Travels with John Smith
Chapter 60 year 9 (2020)
Peru Part 3
Machu Picchu, Cusco Carnival
-train ride beside the Urubamba River
-eating guinea pig in Aguas Calientes
-Hiram Bingham and Machu Picchu
-a Book called, “Turn Right at Machu Picchu”
-Walking around Machu Picchu
-Market choices in Cusco
-One advantage of altitude
-Spraying foam for fun
-Refuge above the square
- like secret agents
-altitude sickness and homesick
-COVID 19 comes to Saskatchewan
-Things get cancelled
-Back to the present
-future plans with John Smith
-email addresses for you to contact us
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 60 year 9, 2020
Peru Part 3
Machu Picchu, Cusco Carnival
We are about 80 kilometres (or 50 miles) from Cusco, on an old fashioned, pretty little train, on our way to the famous Incan ruins, Machu Picchu. At this moment we are travelling right beside the wild Urubamba river, and it is not the kind of river I would like to fall into. You would not survive. It is violent, passionate, muddy, exciting and a little terrifying but wonderful to observe from the safety of the train.
We have large windows beside our seats, as well as windows on the ceiling of the train so we can see the lush green valleys, the river is travelling through in panoramic view.
There is a lunch or drinks menu on the train so we order some diet Inca cola for me and a Pisco Sour, for John, which is meant to be the most famous Peruvian cocktail. That said, it was apparently invented by an American who was in Lima but Peruvians now call it their own.
To get to this train, we took a bus ride from Cusco to the train station, where there were many people waiting for different trains that were all variations of the one we are on. It was a long wait and it wasn’t clear which train was ours so we had to keep asking the people around us, every time a new one arrived. We didn’t want to miss it and although there were electronic signs announcing the times of each train, there was conflicting information with what it said on the actual ticket.
We have arrived in Aguas Calientes, which translates as ‘Hot Water’ because there is a hot springs here. This is the village we will stay in tonight, before going up to Machu Picchu in the morning.
Directly outside of the train is a market that is packed with tourist goods, lots of alpaca sweaters, hats, scarves, embroidered carpets, etc. and we have to walk up through the maze to get to the rest of the town.
It takes us a while to find our hotel as the whole village is on the side of the mountain, in a steep valley, and it is separated by the crazy, extremely loud Urubamba river but there are only a couple places where you can cross. It’s not a huge village but we get a little lost and have to show the address to a few people before we finally get to the hotel.
The rooms and hotel are very basic but it’s only for one night so we don’t mind. We have already checked out the town while trying to find the hotel, so we go back to a Peruvian restaurant we liked the look of, on one of the steep streets with tons of restaurants.
John decides to order the specialty that we have seen in so many other places, deep fried guinea pig. We both order a Peruvian soup so by the time John’s dish arrives, we aren’t that hungry. I try a teeny tiny bit of John’s dish, just to say I tried it. Since it is fried, and has a lot of breading on it, it doesn’t have what I would call a memorable taste but the thought of it turns my stomach a little. John poses for a picture with one piece that is recognizable as the head, due to an eye looking back at me.
Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century and later abandoned. It was ‘discovered’ by Hiram Bingham, a Yale University professor in 1911. He was led to the site by a farmer who lived in the area, and apparently many of the locals knew about the place so for them, Bingham didn’t really ‘discover’ it.
Even though he was responsible for bringing the world’s attention to it, and therefore brought tourism to Peru, he also removed many of the artifacts he found here and brought them back to Yale and this is a bone of contention for the Peruvian people.
Bingham was actually looking for Villcabamba, otherwise known as “The “lost city of the Incas,” a place where the last Inca rulers held a final stand against the Spanish, when they invaded. He thought he had found it here in Machu Picchu but a few years later, they excavated another place he had also ‘discovered’ and proved that it, was more likely to be the lost city.
I mentioned before that I like to read books that take place in the country we are visiting and Peru is no exception. I am reading a book called ‘Turn right at Machu Picchu’ written by Mark Adams. It is the story of a writer who has written about adventures but is not an adventurous soul himself. He retraces Hiram Bingham’s steps with the help of a tough Australian guide, trying to work out what Machu Picchu was.
Some of the Peruvian people I talk to about this book look at it suspiciously as it was written by a foreigner and was published in 2011 so they say some of the information may be already out of date. The stories jump back and forth, from Hiram Bingham’s adventure to the more modern adventure taken by the writer himself and also explaining relationships that took place in the time of the Inca rulers.
Walking around the village, there are statues of various Inca rulers scattered around the village which is cool for me as I am reading about them and seeing what they looked like helps me imagine them and their stories come to life.
We are standing above Machu Picchu looking down on the ruins and the valleys and mountains around it, and everything beyond. We are around 2,350 metres (or 7, 710 feet) above sea level and we are out of breath. We got here very early and had to wait for a couple hours for our tour group to arrive because you cannot go inside without an official tour guide.
The morning fog was hanging over the entire valley and even though that was quite lovely in itself, we were worried that we might not get to see the ruins at all but just as our group arrived, the clouds began to dissipate.
As we walked upwards, each area we came to would clear just as we arrived and our guide says we are very lucky. This is not a good time of the year to come here because of that. Some people come all the way here and this is their only day and their view is marred by clouds.
We have walked up to the highest point and down and around and everywhere we look, it is breathtakingly beautiful. This is once again, one of those moments where we pinch ourselves to be sure we are actually here, inside of this picture, not simply looking at it. The idea of waking up every morning to this view blows my mind.
It has the same huge stones, put together without the use of mortar, like we saw in Sacsayhuaman, the citadel ruins we visited above Cusco.
While the views from the latter were stunning, the views from Machu Picchu are incredible, magnificent, spectacular. It became a Unesco World Heritage site in 1983, due to the pre-Columbian ruins being found, almost intact.
We walk through the remains of the rock houses, some still with thatched roofs, around the steep agriculture terraces perched on the side of the mountain, imagining what it would be like to live here.
We feel grateful that we are here now, because our guide says that in 5 years time it is possible that no one will be allowed to come here anymore. The amount of tourists that visit in a day all year round adds to the deterioration of the site so it’s a catch 22. It is also the main reason people come to Peru, so our guide says he thinks at some point they will build a kind of glass bridge or something that you will be able to see everything from but not walk around inside.
We stop to watch 2 furry, cute little chinchillas playing on the top of a wall and in another area we see lamas or alpacas grazing in one flat area and we wonder how they got here. Maybe there will be more wildlife, when there are less people.
Scientists didn’t know why this place was abandoned before and left to disappear into nature, but there are many stories about fighting amongst the Inca rulers that could explain it. They now think that Machu Picchu was a royal retreat and also that it was one of many places that was used for relaying messages along the ‘Inca foot highway’ from the signal towers.
Looking directly across from here is a mountain called Huayna Picchu, which is also called ‘Mountain of Death’ because it is possible to climb it and get even more amazing views of Machu Picchu from there, but it’s meant to be a very difficult, steep and scary climb. We decide that is definitely not for us. We have seen enough and it will last a lifetime.
We are back in Cusco and the festival is in full swing. We can hear the music playing from inside our hotel so we go out to check it out. There are lots of people , in the square directly in front of the hotel, dressed in traditional costumes, practising what they will do in the parade.
We go into the market and there are balloons and streamers on the walls behind the stalls. There are all sorts of interesting things to buy here. Piles of individual bags of different grains ground into flour with the names written in black marker on top, huge rounds of pale yellow cheese, spices and flowers, colourful straw baskets, small pieces of brightly painted pottery and piles of brightly coloured fabrics folded neatly. There are mounds of mystery meats, hanging from hooks, groups of cow’s noses and feet, pigs heads and feet, and tons of fruit and vegetables, including different coloured ears of corn. We see buckets full of purple, white, yellow, burgundy and grey corn cobs and mountains of green herbs.
On one end of the market there are rows of cafes where people sit side by side with strangers at the lunch counters eating breakfast.
Other stalls that look like small cafes have signs in Spanish advertising natural medicines for diabetes, arthritis etc.
Some of the stalls are closed but people are there getting ready for the parade. Behind one stall there is a woman getting dressed in a fuzzy chubby animal suit, probably a guinea pig, though she hasn’t placed the head on yet.
I want to mention something about the Cusco flag. It is a rainbow so at first when we saw this flag everywhere in the city, we thought that’s great! This culture is celebrating the LGBTQ community.
Our guide in Machu Picchu mentioned the rainbow flag and pointed out that there is an extra light blue stripe on the rainbow flag in Cusco, so it is not the same. However, he also said that homosexuality was accepted in the Inca culture but when the Spanish arrived with Christianity, they brought in horrible laws that resulted in being whipped, jail time or being burned at the stake for any sexual practice the church didn’t approve of. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the early 1800’s but there are still some legal challenges for LGBTQ residents.
Our guide says that at the same time as the rainbow flag became the symbol of the gay community in San Francisco, the Cusco flag became a symbol of Incan history so it’s a more of a happy coincidence.
We are back on the street, walking towards the main square as that is where the parade is meant to be happening. We see a guy off to the side of the street, weighing people for money and John is curious so we stop briefly. John says he appears to have lost weight but mentions that at this altitude, your mass is the same but your weight is always less. He actually has lost weight and added on to this little miracle of Science, he is apparently a lot lighter here. I decide to try it too. Oh no! I am the same weight as when I left Canada.
We get closer to the square and there is a line up that goes all around the side of the square, reaching back into the streets of different groups of dancers, each group in matching traditional outfits. There are marching bands with trombones and drums and Peruvian flutes playing and the groups are doing twirls in beautiful embroidered capes and wide skirts, with petticoats under them.
There is a bandstand on the far side of the square and someone is talking about each group through a loud microphone as they arrive in front of the special guests.
We find a spot to watch, tip toeing to see above the crowd and we notice people are throwing water balloons and spraying white foam from large canisters at the dancers. The dancers try to dodge the attack but they don’t seem bothered at all. In fact they are laughing. Now we notice that people are spraying each other in the crowd as well. We don’t see anyone spraying the tourists or foreigners though. It seems like the locals are only doing it to each other. Some people look prepared and are wearing rain coats to protect themselves from it.
We think it’s only a matter of time until they will start spraying us too and I don’t really want to get these clothes wet. We have 2 choices; Either we can go back to the hotel, which isn’t that close and dress for it, or find a place to hide out, to pass the time until it’s safe to go out again. We spot some small hotels that have restaurants with balconies on the 2nd floor overlooking the square, so we go to one that doesn’t look too busy.
We aren’t hungry but we order drinks and breakfast so we can sit on the balcony and observe the parade. Perched on tall stools with a counter in front of us, beside other tourists that have the same idea as us, we feel safe and unnoticed sitting above the growing madness below.
There are people filling balloons with water and food colouring and others with buckets full of the foam canisters to sell. People are now spraying and dumping coloured water bombs on everyone in the square, including tourists and ALMOST everyone is laughing and seem to be having a good time.
Some can’t see beneath the white foam dripping down their faces and the square has slowly erupted into complete mayhem. Boys chase girls they like, some are strangers but every age is involved. We are grateful to be up above it all.
The parade is long over and we sit, sipping on smoothies, giggling at the unfortunate people below, sharing tales about our travels with the other tourists hiding up here, being served by the friendly people in the cafe.
The girl sitting beside me is Swedish, looks like Scarlet Johansen and came here alone. The guy beside her, who also came alone, is Argentinian and although he doesn’t speak much English, it’s clear he fancies Scarlet. There are other people up here too but our little group of 4 discuss strategies on what we would do if we were on the street and how we are going to get out of here.
The square is wet and slippery with water now, white foam and colour and no one has escaped. Everyone in it has been sprayed with something. A group of young 20 somethings look up and notice us. They take aim and miss, then try again and they get better at it, sending a barrage of balloons up higher until, bullseye! We jump out of the way just as the water bombs fly into the window spraying water into the restaurant, catching a few of the people who didn’t get out of the way.
We are now sitting ducks as it keeps coming and the group below has gotten bigger. The waitresses shut the doors and we sit inside. It’s not quite as much fun sitting here and we start talking about how we will get back to our hotels with no ammunition ourselves.
The Argentinian disappears and comes back with some cans of foam and balloons. Just as he walks in there is a commotion in the kitchen and the waitresses are spraying the cooks. Time to leave.
The 4 of us go downstairs to the lobby and see it will be impossible to leave without getting jumped on the minute we walk out the door, so we ask if there is another exit.
Feeling like secret agents as they take us down to the cellar and out a side entrance, we hit the street running. Walking his bowed heads and stealth, we try to pass unnoticed but it doesn’t last long.
Someone sprays me, laughing, and I can’t get out of the way. Another guy walks past and breaks a balloon with purple dye in it on my head and now I don’t care. I spray everyone that goes past us that looks like they will spray me. John is doing the same. Somewhere in the craziness, we lose our comrades in action. We wave goodbye as they try to get us to go in the direction away from our hotel. By the time we make it back to our hotel, we are both covered and foam and coloured water. We decide to stay in for the night.
We are back at the hotel after a walking tour of the city and we are both feeling unwell. We have taken the oxygen meds and drunk the tea but we just can’t shake the altitude sickness. We stay around the hotel for the rest of the day, mostly sleeping and watching the news, which is starting to get worrying. We can see COVID 19 is starting to spread around the world. We are missing being at home and do not want to get any sick in a place so far away from it. Having the altitude sickness has taught us that.
There is a lovely lady who sits day after day outdoors in the passageway between the lobby and the rooms, selling Peruvian souvenirs. She is always bright and friendly even though we haven’t bought anything from her yet. Her small daughter is there with her today, sitting cross legged amongst piles of colourful cloths, carpets and clothing. We buy some things from her and say goodbye.
We fly back to Lima, and take the flight to Toronto. We buy masks before entering the plane and wear them for the whole flight. There are a few other people wearing them too now. We notice that wearing them also helps with the allergies we usually pick up when we take a plane. We sleep soundly in Toronto and come back to the end of the winter in Saskatchewan.
It’s been a week since we got back and it’s my mother’s 90th birthday party. My family are here, including some cousins from California. A few of us sing and play some music for the guests that are here and catch up with people we haven’t seen for a long time. There aren’t any COVID 19 cases in Saskatchewan yet but the numbers are growing in the bigger cities around the country and are quite bad in some countries in Europe already so we weren’t sure how many people would come.
It is a couple weeks since Mom’s party and everything has changed. They cancelled the Junos (Canadian music awards) which were supposed to be held here in Saskatoon. Some schools, events and travel is being shut down or restricted. I was looking forward to meeting and playing music with the musicians of Saskatoon but it looks like that isn’t going to happen. I was supposed to take place in a Songwriters gig that was booked months ago and decided to pull out. My sister Wendy and I were supposed to do a gig and that got cancelled.
We are lucky Mom got to celebrate her birthday with her loved ones. We don’t know when we will be able to get together like that again. John and I are grateful we got to travel to so many places when we did because who knows when we will be able to do it again. We are doing what everyone in the world seems to be doing. Staying at home.
It is 8 months later. COVID has taken away a lot of things we took for granted, but we are lucky, that we have a roof over our heads, food on the table and zoom. In the excess time we had staying home, I was able to make a couple videos, create a singing website for Patti Layne (my alter ego) and this Podcast.
Thank you for following it to the end! This will be the last episode of ‘Travels with John Smith’ for a while. I will take a break for the rest of December and at least part of January but I will put something else out there, most likely in collaboration with John Smith. Those of you that know him, know he is a very interesting guy.
If you would like to see what else we have up our sleeves, or have any questions, send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com , and we will add you to an email list and keep you in the loop that way.
You can also check out my singing website;
You can check the transcript if you want the actual spelling in a clear manner.
Thank you for travelling with us! Keep in touch for more adventures…