Peru Part 1

When I left Colombia for Lima on February 17, I entered Peru where I would spend nearly a month visiting Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and towns on the South Coast ending in the city of Arequipa from where I would go by tour to Colca Canyon. It was an amazing month that introduced me to some of the most iconic sights in South America. For the most part, it was smooth going, yet there were a few disappointments. One was losing the record of my Lima experiences when I accidently erased three days of my journal. Fortunately, I have the photos from those days to reconstruct their memories.

After Buenos Aires, Lima was my favorite city of the entire trip. That is partly due to where I stayed in the interesting district of Miraflores. I think it was at this point in my journey that Kay stepped up to research and book my hotels. I had been doing it myself and was not very happy with my choices. Besides, traveling as I was entailed a lot of forward planning. There were flights and tours to book and immigration requirements to deal with. Not having to research and book my lodgings was a relief.

Arriving at Lima’s airport, immigration was perfunctory. The agent didn’t stamp my passport or ask about my on-going travel plans. A taxi took me to the Hotel José Antonio Deluxe in Miraflores where my room would be ready at noon. I went to the hotel’s large empty restaurant and ate quesadillas with guacamole and a glass of ginger ale. I appreciate these South American countries that offer ginger ale, the one soft drink I like.

A man at reception named José met me and escorted me to my room on the fifth floor where he had already placed my luggage. It was a good room with two beds, a desk, a roomy bathroom, and a safe in the closet. (I had the practice of locking my passport and money belt in hotel-room safes.)

Carrying my laundry to a nearby lavandería, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t have clean clothes for three days. I was running out of everything.

With José, I discussed going to Cuzco and arranging for Inka Rail to take me to Machu Picchu. I also booked a couple of group tours of the city. Then, I took a long walk to get a sense of Miraflores.

Busy Avenue Larco ended at a point high above the Pacific Ocean. I had expected to find a large shopping mall but didn’t see it. A friendly man explained that the mall was beneath us, and as I walked further across a plaza, I found steps to the stores below that faced the ocean.

Parque del Amor

I walked along the heavily trafficked coast road to a street that would lead me back to the hotel. That walk led me through a pretty park with curved, tiled walls bearing colorful designs and inscriptions. I would learn that its name is Parque del Amor,

symbolized by a large sculpture of a naked entwined couple. Below me on the cross street, I passed several fancy tennis courts belonging to some private club.

In Miraflores, the sidewalks were of a normal width and quite smooth. Some major intersections had traffic lights with screens showing how many seconds I had to cross. Other points were tricky. The traffic rarely stopped and I had to cross quickly in the gaps as I watched others do. There were a lot of fast-moving cars and motorcycles.

When I reached the hotel, I was thirsty and really wanted a beer. A bar in the restaurant had no bartender. A roof-top bar next to the swimming pool seemed defunct. I tried to get someone’s attention in the restaurant and was ignored. I went to reception and asked the man on duty about getting a beer. He went up with me to the restaurant and shouted for someone to help me; then left quickly. No one came, and I finally left and found my beer elsewhere outside the hotel. The hotel seemed to have a management problem. Except for the complimentary breakfast, I didn’t even try again to eat or drink there during my stay.

It was either that day or the next that I learned an astonishing fact. Though Lima is green, it is a city where it never rains! Its flora depends on moisture from the humid ocean.

Church adjacent to hotel

At breakfast, I looked across at a large church next door. There was hole in its roof where a tile was missing, and I thought it strange until I realized that since it never rains, there was little need to repair the hole.

Huaca Pucllana

A group tour of the city showed me an interesting sight. Huaca Pucllana is the ruin of an enormous clay and adobe pyramid located in a part of Miraflores away from the hotel. According to Wikipedia: “It served as an important ceremonial and administrative center for the advancement of Lima Culture, a society which developed in the Peruvian Central Coast between the years 200 and 700 AD.”

Pisco Tutorial

That tour also introduced us to pisco, a colorless or yellow-colored spirit made by distilling fermented grape juice. It is quite strong and the basis for a tasty cocktail called the Pisco Sour made from pisco mixed with lime, egg white, and sugar. We learned about this in a kind of tutorial given by an employee in a high-end liquor store where we could taste and buy the product.

Plaza de Armas

Then, we came to the 140-square-meter Plaza de Armas that Francisco Pizarro established in the 16th century as birthplace of the city.

Cathedral of Lima

On one side we viewed the Cathedral of Lima with its attached Archbishop’s Palace.

Palacio de Gobierno

On another side we admired the Palacio de Gobierno, the presidential residence and in colonial times the location of Pizarro’s house.

Palacio Municipal

The Palacio Municipal or City Hall is on another side.

There are also two extant religious complexes dating from colonial times in the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.

Basilica of San Francisco

One is the Basilica and convent of San Francisco.

Library of the Convent of Santo Domingo

The other is the Basilica and Convent of Santo Domingo that houses this extraordinary library.

Museo de Arte de Lima (MALI)

Lima has several important museums, and I visited two of them. Museo de Arte de Lima or MALI is the city’s principal art museum. Of its several collections, I was mostly interested in the paintings.

Pepa by José Sabogal

I learned about José Sabogal (1888-1956), a leader in Peru’s indigenous movement.

Trifacial Trinity

It has many religious paintings, of which this Trifacial Trinity, anonymously painted in 1770, is an example.

The second museum was Fundación Museo Amano that features “a fine private collection of ceramics, with a strong representation of wares from the Chimú and Nazca cultures.

It also has a fine collection of lace and textiles made by the coastal Chancay culture.”

Another tour took a small group of us one evening to a park called the Circuito Mágico del Agua.

Circuito Magico del Agua
Circuito Magico del Agua




Circuito Magico del Agua





There, we walked around a series of illuminated fountains until it was time to witness a laser light show at the 120m-long Fuente de la Fantasia (Fantasy Fountain).

Circuito Magico del Agua

The huge images appearing in the watery air and set to music symbolized different periods of Peruvian culture. Judging by the large local crowd on an ordinary weekday night, the Circuito must be a very popular attraction.

Driving back after Chinese lunch at Wa Lok

I’ve always been a big-city guy and love street life. After a good lunch at Wa Lok, a special restaurant in Chinatown, my taxi crawled along a narrow, congested street where I shot photos from the window. The men pushing loads on hand trucks reminded me so much of certain streets in Istanbul.

On the subject of streets, here’s an art wall I saw in Miraflores.

The district was a practical place to base myself. I had to discard my large suitcase when one of the wheels broke and I couldn’t pull it. I found a replacement in the luggage department of a local department store. I thought it would be more difficult to replace my Swiss Army knife, confiscated by airport security when I accidentally left it in my carry-on backpack (a story I will write below). In Miraflores, I found a Victorinox outlet where I bought a new knife.

Many times, throughout my long journey, I was fortunate to get help at the hotels where I stayed. It was in Lima where friendly José put me in touch with Miguel Cuba, his friend in Cuzco where I would go next. Miguel would become invaluable to me as a source of information and practical help on that leg of my Peru journey.

I think of Cuzco as Peru’s second city. Although it is much smaller in population, it is important because it was the center of the Incan Empire and has a uniquely interesting history and some monuments, like the citadel at Sacsaywamán, worth seeing. Also, it was only by going through Cuzco that I reached the town of Ollantaytambo where I boarded a narrow-gauge rail car to get to Machu Picchu.

Here, I confess to having made a bad decision that caused inconvenience and unnecessary expense. Before leaving Lima for Cusco, I thought how nice it would be not to have to drag my heavy suitcase along on what I thought of as a side trip. So, I stuffed my backpack with what I thought I could get by with for several days and left my suitcase with everything else checked with José at the Lima hotel. Of course, I added my Dopp kit to the backpack without thinking that it contained my Swiss Army knife in a side pocket. My backpack was a carry on, and passing through airport security, my knife was discovered and confiscated. It was a rookie mistake, and I hated it!

Then, as my side trip became more involved than I had thought, I came to miss some things that I had left behind in Lima. And, as it turned out, I wouldn’t have had to return to Lima at all to reach Lake Titicaca, so I would have saved time and money. Oh well, it was not the first time I’ve had to be kind to myself for my ignorance and errors while traveling.

I flew to Cuzco on February 22. I had begun Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood in the airport, so when my flight was delayed, I had interesting reading material. That flight lasted less than an hour, and from my window seat I was surprised at how large and sprawling Cuzco looked from the air.


At an altitude of 11,000 feet, Cuzco is higher than I’d ever walked before. Off the plane, I felt strange and walked slowly through the airport.

Miguel Cuba met me at the exit with his driver and conveyed me to a second Jose Antonio Hotel. I liked Miguel immediately; he was knowledgeable and organized. On a map, he oriented me to the city center before going over the details of my upcoming visit. I would visit the Sacred Valley with a group tour and the following day have a second tour of the city. Finally, there would be my visit to Machu Picchu in the company of a female guide.

After dropping my things in my room on the fourth floor, I went to the dining room for a large bowl of chicken soup that I needed. Miguel had advised me to drink plenty of water, and I vowed to myself not to alcohol at such altitudes. After 7, I went outside for a bit. I concentrated on walking a straight line, but I didn’t go far. Back in the dining room, I was once again disappointed with the service and with the fact that I wasn’t welcomed in the restaurant.

The following morning, it was time to find out how I would do at high altitude. I had slept poorly and had a headache in the middle of the night that was gone by morning.

The Water Fountain of the Puma’s Tail


I took a long walk up the broad, busy Avenida del Sol to the large Plaza de Armas, stopping along the way to check my breathing and notice if I felt faint. I also paid attention to what was around me. The walk to the plaza was mildly up hill.

At one point I sat on a bench and relaxed, taking in the passers by. All morning, I took photos of anything that caught my eye.

Plaza de Armas

The Plaza de Armas (every South American city has one) was large with a fountain in the center surmounted by a gilded statue of an Inca figure.

Plaza de Armas

Surrounding the plaza were galleries on two sides, the cathedral, and another large church. There are other official looking buildings. I would learn more with the city tour a couple of days hence.

I sat on a bench for a long time approached by various sellers. Some offered things to eat or drink, others showed handicrafts that looked like traditional figures. Several shoe-shine men wanted to clean up my dusty hiking shoes. I had left the hotel wearing both sweater and fleece and was surprised how warm the day was becoming.

San Blass

From the plaza, I walked up a street leading to the artisanal quarter called San Blass. It was up hill, mildly at first, then steeply. Opening onto the narrow sidewalks were shop after shop selling things for tourists to buy. The worst was the car traffic. Whenever a car came by, I had to stand close to a wall or step into a doorway.

El Buon Pastor

I came to Panaderia El Buon Pastor, an attractive little cafe staffed by two young women. Needing a break, I ordered a cinnamon roll and a mug of muño tea that was to help with altitude discomfort. Earlier, at breakfast, I had made myself a cup of tea with coca leaves for the same purpose.

Early in the evening, I went next door to the restaurant Yuraq that Miguel had recommended and found it to be excellent. It was wonderfully clean and well decorated. I was the only early diner and ordered Trucha de Lago (Lake Trout) grilled and topped with caramelized bananas and a sauce made from passion fruit. Under the trout were roasted potatoes and surrounding it were broccoli, zucchini, and sweet peppers.

Back in my room, I got a call from Miguel who was in the lobby telling me we had more to do. I had decided to go to Puno and Lake Titicaca directly from Cuzco and needed to change my air ticket to Lima and my hotel reservation there. While changing the air ticket that took an incredibly long time, Miguel was extraordinarily patient. I wrote to Kay, asking her to move my hotel reservation in Lima and book a hotel in Puno for two nights.

Saturday, February 24 was the all-day tour of the Sacred Valley. When I asked why it is so named, I learned it was due to its fertility. Our guide said that anything could be grown there. Indeed, as our group of eight drove in a large bus, we passed a lot of agriculture. Later in the day, I had to laugh to myself at a village with a sign saying it was world famous for growing corn. I wonder what its inhabitants would think if they drove through central Illinois and into Iowa with their hundreds of thousands of acres of corn fields.

Adriel, Our Guide

The fact that our guide was a man came as a surprise. I had been told that we were to have a woman and that this would be an English-language tour. In fact, although Adriel spoke English well enough, his remarks were mostly in Spanish. Besides myself as the only North American, our group consisted of three Germans, a couple from Costa Rica who understood no English, and another woman whom I never got a handle on.

More than half the long day was spent driving, and I’m thankful that we had an excellent driver because the bus was large and the curving mountain roads narrow.

Our first destination was the town of Pisaq and an archeological site of the same name. Our guide spoke rapidly in a loud voice, and I missed some of what he said because I was so taken with the Andes-mountain scenery. The valley was quite narrow at times with towering peaks on either side. At other times, the view was wider and sometimes higher so that I could look down on villages below us.

Inca Terraces

The site above Pisaq where we left the bus and walked  had a great view of terraced hillsides leading down to the town. The terraces, some wide enough to grow crops, had been built by the Incas. They built the retaining walls that held the soil, and our guide made a lot of that. He claimed that those wider terraces had been used as a kind of laboratory by the Incas to determine what crops could be grown at what altitudes. It seems that potatoes, for which the country is famous, were the major Inca crop. Some spices can grow at high altitudes.

The Inca archeology of Pisaq consisted of some walls of dark grey stone that was their usual building material. I didn’t get a close-up look because the climb to reach them would have been too strenuous. I get short of breath at these high altitudes.

Inca Ruin

Instead, I walked up a few steps and along a path to what had been a gateway to a temple. There were well-wrought ashlars fitted closely together without mortar and a stone lintel that defined the doorway. Again, the guide made a lot of it. Because I’ve traveled widely in Turkey and other countries where there are magnificent ruins from different cultures, I couldn’t help being underwhelmed by what I was seeing there.



More driving away from Pisaq brought us to a mercado or market full of handicrafts, some of which were well done. After a woman explained how to tell real silver from fake, we were given half-an-hour of free time to roam around.


One thing that surprised and impressed me was a string of dream catchers that the seller’s husband had made. They were pretty and nicely crafted. I thought of our friend Montana and our creative weekends together in the 90s.

Yukay’s Church

Back on the bus, it was time to drive to lunch and I wondered what we had in store. Yukay, the extensive posada where we ate had been a hacienda and included a small church. Because it was not high tourist season, there was no buffet and we ordered á la carte from a menu. The atmosphere was pleasant where I sat with the three Germans who came from the country around Heidelberg. All were professionals in their thirties. I didn’t make notes of their names, but it was the woman, the fiancée of one of the men who hardly said anything, who was my conversationalist. She spoke well, having studied a year in Vancouver and lived in London. She was curious about me, why I was traveling alone, and what my plans were. She said I should visit the Peruvian seashore before I leave, a recommendation I would take.

I ordered a dish called Lomo Saltado de Alpaca, translated as Alpaca tenderloin. I had seen alpacas earlier that morning but hadn’t thought I would be eating one. The meat, which came with roasted potatoes, had the consistency of beef but a different mild taste I couldn’t identify. I began my meal with a bowl of quinoa soup, another first for me. I hadn’t known that quinoa is a grain that comes from the Andes.

Lamay is a town we passed through that seemed to be center for cuy or guinea pig, which is eaten commonly in Peru. There were large guinea-pig figures decorating shops as we passed.


Our last site of the day was in the large town of Ollantaytambo.

Inca Ruins at Ollantaytambo

It has a park, containing another set of Inca ruins reached by an arduous climb that I chose not to do. I waited below while the others went up. There were many in the park climbing and descending. As I sat listening to their remarks, I felt that nearly all were Spanish speakers, tourists, too, I guess. Earlier that day, I had a conversation with a man from Chile. We talked about Turkey’s Göbeklitepe.

I hadn’t realized it but all the others were taking the train to Machu Picchu, so we dropped them at the train station in town and said goodbye. Then, Adriel, the driver, and I began the long drive back to Cuzco. Maybe it was my mood, but driving through the villages with their half-finished buildings made of an ugly kind of brick that looked like it should be covered with stucco, or some other finish depressed me. Most had rebar sticking out above in the same way buildings are along the highway in Turkey. I was struck by the contrast of magnificent nature and the man-made shabbiness. In every village we passed, small dogs trotted along the highway next to us.

Another depressing sight was driving into Cuzco from above and through the poor neighborhoods that line the hillsides. Like other cities in other countries, land on the hillsides is cheaper than land down below.

I said goodbye to guide and driver at my hotel, went to my room, and stayed in for the night without dinner. In contrast to other evenings, tonight the neighboring rooms were noisy beyond what was acceptable — shouting, doors slamming, loud talk in the corridor. It came and went. Twice I called reception to complain. (I learned the next day that it was a football team from another city that had come to play Cuzco’s.)

Sunday. The event of the day was the city tour I had signed up for. The meeting point was on the Plaza de Armas near the cathedral, which would be the first site on the tour. Miguel took me there in a taxi and introduced me to Chris, the tour guide. Our group consisted of between fifteen and twenty, a mix of Spanish and English speakers. There were even a few children.

Cuzco Cathedral

Standing outside the cathedral while waiting for the group to complete, I asked Chris what kind of stone the walls were made of. He replied that they were Diorita or Greenstone, which puzzled me because they were certainly not green. Doing a Google search, I learned that grey green is a better description of the color. Another kind of stone commonly used is Andasite, a grey-to-black volcanic rock.

The Cuzco cathedral is enormous, and unfortunately photography was forbidden. Among its unique features is a depiction of a Black Jesus, and a painting of the Virgin of the Portal opposite the main door. It is painted in the uncanny manner that had the Virgin seem to be looking at me no matter which side of the painting I stood on. Is this true of the Mona Lisa?

There are large mirrors tilted down on either side of the main altar. According to Chris, when the indigenous people saw themselves in them, they thought they were looking at their own souls.

There was a large choir in the back of the nave composed of cedar wood. An interesting touch is that just below the arm rests of the seats, the sculptor carved pregnant women, perhaps as a reference to Pachamama or Mother Earth, a figure very important in some Andean religions. Peru is rich in spiritual matters.

From the cathedral we walked ten minutes to a large church the Catholics had built around the Inca Temple of the Sun or Gorikancha meaning the Golden Enclosure. At its apex, the Inca empire covered nearly all of present-day Peru and parts of Bolivia, Ecuador, and even Chile. A large wall depiction has a bright circle at its center symbolizing Cuzco with lines radiating from it in all directions.

A couple of interesting facts I learned during this part of the tour are that the Incas didn’t have iron or the wheel. (Mariela, my future guide, pointed out that there were few places flat enough for a cart to roll and no horses or other draft animals strong enough to pull one). The second fact was that the language of the Incas was Quechua that is still spoken widely in certain Peruvian villages.



After the Golden Temple, were boarded a bus, which took us to Saqsaywamán (sexy woman), a site outside the city that the Spaniards thought must have been a citadel because it is a walled enclosure on a hillside made from enormous rocks


that had been quarried nearby and shaped to fit together in an interlocking manner. Scholars believe it was the most important citadel of the Inca empire. Thinking about what it must have taken to build the citadel was staggering. I was reminded that thousands of men labored together to move those stones using ramps and rollers.

Cuzco’s elevation is 3,400 meters (11,500 feet). During our tour we went higher to about 3,800 meters (12,060).

Perhaps climbing around at these elevations made me especially tired. At the last site, a climb to see some Inca fountains, I elected to stay on the bus.

It was getting late, and I was all for getting dropped off at the hotel; however, there was one more stop to make. It was a large store specializing in clothing made from Alpaca, Lama, and Vicuna hair. It deals in top-of-the-line design and production. We were given a short lecture about the kinds of alpaca garments on the market from ones containing a mix with polyester and cotton, to what is known as baby alpaca made from the hair of young animals to the best quality, high-priced alpaca. I had a chance to feel vicuna for the first time. It is really soft and very expensive. I tried to remember the details of the U.S. vicuna political scandal in the 1950s. The following day I would finally see Machu Picchu, the most iconic and visited site in all South America.