Day 15 & 16 – Wednesday & Thursday May 23-24, 2012

At 5:00 AM we received a “natural” wake-up call. A rooster began crowing and continued for about 30 minutes. I must say this is the first time I have heard a rooster while staying in a hotel! We were up, had breakfast and loaded on the bus by 7:00 AM.

Today we are to transverse the island of Santa Cruz from south to north. Our departure airport is located on Baltra Island off the northern tip of Santa Cruz. The airport here is the largest in the Galapagos. It was built by the US during WW


In the highlands of Santa Cruz, about halfway across the island we stopped to see “Los Gemelos” the twins. The twins consists of two large magma chambers which have collapsed.

 




We decided this would be a good place for our group photo.


Arriving at the northern end of Santa Cruze, our next adventure was to take a public ferry across to Balta. The first ferry we boarded was too full to get our luggage on top, so we “passed thru” to the next ferry.



Our bus waiting to load our luggage on the ferry.

After a little time for some last minute shopping at the outside vendors, we soon boarded our plan for the flight back to Guayaquil and then Quito.


After arriving at our hotel in Quito, we had a few hours to rest and get our luggage ready for our early flight to the US tomorrow. For dinner tonight we were taken to a private museum for an after hours tour and then dinner. It was quite interesting.




Arriving back at the hotel, we said our last goodbyes to our fellow travelers. In the morning we would be leaving at different times and this was the last time we would all be together.


Thursday morning we were up early and took the short van ride to the airport. The trip home was routine but long. We had about a 3 hour layover in Miami but since we had to go thru customs it wasn’t so bad. Arrived in Atlanta and then had the one hour drive home. We got home about 10:00PM. Tired but happy.

Overall I would rate our Machu Picchu-Galapagos trip a great success. It was more “active” than I had expected but not more than could be done. We had excellent group leaders/guides and we were fortunate to be traveling with a great group of people of whom we will always have fond memories. We hope to see some of you again….

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Day 14 – Tuesday – May 22, 2012

Today we leave the boat for an overnight on land. We were up and away before 7:00 AM. Our first stop after a brisk 20 minute walk was the Darwin Center, located on Santa Cruz at Puerto Ayora. Here Equadorian and foreign scientists work on research and projects for coservation of the Galapagos terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The Center, established in 1994 has a Natural History Interpertation Center and provides educational projects.

The weather gods were still favoring us with beautiful clear weather and no rain. It was hot and sticky but no one complained. We visited several exhibit areas and then wandered thru the Center and observed the “pens” where they segregated the various tortois species from the different islands. They collect the eggs in the wild, incubate them and raise the small tortoises until they are able to survive in the wild.

We also got to see Lonesome George – the only remaining tortoise from Pinta Island. The details are in the sign below.

It is estimated that George is about 80 years old. Still pretty young for a tortoise. They have been trying to cross breed George to keep his strain alive, but so far have been unsuccessful. They recently changed the two female tortoises for a different species which they think are more closely related to George. Good Luck George…..

After leaving the Darwin Center, we walked back down the main street to our designated meeting place. We had about 1 1/2 hours to browse the shops and do a little shopping.

Speaking of shopping, I know it’s for a good cause but the sales tax in the Park at the Center is 50%. Elsewhere on the island, there is no tax.

The obligatory photo with the giant tortoise . See what I mean by “hot and sticky”?

While making our way up the street, we passed the fish market. I have seen many fish markets in South America but this one was different. They had a natural disposal for the waste produced from cleaning the fish.

Between the Sea Lions and the Pelicans, there was no waste evident. It was interesting that the wildlife knew what they could have and what they couldn’t.

When we finally boarded our bus we headed to the highlands for lunch at a private location. The grounds were beautiful and lush.

After lunch we traveled a few more miles to an area where we would hopefully see a few tortoises in the wild.

E.T. – phone home…. The giant tortoise was used as the model for E.T.

We were lucky and did find a few.

I am not sure exactly what was happening here, looks more like an Easter Egg hunt than a giant tortoise hunt 🙂

After leaving the farm, we stopped to visit a lava tube. This one was discovered by the land owner trying to find out why his cattle were mysteriously disappearing.

These tubes can run for miles underground where they carried the molten magma to the sea.

On our way back to the Hotel, we stopped at the home of a small coffee grower. Here I purchased some whole bean, locally grown and roasted coffee. These photos are of the ladies grandchildren who were staying with her after school.

Bill, as always has a special gift for relating to the children.

Our hotel, the Casa Natura. It was very nice and quaint. We were on the 3rd level and there were no elevators. Glad we didn’t have to handle the luggage! The rooms were very large and we had a lovely balcony.

After a couple of hours to rest and refresh ourselves, we headed by foot to the restaurant for dinner. It was a very pleasant walk of about six blocks.

The food was great, most of us had the fresh tuna and it was cooked perfect tonight…

Tomorrow is another early morning with two flights back to Quito.

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Day 13 – Monday – May 21, 2012

Travel and tourism in the Galapagos is highly regulated. If I understand correctly, each tour boat is assigned certain islands for each tour. The longer the tour the more islands assigned. Neither the Naturalist nor the ship’s captain has any input into what islands are assigned for a specific tour. In our case we had 3 nights onboard the ship and were assigned 4 islands. Our 4th night was spent on Santa Cruz Island. Gustavo, our trip leader each morning posted our schedule on a whiteboard.

Our first “event” is a couple of hours on Bachas beach. Gustavos thoughtfully reminds us of what we need to bring.

Two U.S. barges were towed to this beach and abandoned after WWII. The locals mispronunciation of “barges” became Bachas and it stuck. You must be careful where you walk in some places. Tthere are still pieces of metal sticking out of the sand in some places.

A member of the official greeting committee.

The lovely Carina patiently waits for us.

Higher up the beach there were numerous sea turtle nests. Some had egg shells remaining from the hatching. We had to be careful not to disturb the nest, but what I found even more interesting were the turtle tracks left in the sand. They actually looked like they were made by some mechanical device.

Turtle tracks

Over the years I have photographed many flamingos, but I don’t believe I have ever seen one flying. That changed on Bachas Beech.

Their bodies really look like it would be impossible for them to fly!

The small ghost crab, not nearly as plentiful as their cousin the Sally Lightfoot crab.

Sally Lightfoot crab

We spent the morning enjoying the sun and the view. We took a swim and did some snorkeling and of course observed the wildlife.

 

 

 

We had the entire beach to ourselves, but It felt like we were the only people in the world.

As per our schedule, we took a bridge and galley tour before lunch. This didn’t take long, after all it is a small ship, but it was interesting.

Raul in his tiny work space. It was amazing that he prepared the fantastic meals in such cramped conditions. I am sure all of our kitchens are much larger than his and he prepares 3 meals a day for 24 people.

We visited the engine room and the folks who had worked at John Deere were pleased to see that a couple of their motors powered the generators.

We then went topside to visit the captain in the bridge. He was very kind and happy to answer all of our questions and and show us some of the ships equipment.

Captain Romel

After lunch and a short rest period, which we were going to need, we landed for our trek to “Dragon Hill”. This landing is on the northwest side of Santa Cruz Island.

You may get the idea that we spent a lot of time on the zodiacs, and we did. By the end of our trip we were pretty adept at boarding and debarking from the bobbing boat.

The scenery was beautiful. At one point I counted 22 extinct volcanic cones from one spot.

I’ll be quite for a while and just share some photos.

Galapagos duck

 

and we marched on… and on… and on……

Another of my old friends.

The view was great, but it was HOT.

We returned back to the ship where we had a “port talk” with more information about the islands and their history. We then got to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the Pacific.

Sun setting over Guy Fawkes Island, a collection of two crescent shaped islands and two small rocks north-west of Santa Cruz Island, I have no idea how the Island got the name of the English revolutionary who attempted to carry out the Gunpower Plot in 1605. There must be a story but I couldn’t find it. It was a beautiful sunset anyway.

We finished the day with farewell cocktails with the captain and crew, followed by dinner.

The ever gracious Carlos.

Tonight we will travel around the island to Puerto Ayora on the southeastern side of Santa Cruz Island. Here we will debark for a day of exploring and finish with an overnight in a hotel.

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Day 12 – Sunday – May 20, 2012

Today was a day of exploring. Our first stop was Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz Island. This was followed by a great hike on North Seymour Island where the wildlife was incredibly abundant. There are quite a few photos and I will give little commentary, just enjoy the pictures folks!

Black Turtle Cove


Frank’s ready whether anyone else is or not…


He’s wondering what we are doing in HIS cove.


Have you heard the joke about the three Boobies on the rock…., well maybe later.



Sea Turtle



It’s easy to see how this cove got the name Black Turtle Cove.

Back on board the Carina after returning from exploring Black Turtle Cove, we saw National Geographic Ship the Islander. We crossed paths with the Islander several times and it made me appreciate the small close group we have on the Carina. I understand the National Geographic tours are great but 120 people vs 16, I’ll take the smaller group any day.


 

North Seymour Island


Here we are landing on North Seymour Island







Magnificent Frigatebird in all his glory


Another blue footed boobie. I have several photos on this post, they are just too cute not to post….










He didn’t eat the spider (I don’t think), they are pretty much strictly vegetarians.


As you can tell, I love the iguanas…


 




Marine Iguanas


another Frigatebird


Blue footed boobie with an egg


Gustavos

Below are a couple of photos taken as the sun was setting on an absolutely beautiful day in the Galapagos Islands.



At dinner tonight we had a surprise. Today was Bob and Peggy’s anniversary and Raul prepared a cake for the occasion. The real surprise came when he produced a fire ax to cut the cake. For a moment I think Peggy thought he was serious!

 

It was a lot of fun and I think it was great that OATS arranged for this small celebration to honor their special day.

It has been a long, tiring but enjoyable day. It’s early to bed for me…..

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Day 11, 2012 – Saturday – Galapagos

Up early at 4:30. We had the luggage outside the door at 5:30 with it separated into what was staying at the hotel and what was going with us. After checking out and breakfast we were on our way to the airport. I was surprised to learn that there was a Galapagos Airline – AeroGal. See the cute iguana on the logo? We had to go thru a separate check in for the Galapagos. They give special attention to make sure you are not bringing any plant or animal life with you. Everyone also has to pay a $10 immigration fee.

 

The first leg of our flight today was from Quito to Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador. Guayaquil is located on the coast and is only a 35 minute flight from Quito. I was impressed with AeroGal. The planes were new, clean and roomy. The service was excellent. On the short 35 minute flight we were served drinks and a pastry. I had the fortune of sitting next to our group leader Gustavo on the flight. He pointed out many features of the country as we passed over.

This impressive mountain is the ice-capped volcano Chimborazo. It’s last eruption was about 1400 years ago, but on the average it erupts every 1000 years. I am glad we didn’t get to witness it coming to life. An interesting fact about Chimborazo is that it’s the highest volcano in the Northern Andean Volcanic Zone and the summit is the FARTHEREST point from the earth center. Measured from the center of the earth it is 2229 meters higher than Mt. Everest. This is due to the equatorial bulge of the earth and Chimborazo is located only a few degrees from the equator.

At the airport in San Cristobal we were welcomed with this sign

After a very short (10) minute bus ride we arrived at the pier.

There is no doubt who rules in the Galapagos – the wildlife…

Suited up and heading for our ship. Kay, Wayne and Peggy.

 

The other group behind us.

Arriving at our boat, the Carina.

 

Bob waiting while the first group unloads.

Wayne getting ready to sample our first meal aboard our home for the next 3 nights.

After lunch and a brief rest, we head to Isla Lobos for snorkeling and then exploring the island. Unfortunately, my new snorkel began to malfunction after about 15 minutes out. The valve is obviously defective. I was able to use one from the boat for the rest of our trip.

Below are a few photos of the wildlife we saw.

 

 

 

 

The first of many Blue Footed Boobies to be seen.

A gull type which Gustavo said he had never seen on the islands before

Sally Lightfoot crab. They are everywhere….

It was a very tiring but satisfying day. Looking forward to tomorrow.

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Day 10 – May 18, 2010 – Quito

Well today we were able to sleep a little later, we met in the lobby at 7:45 to begin our day. Our first stop was at the Sinamune school for the disabled. Rush hour traffic was pretty heavy and the driving in Quito is adventurous to say the least (but perhaps less so than in Lima).

Sinamune was founded by Maestro Edgar Palacios in 1993. Palacios is a talented musician who has more than 150 original compositions to his credit as well numerous CD’s. His goal at Sinamune is to teach motor skills to disabled persons through the use of music. The organization has an orchestra which consists entirely of physically or mentally disabled children and adults. Sinamune is one project the Grand Circle Foundation supports in Ecquador.

We enjoyed a wonderful performance of music and dance performed by the students. We even got to dance ourselves!

An always smiling Gustavo waiting for us to board the bus.

After leaving the school, we went to the colonial portion of the city.

Ceremonial Guard outside the Presidential Palace

Street vendor selling what looks like ice cream, but I understand it is some kind of meringue, I would have loved to try some, but with the heat I just wasn’t sure how safe that would be on my delicate North American stomach…

We then went to an outside cafe for lunch. It was located in the plaza at the Iglesia de San Francisco cathedral.

Bob is explaining something to the girls it appears.

We had cornmeal tamales, different from Mexican but quite delicious and goat. The goat was also very good. Another great aspect of this cafe location was that it gave me a wonderful opportunity to people watch and get some photos.

Latin lovers everywhere…..

He’s got MY GOAT…..

Security enjoying the “ice cream”

After lunch we drove the short distance to the equator to a museum. Here they gave several interesting demonstrations of equatorial phenomena .

Kay with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern.

A shrunken human head. There was even wall with illustrations showing the process to “shrink” a head. We saw these at a couple of different museums. We were told the natives no longer did this, but who can be sure? There is still a lot of the country which is jungle….

Bob and Carl look like they are about ready to return to our hotel for a little siesta.

A typical pharmacy. These are located every couple of blocks in the cities.

Arriving back at the hotel we had a couple of hours to relax, nap, or in my case get my luggage organized for our travel tomorrow. We would only be carrying our small bag, leaving most of our luggage in Quito to pick up on our return.

This evening we had our second “home hosted meal”. This time was a little different from the one in Peru. We divided into two smaller groups to visit different homes. Our family was a professional family who lived in Quito. The father, Diemel, had a degree in engineering but was the head of fraud at a bank outside Quito. Evelyn, his wife, was an accountant who worked from home. They have two children and a lovely home. The meal was very good, but the conservation with Diemel and Evelyn was what made the visit. They both spoke very good English and we were able to discuss any and all aspects of daily life in Ecuador.

Evelyn, Diemel and their children

Well, to bed early. We have to be in the lobby at 6:10 ready to leave for the airport. But first, we must check out and have breakfast. Up early again….

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Day 9 – May 17, 2012 – Cusco-Lima-Quito

Well, we have about learned the drill:

6:30 – Luggage outside the door
7:00 – Depart for the airport
8:50 – Fly from Cusco to Lima
10:15 – Arrive at Lima Airport
1:00 – Fly from Lima to Quito
4:25 – Arrive at Quito airport and transfer to hotel

All things considered, it went pretty smooth…

My last glance out my hotel window and our bus is waiting already.

I only have one airport photo…. Just not enough time (or was it energy?)

Taxis lined up at the Quito Airport. Quito is a city of 2.5 million people approximately 25 miles long and 3 miles wide at an elevation of 9,200 feet. The city comes to within less than 1 mile from zero latitude known locally as “The middle of the world” to avoid confusion. The word equator is Spanish for equator. The airport is located about 6 miles north of the city center and traffic was heavy.

We arrived at our hotel only about an hour later than was originally planned. Considering we arrived in Quito during rush hour and our flights were a little late, not too bad.

We are staying at the Mercure Hotel Alameda. As you can see from the this lobby photo, it was pretty nice. Actually the nicest hotel we have been in. The only problem was that there was only one working elevator for the entire hotel. We were on either the 5th or 7th floor… gee, can’t believe I don’t remember which. I guess there have just been too many hotels in too short a period. I do remember though, that I was too far to take the stairs too often. Oh, I think we were on the 5th the first two days we were here and then the 7th when we came back thru for one night.

This is Gustavo our Trip Leader for Ecuador. Here we were having our initial briefing at the hotel along with pisco sours.

Not a bad day considering that we spent it in airports and airplanes… I have all my other photos edited and hope to have them posted soon.

 

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Day 8 – May 16, 2012 Cusco & Sacsayhuaman

Breakfast this morning at 6:30. Some members of our group were having laundry done by a local lady who collected the clothes at the hotel, laundered and returned them to the hotel for 10 soles per kilogram or about $2 per pound. She was in the lobby at 6:30 to pick them up and would return them by 1:30 this afternoon. Pretty good service…

Kay made the observation that it was very hard to dress for Cusco. It is quite cool in the morning but gets very warm later in the day, especially in the sun. You just had to layer and remove!

We left the hotel by bus and traveled a short distance to the old colonial section of Cusco to the square the Plaza de Armas (it seems every Latin America town of any size has one). Here we visited Cusco Cathedral. The entire inside is covered in gold leaf and there are numerous very large paintings done by painters of the era. The Cathedral was completed in 1654, almost 100 years after construction began. Unfortunately no photography is allowed in the church, plus the fact that we were visiting during non-tourist hours. Edgar said that if anyone asked to tell them we came to pray. Well, it being a church I didn’t feel too compelled to lie, so I prayed….

Cusco Cathedral

Not sure what Edgar, Bea and Frank are looking at, but it must be interesting…

A view from the square. There are numerous Catholic churches here, established by different sects.

Below of course are photos of my favorite subject…

Spanish repair of an Inca wall. Can you guess which is the Spanish work?

We visited the Church of Santo Domingo and Coricancha. The church is built on the ruins of the famous Inca site of Coricancha – The golden courtyard, which was known literally for its gold. This was of course looted by the conquistadors and most of the gold was melted down. All that remains today is the fine Inca stonework. Unlike the Spanish architecture, the Inca wall has withstood all of the major earthquakes that have rocked Cusco.

While visiting here I saw a display of bas relief carvings which were for sale. After consideration, we returned in the afternoon and made a purchase.

Our travels carried us up the mountain to Sacsayhuaman, the most significant ruin in the Cusco area. It is thought that Sacsayhuaman was built to be a fortress with both military and religious significance. Only about 20% of the original site remains. Up until the 1930s blocks from Sacsayhuaman were being hauled away to use for construction in Cusco. Most of the largest stones, some which measure over 24 feet tall and weigh up to 360 tons were left.

Edgar pointing out the size of the stones.

After Sacsayhuaman we went to a field and met a Pago or Healer. He is not a priest, but one who has studied and believes in the healing power of ancient Inca rituals. The ceremony was quite formal and impressive. Edgar explained that OATS, uses three different Healers in their tours. The healers all walk to the ceremony and walk home. One of the healers comes so far he must overnight in a cave. It is part of the ritual they celebrate.

Bill being administered to by the Pago. We each had our turn.

From here we made our way back into town to have lunch at a delightful local restaurant, La Casona del Inka.

I liked their “happy house” signs as Gustavo our Galapagos leader liked to call them….

Our group enjoying our meal. Well, actually we had just finished.

Unfortunately not all of our experiences in Cusco were good. As mentioned earlier Candy was having some difficulty in Machu Picchu and Edgar had a physician see her at our hotel. It was found that her blood pressure was quite low and was recommended she be admitted to the hospital. This was done the first night we arrived back in Cusco. We learned to our sadness that Candy had decided to return to the States and not complete the trip. Edgar asked if we would like to visit her before we departed tomorrow for Ecuador. Of course we did!

This is the outside of the hospital where she was located. It was very modern and we were really impressed with Candy’s room.

As you can see, we were all allowed to visit and there was room for a dozen more people. It was good to see Candy and she was certainly surprised because she was not expecting us.

After we returned to our hotel, Janet, Carl, Kay and I walked back to the plaza area and acquired the carving mentioned earlier. On the way I managed to get a few more portraits.

This evening Edgar had a great surprise for us. He said he had never done this in 35 years of being a tour guide; he invited us to visit his home and meet his family. What a great honor and what a great family. Thank you Edgar. After our visit we journeyed on to the restaurant “Mammacha”. Unfortunately I did not make a note, but I believe we were served goat. At any rate it was good.

Well, we have to be up early tomorrow to catch our flight to Lima and then an international connecting flight to Quito.

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Day 7 – Tuesday May 15, 2012 – Machu Picchu

[This post was revised on 5/30/12 to include the photos which did not post originally]

Internet access finally!!!
I apologize for not being able to post for the past three days. We were in the Sacred Valley Saturday and Sunday and did not have any internet access. Come to think of it, we didn’t have a phone, television or heat and air conditioning. Actually we would not have missed the phone, TV or AC, but some heat sure would have been nice. Well, that will be a topic for an earlier post.

I plan to try and pick up today and when I am able will catch up with the earlier days. This might not happen until we return due to time limitations and internet service.

Today started at 4:30 AM, we dressed and were at breakfast at 5:00. Breakfast was at our hotel and consisted of a buffet of fruits and a hot (warm) selection of eggs, fried franks (they have been served everywhere for breakfast), fried chicken nuggets and steamed vegetables. Yes vegetables are served at most breakfasts. We then made a quick trip to our room and finished getting ready for the day. We dropped our luggage at the front desk for the porters to carry to the train station later in the day.

We then left with 7 other of our travelers and our assistant guide while in Macchu Pichu, Joel. After a short walk to the bus station we boarded the bus for another exciting 30 minute ride through switch backs to the top of the mountain. Our plan this morning was to arrive before sunrise so we could witness the beauty of the sun as it crossed the mountain and Machu Picchu. Joel quickly lead us to the best vantage point about 15 minutes before sunrise. It was worth the effort.


Getting ready for breakfast. Kay found a bug in the meat… I guess just extra protein.


The sun is just rising above the mountains and first light is cast on Wyaupicchu


Our guide Edgar has been very accommodating. Today he arranged different departure times for those who wanted to go early and those who wished to come up later. We were all glad we elected to make the early trip. After viewing the beautiful sunrise we all agree we would like to hike the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate. This is about a 3 to 3.5 hour round trip. The Sun Gate is where the Incas coming from Cusco first saw Machu Picchu. It also served as a sentry for protection. The hike was fairly strenuous but we all made it ok.


The start of the trek up the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate

In the next several photos you may see views taken from our hike. No narration just photos.


Joel who was very knowledgeable of the mountains and trails. He know the best times to be at the best places.






As we reached the Sun Gate


View of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate


Carl & Janet


Kay and Frank and Bea resting at the top


Kay and I standing in the Sun Gate. As travelers came to Machu Picchu from Cusco on the Inca Trail, this is their first view of Machu Picchu thru the Sun Gate.


Our group of 9 who made the trek starting at 4:30 AM


Headed back down, had to be even more careful than going up.


Wyaupicchu taken from the Inca Trail. If you look closely you can see people. They now limit the hike up Wyaupicchu to only 400 per day and you must apply for a permit online and pay an extra fee.


We were quite literally feet and sometimes inches from a 1000 foot drop. You had to either walk or view scenery. You could not do both!

After we returned from the trek, which we made in about 3 hours, we took a brief rest and all agreed to hike to the Inca Draw Bridge. This is a very narrow trail which the Incas cut into the side of a mountain and constructed a “gap” which they could cover with logs to cross and then remove when enemies were coming. This is only a 45 minute hike but is pretty precarious. For this reason hikers must sign in and out at the trail head. Below are some photos but they just cannot convey the feeling of being inches away from the edge of a drop of several thousand feet.



The Inca Draw Bridge


Walk this trail for an adrenalin rush!


Here I am with the Inca Draw Bridge behind me. This is as far as you are allowed.




This is the point most people stopped. From here the trail narrowed down to the Draw Bridge.

After returning from the drawbridge, some of us just decided to relax and enjoy the fresh air and view until time to leave. Here are a few photos taken while resting.



We all met back at the departure point at about 12 and had another exciting bus ride down.





I had grilled alpaca which was pretty good, tasted like beef. Kay and some others had mountain trout which they said was not very good. The other times we have had trout it was excellent.

After lunch we boarded the train for a 1.5 hour ride to Ollantaytambo where we again got on our bus for the 2 hour ride to Cusco and our hotel.

Below are a few photos taken from the train.



Plowing with oxen and a wooden plow.




This gentleman was trying to bum cigarettes from the train passengers.


Back at the train station.


Photo taken from the bus trip back to Cusco.

We arrived after dark at the Jose Antonio Hotel in Cusco. The hotel was very nice, but no A/C but the rooms were comfortable.

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Day 6 – Monday – May 14, 2012 Train ride through Urubamba Gorge

We woke early again to a chilly room, 62 degrees. At least this will be our last night here. It is really a nice hotel and the views are beautiful, if only they had heat!. Our luggage is outside our door at 7:30. We have breakfast which for me consists of some eggs, lots of fruit and chesses washed down with about 3 cups of the excellent coffee. We are on the bus at 8:00 AM and on our way to the first adventure of the day.

Part of Overseas Adventure Travel and Grand Circle Travel’s philosophy is the principle that they should give back to all the countries in which they have tour. This is done through The Grand Circle Foundation. To this end they help support three schools in Peru. The one we are going to visit is “Pucruto”.

When we arrive at about 8:20 the entire student body is in the courtyard having a “parade” to celebrate one of the national holidays. They line in formation and sing several songs. After the ceremony, the principal introduces our group and the students make their way back to class, all except the 4th grade class we are to meet with. They quickly approach us and each student selects a “friend”. I was fortunate to be selected by 9 year old Anyela.

Anyela

The students quickly herded us over to a large world map painted on one of the school buildings. Here they wanted us to point out where we lived.

The young man on the left, I believe he was 12, suffers from polio and is incredibly agile on his home made crutches. He seemed to fit right in with the rest of the guys.

Following a brief tour of the school, we returned to the class room where we had an opportunity to interact with the students and review some of their work.

Here Frank is trying on his amigo’s hat to his amusement. Bill, as always, is engaging a youngster. Everywhere we traveled Bill seemed to have a special affinity for the children and they all responded to him.

Kay’s partner is showing some of her work. I was amazed at the math level these 4th graders were doing. Math was about the only thing I could evaluate since I don’t speak Spanish and none of the children spoke English.

Anyela drew a self portrait for me and wrote a note. I later got Edgar to translate for me. It said “My name is Anyela, I love you so much. I am giving this to you so you can remember me. To Wendell”. The children were neat and clean although many had very worn clothes and shoes.

After our individual time, the class using Edgar as the translator told us their names, how far they traveled to school and what they wanted to be when they grew up. Anyela only had a 5 minute walk to school, but one child had to travel for an hour each way. Most of the girls wanted to become teachers and a few doctors. Anyela was the only one who wanted to be an attorney. The boys overwhelming wanted to be tour guides, a very good job in Peru.

Afterward we had a group photo with the children and their teacher.

After leaving the school we traveled to Ollantaytambo to board the Inca Train for Machu Picchu. We had only a few minutes to walk some of the narrow streets which date back hundreds of years.

I of course had to take a few photos of some of the locals going about their daily routine.

Our train departed at 11:15 AM, already a full morning…..

In addition to the beautiful scenery on the train, Kay and I sat opposite a very nice couple from Miami. It made a very pleasant one and one-half hour train ride. During the train trip Edgar supplied us with a box lunch which again was both nutritious and delicious.

After arriving in Aguas Calientes Village, at the base of Machu Picchu, we walked immediately about 2 blocks to the bus station for the trip up the mountain. The only access to Machu Picchu is by bus or by hiking up the mountain. I believe a bus ticket is $19 and that trip in itself is an adventure. The road is dirt and one lane. There are innumerable hairpin switchback and absolutely no guard rails. Your life is in the hands of the driver and the mechanical condition of the bus. If you meet another bus, the descending bus must back up until you reach a place wide enough to pass.

After reaching Machu Picchu all I can say is that the trip was worth the effort. We stayed in the park until the last bus returned to Aguas Calientes. I will let the photos speak for themself.

Photo from the bus

Edgar, our trip leader. He did an excellent job of giving us an overview of Machu Picchu and its interest in the observation of the sun and moon. A great emphasis was placed on the sun and in many places there were sundials and special alignments to mark the solstice. His timing was perfect, we arrived in the early afternoon just as many of the day trippers were leaving and by the time we left at 5 PM, the park was almost empty. I never thought I would have the opportunity to photo Machu Picchu without hordes of people, but I did!

Joel, he was our second guide while in Machu Picchu. Joel spoke excellent English which he said he acquired in the field. Joel loved American idoms and was anxious to pick up new ones. We assisted at every opportunity. Probably his favorite was one Carl gave him. “You don’t want to be the richest man in the cemetery”…. enjoy life.

Janet, Kay, and Ashleigh

Kay and Wayne

After returning from the mountain to Aquas Calientes, we went immediately to dinner. Several of us decided to eat at Totes, a restaurant just a few buildings down from our hotel. I was pleasantly surprised. I had read about how expensive everything was in Aquas Calientes since it must come in by train and you were essentially a captive audience. We had a very nice pizza, 3 beers, salad bar and the manager provided us with a complimentary pisco sour. The total bill with tip was only about $24. Edgar was kind enough to point out what to avoid on the salad bar. There are just some things our sensitive stomachs have problems with in Peru, mainly lettuce and other “ground close” vegetables that are not cooked or peeled.

Totes Restaurant

We finally made it to our hotel at about 8PM. This was really the first dissapointment of our trip. We had been warned by OATS not to expect plush accommodations in Aquas Calientes but I was still dissappointed with our room. It was clean and adequate but it was literally a portion of the hall which had been closed in to make a room. We had about 18 inches of space around the bed. It was a good thing that we had repacked to carry only small bags for this overnight trip. Our regular luggage would not have had any place to stay. Not everyone had such small quarters, some in fact had quite large rooms. The redeeming fact was that we were only to spend a little over 8 hours here….

Carol, Pat, Janet, Bill and Carol when we arrived at the hotel. The “Flat Rock Society” had elected to delay dinner for their traditional glass of wine. They are meeting just outside our room. You see the curtains on the right? This was our room view. Pull back the curtain and our tiny bed was on dispaly!

The rest of the group, Carol (again), Candy, Wayne and Edgar.

Bill is telling us about his experience. After arriving at the hotel, he had a knock at the door. A porter asked if he would like to see a magic trick, he said sure. The porter said show me your wallet and when he reached for it it wasn’t in his pocket. The porter then produced it for him. Apparently he had left it at the restaurant an and someone there tracked him down and brought it to the hotel. It’s nice to know there are honest people still… Edgar did warn us that unfortunately not all people in Peru are so honest. Well neither are they in the US….

Got to bed about 9PM for an early 4:30 wake up call.

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