Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Having a high at altitude

The longest 40 hour 17 October ended with us flying via Santiago and Lima into Cusco Peru, to a breathtaking sight of mountain ranges, adobe houses and charming friendly people. It was rather hard to tell whether our lightheadedness was due to tiredness or 3300m altitude, but whichever it soon wore off and we were out to explore downtown Cusco – didn't continue up one fascinating side street after being warned against the area twice, by two older men, who were sure we were going to have our cameras snatched. Yes of course we've done some shopping! We also did some walking up and around the hills in preparation for our 22 October trek into the Lares valley, an area that is more remote than the Inca trail, and where we saw the Andean people living their village lives, au naturel, with only 9 visitors to the area while we were there. The women and children dress in their beautiful bright colourful clothing, recognizable from quite a distance. Really charming. The children are utterly delightful and were very keen to get the pens and hairties that we took with us for them. Some of them walk/run/skip/hop or roll a tire at great speed and even greater distances from their homes every day, to go to school. It must be a huge advantage to be born at those altitudes (the highest village we slept in was at 3900m) because it was an effort for us to walk. Not for them! Our highest pass was at 4400m which a tortoise may have achieved at a greater speed than we did. I was the pace setter and we did manage to get over it relatively unscathed; puff pant.

Just before that pass, our guide Puma (pull-mar) took us way up high on the side of the pass to visit a woman who was widowed just one month ago, who he wants to support if possible. She is having to let 3 of her 4 children be brought up by other family members, with one son remaining to help look after their animals and land. A very hard life at about 4150m remains for her. Marie had quite a find there – here's how it happened ---

Marie: Yes we went to visit this woman who had a son living with her in their traditional type Inca house with the dirt floor, guinea pig (which they will probably eat) dried something or other hanging from the roof and stuff everywhere (so interesting). Then she produced out of an old sack a few items she was selling so I scored this wonderful handwoven, spun and dyed poncho (which I will hang on the wall). Special because she made it and it is not perfect (like shop bought), probably has earth from the floor of their house on it as that is how things are displayed to you – spread out on the dirt (shock horror) but so exciting like everything else about Peru Just magic.

Jillian25 October - We've just returned from the 4 days trekking the Inca/Lares trail, plus visiting Machu Picchu, which is such an intriguing place - what the Incas used to do beggars belief, and helps you understand why many of them still will have little or nothing to do with the Spaniards. Shades of the Maoris maybe? Intricate stone work, buildings designed for the social status of the inhabitants, sacrificial areas, quarries, terraces for growing crops – all done without the use of the wheel, and incredibly complex. We also climbed Huayna Picchu yesterday, which could explain why both of us have tired thigh muscles today - have a look at pics of the city of Machu Picchu, and you'll see the steep climb we did. We loved the alpine town of Aguas (Aqua) Calientes, a town with hot springs, and would have loved to have had a second night there, just so we could have explored it more. But with a 4.30am start in order to get 5.30am bus up up up to Machu Picchu, and a very long and exhausting but exhilarating day, not much exploring of A.Calientes happened.

Marie: Yes Machu Picchu was just wonderful. Was a bit anxious at first about the height we were climbing when doing Huayna Picchu, but it was no problem. Although very steep (described as vertical) and lots of Inca steps there was quite a lot of bush around so no fear of falling off. Well worth the climb for the view at the top.

Jillian: It's now 27 October, and we are about to leave Cusco this afternoon, for El Calafate in Patagonia, via Lima and Buenos Aires. We've had a very interesting cultural time for the past two days, exploring Inca ruins, one Cathedral that was built on top of an Inca temple site, and another huge and lavish Cathedral, all gold and silver sparkly, ornately dressed statues everywhere, and huge paintings. The Spanish had very clever artisans, but I somehow give the Incas the nod for their intriguing and intricate social structures, plus incredible building expertise. I've been rather intrigued with the Inca way of life. And yes, there's been more shopping – the handicrafts are amazing!!!

Marie:  Jillian is wonderful (Marie dictating this!) communicating with the locals.

Jillian: We've just had our first panic! Marie mentioned that she hadn't seen my suitcase downstairs, and thought that it was still in our room. I knew it was down there, as it was taken down before her's, so had that sinking-in-the-stomach feeling that presages a calamity – and I was right. It had been picked up and taken to the airport with a tour group's luggage. The tour leader should be hung out to dry as far as I'm concerned. It was found – phew – by an observant driver – at the airport. One of the hotel's staff and I were hottaxi-ing it to the airport in the meantime, to try to stop it going only God know's where!

Next time from Patagonia – adios nos amigos!

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