Category Archives: Travel

Peru | Everyday Life

by Melanie and Jim

As tourists, we were able to experience some of Peru’s highlights. We enjoyed high-quality accommodations, comfortable travel, and excellent food. Most Peruvians’ everyday life is not as carefree and luxurious. Our tour guide Walter made sure we had some opportunities to see the ways Peruvians really live.

Food

Peru is the land of potatoes, a crop domesticated thousands of years ago. More than 3,000 varieties are grown in the Andes, well-adapted to the elevation and harsh conditions. Along with corn (maize,) quinoa, beans (legumes,) and tomatoes, potatoes make up a large part of the native diet. Chicken is a favorite, too, evident by the popularity of chicken restaurants including KFC fast food.

Another typical meat is cuy, or guinea pig. Though most of the world knows guinea pigs as pets, they are another indigenous food and a convenient way to add protein to the diet. Walter told us they are a favorite for feasts and special occasions, and often a whole one is roasted for each person. For all the galleries below, click any picture to open the gallery and see more detail. 

We were treated to a home-cooked lunch that featured cuy and stuffed peppers,  and a beverage made from Peruvian purple corn. White corn was also a side dish, sporting kernels as big as a pistachio nut in the shell.

Outside of larger cities, supermarket-style grocery stores are not widely available. Single-commodity shops and markets with a variety of vendors are available all over. Markets are like U.S. farmers’ markets, with produce, butchered meat, and various breads on display.

School

Education is free and compulsory for children through secondary school. University is free for poor students but only available based on high performance on entrance exams. Children attend primary school close to their homes for first through sixth grades, or until they are approximately 12 years old. Older children have five years of secondary school. For those who live in the country or small villages, this can mean walking miles across mountainsides. All the school children wear uniforms to school.

Our group visited a primary school in a small village. A wall and gate enclosed the school property with grassy yard and small classroom buildings, garden, and a separate outbuilding for the bathrooms. The two classrooms each held about 14 children. The children we joined were in fourth through sixth grades. The uniforms they wore were hardly standard, as some had uniform sweaters but no matching trousers or skirts, or other combinations of non-matching items. The families of many are very poor.

To thank the teacher and students for hosting us, we each brought some school supplies for their use. Also, we stopped on the way and bought reams of paper, something the teacher requested. Tripmates brought maps, including a map of the U.S. that Walter and another traveler showed. We used the map to point out our home states and tell them a little about our country.

Infrastructure

A large amount of our tour group’s travel was in a comfortable bus on well-maintained highways. Roads within villages and in the countryside were more variable in quality. The city streets of Lima and Cuzco were hectic with traffic, but with the apparent chaos, we only witnessed one minor fender bender. Pedestrians cross streets at their own peril; jaywalking is not advised, and even crossing with lights requires caution. Lima has a number of in-city private bus companies running designated routes for mass transit. There also is a public metro rail, though the one time we used it, the scheduling seemed quite random for arrivals and departures at the terminal.

Besides the transportation infrastructure, another element that creates challenges is the public water systems. It’s not unusual when traveling to use bottled water to avoid digestive distress and other illnesses. Walter told us even Peruvians don’t drink tap water without boiling it first.

Also, the sewage system isn’t sufficient to deal with human waste. Toilet paper is disposed in trash rather in the toilet, a minor inconvenience, but not always easy to manage. Many growing urban areas in the Sacred Valley dump human waste directly in the Urubamba River. The tourism that supports and grows the economy creates costly problems, as well.

Housing

The home we visited for our lunch was large and comfortable, but probably not typical. The host family has been providing these lunches for years, earning income that allowed the addition of an extra kitchen space. The kitchens and dining room are arranged around a central courtyard.

It’s common for families to start with a small home and add on over time. We saw many buildings obviously unfinished, with concrete columns jutting into the sky, creating the base for upper floors. Later when finances allow, the walls will be filled in with clay tile blocks, and windows added when able.

A hillside home in some places would be a prime location for the views. Instead, the slopes surrounding Cuzco are filled with slum housing. The city has expanded rapidly in the last 30 years, as more people have resettled from the countrysides for better job opportunities. While this provides opportunity and resources, the risks of landslides are continual, and a moderate earthquake could be a major catastrophe.

Peru Post Links

This is our final post about our trip to Peru. If you’d like to see more, all the posts including this one are listed below. Please take a look and feel free to ask if you have questions. Thanks so much for spending time with us on our trip of a lifetime!

Peru | Lima | First Impressions
Peru | Textiles and Ceramics
Peru | Arts & Crafts
Peru | Pisac & Ollantaytambo
Peru | Machu Picchu
Peru | Tipon and Sacsayhuaman
Peru | Beer Bar – Oxen – Blessings
Peru | Hillside Homes | Traffic Woes
Peru | Everyday Life
Inca Pot | c 1500
Noon @ Ollantaytambo
Peru | Machu Picchu Plus Much More

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Peru | Machu Picchu Plus Much More

by Jim and Melanie

Unique Views of Machu Picchu

Countless photographs and video clips have been made of Machu Picchu. We did our share. There’ve been many creative attempts to capture the essence and beauty of the place. One of the best we have seen is a collaboration between Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day on YouTube and Jeff Cremer of Jeff Cremer Photography, based in Peru.

Jeff set up his Canon camera with a 400 mm lens at a popular vista site above Machu Picchu. The camera system was programmed to automatically take 1920 highly zoomed photos of the site. The system captured 32 rows of photos. Each row was 60 images wide. Each image was 18 megabytes in raw format. It took 1 hour and 44 minutes. Click for more technical details. This 4 minute video will show Destin and Jeff as they got started on this project.

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Peru | Arts & Crafts

by Melanie and Jim

Roofs of many buildings in Peru feature two terra cotta bulls, often accompanied by a Christian cross. The bulls invite good fortune and protection to the home.

 

We were fortunate to tour five significant ruins sites during our ten days in Peru, and there were dozens of other sites dotting the landscape as we traveled. Our itinerary also offered a variety of experiences, like visits to a shaman, a beer bar, museums, and a village elementary school.

Peru has a long and proud cultural heritage. We had the privilege of seeing two artisans shops to learn some of the process of bringing this heritage to life.

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Peru | Hillside Homes | Traffic Woes

by Jim and Melanie

Hillside Homes

The cost of living in the central part of most cities tends to be higher than around the fringes. It is no different in Peru. Our first two days were in Lima. People who come from the more rural areas to find work in Lima most often live in the outskirts of the city. It has an urban population close to 9 million. The metro population is over 12 million. The topography around Lima is not mountainous and allows the city to spread out.

Cuzco is in a mountainous area. The population is about 435,000 and confined to a valley. New arrivals from rural areas looking for homes and work tend to live on the surrounding steep hillsides. Click this image for greater detail of the hillsides.

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Peru | Beer Bar – Oxen – Blessings

by Jim and Melanie

Mixed among our visits to archeological sites in Peru were several other learning experiences. Three are described in this post. More will follow.

Beer Bar and Sapo Game

We boarded the bus after breakfast on the day of our first visit to Machu Picchu. Very soon, we stopped in a small town in front of a bar. It seemed early to stop for a beer. Walter our guide wanted us to experience some of what the locals do for fun and entertainment. We entered a room that was mostly empty except for this unusual small table. It looked beat-up with holes cut into it. A drawer handle was in front. A brass frog, or sapo, sat on the center with a gaping mouth.

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Peru | Tipón and Sacsayhuamán

by Jim and Melanie

The day before our departure from Cuzco we visited two archeological sites – Tipón and Sacsayhuamán. There are many more sites in Peru. We feel drawn to return some day to see more of them.

Tipón Archeological Parque

We drove southeast from Cuzco about 14 mi (22 km) to the archeological site of Tipón. It sits 11,155 ft (3400 m) above sea level. Not very well known or visited by many tourists, it is important for the water control engineering of the Inca. The site is included in Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The description of Tipón by ASCE can be read here. Highlights include:

  • Inca converted the site from previous users.
  • Aqueducts brought water to the terraced site.
  • Structures routed water in different directions to provide for efficient irrigation.
  • Subsurface drainage techniques ensured long-term integrity of the central terraces.
  • Petroglyphs pre-dating Inca thousands of years exist on top of Tipón Mountain.

Our access to the site was by a narrow switchback road from the Sacred Valley below. This Google Map image shows the road and site. An interactive map link is here. The highest elevations are at the top of the image.

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Peru | Machu Picchu

by Melanie and Jim

For many people, their strongest association with Peru is Machu Picchu. Legendary “lost city” of the Inca, it was revealed to the public in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. As a professor at Yale University in South American history, he organized an expedition to Peru to find the last capital of the Inca. Led by local guides, his crew arrived at Machu Picchu, a largely forgotten site.

The world knows now that Machu Picchu was not the last capital, and that others likely arrived at the mountain city before Bingham. He still deserves credit for the movement to reveal the vine-covered community at the edge of the jungle. Excavations he led over the next three decades exposed a magnificent city that continues to baffle the imagination.

(If you’d like to read more from Bingham himself about the discovery, check this book, provided by Project Gutenberg.)

These days, with a burgeoning tourist economy, Machu Picchu is still the largest draw for tourists in Peru. It certainly was the largest draw for us.

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Peru | Pisac & Ollantaytambo

by Jim and Melanie

After two days in Lima, we were on our way by air to the central city of Cusco which lies in a valley between mountain ranges. The elevation is over 11,000 ft. There we boarded our tour bus and drove up the northern hillside. Hills that rim the city are covered with housing and buildings perched precariously on the steep slopes.

Sacred Valley of the Inca

The next week of our exploration of Peru was going to focus on visits to many archeological sites along the Sacred Valley of the Inca. The Urubamba River runs through this valley. The map below gives a broad view of the region. Visited sites are marked. This post highlights our visits to Pisac (lower right) and Ollantaytambo (upper left). Machu Picchu is near Aguas Calientes (upper left corner) and will be covered in another post.

Click the image for a larger view. For an interactive Google Map, click this link.

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Peru | Lima | First Impressions

by Jim and Melanie

It was morning of 16 Oct 2018. We started our journey to Peru the day before and arrived in Lima just before midnight. Our hosts met and delivered us to our hotel. This morning we enjoyed breakfast at our hotel and walked a few blocks for a view of the Pacific Ocean. This was certainly not ‘darkest Peru’. Lima is a large city of 12 million in the metro area.

We walked along the elevated path to another good observation point. To our surprise, we met Paddington Bear. This was a sign our trip was going to be full of wonder and surprises.

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Columbia River Gorge

by Jim and Melanie

During one of our days visiting Portland, OR, we drove east along the Columbia River. Over the eons, the river cut a gorge through the land as it coursed to the Pacific from central Oregon. The first scenic part of our drive was on the  Historic Columbia River Highway. We stopped at the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint.

Looking east | Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint

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