 

 

During the afternoon, tired students were given the chance to rest before a leisurely dinner in the hotel. Two of the nine of us, though, fought fatigue and spent a couple of hours walking along the string of parks lining the Pacific Coast in Miraflores.

A dog’s birthday party:

Our last day in Peru started with a walking tour of Miraflores, leading eventually to JFK Park and its rather large herd of cats, all fed by neighborhood locals. This large concentration of cats was fascinating to some and perplexing to others. Alex bought us all French fries from a neighborhood stand – to distinguish amongst themselves, each stand uses its own particular type of potato.

An intrepid photographer, two views of El Parque del Amor, the pier/restaurant for our final meal, cat fun, cat fright, and cat-tired:

           

Having stuffed ourselves on delicious fries, we then walked to a local market filled with an almost overpowering array of sights, sounds, and, to some of the students, unpleasant smells. While the market was lively and incredibly picturesque, Alex declared it “not quite 100% clean.” Thus, he then escorted us to a more upscale and decidedly more hygienic market in San Isidro, another neighborhood. There, in the beautifully arrayed stall of a friend, we were given a chance to taste a wide range of unusual fruits, from custard apple, to granadilla, to pacae, to aguaymento.

Back in Miraflores, we took a cooking class on the top floor of the Hotel Runcu. There, Chef Carlos taught us how to make the traditional Peruvian dishes of ceviche, causa, and lomo saltado. While we ourselves made each of the first two, Carlos took over for the dramatic, and very fiery, creation of the last dish. Absolutely stuffed, the group stumbled back to the hotel for a few hours of rest.

Would you eat ceviche made by these two?

The previous night’s dinner ended with a round of rose, bud, and thorn. An oft-repeated bud, or hoped for outcome, for the next day was “cats and crepes.” While the cats piece of this wish was fully satisfied, the crepes portion was cruelly denied by both chaperone and tour guide earlier in the day. Thus, instead of resting or packing, almost all strolled back to the Pacific and ate crepes from a stand overlooking the beach far below and the misty ocean.

Our last dinner was at a place too fancy for the likes of us: a beautifully time-capsuled seafood restaurant on a pier extending into the Pacific.

Saying goodbye to Alex at the Lima airport:

We now sit at the airport, awaiting our 1:30 AM flight back to Atlanta. Final snapshot: 2 students are writing in their journals, 4 are playing on their phones, and 1 is attempting to sleep. It’s been a long trip but, thanks to the wonderfully detailed and thoughtful planning of Ms Stevens, an incredibly exciting and interesting one, filled with unforgettable sights and experiences.

Peru: Day 8

Our second full day in Cusco began with a bus ride to the San Sebastián neighborhood to see more parades related to the ending of the Corpus Christi Festival. Groups of elaborately and, without Victoria’s explanations, fairly inscrutably costumed performers danced down the street, followed by their own marching bands. Our tallest and blondest student was, much to her embarrassment, plucked from the crowd to dance along. Some of the paraders threw candy to the elementary school children lined up across the street. Victoria’s purchase of candies for our kids to give the children made us many new friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After saying goodbye to the now candy-laden children, we continued on to the ruins of Sacsayhuamán, the massive Inca citadel looming over Cusco. A sight of Incan resistance to the Spanish under the leader Manco Inca, it was eventually wrested from Incan control and many of its stones were used to build Spanish cathedrals and homes in Cusco. Still, it was an impressive sight, with unbelievably massive stones, both natural and shaped, and amazing views of the sprawling city beneath.

Dropping down from the heights of Sacsayhuamán, we then toured another of the massive cathedrals looming over the Plaza de Armas. A particular highlight was a painting of the last supper featuring native foods such as corn, potatoes, tropical fruits and, as the main course, guinea pig.

Victoria arranged for a group of teenagers connected to her and her family to meet the Pace group for a casual game of soccer. Given the complete lack of soccer skills or experience among our group, it was a relief to all when the two groups were mixed on each team. A half-hour or so of alternately fast-paced and … less fast-paced soccer followed as the ball flowed from the Cuzqueños to the Pace students. Afterwards, several of the locals joined us at a cafe for drinks and snacks. Through a mix of Spanish and English to the groups discussed school, and family, and hobbies and got to know each other better.

Peru: Day 7

Our first full day in Cusco began with a hearty breakfast in our Hotel Las Ruinas in the heart of the original Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire. Victoria led the group on a several hour journey, first high up to the lookout point at San Blas to see the once compact and now sprawling city arrayed before us.

Cusco does not lack for steep paths and stray dogs:

Cusco sprawling up the valley walls:

Victoria pointing out distant landmarks:

Street scenes:

More strolling eventually dropped us in the Plaza de Armas, ringed on all sides by centuries-old Catholic churches built from and on the foundations of Incan buildings. Filled with locals and tourists, the square was this morning the site of parades of military, police, firefighters, and other government groups.

Food markets and vendors abounded as we made our way to Qoricancha (the Temple of the Sun), the most important Incan holy site. Stripped of gold and silver by the Spaniards, it was eventually partly destroyed, with Catholic Churches and monasteries placed on its substantial and still-imposing foundations. A tour of the inside revealed even more Inca stone work incongruously buttressing the Spanish constructions.

Catholic church on Qoricancha:

Incan wall and Catholic church:

Full view of Qoricancha:

Admiring the mortarless, perfectly built and preserved Incan walls:

Spanish-style courtyard on Qoricancha:

More strolling brought us back to the Plaza de Armas for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the square. After lunch, we climbed to the top to look over the square to see last-minute preparations and growing crowds for the last day of the Corpus Christi Festival, where parishes throughout the region bring highly decorated saints into the town center for several days. We arrived at the end of the celebrations and thus saw the saints paraded around the square, carried by large groups and accompanied by marching bands and the exceptionally devout, before being marched back to their home churches.

Moving down to the square itself, we found comfortable seats to watch the upcoming parade. An hour passed easily, as we watched the groups piling in to the square, the many dogs roaming free, and the amazing array of street vendors selling everything from popcorn to dried banana chips to artwork to tiny knitted llamas to actual chairs.

A couple of hours of pageantry later, the group returned to the hotel for rest before being given the night free to have dinner and roam the historic part of town.

Peru: Day 6

While our breakfast on the glass-roofed top floor of our hotel would normally include dramatic views of the mountains encircling Aguas Calientes, a 5 AM wake-up call showed nothing but pitch black. Such an early breakfast was necessitated by our morning tickets to Machu Picchu: we were allowed access from 6 AM to 12 PM. A recent development, these tickets are designed to help, however ineffectually, with the huge crowds of tourists flocking to one of the world’s iconic architectural and archeological sites. Exiting our hotel, a short walk put us at the back of, already at 6 AM, a line that stretched blocks to board the buses that ferry visitors to the site itself.

The 30 minute ride involved navigating a dozen or so switchbacks with precipitous drops. Not for the first time was the group impressed with the blithely aggressive bus drivers. Once at the summit, we spent the next several hours touring the site, its exact purpose still an unsettled question. Even though pictures cannot capture the truly awesome nature of the ruins, hugged by river deep below and rings of mountains above, here is a perhaps excessively long selection. 

  

And, of course, the classic shot of Machu Picchu:

Our too-short tour completed, we ate lunch at the rather jarringly placed hotel just beneath the ruins. Retracing our bus ride down, we found ourselves in Aguas Calientes with a couple of hours to wander around before our long train ride back to Cusco. Some students camped out in a French bakery and had hot chocolate and pastries. Some wandered the extensive market stalls and purchased a dazzling array of llama-themed merchandise. Others sat by the river and admired the ridiculously dramatic scenery and watched the crowds of locals and tourists.

One of Aguas Calientes’ many narrow, steep streets:

The train station:

A 3-hour train ride up to Cusco, followed by a bus to and dinner at our hotel in the old town center ended the day. 

Some sleep, some read, some watch the scenery on the way to Cusco:

Peru: Day 5

Leaving the incredibly chilly potato farming village early in the morning, the group first picked up, as the hotel receipt named us, “profesor y enferma,” on the way to the village of Ollantaytambo to see the extensive ruins of the former Inca stronghold.

A couple hours’ touring later, we drove to lunch back near our earlier base at Urubamba.

Back again to Ollantaytambo, we boarded the Inca Rail train – Executive Class, of course – to Machu Picchu. Over the next 90 minutes, the train followed the course of the Urubamba River, dropping in elevation down to Aguas Calientes.

Arriving in the dark with the mountains looming around us, we climbed the steep village streets to our hotel. After an extremely large dinner, we went to bed early in preparation for a 6 AM departure to Machu Picchu.