Machu Picchu!

11 Oct
Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas. Click for more photos of Cusco.

The kids were off school this week so we were able to go with Rebekah to visit Machu Picchu! We figured a year in Peru was long enough to wait 🙂 Our residency status got us great discounts all around.

Last Saturday we flew to Cusco and spent the afternoon exploring the central square and shops. Cusco is a lot greener than Arequipa because, well, it rains there! We didn’t bring any rain gear because we were packing very light and we didn’t expect rain (also, we probably don’t have any because you don’t need it in Arequipa). The rainy season seems to have started early this year in Cusco so we got pretty soggy in the afternoon. We had just gotten on an open tour bus when it started to sprinkle, but the bus hadn’t left yet, so we ran downstairs and off the bus to the great protest of the vendor who had “made us a special deal” to get on the bus. “It’s only raining down here,” she said, “but it doesn’t rain up the hill where we’re going.” “No creo,” I smirked (I don’t believe it) and off we ran. “Amigo, amigo….” It poured shortly thereafter and I was glad we were not on the bus! We bought some emergency ponchos but saved them in our packs for Machu Picchu, which turned out to be a good call as we got a bit of rain there, too.

Overlooking Urubamba

Urubamba is a gem in the Sacred Valley.

Sunday we had a delightful time meeting a missionary family from Montana who lives in Cusco. For lunch, we had the best hamburgers we’ve had in Peru, a real treat. We later learned there are some American cattle farmers in nearby Urubamba and it’s therefore possible to buy beef that’s been properly finished (vs. the ground horsemeat we’ve unknowingly been getting in the supermarket). In the afternoon, we took a minivan to Ollantaytambo, where we boarded the train to Aguas Calientes, the tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu. The train is the only way to get there. It’s a beautiful journey through the Sacred Valley as you pass snow-capped peaks to enter the cloud forest, where the mountains are finally clothed with proper trees and vegetation instead of the poor naked rocks we see around Arequipa. Aguas Calientes was a bit of a disappointment, however. Given the unbelievable scenery, it has incredible potential as a tourist destination in its own right, but unfortunately the restaurants and hotels know they have a captive audience and can charge a lot for very little service (or food). We are told that Peruvians avoid the town and do the Machu Picchu day trip instead. I understand why.

Yeah, we did that.

Yeah, we did that. Click for more photos.

Monday morning the guys (myself, Daniel, and Timothy) headed off early to ascend Machu Picchu Mountain, which rises 2,200 ft. behind the ancient ruins. It’s the highest peak around (far above Wayna Picchu, which is the peak you always see pictured behind the ruins). We made it up in 1.5 hours and spent half an hour at the top before descending to meet Vicki, Rebekah, and Anna at the entrance. We hired a guide and visited the ruins together as a family.

We all had fun learning about the ruins and enjoyed a forbidden lunch on a rock shelf (snacks are officially forbidden, but nobody really minds as long as you don’t leave trash). The mountain setting is just breathtaking, sitting 1,500 ft. above the Urubamba River and Aguas Calientes. Whatever else the Incas did, they had great taste in real estate.

We were there

Captain America and family visit Machu Picchu. Click for more photos.

We spent Monday night in Aguas Calientes and headed back to Cusco on Tuesday. We visited some architectural ruins at a convent and learned some new things about Mary in the religious art gallery. There was a painting of her ascension to heaven, in which she is borne up by cherubim (portrayed as babies with wings) and a blasphemous painting of her coronation, in which the three members of the Holy Trinity are placing a crown on her head. We stumbled on two religious parades while in Cusco, combining Indian folk dance with religious symbols. The region is known throughout Peru for its strong syncretism of Catholic and pagan religion.

We visited the Cusco plaza again and were finally able to board a double-decker tour bus in good weather, much to Anna’s delight. The Cusco central plaza is beautiful, but by the time we left, we had serious “vendor fatigue.” From the moment you enter the square to the time you leave, you are bombarded by vendors on foot offering paintings, massages, tours, jewelry, and clothing. We counted and measured a peak rate of 5 VPM (vendors per minute) when first entering the square. The crazy thing is, all the products are the same, including the paintings, and one wonders how anyone can make money when there are so many people selling identical merchandise.

After a 2 hr delay, our return flight was cancelled.

After a 2 hr delay, our return flight was cancelled until the next day.

Wednesday morning we headed to the airport for a non-stop flight back to Arequipa, but the Lord had other plans. The airplane was unavailable (mechanical problems, they said) and at length, the flight was cancelled. This initiated a bit of a circus with everyone clamoring for alternate flights. There was some discussion of routing us through Lima, but in the end, the airline had no capacity. At moments like these, it is really frustrating not to have a better command of Spanish because the gate attendants were no longer using the PA nor English. Thankfully, we saw a friend who runs an orphanage on the flight and he helped us find the right line to make alternate arrangements. As it turned out, the airline provided sandwiches for lunch and put us up at a nice hotel with dinner. Back in Cusco, we had a chance meeting on the street with yet another brother from Arequipa who had been delayed arriving from AQP in the morning. We learned that his tour group of 48 students had been stranded in AQP and he had pleaded with the airline to get everyone to Cusco in time to use their non-changeable tickets to Machu Picchu. We surmised that he therefore got the airline’s one and only spare plane. It is rare that we get a glimpse into Providence, but it certainly seems as though our loss was his group’s gain, and we’re very happy that it worked out for him, as there was over $12,000 on the line for the school group. It would have been really sad for all those students to lose the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu and possibly their money, too!

All in all, we had a delightful time and are thankful for the opportunity to travel together as a family and meet new friends and old along the way. To see more photos on G+, simply click on the photos above.

One Response to “Machu Picchu!”

  1. Sheri Barber October 12, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    Awesome pictures David! Great to see all of you having such a grand time!

    By His grace, Sheri

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