Machu Picchu

October Trip to Peru to Visit Machu Picchu

The Plan.  Between October 14 and 23 we are taking the big white bird south to visit Peru and specifically Machu Picchu and the Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley.  Besides honoring our boat's namesake, Ka-Ata-Killa, goddess of the moon, we are going with Patty's parents, Kim and Romaine Romney, her sister Lisa Romney; Lisa's partner in life Mary Westby, and friend Karla Feindt.  With a PhD., three J.D.'s and an M.D., with a combined total of about 50 years of formal post secondary school education around the dinner table, it is possible that someone will be able to think about something to talk about.  The plan is to fly separately to Lima (in order to maintain a low profile) and rendezvous in the village of Ollantaytambo, near the Urubamba River over a period of several days.  After making a number of reconnaissance trips to various Inca ruins, towns and markets, over a period of days, we will board the train en-mass and make our assault on the citadel of Machu Picchu.  When mopping up operations are complete, or the "mission accomplished" banner is hung, we will take the train back to Cusco, Peru, where we will stealthily escape the country one-by-one (or two by two or three by none, or whatever).   The current plan is to risk the laptop and a digital camera or two to the fickle finger of fate, or various sticky fingers, and try to keep the web log from the trip.

October 14, 2006
  The Frank & Patty plan is to fly from LAX on TACA, connecting in San Salvador (didn't even know they had an airport, did you) and then flying on to Lima.  Our flight leaves at the convenient hour of 2:05 a.m.; yes, that is A.M.  Think about it though, no traffic on the freeways; who has an excuse not to take you to the airport; and it avoids worrying about not waking up to the alarm clock to get to the airport to catch that early morning flight.  Kim and Romaine are flying on Friday, so that they can arrive in Lima at 4:00 a.m.; yes, that is A.M.   They can catch a Tychee class on the way to the hotel and still arrive by dawn, have a room service breakfast and crash for the day.  We get to Lima at 6:00 p.m. and may be able to have dinner with the folks.   Sunday is a planned site seeing day in Lima, where we may get to go to the cathedral and see Pizzaro's bones.  This guy makes Hitler look like a cub scout leader (but he did it in the name of Jesus, so I guess it was OK), and it is nice to ensure that he is still dead.  On Monday, we catch a 6:00 a.m., yes, that is A.M, flight to Cusco.  I reminded Patty that since Peru, even on the Pacific Ocean, is significantly east of us, with the time change it is really not 6:00 a.m. our time, it is more like 6:00 a.m. eastern time.  Did I mention 2:00 a.m. somewhere here before?

Real Time Reporting
:  We have survived the most dangerous part of the trip, travel to the airport in LA traffic on the evening of Friday the 13th of October.  We left home with Cam and friend Sarah, who drove us to LAX.  We got to Terminal 2 about 11:30 p.m.  We are leaving out of the same concourse that Air France uses and that we used to fly to France this summer.  The crowd flying the oh-dark-hundred flight on TACA is a little different than the Europe crowd.  Can you say "Hispanic."  We flew through the lines ahead of lots of little people with HUGE luggage.  Most of them had to first get their bags weighed outside even before they came into the terminal and were allowed in line.  Patty and I could have packed all the clothes that we own in some of those bags.  Of course, since we got here early, we got through check-in and security in record time and have an hour and a half to kill before boarding.  I bought Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and I hope it is a good read.  I bought a $3.25 bottle of water from Starbucks (thank you TSA) and we are settled in for the wait.

Our flight boarded on time and we got the bulkhead seats right behind first class on a newish Airbus 320.  While the plane was full, we were pretty tired, got out our neck pillows, and tried to get some sleep.  I think I slept about 3 hours; Patty reported less.  Being the only Anglos on the plane, except for a couple of backpacker types, I think we got special treatment; sort of racism in reverse.  (We booked the tickets through Expedia Corporate, and the seats were assigned before we arrived with our shiny, white faces, so perhaps I am just paranoid.)  We landed in San Salvador and the airport is a clean, modern airport, but way out in the boonies.  Flying in we crossed the coast and saw nothing but agricultural land all around the airport.  It is apparently quite a ways to the capital, and the airport is surrounded by lush tropical greenery.  The airport is the main hub for Central America with flights from all over coming and leaving.  We have seen not only TACA, but American Airlines and Continental flights coming and going.

We wandered around, having about 4 1/2 hours to kill in El Salvador, and found at the very end a "local" breakfast and sandwich place.  (Way past the Subway franchise outlet.)  With the help of an English speaking customer and some pointing, we got a breakfast of filled flat bread with cheese and beans, topped with salsa and marinated vegetables.  With coffee and fresh squeezed Orange Juice, the bill came to $7 USD.  We asked if they took dollars, they said "si" and everyone else paid with dollars as well.  I then remembered that the San Salvador currency is the US dollar.  It is nice to get away from eating at standardized franchises.

Our flight to Lima leaves at 1:15 p.m.  Good thing the Bryson book is good.  Patty is reading "Tuesdays with Morrie."  Check that, now she is sleeping; not necessarily a comment on the book.

The flight to Lima was uneventful and I even got a little more sleep.  We still had our bulkhead seats so life was wonderful.  The population of the plane changed and we had more European/South American types.  We got lucky again with immigration and customs and being first off the airplane gave us a good place in the queue.   We won on the customs bag search lottery and got out to the taxi scram soon.  We were first approached by a well dressed guy with a badge hanging from his neck who enticed us to follow him to a taxi.  We demanded to know "how much" first and he said either $20 or $30.  That was enough to know we did not want to follow him.  We found a taxi company kiosk and paid $12 in advance for a nice driver and decent cab.  Twenty minutes later we were in our hotel and Kim & Romaine were waiting in the lobby.

Lima looks cleaner (still has a ways to go) and more prosperous than when we were here 8 years ago.  Perhaps the post Fujimori era has been good for the country.  There are more big retail establishments and even a "Chili's" restaurant--looking just like the one down the street from us in Irvine.  A half dozen casinos were on the route to the hotel, something else I do not remember from our last trip.

We got our room (we are at the Hotel Melia Lima-a nice business class hotel owned by a Spanish chain), washed our faces, and changed shirts, and went to Kim and Romaine's room two floors up.  After sharing a bottle of good Spanish red wine, we walked over to the Ninth floor bar and had dinner there from the restaurant menu.  The main restaurant was having a Saturday night Peruvian dance/music dinner show, but bed was too enticing.  Dinner was good and the folks looked chipper and well-rested after recovering from their 4:00 a.m. arrival in Lima.

October 15, 2006:  After a fantastic breakfast buffet, with every tropical fruit you have ever heard of as well as 17 you never have heard of, and fresh made omelets, and lots of strong coffee, we are ready to take a taxi to the National Museum and then on to the Plaza Armas to see THE BONES OF PIZZARO.

After a review of taxi rates, do's and don'ts from the Lonely Planet guidebook, we took off for our self guided city tour.  A tour was offered at the princely sum of $20 per person, but we figured we could cab it for less than that.  The book said from the San Isidro neighborhood where our hotel was, to the National Museum, should cost under $2.  The hotel car, a nice Lexus, offered to take us for $7, and we said:  "Whoa, no, too much" and the bellman took us to the curb and we got a taxi for 8 Soles, or about $2.25.  The seats were vinyl rather than leather, but we suffered through it.

The National Museum was a little further than it looked from the map, but we got there and bought our 3.5 Soles tickets (about $1.25 each) and went in.  We got an English speaking tour guide for a complete tour of the museum for 15 Soles ($4.50) and off we went on a tour of the ancient cultural history of Peru.  The amazing thing is that the Inca people only ruled for about a hundred years before the Spanish found and decimated them.  They were preceded by many other cultures and the history goes back several thousand years B.C. 

The museum was modern, with well organized displays that start from the ground floor and work up in chronological order until you get to the Inca civilization on the top floor.  Our guide was very nice and had a baby due next month.  We felt bad about complaining about being on our feet for the length of the tour.

After the tour, the girls went shopping at the museum store and found a carved gourd to buy.

After the museum, we took another taxi to the Plaza Armas, or central square of colonial Lima.  On one side is the original 16th century cathedral and on the other side, the presidential palace.  It is bigger and more imposing than the White House, but the lawn is not as big.  The fact that we have a smaller house for our president probably says good things about the U.S.  The square still had a police truck with water cannons parked on a side street (to calm down protests and quickly wash away any blood that might get on the street) and a few police with Plexiglas riot shields, but for the most part, the square was much cleaner, safer feeling, and more prosperous looking than it had been eight years ago when we were here before.  Nevertheless, the taxi driver spotted Patty's TAG watch on her wrist and suggested that it go in a pocket while walking around the square.  Nice watches are a natural target of the grab and run thief.

We walked over to a pedestrian mall and found a Norky's Chicken, a local chain, and had some chicken, beef heart on skewers, and mountains of French fries.  For some reason, the Peruvians do great with potatoes.  We ate more than we had planned, but did not quite finish the beef heart pieces.  That is apparently a local specialty, but even I got a little queasy chewing on the things.  They are pretty tough and stringy, but flavorful and give you something to chew on.

After lunch we walked back over to the cathedral and walked inside, but a mass was going on, so we did not get to prowl around and we indeed cannot confirm that Pizzaro is still dead as we did not see his bones.

As it was late in the afternoon and we have to get up at oh-dark-hundred to catch our 6:00 a.m. flight to Cusco tomorrow, we retired to our hotel.  The taxi driver was not as good of a tour guide as the museum to the plaza driver, who kept up a running commentary in Spanish (surprisingly most understandable: "art museum;" "football stadium national" and when we passed a lavish French style palace, "mi casa"  (ha-ha)). 

October 16, 2006:   Monday morning.  We all got up at 3:30 a.m. and were downstairs at the checkout desk before 4:00 a.m.  We were not the only people who were up at that hour and the breakfast room was up with juice, coffee, fruit and cold cuts.  We ate a quick breakfast, had some coffee and took the hotel car to the airport, arriving at a surprisingly busy airport by 4:30 a.m.  In line, we found out that our flight was delayed at least an hour as they were waiting for a delayed flight from Santiago, Chile.  Turns out to be a 4 hour delay, and the flight is now scheduled for 10:15 a.m.  We are trying not to think about our comfortable bed back at the hotel.

The delayed flight got off on time and we got to Cusco uneventfully.  The only notable event was that our Captain was a dead ringer for George Clooney; Patty wanted to take his picture, but discretion prevailed.  We landed at the airport in Cusco and looked around for our car and driver, to no avail.  I tried calling the telephone number of the hotel and just got a message in Spanish.  I could not quite figure out what it said, but left a message anyway.  Finally, I spotted a tourist information booth and they were very nice, called the hotel and waited around with us until the driver arrived.   Turns out that the hotel in Ollantaytambo did not get my e-mail about the flight delay and did not check the flight status, and the driver waited around 4 hours before he left.  A substitute driver was summoned from Cusco and we were on our way. 

Ollantaytambo is about an hour and a half drive from Cusco.  It is very scenic as the road climbs out of the Cusco Valley and then over a couple of drainages through villages and farm land, then drops down the the valley of the Urubamba.   Once down in the valley the road follows the river until Ollantaytambo, which is the end of the road along the river.  The Urubamba river runs north between two spines of the Cordillero Central, part of the Andes mountain range, and then down to where it empties into a tributary of the Amazon.  It finally finds its way to the sea in Brazil where it empties into the Atlantic.  I read a great book a couple of years ago about some guys who hiked from the Pacific, over the continental divide (less than a hundred miles near the headwaters of the Urubamba) and rafted down the Urubamba to the Amazon, and then several thousand miles out to the Atlantic.  Their trip was harrowing and they almost died of thirst in the mountains before they got to the river and then almost died on the trip down the then uncharted and un-rafted lower Urubamba.

Our hotel (El Albergue Ollantaytambo) is an eight room affair, styles itself as a "bed and breakfast," and is about 800 meters down a side road from the town square and the Inca ruins toward the river and train track.  The entrance to the hotel is literally on the train platform and you have to go through a guard gate to get to the train platform and thus the hotel entrance.  Once in, it is a ramshackle affair, with the rooms in little adobe buildings spread around gardens with apricot and avocado trees.  We are up a set of rickety stairs to a second floor room with a great view both up and down the valley.  We can see glaciated peaks out our bathroom window.  (The peaks reach the 18,000 to 19,000 foot level in this area of the Andes.)  Since the train only runs on to Auguas Caliente, the last town and the base for Machu Picchu, there are no night trains and no fast trains going past.

The rooms are not heated and have wood floors and adobe walls.  Since it has been cloudy and rainy, it got down to about 60 degrees in the room last night, but we had plenty of wool blankets.  We have a nice bathroom, with a propane powered "on demand" water heater that gives us all the hot water we want for a shower.  That is a big improvement since our last trip, where hot water in the hotels was a sporadic thing and then only turned on in the mornings and evenings, if at all.

We had an early dinner at the Pakaritampu hotel a hundred meters or so up the road.  We had chicken soup, an avocado appetizer and a couple of cups of cocoa tea each.  The cocoa tea is made from dried cocoa leaves.  Cocoa is very much a part of the culture of the Andes and is, of course, the raw ingredient for cocaine.  The natives have chewed and made tea from the leaves as long as anyone knows, and it is regarded as the best antidote for "soroche" or altitude sickness.  The natives also chew it for energy with a big wad of it in the cheek like chewing tobacco.  The USA has spent zillions of dollars on cocoa eradication in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and its efforts seem to have been about as successful as heroin poppy eradication in Afghanistan (One thing the Taliban actually succeeded in.).  Anyway, the Andean states now have lots of helicopters to ferry their politicians around in.  The cocoa tea is omnipresent and the hotels have it out on tables in the lobbies. 

Our hotel provides a large pitcher of drinking water on the table in the room and keeps it full.  The hotel requests that you boycott plastic drink bottles, and in an area like this, were reliable trash pick-up and disposal is not a reality, you can really see the damage that plastic soda bottles and plastic bags do to the environment.  The rivers and streams are running with them and they just do not deteriorate or ever go away.  It makes you appreciate Patagonia's drive to recycle soda bottles and the fact that they try to make as many garments (including most of their fleeces) from recycled plastic bottles.

After dinner we took the folks back to the hotel where they got an early nights sleep.  Patty and I walked back up to the village and wandered around.  It is an amazing place that probably has not changed markedly for 500 or a 1000 years.  The people still exist primarily on raising corn, animals and other products in their fields, which they still plough with oxen, and live in compounds surrounded by walls with an inner courtyard where they cook, raise the chickens, weave cloth and live their lives much the same as their ancestors did.  The kids all go to school and there are three internet cafe's in town.  You have to wonder how much longer the traditional ways will last.

October 17, 2006:  After a breakfast of eggs, toast (bread is not a thing Peru does well), coffee, granola and yogurt, provided by the hotel, we all walked up to the village and wandered around.  A lot of the streets are still the old Inca streets, with the Inca stonework apparent on the walls.  There are great views of the Inca Temple/fortress ruins on both sides of town.  After wandering around the town, we stopped for a Coke at a sidewalk cafe on the plaza (not exactly Paris, but the same ideal).  Patty makes it a point to bring toys for the kids and this time she brought a bunch of foam cut-out stickers which the kids loved sticking on their shirts.  Later, we had lunch in a cafe overlooking the plaza.  I had an alpaca steak and Kim had the local trout.

After lunch, we walked back to the hotel and waited on the veranda overlooking the courtyard until Lisa, Mary and Karla arrived about 2:00 p.m.  After they were settled into their rooms, we all walked back to the same hotel for the same chicken soup.  Romaine went back to the hotel to rest and the rest of us walked back up to the village for another tour.  A grizzled old guy invited us into a residential courtyard, showed us some Inca stonework, showed us around the courtyard, and we all gave him a Nueva Sole or two.  As we were leaving, some asked him "su casa?" and he said, "no."  They guy was showing us around someone else's yard and compound to earn a few Soles!!

We went back to our hotel for dinner, which they made for us on advance request, and we all sat around a big table with candlelight and ate spinach soup, chicken, rice, potatoes, and a hot apple compote for dessert.  We had bought wine at the store in the village (good Chilean wine that Costco also sells).  It was good and we went all went to bed early.

October 18, 2006:  We got up and had breakfast at the hotel and walked up to the ruins.  Romaine stayed at the hotel and sat out in garden.  The ruins require a ticket and are steep up the side of the mountain.  Kim did great for an 80 year old and clambered all over the ruins.  The stone work as you approach the top gets better and better.  The Spanish did a fairly good job of destroying the shrines at the top and it is hard to tell if the complex was not finished or was just toppled by the Spanish.  The views are great up and down the valley though.

After climbing around the ruins, we sent Patty down the hill in a three wheel taxi to get Romaine.  We had lunch in a little restaurant off the plaza that was populated with locals.  We all ate great food for about $3 each including trout, chicken, rice, potatoes and a great peanut sauce over potatoes.   Lisa, Mary and Karla hiked up the canyon behind the town and went through a couple of more villages that are much more off the beaten track.  Patty and I went to an internet cafe and caught up on e-mail.  Patty finally got her Blackberry working, but had already gone through her 105 e-mails at the internet cafe. 

The dirt road leading up the canyon behind the town actually leads up and over a mountain pass to Qillabamba on eastern slope of the Andes and down to the jungle.  Eventually, the road again reaches the lower Urubamba river and the only way to go after that is by boat.

We gathered back at the hotel and then went back up the hill to a nice restaurant along the stream with tablecloths, cloth napkins, a fire place and a wood burning pizza oven.  It is called Mayupata, and Patty and I had checked it out on our walk back from the internet cafe.  The food turned out to be spectacular and would have been a nice restaurant anywhere in the world.  I had a trout dish with a filet of trout wrapped vertically around a mound of mashed potatoes and vegetables.  Patty had a steak that rivaled Mortons.  Lisa had vegetarian ravioli and Karla and Mary had pumpkin and leek soups.  Altogether, the bill came to about $10 per person.

October 19, 2006:  Our van picked us up at 9:15 a.m. and we did the hour drive to Pisac.  Once there, we went through town and drove up the next canyon, which led us to the Pisac ruins.  We got in with our 40 Soles tickets that we had bought for Ollantaytambo as it is good for all the valley ruins.  We had a shopping opportunity at the parking lot and Karla bought some very nice wind-chimes.  Kim & Romaine took the van back down the hill and started shopping at the town market early.  Lisa, Mary, Karla, Patty and I hiked through the ruins and found the trail down into town; probably a three mile trail with a 2,000 foot elevation drop.  Finding the trail was not an insignificant task, but we had enough trail savvy hikers in the group to get us through.

Half way down the trail, we ran into a nice young man who gave us a further shopping opportunity on the trail.  He actually had some stuff that was cheap and unusual, so we bought away.  It took us an hour and twenty minutes to do the hike, including pee breaks, shopping and Kodak moments.

We got to the market and found Kim and Romaine sitting outside of a cafe; Kim with a large local beer.  I joined Kim and the girls continued to shop.  We ate inside and did some more shopping.  I was disappointed in the market now as opposed to what it was 8 years ago.  The market has expanded, but not in a good way.  It is full of the factory made fabrics, pottery and various faux Inca items.  The part of the market that was authentic, selling vegetables, meat, pigs, chickens, and fresh baked goods baked in wood ovens is all gone.  The market is good for buying souvenirs, but not much else.

Overall the country looks more prosperous than it did 8 years ago.  There is construction everywhere, with piles of adobe brick stacked along the road and people carrying it back to build additions, and new houses.  There is also a lot of road work going on, but that may be the product of a major election coming up in a few weeks, and the party in power showing the electorate that they are actually doing something with the tax money, even if a bit late.

On the way back from Pisac, we saw a funeral procession coming down the road through a town.  There were several hundred people and we pulled over to let them go by.  Four men were carrying the casket on their shoulders.  I found it interesting that no one seemed to be dressed up in any way; the men carrying the casket in Levi's and T-shirts.  It is certainly possible that they really have no other clothes. 

When we got back to the hotel, we kind of split up for dinner.  I have been running a low grade fever (Manca Inca's Revenge; Montezuma was in Mexico) so Patty and I took a three wheel motorcycle taxi into town and went to the pharmacy and I got some aspirin.  We ate dinner  at the local place and had chicken and rice.  We then went to the ATM, got more Nuevo Soles, and then went to the shop by the good restaurant where they had authentic hand weaving.  Karla came in and the guy running the shop (a 21 year old sometime anthropology student from Nicaragua) tried to find a button to sew back on a purse she had bought.  He found the last one he had, but broke it sewing it on.  Turns out that corn kernels are not the best material for buttons.  Patty bought a half woven piece of fabric on a loom.  Maybe Patty can finish it on the airplane.

We walked back to the hotel with Karla and all went to bed early.  Before we went to bed, we sorted out the hotel bill and tried to reconcile who owes who what.  Kim forgot to bring his ATM card so we have been supplying him Soles.  He put most of our room bill on his credit card to even the ledger.

October 20, 2006:  Our train, conveniently located about 4 steps from the hotel front door, arrived at 7:05 a.m.  It consisted of two cars and we were in the front one.  There were a tour group from the UK and a French tour group.  Our car was the first car, and with the engine in the back of the train, and a huge picture window in the front of the car, the first two seats on the left had a great forward view.  The travel agent had booked us for the 7 most forward seats on the train, with Patty and I in the perfect seats right in front of the picture window.  We tried to get Kim and Romaine and Lisa and Mary to switch with us, but neither of them would do it, so we accepted the hand fate had dealt us.  There was a minor problem that those seats had been taken by the previous group,  but with the assistance of the UK tour guide and various degrees of rancor, the temporary occupants of the seats were evicted and we got our seats.

The train trip down the Urubamba canyon is really spectacular.  The elevation drops dramatically and you go from the high altiplano, brown landscape, to lush tropical foliage.  There are various Inca ruins along the way and you can see the Inca trail for about half the distance.

We rolled into Aguas Calientes about 9:00 a.m. and found our hotel with the help of a volunteer local guide.  The hotel, the Presidente, is on the platform of the old train station, between the tracks and the river.  It is a nice, modern hotel, and all our rooms have a view of the river and balconies.  We were able to check into our rooms and leave our bags there.  We ran the gauntlet getting bus tickets to the ruin and buying entrance tickets to the ruin.  Auguas Calientes has changed dramatically since we were here 8 years ago.  It seems three times the size, has a new train station, several large souvenir markets and is still has new construction projects everywhere.

We took the bus up to the ruins and unfortunately, were getting there just as the major crowds off of the Cusco trains were arriving.  We made our way into the ruins after a false start up a too steep trail for Romaine.  Kim and Romaine went down to the lower terraces and went over to the central plaza, while Patty, Frank, Lisa, Mary and Karla went up to the caretaker's hut for the dramatic overview of the ruin.  After wandering around for a while, we walked over to the trail up Huayna Picchu, the peak at the end of the ruin, and Lisa, Mary and Karla took the several hour hike/climb/scramble to the top of the peak.  It is a difficult enough trail that they require you to sign in and out so they know to go look for a body if someone does not sign out at the end of the day.

Karla had a friend from home who had lost her husband on a trip to Peru to a heart attack.  The friend had given Karla a lock of hair from herself and from each of her two sons to leave at a spot in Peru that Karla felt appropriate.  The top of the peak seemed to be the right place and Karla let the locks of hair fly in the wind over Machu Picchu.

We all came back to the hotel in separate groups.  Kim and Romaine first, Patty and Frank second, Karla third and last Lisa and Mary.  We were sitting in Kim and Romaine's room with the door open when Karla came to her adjoining room and we implored her to come in and talk with us a minute.  She came in, stood at the end of the bed for a minute and then said, "I have to lay down" at which point she collapsed on the bed, with her backpack still on, in a fetal position.  She continued to talk, but I think we were all in about the same condition.  The creeping "Manco Inca's Revenge" seems to have caught up with everyone but Kim and Patty.

We got a call from the guide for tomorrow and agreed to meet him in the lobby at 7:00 p.m.  to plan for the next day.  Kim, Patty and I decided that we could forgo the guided tour, especially since he wanted to leave the hotel at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m., so we bequeathed the guide to Mary, Lisa and Karla to do with as they pleased.   Romaine had decided to stay at the hotel and not tackle the ruins a second day.

We walked up the street and bought our bus tickets and entrance tickets for the next day and then went to a restaurant off the square that Lisa and Mary recommended.  Karla was in the one next door and stuck her head out, so we went in there.  Turns out to be the very same restaurant that Patty, Frank, David, Andy and Jessica had eaten at 8 years ago.  The food was still good.  Patty, Karla and Frank all had pasta and Kim and Romaine had chicken soup.  The menus are heavy on pasta, pizza and various varieties of chicken.  This place had ribs and steaks.  It is hard to find a distinctive Peruvian cuisine as they seem to have adopted a lot of food from all around the world. 

We went back to the hotel where Lisa and Karla had arranged for a 1 hour massage each for $25.  Pretty good price and in line with what it cost in Thailand.  It started raining a deluge about 9:30 p.m. and lasted pretty much all night.  It has been cloudy a lot, but that was the first hard rain we have seen.

October 21, 2006:  Luckily the rain stopped by dawn.  Lisa, Mary and Karla left with the guide at 6:00 a.m.  Patty and Frank took our time getting ready and got down to breakfast about 8:00 a.m.  Romaine had decided to stay in town so Kim, Patty and I left for the ruins about 8:30 a.m. and got to the ruins about 9:00 a.m., but still before the worst of the crowds.  We walked with Kim through the areas of the ruin that he had not seen the day before.  It was good to do that before the crowds got there because the main temples get pretty crowded with tour groups. 

After we walked up to the gate keeper's (previously referred to herein as the "caretaker's hut") hut at the top of the ruin, we set off up the Inca trail.  We found Lisa at the base of the trail and she was going back to town to spend some time with Romaine.  Mary and Karla were also there and they were also taking off up the trail to hike to the "Sun Gate" which is the gate on the ridge overlooking Machu Picchu.  It is probably a mile and a half but a fair climb.  The trail is mostly rock paved and about four feet wide.  We kept up a slow, steady pace and made good progress.  About half way, we ate some bananas that Patty had bought that morning at the vegetable market in town.  That added a little needed energy.  The weather was cool with occasional spitting rain, and it was hard to keep the right combination of clothing on so as not to soak your clothes with sweat, or get wet from the rain. 

Karla and Mary met us as they were coming down and we were about 2/3 of the way up.  The trail was not very crowed and it was a pleasant hike. 

We made it to the "Sun Gate" and looked down the trail into the next valley.  As we walked up the trail, we passed by a number of porters who were carrying bags and tents for people who were hiking the Inca trail, which ends at Machu Picchu.  People who do the whole segment that has been restored take four days and camp at various places along the trail.  The first day or so goes mostly along the same canyon that the train runs though,  but later it takes a route deeper into the mountains.  The porters carry tents and get to the campsites hours before the hikers and put up the tents and boil water and cook food.  Unfortunately, the reputation is that the campsites are dirty and the trail overcrowded.  I think if one wanted a South American wilderness experience, there would be better choices.  We talked to some Canadian guys at the airport later who had done it, and they said that they never wanted to see a stair again.  A lot of the trail is stone staircases that go up and down the mountains.

After making our way down the trail, the rain picked up intensity and it was good we all had good raingear.  We took more pictures of the ruin, including the back-side, which is rarely seen in published pictures.  After that we to the exit trail and got to the buses before the rain fleeing crowd got there.  After getting back to town we went and got some soup in a restaurant and waited for our 5:00 p.m. train.  Kim and Romaine had paid for a late checkout, so they had a room that not only kept our baggage all day, but in which we gathered for the afternoon.  We were all sprawled around the room, packing, putting on clean clothes, showering, and sorting gear.  Karla and Mary had not wanted to wait in the rain induced bus lines, so they walked the foot trail down to town and needed a shower after that.

We uploaded Patty and Lisa's pictures on the computer and watched slide shows of pictures from the last few days.  Since Kim and Romaine had not seen the Pisac ruins up close or the trail to town, they got to see what that looked like.  About 4:35 p.m., a guy from the hotel stuck his head into the room and said we were going to miss our train if we didn't hurry.  We all frantically packed and put things together.  Two porters from the hotel helped carry the bags and we rushed to the station.  The guy was right and it was crowded and the train left promptly at  5:00 p.m., with us just getting into our seats in time for the train to start moving.  Karla was exiled to a car separate from the rest of us, but Lisa rushed her one of the take-out sandwiches we had bought for the train trip.  The cars do not have connecting coverings and only the train staff can jump from car to car so there was no opportunity to get it to her if we waited.  Since the train gets in at 9:00 p.m., that was the only dinner except for the two sugar cookies and the bit of rum cake served on the train.

The train is very nice and has been upgraded since we last rode it.  We have had a dancing mime, a fashion show from the steward and a stewardess (with a later opportunity to buy each item displayed in the show.)  Last time on the train we were just serenaded with recorded Beatles tunes played on an Andean Flute.  The bathroom in the car has been upgraded to an airline style flush toilet rather than the "straight to the track below" method of waste disposal.  (Interesting, because the Italian trains we were on this summer still used the "straight to the track" method.)   One thing the train did not have was an enclosed connection between the cars.  The doors between cars opened and there was a small platform jutting out from each car, but nothing connecting them for a foot or more.  Karla came back and joined us during the ride and got to jump from car to car over the moving tracks; just like in the cowboy movies she said.  Pretty exciting for her first train ride.

A third of the tour groups on the train got off at Ollantaytambo to take buses back into Cusco.  At a newish station just outside of Cusco, before the train started the torturous descent into the town, the remaining tour groups got off and boarded their buses.  That proved two interesting things.  First, just about everybody on the train was part of a tour group, with very few independent travelers (our car of 40 people had three left other than our group; Karla's car emptied out completely).  Second, that they were all on pretty tight schedules and that saving an hour or two was worth missing what was really a spectacular part of the trip, the descent into Cusco. 

The train starts winding around sharp turns where you can see the engine coming back at you.  Then, as it gets to the hill that overlooks Cusco, it has to zig-zag down the hill, making "Y" turns, with the train changing directions at each "Y."  The view over the lit city was spectacular with the central plaza and the cathedrals lit up.  The train passes through residential neighborhoods at almost a walking speed and you can peer in their doors, windows and yards.  It is actually the most interesting part of the trip and we had the train car all to ourselves to run back and forth from side to side checking out the views and taking pictures out the windows.

We got into the train station and after failing to get an "official taxi," selected a couple of private taxi's from the hoard of drivers at the door and took the five minute ride to our hotel, the Royal Inca I.  Check-in was muddled through, with filling out the forms, producing passports and sorting out rooms, but we were all in very nice rooms by 10:00 p.m., with no concrete schedule tomorrow, except for Mary, Lisa and Karla having to catch a 2:00 p.m. flight to Lima. 

October 22, 2006:  Well Halleluiahs,  I finally feel somewhat human this morning, after being part of the walking dead for the last few days.  It was nice to have a room with heating, a comfortable bed with a down comforter, and dependable hot water in the shower.  Everyone was up and about by 8:00 a.m. and Lisa, Mary and Karla dropped their bags at our room so they could check out of theirs.  We had a great breakfast at the hotel restaurant, including a good omelet bar, fresh fruit and juice (included in the room price).  We walked a block down to the plaza Armas and there was a city parade going on with every school, civic organization, choir, etc. marching by a reviewing stand with the city dignitaries watching.  That finally broke up and we wandered around, the girls getting a lot of last minute shopping done and taking in the atmosphere.  After looking at a lot of the Inca walls that make up a lot of the walls still being used in central Cusco, we went back to the hotel and said our good byes to the girls.  They took a taxi to the airport and Patty and I walked up the hill to "Gringo Alley," an area frequented by backpackers and found a cheap hole-in-the-wall internet cafe where I am uploading this site.  Patty and I leave Cusco tomorrow morning at 8:10 a.m. on TACA flight 8.

After going back to the hotel for a short rest, we walked with Patty's parents back to the Plaza Armas, and went to a nice restaurant, the Inka Grill, recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebook, and had a nice dinner.  The restaurant had a varied menu, including Thai soup, French Onion soup, steaks, fish, chicken, pizza and other things from various culinary traditions.  However, it also had cuy, which is, other than potatoes, a distinctively Peruvian, especially Andean dish.  Both Kim and I, feeling adventurous, ordered a plate of the beast.  I had heard that it was sometimes served with the head in situ, but our little guinea pigs came all quartered, skinned and baked in a nice vinegary sauce not unlike a hot chicken wing sauce.  No, it does not taste like chicken.  It was kind of like rabbit but had four similar legs, unlike rabbit or a chicken.  It was also very fatty and the meat was dark, but very tender.  I will not be running to the pet store and digging for cuy recipes when we get home.

We went back to the hotel; I was able to call TACA Airlines in Lima from my cell phone to reconfirm our flight the next day (after working with the desk clerk at the hotel to figure out the right combination of city and area codes to dial to get Lima) and we were all set.  At the same time I arranged for a 6:00 a.m. taxi and a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call.  The early mornings have not been too bad because the sun is coming up at 5:00 a.m., so it does not feel so early.  We said our good-byes to Patty's folks as their flight does not leave Cusco until early afternoon and they did not intend to get up to see us off.

October 23, 2006:  We woke up before the wake-up call, showered and went down to breakfast.  I got ready and went down before Patty and the doorman called at 5:30 a.m. to say the taxi was there.  We put him off and had breakfast and left a few minutes before 6:00 a.m.  It is only about 15 minutes to the airport, so we were there plenty early.  We were lucky enough to get a full baggage search on check-in, but I got to accompany the bags to a private room, where a guy respectfully had me open the bag and searched them.  He was thorough, but polite and seemed a little embarrassed to be going through our personal things.

In Cusco they seem to have misinterpreted the liquid scare, and were very concerned about liquids in our checked baggage, but let people carry through security 2.5 liter bottles of water.  To leave Cusco we had to pay a $4.50 airport tax, payable either in Soles or dollars.  Our Lima flight was a few minutes late,  but was otherwise uneventful.  We got to Lima and had to leave the secure area and go through the departure tax routine again; this time to the tune of $30.25 each, again payable either in Soles or dollars, and again go through security. 

We got to our gate with a hour to spare and Patty diligently divested us our remaining Soles at the airport shops.  The flight again connects in San Salvador, putting us in L.A. at 11:45 p.m.  Since Karla, Lisa and Mary; and Kim and Romaine are all doing overnighters to get back to the States, we feel fairly blessed.

The flight to San Salvador was unremarkable except for the fat slob in the seat in front of me who immediately put his seat back all the way and then could not stay still for 10 minutes of the entire four hour flight, bouncing his seat up and down.  It would not have been so bad, except his seat blocked half of my reading light and the shadow was bouncing every time he moved.  I am just about finished with Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Just About Everything," which is a concise summary of just about everything we know about the earth and life on it, and how we got to know it.  He is a great writer and does a good job of simplifying all of the science.

We have about a 3 hour layover here in San Salvador, so we had dinner at a sports bar in the airport and watched the end of a soccer game.  They have free wi-fi internet access at the gate so I will try to upload this from here.

Our last flight gets us into LAX at 11:45 p.m. tonight and Cam is supposed to pick us up.  I was able to catch up on my favorite travel web site, and see what they are up to.  Having free internet access is great.

October 24, 2006:  We got home and to bed about 1:10 p.m.  Kim e-mailed and they got home safe and sound.  Lisa and Mary e-mailed and said that their Cusco flight, supposed to leave at midnight, left two hours late, causing them to miss their connections in Atlanta and making it in to SLC later than planned.  Karla e-mailed, last of all (I guess doctors do not have the luxury of sitting by their e-mail all day long) and said that she too was alive, loved the trip, and had made CD's from her pictures before picking up her clothes from the floor where they got dumped from her bags when she got home.  Unfortunately, their flights were retarded and dead. (Sorry, private joke.)