Nicky's Journal
"All The World's a Classroom"

Updated Dec. 03, 2006......................................................................................


11/20/06— Buenos Aires to Cusco

It was another travel day for us today. These days are really tough. We only had a total of five flying hours, but we had to leave the hotel at 4:00 am, and we didn’t arrive at the Cusco hotel until 4:00 pm (Argentina time, 2:00 pm Cusco time), and we were all really tired. Fortunately, the tour guide who picked us up at the airport was really professional and he had the tickets that we’ll need this week to take the train to Machu Picchu and to see the sites.

I wanted us to really take it easy to try to avoid altitude sickness, so we hung out at the hotel for the rest of the afternoon. We could really feel the affects of the elevation—Cusco is 11,000 feet high. We all had slight headaches, were slightly dizzy and got out of breath very easily (like walking across the room). I had a headache and was dizzy before I got here because of the cold, so I really wanted to make sure I didn’t make it worse. I tried to explain the importance of drinking plenty of water to the kids because of the altitude sickness. Somehow I also ended up talking about thinner air in outer space. Later I heard Annette telling Darren that she knew it was important to drink plenty of water because we’re closer to outer space. At least she got the message.

We were all so tired, I put the girls to bed at 6:30 pm (8:30 pm in Buenos Aires). Normally I would have tried staying up later to convert to the time zone, but we just couldn’t make it because we woke up so early. We’ll just try to adjust tomorrow.

11/21/06—Cusco—Day 1

The kids woke up at 5:00 am, which is what I expected since she went to bed so early. By 8:30 am, they’d already played for three hours and eaten breakfast, and we still had five hours before we left for the tour. It was a really long morning. Fortunately, we got the girls to take a nap before we left for the tour, so they were very good on the tour.

The cathedral and temples that we saw were amazing. The detail in the cathedral’s architecture was really impressive—I always find it so ironic that the church spends so much money to look good rather than helping the poor, but it was built in the days when the Spanish were trying to dominate the lands, so it was a way to exert power. The cathedral was actually built on the grounds of the ruined Incan palace to make the point—like marking their territory. The temples showed how well the Incas built inter-locking stones with limited tools—some of the rocks were huge (the largest was over 300 tons). They also built a temple in a cave and used sheets of gold and silver to reflect sun-light into the cave for light. All the gold and silver has been stolen now, and even many of the stones were removed to make other buildings, but the remaining stones were very impressive. The last temple that we visited was at 12,500 feet, and I was really beginning to feel the affects of the altitude with a really bad headache, so Annette and I skipped the last temple. All the temples and stone ruins were beginning to merge together, even for me on the last one, so it was easy to skip.

The girls were great on the whole tour, but they did get a little bored with some of the architectural details at the temple of Coricancha, so they had fun taking some cute pictures.

baa sheep coricancha
Annette coricancha
Dom sacsayhuaman

11/22/06—Cusco—Day 2

The kids woke up before 5:00 am today. The sun rises so early here and the curtains are so thin, they don’t keep out any of the light.

We went on a tour to see Moray and Salinas in the morning. Moray is a huge terraced cavity in the ground that the Incas used for experimental farming. It was pretty neat but I wouldn’t have bothered to drive an hour to see it if it hadn’t already been arranged for us. Salinas is a natural salt mine where salty warm water from a spring is directed into thousands of saltpans and is left to dry, then is scooped up for use. They make over one hundred thousand tons of salt during the year, but production is limited only to the dry season of April to October since rain dilutes it. It was really amazing to see so much salt. I also had no idea that springs could be salt water. I’m learning so much on this trip.

I wanted to try to get a picture of some of the local woman since they look so great in their clothing, especially with the babies carried in blankets. I didn’t want to get some pictures at the tourist spots since it seemed so touristy (although really cute), so our tour guide stopped in one of the small towns and offered two ladies one sol (about 33 cents) for a picture. They agreed, and so I’ve got the funniest picture of Dominique standing in between the two ladies, all looking very awkward.

The drive out into the county-side to see how the country people live was really cool. They build all of their buildings from the local clay, so all the buildings seem to blend into the earth. It did seem that all the ladies did the work, even in the fields—we hardly saw any men.

Dom moray
Dom & the ladies
local ladies

11/23/06—Machu Picchu

We got up at 4:30 am to catch a four-hour train and then a twenty minute bus up a very steep mountain to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu looked as I expected from the pictures, although the pictures didn’t do justice to the size. Our tour guide pointed out some incredible details of the architecture. The Incas were just so amazing at using their knowledge of the sun, climate and land to build the site and grow crops. They built the site to take advantage of maximum sun light and avoid damage on the fault lines. They were such and intelligent community. It really made me realize how much we no longer know about our own natural resources.

We had lunch at the restaurant at the top of the mountain and Annette fell asleep at the table. We tried to walk around the site a little more after lunch, but the kids were really tired so we decided to go back down the mountain to hang out at the hotel for the rest of the day. The kids did a great job hiking around the site, but they were really tired after lunch. There were some incredible hikes to higher parts of the site that I would love to do one day, but they were too strenuous for the kids.

Dom manchu piccu
Annette manchu piccu

11/24/06—Aquas Calientes

We toured around town all day today since we had to check out of the hotel at 9:00 am but the train to Cusco didn’t leave until 3:30 pm. In retrospect, it might have been better for us to tour Machu Picchu today since yesterday was so tough waking up at 4:30 am and traveling for more than four hours to get there.

Aquas Calientes is a cute town set at the base of the mountains around Machu Picchu along a raging river, so the scenery was incredible. There’s not much to the town besides the restaurants, hotels and souvenir stalls set up for the tourists who go to Machu Picchu. Since there are only a couple of trains a day, the tourists waiting to catch the train back to Cusco are a captive audience. We used the time to get the girls their key chains and get some lunch.

The ride back was uneventful. The girls were great and it was really cool seeing the country-side. Most of the people in the country are subsistence farmers of potato and corn, living in very humble homes.

We got some dinner when we arrived back in Cusco around 7:30 pm. It was later than I would have liked since the girls woke up at 6:00 am and didn’t take a nap, but we needed to eat. There were so many people and musicians in town—Cusco is a really happening place on Friday nights. Just as we were leaving, three brothers came into the restaurant and played several songs with guitars and wind pipes. They were really great and the amazing thing was that there was only one other table besides us in the restaurant, so it was a really personal show. We ended up buying their CD. Annette fell asleep while listening to the music. We’re definitely going to build in a nap tomorrow since we’ll be having another late night tomorrow.

country home
girls on train

11/25/06—Cusco—Day 3

We had no tours today so we took it easy and wandered around town in the morning. In the afternoon, we hung out in the plaza. Cusco is so expensive (equivalent to US prices, which is high in South America), so there are many vendors trying to sell things like postcards, finger puppets and other souvenirs. We had at least twenty that tried to sell us something within an hour, most of them kids, who were all very persistent and good negotiators. When the kids got back to the room, Dominique selected a few things to sell to us—she definitely learned the skills of negotiation and persistency—and she did it all in Spanish. I wish we could stay longer so the kids could keep learning.

While at the plaza, we saw a group of musicians from the universities playing some Peruvian music. They noticed Darren’s banjo and came over and asked him to play. They stayed with us for a while and they played a few songs with Darren and also some of their own songs. We were so lucky to have such a personal performance.

In the evening, we went to a pre-arranged dinner and folk show with Peruvian music and dancing. The food was buffet and not very good. The music and dancing were fine and it entertained the girls, but it was very staged for the tourists. We’ve been spoiled by the spontaneous music of the musicians in the plaza and last night.

dance show

11/26/06—Cusco—Day 4

We took the mother of all tours today. We left at 8:30 am and returned at 6:30 pm. I wouldn’t have signed up for the tour if I’d known how long it was, but it turned out to be really good. We were taken to a number of Inca sites where we saw more examples of how ingenious the Incas were with their planning and masonry. We went to a local market where we got some great pictures of authentic country life, and we also bought a couple of souvenirs. One of the souvenirs was a belt that a lady wove by hand. The kids also got to pet some llamas and alpacas. It was a really full day, but the girls were great and we got some great pictures, so it was all worth it.

kids with alpacas
market lady 1
market lady 2
market lady 3
Annette on fort

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