Although we arrived in Lima in the middle of sweltering summer, we were late to discover its beaches. Many local Limenos dismissed the local beaches and we were left with the impression that we needed a car (which we don't have) to get to anywhere desirable. From the cliffs of Miraflores we spied seas of people wading in the water along umbrella strewn beaches and we cringed at the thought of being so tightly crammed onto a beach and consequently opted to avoid the scene. Then in March a surf pro visited the boys' school and invited students to surf. With our curiosity piqued we took a taxi to Playa Barraquito that Sunday and were greeted by encouraging folks. We rebuffed their entreaties that day, but rallied the following Sunday for a family surf lesson. Since that initial foray, surfing has become our favorite weekend outing. I have wimped out for now and have appointed myself as family surf videographer. We have been blessed by a great surf teacher named Kike Tavara who runs Primeras Olas Surf School.
After the lesson, we head down to a sandy and calmer beach where we boogie board, build sand castles, and "descansar." The water temperature has been averaging 70°F and with 3:2 wetsuits we are set. We aren't sure if we'll manage to surf through the whole winter, but we aim to try.
Aguas Calientes is the town at the end of the railway to Machu Picchu. It's basically a conglomeration of hotels and restaurants that hold tourists between arriving/departing on the train and the bus trip up to see the ruins. We were lucky enough to stay at a hotel at the edge of town that had a few acres of grounds. Hotel staff put out feeders to attract the local birds. I was unaware of the variety of birds in the area so was very pleasantly surprised to see as many as I did.
Machu Picchu is at the north end of the Sacred Valley in a spot where the valley has narrowed dramatically and the mountains rise steeply. It's said that the Inca couriers were so fast and the road so good that fresh fish could be delivered from the Pacific to be served for dinner. It took us that long to make the final leg of our trip, a short 20 miles by rail.
It seems strikes are a frequent pastime of Peruvians and the teachers of the Province of Cusco had chosen the same day as our trip to stage a strike. Their strikes are different from ours in the US in that they are announced far in advance and they transport giant boulders to scatter across roads bringing transport to a halt. Our hotel operator convinced us to leave at 5:00 AM to beat the road closure even though our train wasn't scheduled until 11:00. We arrived at the train station in Ollantaytambo at 5:30 and proceeded to wait, thinking we had bested the strikers. Turns out they weren't to be outdone so easily and also put boulders on the tracks so our train couldn't get to the station to take us down the valley to Machu Picchu. By the time the chaos was dealt with, it was 5:00 PM and we were finally on our way. Experiencing the local culture is one of the things we came for.
Machu Picchu is one of the most photographed places on the planet so it's hard to think I can really add to what you've already seen. I also think most people have a pretty good idea of its story so not much to add here either. That having been said, I'll write about some things I learned and add a photo slideshow at the end. The main thing that struck me was how stunning the location is. Machu Picchu is actually the name of one of the peaks no one ever photographs. The buildings we all think of as Machu Picchu are situated on a small, flat space at the top of a peak that drops precipitously down to the river and are surrounded by similar mountains with morning clouds adding a dramatic extra to the scene.
No one is sure about anything related to the site except that it is a new Inca structure not built on top of anything previous cultures had built. It was home to only 700 or so people and it is conjectured that they were all Inca nobility and this was either their permanent home or a country escape. Astoundingly, it was built in only 70 years and occupied for only another 70 years before being abandoned. The site is imbued with religious significance from the shape of the peak, Huayna Picchu, in the background of most pictures (with a little imagination you can see the outline of a human face, forehead on right, chin on left, nose in middle in the headline photo). Many architectural features have religious and astronomical functions.
The site was never seen or plundered by the Spaniards so was never recorded as existing. Some historians assume the royalty that lived here picked up and moved to Vilcabamba, a more easily defensible spot, after hearing of the demise of their leader at the hands of the Spanish. There were a couple of Quecha families farming the terraces when Hiram Bingham, a Yale archaeologist working in the area in 1911, heard rumor of the undiscovered site. Since then, it has become one of the top travel destinations in the world.