Some highlights from two memorable weeks in Peru, from the Andes to the rainforest to the cities.
We began in the "Sacred Valley of the Incas", a high (9500 feet) valley with fantastic mountain scenery, California weather, mind-expanding Inca ruins, and Quechua people whose traditional culture remains largely intact.
Here's the view from our hotel room in the village of Pisac.
Festivities were happening in the village square, under the ancient pisonay tree.
The music inspired some local dancers.
In the mountains above the village are some impressive Inca ruins. The terraces (labor-intensive to build!) allowed farming steep slopes.
The breathtaking 2-hour hike back to town included more cool ruins and terraces.
As we got closer to Pisac we could see the village square from above, with market in full swing.
"Around town" shot: everywhere in Peru we saw people hauling things using bicycle carts like this one.
The next day we caught a bus, packed with local people, to Ollantaytambo. That's my backpack on top between the sheep and sheaf of wheat!
Many women carry stuff in brightly-colored bundles like the pink one. (Sometimes you see a child's head poking out...)
Ollantaytambo was planned and built by the Incas in the 1400's, and the stone water channels are still flowing!
The stonework is stunning...
... and some ancient foundations now support newer buildings.
By the river the Incas built these nifty stone steps into the terrace walls.
Continuing down the river toward Machu Picchu the valley gets so narrow it's only passable by rail. Here Chloe looks out the giant train window at the river, and more terraces.
Machu Picchu gets 3,000 visitors a day, and we feared a heartless tourist mob scene. But it was fantastic! Built around 1400, rediscovered in 1911 covered by jungle, and restored carefully by archaeologists, the extensive stoneworks and spectacular setting are well worth the trip.
These days there's a lot of grass at Machu Picchu. They found an inspired solution to the mowing problem...
The Incas used particularly fine stonework for temples (left) and almost-as-fine for royal residences (right).
In Cusco (our next stop) we saw strikingly similar stonework restored for modern use!
Cusco (elevation 11,000 feet, population 400,000) is a thriving city combining Inca, Spanish colonial, and modern elements.
Some of the great artifacts we saw were of more recent vintage.
Many Peruvians support themselves by selling a single product on the street. This woman is selling guinea pigs!
Nightlife in the hip San Blas district.
Our next adventure was a 5-day trip to the Manu rainforest, starting with a day and a half drive over the mountains from Cusco. Quite the transition—11,000 feet to 1,000 feet, through an impressive progression of ecosystems.
Sunday is market day in this Quechua village, and people pour in (packed into big trucks like this one) from neighboring villages. Love the hats!
Potatoes are native to Peru, and we saw and ate them everywhere.
There are only a couple roads from Cusco to the Amazon. Ours was a rough one-laner.
There wasn't much traffic, except for sometimes!
The landscape gets lush as you descend into Manu National Park and the cloud forest elevations.
The enormous bright green plants were a real contrast from the dusty highlands.
The previous rainy season was torrential, and mudslides caused a lot of damage (including knocking out the railroad to Macchu Pichu).
Toward the end of our descent, more road sharing.
Rivers are the highways of the rainforest! Here's ours, the upper Madre de Dios.
Our boat, typical for river transport—a giant dugout log with cedar sides, a big outboard motor, and a much-appreciated canopy.
Exhilarating to be on the river!
Did Dr. Seuss visit the upper Madre de Dios?
Strangler fig sends down roots everywhere to crowd out competition.
Lodgings at our first river stopover, the Manu Learning Center.
Lovely open-air bed, with mosquito netting for nighttime.
We were serenaded by the crazy calls of oropendolas, who build these amazing hanging nests.
Our excellent guide Waldo Maldonado describes the striking stilt-roots of the walking palm
There are some BIG trees in the rainforest, like this kapok.
Manu is a huge protected area in a little-developed part of the western Amazon, so there's a tremendous variety of wildlife. We spent a lot of time looking at it (vultures in this case).
Here are some of the cool animals we saw. Unfortunately my camera's zoom was a joke for wildlife photography, so all images except the caiman are from Wikipedia.
And sometimes it rains in the rainforest.
The Machiguenga are a rainforest tribe in the Manu area who have started a lodge for people like us, and visiting was a highlight. This young man is showing us how to play a traditional instrument—essentially a one-stringed violin. He's "bowing" with a thin reed while changing pitch with his left hand fingernails and using his mouth as a resonator. It was quiet but he played some nice 4-note melodies. My efforts ... weren't quite so musical.
Contrasting with our trip into Manu (3 days by van and boat), our trip out was just 45 minutes by plane! Note high-tech luggage carts.
You don't realize quite how vast and flat the rainforest is until you see it from the air.
The ruins at Pisac we saw at the start.
Landing in Cusco.
Flying is amazing. Another short trip and suddenly we're in Lima (Peru's capital) on the Pacific Coast.
They have a brand new Bus Rapid Transit system, common in South America. It has permanent stations and its own right-of-way like a subway or train, but is far cheaper to build. Here's a station near our hotel in Miraflores, using special lanes on the highway median. They were having a free promotion so we hopped on and went downtown.
Pedestrian mall in downtown Lima.
Huaca Pucllana is a pre-Inca archaeological site in the middle of the city. Wild contrast.
And we even got to see the Pacific, complete with surfers.
We found Peru to be full of friendly, relaxed people, and fantastic places to visit.