Posted tagged ‘Cusco’

“You don’t need magic to disappear, all you need is a destination and a great hostel!”

July 21, 2016

Yesterday was the perfect day: sunny, warm and dry. A breeze from the south kept my house cool. It will be warmer today, but this room, in the back of the house, is still dark and cool. I’m going to be out on the deck today with a good book and a cold drink. My outside table is perfectly shaded by branches from the scrub oak. Gracie lies in the shade at the right angle formed by two sides of the deck. She sleeps deeply and sometimes even snores.

When I was teaching, I was usually traveling in July and August. I was one of those backpackers who slept in hostels, on overnight buses and sometimes in parks. I bought bread, peanut butter and jam and ate sandwiches to save money. Sometimes I bought a cooked chicken and tomatoes for a fancy dinner sandwich. I had a Go Europe guidebook which listed free food at happy hours. I’d nurse a drink and eat my fill. Overnight train travel was my favorite route between two places. Sometimes I’d just buy a seat and try to get comfortable enough to sleep, but a couple of times I bought a couchette and was able to stretch out on a mattress and sleep.

Traveling in Europe was a huge adventure for me. I got to see all the places I’d only read or dreamed about. One summer it was five weeks in England, Scotland and Ireland. Another summer it was six weeks traveling in Finland, Russia, Denmark, The Netherlands and England. The big trip was eight weeks in South America. I landed in Caracas and left from Rio. In between, I traveled from country to country by bus, car and planes. The best plane ride was over the Andes from Lima to Cusco. I saw the shadow of my plane on the mountain tops covered in snow. In those days few Americans traveled in South America. We met only one other in Paraguay who asked to join us at an outdoor cafe. He had heard us speaking English. He was the head of Pan American Airlines in South America and was on his farewell tour of Pan Am offices before his retirement. He told some great stories including one about Eisenhower visiting South American and having to extend runways for his plane. I think that trip was my all-time favorite.

Eight weeks from now I’ll be in Ghana.

“The desire to reach for the sky runs deep in our human psyche.”

August 16, 2013

My feet are cold. I was outside reading the papers, and it felt chilly. The table is in the shade and the sun is still working its way around the house so the backyard has a bit of the night chill about it. While I was outside, I filled the seed and the suet feeders. Later, I’ll have to clean and refill the bird bath. Chickadees use it all the time to drink from while robins love a good bath.

Around six last night, my friend and I were on the deck enjoying a drink with some cheese and crackers. I noticed movement at a house across the street on the corner and kept trying to be attentive to my friend but also trying to keep an eye on the happening across the street. I thought I saw heads and spindly legs. I did. I was watching wild turkeys make their way down the street. I told my friend to turn around and take a look. She said she was wondering what had drawn my attention. Two of the turkeys were enormous, as big as I’ve ever seen. All of them, the toms and their hens, took their time wandering on another neighbor’s lawn and a few hens stopped to eat something. They then casually crossed the street to the yard next to mine. Gracie watched their progress from the deck. She didn’t bark but seemed as intrigued as we were. It has been a while since I’ve seen the turkeys on my street. It was fun to have them back.

My first plane flight was when I was a freshman in college. My parents gave me a ticket from Hyannis to Boston as an Easter gift. I was thrilled. The route was beautiful: over the water and the shore. The plane was old and perfect for my first flight. I had always wished I could have ridden in a PanAm Clipper during its heyday, and this plane reminded me a little of that. It was a prop and you had to walk uphill to your seats. The pilots were behind a curtain which didn’t shut all the way, and you could watch them at the controls. It was like going back in time.

That plane ride is my favorite of all, but I have a few others on the list. The flight from Argentina to Uruguay, a quick jump cross the water, had a raffle for a woman’s handbag. I didn’t win. A Ghana Airways flight from Tamale to Accra circled so many times I think the pilot was lost. It is the only plane on which I have ever felt air sick. It was all that circling. The flight to Cusco was the most dramatic. We were close enough to the mountains that we could see the shadow of the plane. On my first ever flight to Ghana, in 1969, I remember when we flew over the Sahara. It was like my geography book had come to life. I saw the rolling brown sand with what looked liked ridges, and it was a thrill I’ve never forgotten.

“Like you’re riding a train at night across some vast plain, and you catch a glimpse of a tiny light in a window of a farmhouse. In an instant it’s sucked back into the darkness behind and vanishes. But if you close your eyes, that point of light stays with you, just barely for a few moments.”

August 2, 2012

The humidity of the last few days has prompted an early hibernation for me. I started out with doors and windows opened then raced to close them and turn the AC on. Today and the next few days will be in the 80’s, warm for us, so I’ll hunker down and enjoy the cool air.

On with the travelog!

First, I apologize for the oversight so I’ll introduce the other half of the we I keep using. It was my roommate Francie, who had traveled only once out of the country on a guided tour of Italy with a bunch of high school kids, so this was, for her, a huge risk. She was the best of companions.

In Cuzco, we went to the market and bought some fruit and some coca leaves. We had read that chewing them allows the Peruvians to work at high altitudes without getting overly fatigued or hungry. We figured they’d help so we gave chewing them a try. The leaves weren’t worth the chew. We found out later they are mixed with something or better consumed in tea.

In those days, there was no tourist train to Aguas Calientes, the stop nearest the road to Machu Picchu, so we got up early and took the local. It was filled with Peruvians with their produce and reminded me of travel in Ghana. All that was missing were the goats and chickens. It was an amazing train ride. We traveled on rail so twisty we could see the front of the train from the back. I hung my head out the windows many times to see the train and the view along the way. We passed through Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the valley of the Incas and could see terraces up the mountains, places where the Incas planted their crops including potatoes and quinoa. After about four hours on the train, we arrived at the station where we had to buy bus tickets to get to the ruins. The road to the ruins was an amazing back and forth twist of a road, a zigzag switchback allowing travel up the steep hill.

All the pictures I see of the site now are filled with people roaming around. I didn’t find that. There were few people so I could take pictures without anyone in them. Machu Picchu is easily recognized as it sits between two mountains. The first view I saw of the ruins was from the hill which overlooks all of Machu Picchu. I don’t think I could move for a bit, astonished as I was by the sight. Finally I headed into the ruins where I walked around for hours. I went up to the sundial whose corners each point to a different direction. I took pictures through windows of the same view the Incas must have seen. I walked up and down the terraces. I took picture after picture of the ruins, the mountains and the ruins across from us on another mountain. I sat and just looked all around me. I think I forgot to breathe.

On the way down to the train, small boys raced the busses which had to negotiate the twisty road. The boys beat us to the bottom. We boarded the last train and headed back to Cuzco where we’d spend one more day exploring other ruins including an Incan foundation which still runs with sweet cold water. Then we took the train to Puno, a regular train back then. The ride was magnificent with the snow-capped Andes beside us for hours, the stops at small stations where we saw Peruvians in bright colors sitting in the sun, and in my mind’s eye, I still see the small children dressed in colorful clothes, red shawls are what I remember the best, who waved at us as the train passed. We always waved back. The second part of the trip was over the Andean plains, an amazing contrast from the mountains but no less beautiful. There we saw llamas, herds of llamas, shepherded by boys who followed behind them.

The trip to Puno took about 11 hours. We found a hotel and then wandered. Puno is right on the shores of Lake Titicaca. When I was a kid, that name always made us giggle when the nun said it. It was as if she were swearing somehow. We bought dinner from a stall along the street, and I bought a small, woven woolen wall decoration from another stall. The cloth was green and on it were appliquéd people who looked like all the Peruvians we had seen. One of them was playing Andean pipes. I still have it.

The next morning we went to the lake and booked passage on a hydrofoil guided tour which would stop at three islands on the lake then take us across to the Bolivian border where we’d board a bus to La Paz.

The journey continues!