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We were very excited about our trip, although Judy was a bit nervous about the high altitude. We were assured by our travel agent that there were steps that could be taken to minimize the ill effects of altitude sickness such as not to over exert ourselves, eat a high carbohydrate diet, avoid alcohol and to drink the coca tea and or chew the coca leaves easily available in the hotel lobby of every place we were going to visit.  As it turned out that was a very helpful way to handle the altitude. While illegal in the U.S., coca leaves is a prized agricultural product of national pride in Peru.

The flight began in Vegas. It was one hour to LA before we had to change planes for a nine hour flight to Lima, which was difficult to endure.  Upon finally landing in Lima, the van ride from the airport took us through the less desirable areas of the city.  My first impression of Lima was not a good one. We arrived and met our tour manager, Washington Geronimo, at the hotel in the Mira Flores district of Lima. Mira Flores is a quaint somewhat upscale part of the city reminiscent of the West Greenwich Village section of Manhattan in NYC. It is an area that caters to tourism and considerably nicer than the area we passed through on our way from the airport.

Washington Geronimo is an excellent tour manager, a native of Cusco and an Inka who speaks the native Inka language. He is very knowledgable and was a great source for information during our trip. There were two other local tour guides:  Carlos, who gave us a tour of Lima, and Edith who is a native of Puno on Lake Titicaca and who also spoke the ancient language of the Inka.

We had booked and extra day in Lima so we could relax and unwind from the flight and explore the city a little before the tours began. I highly recommend taking a day to unwind from the travel and relax before beginning the 10 day, daily active tour. Our room at the quaint Hotel Mira Flores was only a few blocks from the Mira Flores district, the JFK Park, the shops and the beach area.

On the next day, our local guide, Carlos, conducted a tour that featured the points of interest in Lima. We visited the main square and the San Francisco Monastery. The monastery was quite an interesting and impressive place with elaborate artwork, adornments and grandeur. We saw the rooms where the monks prayed, where they ate and the main sanctuary as well as the library. The library was like a set from a Harry Potter or Indiana Jones movie. There are ancient manuscripts and one of the oldest bibles in existence. Unfortunately, there is no effort or money to preserve the contents of the library for future generations, and most of the books are deteriorating quickly as are many of the numerous frescos at the monastery which are also suffering the ravages of time. The predominant religion of Peru is Catholicism (50%) and other forms of Christianity (40%) and the rest being a mix of other religions and the Inka religion of Pachamama. More on that later.

Double-click on any photo to see a full size version.

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The San Francisco Monastery entrance

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The San Francisco Monastery

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The library of the San Francisco Monastery

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A crucifix and painting. Notably absent are the two other cross. Also interesting about this painting is the image of Father (presumably) peeking through the clouds.

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The cathedral of the San Francisco Monastery

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The elaborately carved monk€™s prayer chamber niches of the monastery

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The monk€™s prayer chamber of the monastery

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An elaborately decorated gilded shrine

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Ceiling fresco in the monks dining hall

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A painting of the Last Supper.

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Another gilded shrine in the monastery

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The gilded niches of the monks rectory

The next day we took a flight for Cusco. Lima is at sea level. Cusco was our first introduction to higher altitude which is  at 11,600 feet. It was immediately noticeable. We were told we should not exert ourselves and try to gradually adjust to it. The high altitude is evident, but it was not as bad as we had anticipated.

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The city of Cusco as seen from the mountains surrounding the 11,600 feet above sea level valley in the Andes


From the Cusco airport we took a bus to Urubamba about an hour outside of Cusco to San Agustin Urubamba Hotel, our accomodations for two nights. We traveled to much higher elevation over the mountains to get to Urubamba. Cucso and Urubamba are a part of Peru's Sacred Valley region which extends from north of Ollyantaytambo to as far south as Lake Titicaca. Urubamba was absolutely stunning in its beauty and grandeur of the Andes mountains. Everywhere you look there is farming. Even the extremely steep mountainsides are farmed. I was surprised at how high and how steep the terrain is and yet there were people up there doing their spring planting. We were learning that the culture and life of Peru was very different and it was fascinating and enlightening.

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The highland farms in Urubamba Valley of the Andes

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The highland farms among the eucalyptus trees in Urubamba Valley of the Andes

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The eucalyptus trees in Urubamba Valley of the Andes

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Judy with our tour manager Washington Geronimo

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The highland farms in Urubamba Valley of the Andes

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A mud brick structure in the Urubamba Valley of the Andes


The forested areas in Peru are primarily Eucalyptus trees and not good for construction. Most structures, homes, farmhouses and city buildings are single story mud brick structures with Eucalyptus supported thatch roofs or corrugated metal roofs. They actually prefer the corrugated metal due to problems with large hail. Few farmers can afford tractors and plow their fields by oxen. Late October and early November are spring in Peru so most of the fields were freshly plowed and or planted with small sprouts coming up, very picturesque.

From Urubamba, it was a busride to the Inka ruins of Ollyantaytambo, an hour or so outside of Urubamba along the Urubamba river valley of the Sacred Valley region of Peru. The Andes mountains were very steep and visually impressive. It was quite a beautiful ride to the ruins.

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The Andes Mountains of the Sacred Valley region of Peru

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A freshly plowed field in the Andes Mountains of the Sacred Valley region of Peru

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The Andes Mountains of the Sacred Valley region of Peru

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A freshly plowed field in the Andes Mountains of the Sacred Valley region of Peru

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The Andes Mountains of the Sacred Valley region of Peru

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The city of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley

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Farming of the Urubamba Valley

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Farming in the Urubamba Valley

During the journey to the outlying areas, were given a demonstration of wool dyeing and weaving by some of the locals and sat down to a fabulous lunch of traditional Peruvian food.

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Peruvian women using natural dyes to color the wool

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A Peruvian woman weaving Alpaca wool

 

Washington informed us Ollyantaytambo was where three great valleys converged and where the Inka brought offerings of agricultural products such as corn, potatoes, quinoa, and coca to Inka storage structures. There were agricultural terraces that rose up the mountainside and temple structures at the top. Looking across the valley at the mountain facing the ruins was the face of the bearded man etched in the rocks. There were also storage structures on that rock face as well. The bearded face appears to be a 'long skull'. Long skulls are found all over the world and are believed to be a race of beings that created giants and then a smaller race of people who were believed to be the original native Inka. Above the head the Inka built stone structures which form a crown on top the bearded face. It is said the Inka trail once began here and made its way through the valley and on up to the city of Machu Picchu (pronounced with both c's).
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The terraces of Ollyantaytambo

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The grain storage chambers of Ollyantaytambo

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Outlined to show the faces and the angel of Ollyantaytambo

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Another view of the Ollyantaytambo terraces

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Stone structures of Ollyantaytambo

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Stone wall at Ollyantaytambo

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Stone structures atop Ollyantaytambo

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Stone walls at Ollyantaytambo

Later in the day, we took in the ruins of Moray. Moray is an agricultural laboratory of the Inka farmers. The circular terraces were designed to learn about the differences in growing corn at different elevations and sunlight conditions. The terraces were not only interesting but beautiful and they were nestled in the high foothills of the Andes in a very scenic part of the Sacred Valley. These vistas have to be experienced. Photography barely does them justice.

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The farming in the highlands of the Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Moray

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The farming in the highlands of the Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Moray

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The farming in the highlands of the Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Moray

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The Inka agricultural laboratory of Moray

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The Inka agricultural laboratory of Moray

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Terraces at the back area of the Inka agricultural laboratory of Moray

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Inside the terraces of the Inka agricultural laboratory of Moray

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Another area of the Inka agricultural laboratory of Moray

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Mud brick structures in the highlands of the Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Moray

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The farming in the beautiful highlands of the Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Moray

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The beautiful highlands of the Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Moray

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A Peruvian woman and child in the highlands of the Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Moray

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The farming in the highlands of the Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Moray

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The farming in the highlands of the Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Moray

We headed back to Urubamba to rest up because the next morning's wake up call was scheduled for 3:45am so we could have enough time to take in Machu Picchu.

We took the bus back to Ollyantaytambo where we boarded the train to Machu Picchu that takes around an hour to get there. The train took us to the town of Machu Picchu where we boarded a local public bus for the trip up the mountain to the ruins. Along the way to Machu Picchu we were amazed at the beautiful mountainous terrain. We couldn't help but notice that there were numerous images in the rocks along the route to Machu Picchu at 9000 feet above sea level. I was struck by the strong similarity in the look of the rocks to those found in the Sacred Valley of the Colorado Rockies. We saw images of chimps, an owl, sentinels, at least one dog's head and faces of all sorts. I'd say they were signposts along the way to the temple and home of the Inka priests at Machu Picchu.

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Train to Machu Picchu

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The Sentinels

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The Dog's Head

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The farming in the highlands of the Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Machu Picchu

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The Stone Head

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Jabba The Hutt?

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The Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Machu Picchu

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Inca Ruins on the way to Machu Picchu

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The Urubamba River

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The Lion

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Two Chimps

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A Sentinel

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The Urubamba River Valley

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The Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Machu Picchu

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The Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Machu Picchu

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The Owl

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The Sacred Valley of Peru on our way to Machu Picchu

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Ollyantaytambo viewed from the right side


The weather was beautiful during our stay in Peru...with one exception. It rained at Machu Picchu. but no way did it damper our enthusiasm or our spirits.  Neither did it hold us back from being in awe of the grandeur of the place. Machu Picchu and Ollyantaytambo each beg the question: Why build extensive stone structures with granite quarried at great distances away, carried up steep mountains and shaped to fit perfectly together? I can only conclude that there had to be a very special reason why these locations were chosen. It boggles my mind. We are told that these cities were constructed over a 100 year period and then abandoned before they were finished, and the trails destroyed to hide them about 600 years ago when the Spaniards were beginning their quest to conquer the Inka. The ruins have been restored as much as was possible since their discovery in the mid 40s. Tourists from all over the globe visit the site daily. After a two hour guided tour by Washington we were allotted two hours to explore the city on our own. Naturally, we climbed in the pouring rain, up large granite steps, all the way to the top, to the most incredible and breathtaking view of the ruins, and the surrounding majestic mountains.

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Our first look at Machu Picchu

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Above the clouds

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The terraces of Machu Picchu

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A spectacular view of Machu Picchu

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The Stone Structures of Machu Picchu

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The Temple Altar

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The Stone Structures of Machu Picchu overlooking the Sacred Valley

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The Inka Sundial

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The Stone Structures at the far end of Machu Picchu

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The mists of the Sacred Valley

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Notice the building at the top. We climbed all the way up there

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A stone building at Machu Picchu

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Inka Reflection Pools for viewing the solar eclipse

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A view from about the middle of Machu Picchu

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Overlooking the Sacred Valley from Machu Picchu

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A view of the major portion of the city at Machu Picchu

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View from about half way up the terraces of Machu Picchu

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Judy atop Machu Picchu

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The view from the very top of Machu Picchu

After visiting Machu Picchu, our group returned to Urubamba for the evening to rest up for the next day to explore Cusco. Cusco is very large and quaint Peruvian city, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and stay at the Jose Antonio Cuzco Hotel.

From Cusco, our journey led to the temple and silos of Raqchi and from there to the city of Puno on Lake Titicaca.

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A beautiful lake on our way to Raqchi Temple in the Sacred Valley

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A beautiful lake on our way to Raqchi Temple in the Sacred Valley

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The Urubamba River on our way to Raqchi Temple in the Sacred Valley

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A farming village on our way to Raqchi Temple in the Sacred Valley

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A farming village on our way to Raqchi Temple in the Sacred Valley

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The beautiful Andes Mountains on our way to Raqchi Temple in the Sacred Valley

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The beautiful Andes Mountains on our way to Raqchi Temple in the Sacred Valley

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The beautiful Andes Mountains on our way to Raqchi Temple in the Sacred Valley

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The beautiful Andes Mountains on our way to Raqchi Temple in the Sacred Valley

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Another farming village on our way to Raqchi Temple in the Sacred Valley

The large temple structure at Raqchi and surrounding storage silos were a central location where the people of the four Inka kingdoms brought offerings. From the Pacific coast kingdom the offerings were of fish. The north in the Cusco region brought corn and potatoes. The southern offerings were quinoa and textiles and the jungles to the east brought fruit and coca. Ollyantaytambo, Machu Picchu and Raqchi were administrative facilities for the Inka kingdoms and the structures are impressive. That said, Lake Titicaca was not an administrative facility, but rather, it was considered the capital of Peru and of the Inka kingdoms, and there are no visible temple ruins or structures other than agricultural terraces which mark the area. Only legends of a sunken city in the lake and of a huge gold disk which was thrown into the lake to keep it out of the hands of the Spaniard conquistadors remain as a testament to the importance of Titicaca to the Inka.

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The Temple at Raqchi

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The Grain Silos

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Inside an Inka Grain Silo

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The ruins of the grains storage silos of Raqchi

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A row of storage silos

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In front of a restored Grain Silo

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A Peruvian woman spinning Alpaca wool

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The Temple at Raqchi

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The Temple at Raqchi

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At 14,500 feet above sea level

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At 14,500 feet above sea level

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A Falcon

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At 14,500 feet above sea level

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The High Plains of Peru


From Raqchi, the motor coach made another short stop in a small Peruvian village on the plains of southern Peru. There was a large hill which stuck up from the flat plains region. This hill has some interesting markings etched into the rock face. A gorilla, a calves head and an Inka priest gesturing with his hand the way to Lake Titicaca. One of the interesting correlations with the stone images of Colorado's Sacred Valley is the presence of the images of a gorilla, which is not native to either location, and of a cow which is seen in both locations as well. With the way pointed out to us we journeyed on to Puno.

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Outlined

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Dog's Head

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Outlined


Peru is full of profound majestic beauty, but not all was beautiful. On our way to Puno we passed through the city of Juliaca, which must be the armpit of Peru. The city government taxes all structures which are complete in their construction. Needless to say, not one finished structure can be found in the entire city other than government buildings. Every building has the facade of an intended second story which is left incomplete and rebar can be seen on the top of every building in the entire city. There are very few paved streets and the city in general looks filthy and really horrible. Our guide told us that people have money there. Probably because it is the center of the 'White Market' (cocaine drug trade). I kept saying to myself as we passed through the city, please bus, don't fail us now! We almost didn't make it to the lake because there was a general strike against the city government and the entire city was completely shut down in the days prior to our arrival.

An hour out of Juliaca and not before going over the mountains at over 14,500 feet above sea level we came to the city of Puno on Lake Titicaca which it the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet above sea level. We stayed at the Hotel Royal Inn Puno where they were very accomodating to those visitors feeling the effects of the high altitude by offering oxygen to help temporarily relieve some of the symptoms. The effects of altitude were very apparent, but still manageable. We walked slowly, drank the coca tea and chewed the coca leaves which helped relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness.

The lake is a gorgeous sight to behold. Half of the lake is considered to belong to Peru and half to Bolivia. Much of the Peruvian side of the lake is shallow with an abundance of Totora reed which the Uros islanders use to build the floating islands upon which they live. These floating islands are connected into communities. The Uros islanders speak two ancient Inka languages and live almost exclusively upon the lake surviving on the natural flora and fauna of the lake and also on tourism. The tourism has provided much needed funding for schools on the islands. The life of a Uros islander is not an easy one. They face great hardships and very primitive conditions. In spite of these difficulties they are a happy people that do not envy the life of the mainlanders. They prefer their culture and communities and life on the lake.

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Puno at Lake Titicaca

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The city of Puno at Lake Titicaca

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The city of Puno at Lake Titicaca

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The city of Puno at Lake Titicaca

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On Lake Titicaca

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On Lake Titicaca

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On Lake Titicaca

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Totoro reeds growing on Lake Titicaca

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The Floating Islands of Uros

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The Floating Islands of Uros

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A Reed Boat

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One of the Floating Islands of Uros

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Our tour guide Edith with the President of the community explain how the islands are made

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Edith and a young Uros islander in traditional dress

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Uros islanders demonstrate their trading practices

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One of the Floating Islands of Uros

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A small reed house on the Floating Islands of Uros

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A reed boat to take tourists around the islands

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A small reed house on the Floating Islands of Uros

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One of the Floating Islands of Uros

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A community of Floating Islands

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Uros islanders in traditional dress

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On Lake Titicaca

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On Lake Titicaca


The people of Peru are mostly Catholic and Christian, However, when it comes to the practice of daily life and in particular the rural farming communities outside the cities they profess Christianity while participating in the culture and rituals of Pachamama. Pachamama translates as Mother Earth and is a belief which focuses on harmony with nature and the elements. This changes a bit with regard to the people who live near or on the lake. There are two additional concepts they hold in high regard. Our tour guide, Edith, told us that Pachamama (Mother Earth) is practiced but they also recognize Copacati (the spirit of Lake Titicaca), and also Pachatata (Father Milky Way). I suspect that these early Inka were taught about the Father concept, and perhaps by the 'people of the lake'. It has endured as a part of their religious beliefs through the ages as Pachatata.

I asked Edith about the legend of the sunken city in the lake.  She acknowledged the legend and also spoke about the gold disk which was thrown into the lake. Edith pointed out the Inka profile in the hills above Puno overlooking the lake. She explained that the Lake was considered a very spiritual place and that the Inka regarded it as not only the physical capital of the Inka kingdom but its spiritual center as well. I wish I’d had more time to have a more private discussion with her about the people of the lake and the legends, but, unfortunately, the opportunity did not present itself.

While in Puno, we were lucky to be there at the time of the one year anniversary of the merchants association for which there was a big celebration. The city of Puno has about 300,000 residents, and I think all of them were in the main part of the city for the celebration. There was a parade about a mile in length consisting of locals in brightly colored and fantastically decorated costumes dancing and weaving through the city streets from 8am to 8pm. Interesting note there were many paraders dressed as gorillas and bulls. I asked about the gorillas (not native to Peru) in the parade and Edith said they were a direct result of the things seen in the rocks of the Sacred Valley. No doubt there are many people familiar with the images in the rocks.

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The parade in celebration of the one year anniversary of the Puno Merchants Association

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The parade in celebration of the one year anniversary of the Puno Merchants Association

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The parade in celebration of the one year anniversary of the Puno Merchants Association

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The parade in celebration of the one year anniversary of the Puno Merchants Association

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The parade in celebration of the one year anniversary of the Puno Merchants Association

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The city of Puno overlooking Lake Titicaca

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The city of Puno overlooking Lake Titicaca

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Judy and I at Lake Titicaca

The parade in Puno on Lake Titicaca celebrated the one year anniversary of the Puno Merchants Association. The parade was about a mile long weaving its way around the city and lasted from 8am - 8pm. It was supposed to last until midnight, but because it started to drizzle the parade was cut short. It appeared as if the entire city of about 300,000 were there in the main part of the city for the festivities. The costumes are amazing and each section of the parade had its own dance moves and song. Notice that some of the paraders are dressed as gorillas. Gorillas are not native to South America. I asked our tour guide about the gorillas in the parade and she said they were there because they see the images of gorillas in the rocks. Enjoy!


From Puno it was a day of travel by bus back to the airport in Juliaca and a fight to Lima and bus back to the hotel for an overnight stay. In the morning we boarded a bus to the airport before taking a long flight back to LA, and then a connecting to a flight to Las Vegas. From Titicaca to Las Vegas it was two full days of travel.

We were both very pleased and impressed with our tour of Peru. My only regret of our trip to Peru is that the night sky never cleared up to view the Milky Way. I would have loved to behold it reflected off the still waters of Lake Titicaca. The 11 day adventure was an absolutely unforgettable experience. We learned a lot and saw a lot. It was a fantastic journey which should be included on everyone's bucket list of the greatest places on earth to visit. For us, it was a spiritual journey to incredibly beautiful and majestic vistas as well as amazing historical places. You could really feel the energy of these very magical Ollyantaytambo, Machu Picchu, Raqchi and especially Lake Titicaca.

Many thanks to Vacations To Go, our tour company Gate 1 Travel, and our excellent tour manager Washington, and local guides Carlos and Edith.

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