Monday, July 27, 2015

Machu Picchu 2015

We arrived to Machu Picchu as do most people, by train to Aguas Calientes and then a shuttle bus from town up the switchbacks. The bus leaves you not far from the entrance gate of Machu Picchu and right in front of the hotel we stayed at. You can walk up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes and I saw more people than I expected doing so. The shuttle bus only costs $19US for a return ticket and it takes about 30 minutes.
It was a bumpy ride.
This is the road the buses take, there are stairs connecting the switchbacks for those who want to save twenty dollars. We arrived on the Peru Rail Vistadome 601 at 9:25AM. We were at our hotel, the Sanctuary Lodge way before 11, left our bags since the room was not ready, walked 50 feet and started our 3 hour tour with Jose, yes a 3 hour tour. We had lunch after the tour at the hotel and went back to Machu Picchu on our own to explore some more.  Jose went home to spend what was left of his day with his family, it was Fathers Day.

Machu Picchu
Some things aren't as impressive when you see them in person, like Manneken Pis or Camelot (it's only a model), but Machu Picchu certainly impresses. The Spanish did not destroy this Inca site, only the jungle and that left all the pieces behind, just not in their proper places. Whereas all the other Inca sites we had already seen had been broken up and taken away for Cathedrals or homes.

Machu Picchu is split up into sections, an Urban section and an agricultural section.
When you first arrive most folks are taken to the terrace below the Guardhouse where you can get sweeping views of the whole site like these. The city wall and dry moat in the foreground separated the urban and agricultural sections.

 This is a view of the lower slopes of the Eastern Urban Section.
 The main gate into the Urban Section.

The Urban section is broken down into groups of buildings called Conjuntos. From the quality of the stonework you can tell how important the dwellers/user of the structures would have been.
 Here you have a better view of the city wall, stairs, dry moat and the canal bringing water into the city.
 The canal extends into the city. This is Conjunto 2 and contains the Temple of the Sun, middle right in the photo above.
The Temple of the sun was built on top of a large rock and had 2 windows, one facing east for receiving the sun on June 21 the winter solstice. Beneath the Temple was a natural cave where remains of sacrifices were found.

 The quarry is in the Western Urban Section, all chips and flakes from working the stone were used in building foundations for the terraces and the structures to allow for drainage. The abundance of stone is listed as a reason for the selection of the site.
This is the Temple of the 3 Windows in the Sacred Plaza, Conjunto 4, also in the Western Urban Section. The Principal Temple to the right in the photo did not fare as well as most of the other structures in Machu Picchu, due to poor preparation of the foundation, the east wall has settled.

The Main Plaza here separated the Western and Eastern Urban Sections. Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain) is in the right of the photo in the backround. It can be climbed, but the trail is precarious. Access is limited to 400 people a day, you are required to sign in/out so they know who fell off the mountain.
If you look closely in this photo you can see people ascending Huayna Picchu.
 The Sacred Rock Plaza with 2 Wayronas (3 sided buildings) just visible on the left and an unfinished temple platform is in the photo center. Just past the Sacred Rock Plaza is the trail to Huayna Picchu.

A collection of photos from the Eastern Urban section, these structures are more rustic, though there are some well made walls of course facing the rich part of town.

 The Artisans wall is the exterior wall of Conjunto 16 and faces the Sacred Plaza.
Two mortars found in the Eastern Section, their purpose unknown, there were other similar structures filled with water which acted as mirrors used to view the night skies.
 This is the Temple of the Condor, Conjunto 17. The condor body is on the ground with a white stone collar and the natural rock in the background makes up the Condor's wings.
Looking North West towards Huayna Picchu.

Detail of stonework used to tie doors shut.

 Looking back towards the Agricultural Section. The Guardhouse and terraces for crops.
The arty-farty Guardhouse shot.
 Another view incorporating the quarry.

Water Management
The Inca brought in water from a spring through a small canal 2500 feet long and delivered it to 16 fountains.

They also had canals to drain the terraces and move water away from the site to reduce erosion and prevent mudslides.

Intipunku, The Sun Gate
 If you look close you can see the Sun Gate in the notch in the photo below.
The Sun Gate is where hikers who do the Inca Trail first arrive, the hike is timed to get the hikers to the gate when the sun is rising over Machu Picchu. It is a very impressive sight when the morning mist burns off.
 The Sun Gate itself, a couple of rough stone columns is not too impressive, looks more like a bunch of hippies hanging about in a park.
 The view is why we are here, the whole site spread out in front of you. We started up to the Sun Gate the morning of our second day at 6:30AM and were back by 8:30. The distance to the Sun Gate at 2720M is about 1.25 miles and the elevation change is around 1000 feet. My fitbit clocked the round trip as 6810 steps and 91 flights of stairs. The trail is mainly a roughly paved stone path with occasional steps and one or 2 places where a railing would have been welcome.
 This is the view from the ruins of a Security Station about halfway up to the Sun Gate. Not quite as good as from the Sun Gate, but if you couldn't make it any further you wouldn't be missing out on too much.
This is the Security Station seen from the Sun Gate.

After returning to the hotel and having breakfast we had time to go back to Machu Picchu one last time, but we had tired of all the steps and decided to spend some time in Aguas Calientes. After cruising the souvenir stands for awhile we waited for the train and caught the Peru Rail Vistadome 204 train at 1:37PM back to Ollantaytambo. From there we were driven back to Cusco.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Peruvian Amazon River

Our Delfin II Amazon Cruise was scheduled to depart from Nauta an hour and a half drive from Iquitos, but the exceedingly high water level changed our embarkation point to be Iquitos itself.

We landed in Iquitos early evening and had to wait on the plane about 20 minutes for the rains to subside before we could exit the plane and run across the tarmac in the heavy drizzle to the Airport Terminal. We were met by the team from the Delfin II and after all the luggage turned up we were driven down to the dock. The trip took about 30 minutes and the traffic was made up of mainly TukTuks, those 3 wheeled conveyances, it seemed like chaos. I felt like we were on The Amazing Race, the day had been a holiday and there were still celebrations going on and some roads were closed. Once at the dock we were taken across to the Delfin II by the skiffs, had a welcome drink, a short briefing and had a late dinner. That evening sleep was constantly interrupted by the boat hitting some submerged object, the engines being cut and then the whole process starting all over again as we headed up the Amazon River. The total elevation change of the Amazon from Iquitos to the mouth is not very great. The web says "the elevational gradient of the Amazon is very low. Iquitos, Peru is some 3,600 km (2,250 miles) from the Atlantic, yet the river-level at low-water season is only about 100 m (a bit more than 300') above sea-level" So says Project Amazonas.

The next morning we were told we would be approaching the beginning of the Amazon proper at 10AM, where the Rio Ucayali and Rio Marañón meet. It wasn't that impressive of a sight, but we were given a drink to celebrate and the main guide made a Toast "Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa' dentro" The glass held up, then out front, then down and then you drank. In my head I was saying "Eins, zwei, drei, g'suffa".
 The Rio Maranon to starboard.
The Rio Ucayali to port, this is the river our boat cruised up, we went upriver as far as Rio Dorado. For the most part we were "exploring" in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve.

Some photos of The Delfin II

Each day we had a morning and an afternoon skiff ride exploring side channels, temporary lakes and small rivers. While the Delfin II was on the move, the skiffs where held out of the water. I was told that the 3 skiffs each used 35 gallons of gasoline over the course of our 5 day cruise.

Here is a small side river joining the Rio Ucayali. Some of the smaller side streams were slower moving and less turbid than the main channel as you can see above.
 One morning we went kayaking, we were told to stay away from the trees and bushes at the side of the river because of the possibility of spiders and snakes.
Here's the front half of the kayak with her lampshade.
 The river was high but receding, the waterline on the trees shown above is about 8 feet. The river was about 3 meters above normal the week we were there.
One of the other skiffs from our boat. You weren't required to take every excursion, you were always welcome to stay behind and relax in the lounge or nap in your suite.

 Silt left behind by the annual flooding. The farmers plant rice on the side of the river when the water level drops and then harvest it 4 months later.

These are some of the watercraft we passed on our cruise.
Transportation of goods and non-tourists.
These last 2 photos were of another cruise line we had looked at while planning our trip, but we were very happy with the Delfin II.

Here are some riverside views
 A small village on the river.
 A day camp for fishermen.
 An Amazon lodge.
We also visited Puerto Miguel, a fairly large village which had a shop where local women sold handicrafts. All the tourists show up there.
 Here is a floating restaurant in Iquitos and some more views of Iquitos
 Two last views from the dock where we started and ended our cruise.
Our cruise was a 4 night/5 day cruise and was a perfectly relaxing way to end our Peruvian holiday. There was both a shorter and longer cruise, but I think our pick was just right.