Peru - Inkas and Glaciers, November, 2018

Day 1 

We are amazed with Peru! Ancient Inca cities, Amazon rainforest, glaciers, incredible cuisine and trustable people were so much better than our expectations.

I find inspirations every time I travel. Please visit my web site to learn about my art.

It was midnight when we arrived at Lima. We found a hotel to sleep for a few hours. A spring like misty morning was all we had in this dry capital of Peru on the Pacific Ocean, before taking a plane to Cusco. 

When we arrived at the Plaza San Martin the city was barely awakened. 

A pedestrian road lined with once lovely baroque buildings connect this plaza to Plaza de Armas, the main plaza. 

Surrounded by buildings that were rebuilt many times, a bronze circular fountain with small lions and goats was the only structure that remained intact since it was built in the 17th century. 

On one side of the Plaza de Armas is La Catedral de Lima above which Andean condors were circulating the darkness of the skies. On the side is Palacio de Gobierno. Guards with white shirts and red apulets were standing motionless to protect this building complex, where the president of Peru resides.  

Further down is Monasterio de San Francisco with a labyrinth of underground catacombs where femurs, tibias and skulls of 20,000 people are neatly stored. Until 1821, bodies of the members of the monastery were carried down through the dark hallways with vaulted ceilings. They were then placed into rectangular sepulchers and deep wells. Between each layer of bodies lime and soil were added to accelerate decomposition and prevent the spread of diseases and bad odors. 

The sounds of birds echoed in the passageways surrounding an orchard and a rose garden. Above the blue and yellow Spanish tiles with geometric, vegetal decorations, oil paintings tell stories from St Francis’s life. 

At the Franciscan library, the most delightful room at the monastery, bright daylight fell on the black and white tiles from the three windows on the ceiling. Spiral staircases with narrow curves reached the upper shelves of this magnificent library of 25,000 dusty books including bibles, world atlases, volumes from the first Spanish dictionaries and books written in ancient languages. 

After having thick sipping chocolate at the Choco Museo, we left Lima, who is lively with many plazas, restaurants and traffic.

The flight to Cusco was an hour and fifteen minutes. At the time we arrived, the hills of Cusco were already flickering in yellow by houses and street lights. A light rain hung in the air.  School children were running the narrow cobblestone streets in their uniforms with big smiles. I knew I would like Cusco.

Street lights were reflected on the cobblestones of the square by the sudden rain that started while we were having dinner in one of the restaurants surrounding the main plaza; Plaza de Armas. 

Day 2
We hired a driver to take us to nearby towns around Cusco. The road to Pisac from Cusco meanders above deep valleys. 

Women wearing large straw hats, each carrying children in striped shawls, walked by the side of the road, their braids as black as it gets. Small villages with unfinished brick houses were backed by purple quinoa, maize and potato farms with occasional llamas and alpacas. 

Pisac is a small village in Sacred Valley. 

We stopped at the ruins of Pisac, which is a Inka citadel above the Urubamba river valley. The children of craft sellers wanted to play hide seek with us by running and hiding behind the ruins.

The main ruins are built on a hill above layers of velutinous green terraces where Inca people grew their crops. These fine ruins include residential buildings, a cemetery, ceremonial baths and temples. 

Hidden behind a hill are ruins of Intihuatana which are believed to represent a sundial.  It can be reached by walking on the terraces which is elevating or liberating.

Further down the road is Tambomachay, which has a ceremonial stone bath that is known as the Bath of the Inca, where spring water runs through. 

Next to Tambomachay is Puka Pukara. Set on a small hill, it is believed to be a hunting lodge. 

Saqsaywamán, meaning satisfied falcon, has green patches between fortress like structures most of which was destroyed by Spaniards during their conquest.  The zigzag walls made of huge rocks form the head of the puma which defines the shape of Cusco. 

Day 3
The next day the same driver, a kind young man took us to the Sacred Valley. Listening to a local radio, first we went to the Andean village of Chinchero, which is known to be the birthplace of rainbow; lugar de nacimiento de el arco iris. Settled on a high plateau, ruins here are low remnants of once rectangular houses built on green terraces. From above, an elegant colonial church watches the weavers market, where women hiding in the shade of white surrounding walls hasten to their blankets when someone slows down in front of their crafts. 

The town’s narrow cobblestone roads do not offer much shade from the sun. This is one of winter’s last days.

People are kind, they want to sell but never insist.

On the road to Salinas from Chinchero, clouds were hiding parts of the glaciers on top of the rugged Nevados mountains with dusky green skirts. 

Salinas has salt pans used for salt extraction since the Incas. It reminded me of Pamukkale in southwestern Turkey where a form of limestone deposited by mineral springs form similar terraces in white. The ones here have colors of café au lait.

We walked on the narrow path above these pans. Salty spring water was running down in small channels next to the path. 

Next we went to Moray where large earthen terraces are shaped into bowls. Bird sounds are intensified in these bowls where 
Incas are believed to optimize their crop growing, by planting at different layers.

On the way to Ollantaytambo is a little town called Janavaro resembling a river of inclined farmland running down from a narrow valley. 

We arrived at dusk to the town of Ollantaytambo. Huge steep steps guard the Inca temple-fortress which was built by the ninth Inca king Pachacutec. The Sun and the Moon temples are on a side of the ruins looking at the valley below. Because of these guarding steps the Spanish lost a battle here with the Manco Inca. 

At night we went to the small square with restaurants serving simple Peruvian food mostly based on quinoa. 

Day 4
We took the 6:45 train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Piccu which travels about 1 hour 30 minutes by the Urubambo river rushing in tones of brown. Cormorants dry themselves on top of rocks in this river which is the headwater of the Amazon river, which we traveled through 15 years ago. The canyon is lined by steep mountains in dusky green. The 38 km Inca trail which is built by the Incas from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu also traverses the river here. As we travel down, the Andian peaks changed to a cloud forest. 

We stayed at the Inkatree hotel next to the train station in Machu Picchu. In its lush orchid garden we spent the afternoon looking for birds.  We saw many Andean birds including dusky green oropendola, blue necked tanager, coronet hummingbirds, Andean motmot, Blue gray tanager, slate-throated redstart, collared Inka hummingbird, and Andean cock of the rock. 

In the evening, we ran up a steep hill to see a waterfall close by more for exercise then site seeing. On the way back it was complete darkness. 

Day 5
We got up at 5:30 am to catch an early bus through the jungle which took us above the clouds to the ruins of Machu Picchu.  

November sun was intense when we arrived at around 7:00 am. However, the ancient city was so breathtaking, the intensity of the sun and the people became insignificant. Settled on top of a plateau below the rock of Wayna Picchu, the ruins included a town with temples, houses, ceremonial baths, prisons and small roads that connect everything.  Wayna Picchu is translated as young peak. Pikchu also means the portion of a coca leaf chewed. 

The central plaza and the terraces where Incas grew corn, potatoes and coca were vivid green. Rio Urubambo is far below this Inca citadel built in the 15th century at 2430 m. It was discovered in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham who was guided to it by the locals. Among many theories the one I want to believe is that it was a religious, political and trading center where people actually lived.

Well above everything is the Inka trail which climbs up to a ceremonial area and a guard door behind which requires a special permit. From the top the views of the ruins are magnificent.

On the opposite site is a cliff-clinging trail that leads to the Inca drawbridge.  The trail is only a small edge on a huge steep rock bottom of which is not seen. 

We returned back to Cusco from Machu Picchu by train that took almost 5 hours due to delays.  

At 5:00 in the morning our guides, a family with a young boy, picked us from the hotel. It took 3 hours to Soraypampa at 3880 m which is a camping area with domes that include a National Geography dome.  

We walked from here to the turquoise lake at 4200 m through a valley alive with horses and their riders. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the glaciers above the Humantay and Salkantay mountains.

I am fascinated with how they are suspended with nothing holding them in spite of their heaviness. The Humantay lake has unbelievable colors of turquois that one can rest her eyes forever.

A trail to the left of the lake takes you to an edge with steep unforgiving cliffs on each site. The scene is worth even though it gives you a lightness in your stomach.

We also walked to the glacier that reaches the lake on the opposite site just to feel it under our feet thinking future generations may never have the chance.

Day 6
By the time we became friends with our driver. I asked him a wish for my new installation project. Please send me a wish if you would like to participate in my project either here as a comment or on my art blog.

He took us to Ollantaytambo to see the Pumamarca ruins. At these pre-Inca ruins it seemed like the wind was carrying stories from the Halancoma River valley below. The small houses were built close to each other with narrow pathways in between. They had windows topped with rounded white wood or horizontal rocks. Each opened to the deep blue skies.

Most houses and their doors were shaped in trapezoids. Their thick walls were made of rocks covered with red earth burnt in some places creating a striking contrast of red and black. 

After taking selfies with limas, we walked up the mountain following a path made by animals through a forest. Then we went down to the valley until we came to a bridge crossing the Halancoma river.

This area was delightful, with water running from everywhere and trees covered with epiphytes. We followed this trail called the White-tufted Sunbeam trail until we arrived to a farmland. 

Through farms bright green and yellow in the afternoon sun, we reached a empty dusty road.   After walking a mile or so, we saw a colectivo in front of an earth colored church.  The back of the truck was packed with people standing side by side.

One of the women who got off with her baby put her on the ground covered with small rocks in order to wrap her in a blanket before putting her up her back again. These were the Quechua people who were the descendants of Incas living in the Andean region of Peru. They chew the leaves of coca. 

Two old men were sitting in the front seat of the truck. I asked them in Spanish if they can take us to Olantaytambo. One of them nodded shyly saying “si”. On the way we stopped for a few minutes so that a guy can feed his cow. He collected the grass and fed him while others waited in silence. One woman ran off to get some branches which she added to the thyme bunch she was carrying.

Man had ponchos and hats with wool ear-flaps known as chullos. The women wore wool socks underneath their layered black skirts with colored bands at the bottom. Under their striped shawls are layers of hand-made wool sweaters in all colors. They each wore hats covering their thick black braided hair. Some were flat-topped hats decorated with flowers on top and sequins on the side. Others were bowler hats with bead motifs on the top. The bands that hold the hats were embroidered with beads in shapes of llamas. 

At night when slept with sounds of faraway dogs. 

Day 7 
We reserved this day to see Cusco, traditionally Cuzco or Qosq’o in Quechua, the lingua franca of the Inca. Cusco is said to be the bellybutton of the world because of its bowl-like shape. According to a legend, the sun god Inti asked the first Inca king Manco Capac to find a place where he could plunge his golden rod into the ground until it disappeared. So he did, in Cusco. 

In 5,000 BC Cusco was populated with llama and alpaca herders and grain farmers. Now the llamas and alpacas are on the outer skirts of the city. The ninth Inca Pachacutec was the king who designed the city in the shape of a puma. Plaza de Armas with colonial arcades all around and a small green park in the center is pleasant to spend afternoons or evenings.


The churches of Iglesia de Jesús María and iglesia del Triunfo look like infants next to the magnificent 16th century La Catedral overlooking everything from above.

On the stairs to the plaza in front of Iglesia del Triunfo are sellers in traditional clothes, some carrying baby llamas or lambs for people to take pictures.

Hills surrounding the city can be seen from this amazing spot.  La Compañía de Jesús with two bell towers and ornamental columns on its facade holds on to the opposite corner.  

We visited the Museo de Vida Monastica, Monasterio de Santa Catalina which was peaceful with dimmed lights and Christian music creeping through its stone rooms.

During Inca times there was a compound here called Aqllawasi meaning “house of chosen maidens” in Quechua.  Beautiful women from around the empire were chosen among noble families and brought here to be married to the sun and other deities. They remained virgins. 

With Spanish colonization the Catholic authorities aimed to eradicate the religious beliefs of the indigenous people together with their culture and languages. This led to a high number of saints in Peru. Monasterio de Santa Catalina was built for a St Catherine of Siena who was a Scholastic philosopher who had a great influence on the Catholic Church in the 14th century. 

A narrow hallway with small confession rooms on one side opens to a large work room where nuns used to make embroidery for priests. In the back quarters are a study room, a mortuary room where the deceased nuns were displayed and a chapter room where penance was imposed upon nuns who confessed their misdeeds.   

We then visited Museo Inka. Artifacts from the Incas including fine pieces of pottery, woven textiles, small ceremonial statues and mummies are displayed in the rooms of this colonial building. Red puma figures painted on ceremonial wooden drinking vessels called queros and small fish decorated earthenware were especially lovely. One of the most interesting displays was of dolls with extended arms in wood and cotton called cuchimilcos that represent a mummy’s personality. 

After stocking Peruvian chocolate we headed to the airport only to return back after 5-6 hours because of a flight cancellation. Avianka airlines canceled 5-6 flights on two consecutive days because of “weather”-didn’t sound convincing. 

Day 8
So we flew to Lima from Cusco in the morning and had about 15 hours to spend in Lima before taking the 1:30 am flight at night. Grand Bolivar Hotel agreed to store our luggages. We found a restaurant where journalists go called Queirolo and had an extended lunch with wine, which somehow feels more luxurious then wine with dinner. It seemed like everyone was discussing something excitedly. I had rice and beans. Then we stopped in a small store selling chocolate, cheese and cookies to have coffee.  

In the afternoon we visited the Santuario de Santa Rosa de Lima. It is built to honor Peruvian saints of the 17th century.  The cloisters filled with roses and birds were peaceful, rooms of pink and dark green decorated with paintings had a vague presence of the lives of these saints. But again the library was my favorite. I imagined that I would spend a few days here with just coffee and bread, going through these volumes including many bibliographical collections. 

Next to the Santuario was Iglesia de Santa Domingo. Its dome was magnificent with 12 saint sculptures illuminated by changing colors of glass windows. 

To catch the sunset in the Pacific Ocean we went to Miraflores, which is full of restaurants and brand stores. We walked on the high cliffs overlooking the ocean before returning home.  


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