Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 17 Cusco to Lima

Today we had a choice of sleeping in a bit or rising early to take the tour of Cusco we missed with the late arrival of our plane into Cusco.  Despite a poor night’s sleep for both of us we were up at 6:00 AM as we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see Cusco, which is a very interesting and historic city.  Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire and literally means “navel” or the center of the empire.  According to the history we read, at its height, the Inca ruled the greatest empire on earth.  Bigger than the dynasties in China, the empires in Russia, West Africa, the Aztecs, and by far bigger than any European state.  As I said earlier, when the Spanish took it over they destroyed most of the Inca architecture, but you can still see a lot of it around, particularly in the foundations of the buildings and stone walls.

After another delicious continental breakfast, we were on the bus by 7:15 to begin our tour.  I thought maybe traffic would be better, but even in the morning it was bad with every driver seemingly doing whatever he or she wanted.  Even when road workers tried to put up a barrier where they were doing construction, drivers just kept driving right around it and ignoring the workers pleas, even driving up on the curbs to avoid the barriers.  Finally they gave up and removed the barriers and tried to control traffic so they could get their work done.  It was interesting to watch, quite different than our own culture.  One of the things that adds to the chaos is the roads are very narrow as the city layout is much the same as it was built by the Incas and added to by the conquering Spaniards.  As I said before, the roads were of course originally designed for nothing wider than horses and people and there is no room to widen them now which makes driving, at best, difficult and challenging.

Narrow streets mean congestion in Cusco, even early in the morning.
The first stop on our short tour was an overlook high above the city to give us an overview of the size and some of the points of interest.  There was an old Catholic Church there and behind it there were levels of terraces.  I asked our guide about the walls and he said “oh yes, I forgot to mention it, those were built by the Incas in the 1300’s”.  History is pretty much taken for granted in Cusco.

 The following pictures were taken by other members of our group who were in a second van.  Unfortunately we didn't see the ladies and their lamas when we stopped.
I believe this picture was Tony's.
This lady added a sheep.
We drove through several historic areas and then stopped at Plaza de Armas, which in Inca times was the heart of the city and remains the same today. It is ringed by colonial buildings and a large cathedral.  In the center was a statue of Pachacuti who was considered the greatest of the Inca kings and the driving force behind the creation of the Inca Empire.  That was all the time we had as we had to go back to the hotel and pick up the members of our group who chose sleep over sightseeing and head to the airport.

This is another picture from someone else in our group.

Val and I in front of the statue of Pachacuti.

The airport at Cusco was much smaller than the Lima airport, which made things much easier, plus our guide already had our boarding passes so all we had to do was get off the bus and get through security.  It didn’t take long and we were soon seated at the gate waiting for our flight.  We also said good-bye to our tour company guide Gabriela who had been with us since our arrival in Cusco.  She was a native of Cusco and took care of all our needs and always seemed to be a step ahead of what was going on.  She made everything very easy for us; thank you, Gabriela.

To Val’s delight, there were several shops around the gate area so she spent most of the hour before our flight shopping.  I sat and watched the mix of tourists and Peruvians go by and just relaxed.  Soon it was almost time for us to board and then an airline employee walked around telling everyone there would be a 15 minute delay; oh no, not this again!  Luckily though, it was only a fifteen minute delay, we started boarding and were soon in the air headed for Lima.

We arrived in Lima just before noon and were met by the tour company guide for Lima who led us to the bus for our four hour tour of Lima.  We first went to the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Lima for a buffet lunch.  The drive took about a half an hour and our guide gave us information on what we were seeing plus some cultural, historical and political information on Lima and Peru.  The buffet was quite extensive and very good and we were all pretty hungry since it had been a long time since breakfast.

After lunch it was back to the bus and we drove through some of the historical areas of Lima with our guide explaining what was going on as we went.  Traffic was quite heavy, but the driving was much more modern than in Cusco with mostly wider roads except in some of the historic areas.  We made a stop at the Plaza Mayor also known as Plaza de Armas of Lima, which was designated as the central plaza by Francisco Pizarro (the conquering Spaniard) when he founded the city of Lima.  Today it is still the historical center of the city.  On one side of the plaza is the historic Cathedral of Lima founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1538.  We walked around the plaza for a while and were able to go into the church which was very ornate and opulent.  On other sides of the plaza were the Municipal Palace of Lima and the Archbishop's Palace of Lima.

The Cathedral of Lima.

This picture and the following ones were taken inside the Cathedral of Lima.

This is Pizarro's tomb inside the Cathedral of Lima.  His death was brutal, and at the hands of Spaniards.  There is a box (just to the left in this photo) that holds his head.

Before we left the plaza area we were given a half an hour for one last chance to shop at the many small shops.  Val took advantage of the time and found some interesting Peruvian items. 

Time ran out on our tour and it was time to get back to the ship.  We arrived around 4:00 PM (30 minutes before all aboard) and a tired, but happy group of people got off the bus and boarded the ship.  We were back home after our three day adventure into the Peruvian Andes!  We unpacked our bags, admired our purchases and then relaxed for a while before our usual MIX Lounge, dinner and the casino.  We were very tired so we didn’t linger long in the casino as we were looking forward to bed and a good night’s sleep.

Fog was closing in as we departed from Lima and Peru.
Some of the fishing fleet shrouded in fog.
This excursion was expensive (especially the superior version that we took) and I have to admit that I had my doubts spending that much money, but our desire to see Machu Picchu made our decision to do it an easy one and I have to say it was well worth it and I have no regrets.  First off, seeing Machu Picchu was an amazing experience.  Standing in Machu Picchu, an amazing Incan city, was awe inspiring.  In the books I have read about the Incas, it was said that they didn’t change the land to fit their cities, they built their cities to fit their land and that was very true of Machu Picchu.  It was in total harmony with the surrounding mountains and highlands, truly amazing.  Adding to our experience was our time spent in Cusco and the amazing Hiram Bingham train.  This is truly an experience that Val and I will always remember and treasure.  Right now it seems that the rest of our cruise might be a bit of a letdown, but I’m sure we still have some amazing things to see and do.

If anyone who reads this is planning a trip to Machu Picchu, there are two books I would highly recommend before you go.  The first is "The Last Days of the Incas" by MacQuarrie and "Turn Right at Mach Picchu" by Mark Adams.  Both these books give you a lot of background on the Incas, the Spanish conquest, and the rediscovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham.  Thanks to my brother Doug who gave me "Turn Right at Machu Picchu" for my birthday.

I have to add many thanks to Tony our guide from the ship and Gabriela and the other Lima Tours' guides for helping to make this tour so enjoyable.

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