Unlikely Places - the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel

At the end of a day where our tour had taken us up and down mountain roads, to see Andean weavers with their centuries old craft, past farms and fields in the Sacred Valley, then through the nondescript town of Urubamba, the last thing we expected was the exquisite Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel.  The bus dropped us off within a walled estate in the valley and it was tucked away in a world on its own - completely unexpected but nevertheless an experience to savour. 

Here's a tour of the amazing grounds, starting with the stunning stained glass in the lobby:

Verandah to the living areas

The chapel - clearly the star of the show 

With the Andes as the backdrop

Spacious room (with jacuzzi!) looking out onto our own private garden - too bad we were only there one night, not enough time to enjoy it

Lovely landscaped grounds

The courtyard of the 17th century hacienda

Its own private museum
and art gallery
One of several stunning photos in an exhibit of works by Teo Allain Chambi

The spa - it would be heavenly to spend a week here

This would be a great place for a wedding 

The valley outside the walled estate

This wraps up the posts on my Peruvian trip.  I left this till the last as it is not the sort of place we would typically stay at on a trip if it were not part of a tour package.  But it does give us a glimpse of a different kind of travel...


Peruvian Portals

I have a fixation for portals!  There is always a hint of mystique behind each - you never know what you'd find, although most of the time it's quite predictable, especially corporate portals.  I encountered a variety of portals on our Peruvian trip, especially closed ones in Lima because we visited on a long weekend - what luck!  (there's the glass half full for you...)

First day of arrival - portal of a church in San Isidro
Incan portal in Cusco's Koricancha Temple
Portal of the Pre-Colombian Art Museum in Cusco

Portal of the Gran Hotel Bolivar in Lima 

Have to sneak these elevator doors in here even though they are not technically portals

Classy doors in the Casa Belen, home of the Museum of Minerals in Lima
Inside the Convent Church of Santo Domingo

Museum of the Central Reserve Bank (the closed door meant we missed it)

International Bank of Peru

Lima Stock Exchange

Museum of Italian Art (yes, in Lima)

Entrance to Machu Picchu

Here's a different one, off the Jiron de la Union in downtown Lima

Restaurant in Miraflores with interesting door handles

Random door with unique knocker on the streets of El Centro

Another closed bank (it's a long weekend)

Sunat corporate portal

The Cathedral was closed too!

As was the Archdiocese administrative offices!

Inca portal in Ollantaytambo


Lima - El Centro

Lima's downtown, El Centro, is very different from the suburbs of Miraflores and San Isidro.  We happened to be there on a long weekend and the streets were very crowded with locals mixed in with the tourists.  In the streets like the Avenue Abancay, where the locals were shopping, it was wall to wall people.

There were enough historical landmarks for a couple of days of sightseeing.  We spent more than two days in the area and still missed seeing some important sights like the Cathedral because it was unexpectedly closed on the day we went.  It was a last minute public holiday because of an economic summit of oil producing countries and there were many visiting dignitaries in the central square where the Cathedral was located.  We were able to show a photocopy of our passport and followed a tour group in the first time and so got some unexpected shots of a motorcade.  But when we tried again later, we were denied entry.

But it was overall a very worthwhile visit to the capital.  While we missed the famous Museo Larco again because of poor timing (we were so glad we did the museum on the same pre-Colombian theme in Cusco!), we found a hidden gem in the Museum of Minerals in the newly restored Casa Belen, a historic 18th century building.  We caught a surprise procession outside the Cathedral and a wedding in a side chapel even though we missed seeing the inside of the cathedral.

More than anything else, rubbing shoulders with the locals on the busy streets were invigorating and gave us a taste of street life in Lima.  A walk down Av Abancay let us see how the locals shopped and lived, and a visit to the National Library on the same street, gave us a glimpse of the dire need for resources in this country where a monumental gap existed between the 1% and the 99%.

The photos below provide a snapshot of the highlights during our 3 days in Lima.

The glass dome in the Hotel Gran Bolivar, constructed in 1924

The beautifully restored Casa Belen which housed the Museum of Minerals - gorgeous setting for an interesting collection of rock and crystals

Another amazing skylight - this is inside the Municipal Palace, built in 1551

The colonial arcade along the front of the Municipal Palace 

This so reminded me of Cuba - graceful architecture from another era now used as a street market

The Church of San Francisco of Assisi.  Guided tours only of the cloisters and the catacombs below the church.  No photos allowed but the cloisters and a glimpse of the ancient library were worth the trip.  The library of 25,000 volumes included illuminated manuscripts - it was heartbreaking though to see the books crumbling on the shelves underneath two skylights...

The uniquely decorated arcades of the San Francisco Church.  

The Mario Vargas Llosa reading room in the library of the Casa de Literatura Peruana , a former train station

Convent Church of Santo Domingo and its charming cloisters and courtyard below

A procession outside the Cathedral - the altar resting on the shoulders of 16 faithful who walked with shuffling steps for about 50 ft then another shift took over.  No wonder the silver altar at Cusco was permanently placed on a chassis to eliminate all this pain - but where would the sacrifice be if it were all so easy...
Watch a short video on the shuffle -

Plaza de Armas with the Cathedral as its centrepiece
The Governor's Palace on the day of the summit - officials only
A wedding in the side chapel of the Cathedral
A different kind of bride doing a promotion on the busy Jiron de la Union
Jiron de la union - for good reason, a pedestrian only street
Quail's eggs 10 for 1 sol on the Av Albancay - yummy!

The entrance to the reading room at the National Library, also on the busy Av Albancay.  The busiest station is the photocopying service .  Lots of marble but no computers in sight.

A pretty decent selection at a Chinese BBQ takeout in Chinatown

The internal courtyard of the Museum of Art - another case where the architecture trumps the content

A lovely sunset over an incredibly smoggy city


Lima - San Isidro and Miraflores

Lima was our first and last stop in Peru.  It is a huge city with a population of close to 9 million, and we thought Toronto was big at 2.6 million!  We stayed in the relatively quiet suburb of San Isidro when we first landed and so was gently eased into the culture shock of El Centro, the city centre, where we stayed before we leave Peru.  We visited the two ancient ruins that are in the heart of the city, one within walking distance of our hotel in San Isidro and the other in Miraflores on the way to the waterfront.  You can see photos of these pyramid-like structures below.

The Huaca Huallamarca pyramid (200 - 500 AD) - made with bricks stacked vertically.

A nearby church reflected the brickwork in the portal and the windows

Stained glass behind bars...

Nice residence in San Isidro 

Mexican restaurant in San Isidro - even with my limited Spanish, I can tell this is "Like Water for Chocolate", a reference to the Mexican story that  revolved around food 

A Chinese restaurant (chifa meaning "eat rice" or "eat dinner" in Chinese)

The larger of the ruins, Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores, from around 400 AD - note the vertical stacking of the bricks

Looking across the top of the ruins, you can see the many sections it is divided into

From the ruins, we walked down a street with Indian markets on both sides of the street.  Prices and selection here are the best compared to the the other markets we visited.  

A short distance from the Indian Market is the Central Park of Miraflores where a flower show was on.  This was of course spring in Peru and many gardeners were out looking for plants for their gardens.

Floral installations on the sidewalk outside the Cathedral

Here's an intriguing mural - shades of Gulliver...

Kids kiting on the waterfront park 

A shopping centre at the Miraflores waterfront

Sunset over the islands of Lima from the Miraflores waterfront park


The Streets of Cusco

At 11,200 ft, Cusco was the highest point on our tour - oxygen was pumped into our hotel rooms to alleviate altitude sickness, not that we needed it.  The only symptoms we had was the shortness of breath when we climbed a small incline to the Inca Museum.  Old town Cusco was charming and very walkable with its cobbled streets and Incan stone walls.  The shots below will give you a good idea of the ambiance of the ancient city.

Most of the traffic cops are female - but notice the holster

Not understanding the words on the sign, we thought  these two  were protesting something on the main street, that's why they were wearing masks.  Of course, when I looked up the Spanish, it was anti-climactical - all it says: "Respect the pedestrian crossing"!   So these were crossing guards????

And these girls need to be reminded to stay on the sidewalk!

Businesses housed in original Inca buildings

The Jesuit Iglesia de la Compania on one side of the Plaza de Armas
The Cathedral at the centre of the Plaza - no photos allowed inside.  There were some interesting nougats, like the silver altar that sits permanently on a chassis so that the it no longer had to be carried on people's shoulders.  Having seen the excruciating way this was done in Lima, I can see why this must be a great relief for the faithful.

Colonial arcades in the Plaza de Armas

The leafy Plaza Regocijo near our hotel

Houses built all the way up the hillside - there are some very steep streets 

Interesting-looking facades as you leave the city centre - this is the neighbourhood where our guide took us to visit the silver shop outlet.  There could be a courtyard and another house behind the facade.

Impressive Incan walls lined many of the streets in the old town 

View from the Plaza de Armas up the hill during the day

and the same view at night

Night view of the Plaza and the houses in the surrounding suburbs - and fireworks!


    Cusco - the Koricancha Temple

    This doesn't look like a temple, does it?  It's really a Catholic Church built atop an Inca temple - the Koricancha Temple, originally called the Inti Cancha, Temple of the Sun in Cusco.  Cusco used to be the ancient capital of the Inca Empire and this temple was the centre where the sun was worshipped.  The Temple of the Sun in Machu Picchu is said to be based on this one in the capital.

    According to the Spanish, the walls and floors were covered with gold and the gold was used to pay the ransom when the Spanish captured an Incan leader.  The Spanish demolished the temple and built the Church of Santo Domingo on top of the Incan foundation.  The colonial structure was damaged by earthquakes but the Incan foundation remained in tact because of the quality of the stone work.  You can see examples of the first class mortarless masonry in the photos below.

    On the outside of the complex, you can see the curved wall with its astounding fit beneath the chapel.  It remains undamaged through repeated earthquakes.

    The cloisters of the colonial church

    The ceremonial chambers remained intact from Inca times

    Three openings in the walls of the adjoining chambers align perfectly

    Typical Inca walls slanting inwards
    the first class stone masonry - here you can see how one huge piece of stone went around a corner
    the contrast between the smooth and the rough

    The signature trapezoidal portal of the ceremonial chamber

    Stunning portal with double jambs

    Colonial portal built over Inca wall
    Colonial cloisters over Inca wall


    Road to Cusco - Stunning Saqsaywaman

    Cusco was only 72 km from Machu Picchu but we saw so much on the way it felt like it was much farther.  After the explosion of colour and sensations that we encountered at the farmers' market, we moved up the mountains and approached Cusco  from the top.   You will see below panoramic views of the Sacred Valley and of Cusco with its red roofs - quite a pretty sight.  On the outskirts of Cusco, we stopped by the stunning Saqsaywaman (that's right, sound it the way you see it!) - a fortress like structure with a presence that reminded us of Stonehenge, only more powerful and awe-inspiring. 

    The stone work at Saqsaywaman, a UNESCO heritage site, is one of the most impressive in Peru, indeed in South America.  The precision of the Incan stone work, the snugness of the fit, together with how the walls were constructed leaning inwards were said to be the reason why they survived the many devastating earthquakes in the area through the centuries.  The Spaniards had stripped stones from here to build their houses.  What remained were the largest stones that were too huge to move.   You can see how huge they are below.

    View of the Sacred Valley from the road

    Panoramic view of Cusco

    Our guide showing us the drainage holes built into the structure

    A closer look at the interlocking stone work and the drainage

    The huge boulders sat on stone foundations, built at angles 


    This is supposedly the largest boulder in the complex

    There are three walls in the complex, this is the outside wall.   The longest wall reached 400 metres and the average height is about 6 metres

    Look at how one piece of stone was used to round a corner


    At the end of our tour, this herd of llamas and alpacas brought us back to a more human scale, even from afar, across the plain of Saqsaywaman...


Peru - Andean Farmers' Market

Doesn't this photo of the peppers look familiar?  I remember taking a very similar photo at an Ontario farmers' market.  But that's where the similarity stopped.  The rest of the market looked very different from anything I'd seen.  We stopped by this farmers' market on the way out of Ollantaytambo to catch a glimpse of local life.  

Even these squashes looked slightly familiar
Add caption
But not this farmers' transport - never seen a Honda like this one!

Nor farmers' like these...

These long grass-like plants look like guinea pig food

Now that's a familiar sight - little kid eating ice cream!

But not all these varieties of potatoes

or corn

Two Peruvian women were buying young chicks to raise at home.  It's cheaper than buying full grown chickens.

A happy sheep farmer

Sharing a break 


Dried peppers

All kinds of beans

And of course, quinoa!

It was an eye-opening experience, and I hadn't even shown you the photos of the raw meat...

For more on Peruvian food, cooked, go to my food blog


Road to Cusco - Ollantaytambo Temple

From Machu Picchu, we took the train back to Ollantaytambo where the bus took us to the Temple Hill on its outskirts.  We hiked up 200 steps to the top of the hill - the Temple of the Sun.  The hike wasn't too bad as there were terraces every 50 steps or so to take breaks and to admire the view. The temple was unfinished but what was left there, the wall of the six monoliths, was considered one of the masterpieces of Inca stonework, perfectly fitted together with thin slices of stone and oriented to glow with the rising sun.  There were also first class stone work in the wall of the ten niches as you can see below.

Food stalls where locals eat at the train station - reminded me of food stalls in Asia

Temple Hill - 200 steps led to the top of this "fortress" with terraces built into the mountainside

Different layers of terraces with different grades of stone and stone work- field stone below and the highest quality  of cut stones on top, reserved for temples and kings

First class stonework in the Temple of the Ten Niches

These niches have an amplification effect if you speak into them.
The stones fit together like Lego!

This photo (taken by another member of my tour as I ran out of battery) shows how a boulder had been cut so the stones fitted like lego pieces - awesome!

 Beautiful trapezoidal entrance

Wall of the six monoliths of pink rhyolite - the Incas dragged these from a quarry 6 km away.  Amazing how they got them up to the top.

Inca markings on the monoliths 

Abandoned boulders indicated a hurried departure of the builders
View of Ollantaytambo from the top of the Temple
View of the surrounding countryside and the quarry from the top of the Hill

Original Inca fountain at the base of Temple Hill (photo by JW)


Machu Picchu - one last look

One of the most striking temples at Machu Picchu was the Temple of the Condor.  Condor, puma, serpent are the animal parallels for heaven, earth and the underworld in Inca myth.  The condor as the symbol for heaven fitted right in with the interpretation of Machu Picchu as a sacred centre for the worship of the Inca gods.   Below you see the condor head carved into the ground rock and its wings represented by the two wing-shaped rock formations behind it.  Awesome!

The stonework at Machu Picchu was so amazing it took most of our attention.  It was easy to overlook the fountains at the site when in fact, these are mind-boggling in their complexity and were also essential for the inhabitants.  Scientists have worked out that the Incas fed these 16 fountains from a spring source some distance from the site.  The engineering was complex.   Jeff Brown's article "Water supply and drainage at Machu Picchu" is fascinating and explained the work behind the fountains and the system of terraces that solved the drainage issues at the site. 

Double fountains
The terraces were everywhere, even up the steep sides of the Huayna Picchu - and all for drainage?
They were also used for agriculture but the amazing thing was, each of them were layered with stones at the bottom, then gravel, sand and topsoil.   The drainage enabled the rainwater to go through and therefore stopped erosion.  The Incas were incredible engineers!

All these mortarless stone masonry here were also earthquake proof because mortar would crack when the earth moved.  Without mortar and with the stones fitted neatly into each other, when there was an earthquake, all the stones shook in their spots but would settle back down.  Machu Picchu is in an earthquake zone, sitting on two faults, yet it survived centuries of earth movements.  Astounding!

These terraces led up to the Intihuatana, the ritual stone high above the Sacred Plaza  

One last look at the ever present mountain view.  

Next post:  Road to Cusco


Machu Picchu - flora and fauna, the "locals"

Here's a quick look at the locals at Machu Picchu - all very exotic...

These Angel's trumpets are the perfect match for the buildings and the mountains
There are hundreds of varieties of orchids here, shown are the most common variety

This too is an orchid, even though it doesn't look like one

This rock face near the Sun Gate was full of what looked like air plants 

Many llamas were on site, particularly near the Sacred Plaza - they were quite a distraction

These must be the most photographed pair of rodents (called vizcachas, even though they look like rabbits), atop the entrance to the Temple of the Condor

Look, no hands - a local porter carrying the backpacks for hikers on the Inca Trail

School children on a field trip to the historical site
Dutiful parents acted as escorts with babies on their backs (shown here waiting for the bus going back down to Agua Calientes)
Curious baby peeking out from his mom's back

Couldn't resist showing this tourist, even though he's not a local...they started young!


Machu Picchu - the Sun Gate

The Sun Gate was where pilgrims on the Inca Trail arrived to celebrate the sun as it rose, if they were lucky.  The sun would beam through precisely between the gates - obviously a triumphal moment for the pilgrims as it would mark the end of their long journey from the bottom of the Sacred Valley.  They could look down from that point at the sacred centre of Machu Picchu and it would be a downhill hike all the way. 

For us, it was uphill all the way as we were going in the opposite direction - from Machu Picchu centre (at below 8,000 ft.) toward the Sun Gate (Intipunku) at 9,000 ft.  It was a short hike - 45 minutes for most people, double that for people like us who were not used to high altitude hiking (breathing).  We took the original Inca trail from near what is called the Guard House, the highest point in the Machu Picchu complex and walked along the eastern edge of the mountain.  We passed two temple like structures on the trail - one a giant boulder that seemed to have an altar in front of it and another one that had a similar rock to the one in the Sun Temple in Machu PIcchu.  The last stretch was very steep and the higher altitude made the breathing even harder.  But the views were worth it - and there was a moment when I connected with the spirits of the mountains...

The trail up to the mountain Machu Picchu is even steeper and longer.

The original Inca trail to the Sun Gate

The first boulder with an altar in front and Inukshuks left by hikers 

Looking back at Machu Picchu from the temple on the trail

The sacrificial boulder - again echoing the shape of the mountains behind it
This is the moment when I felt the "apu" - the spirit of the sacred mountains 

Looking down at the Urubamba river curving around the valley and Aqua Calientes below - original Inca terraces up the slope to shore up the trail

The Sun Gate coming into view

Looking down at the Inca trail from the Sun Gate - this was where pilgrims arrive - a park ranger stood guard so  you couldn't go down that way

The pilgrim's entrance to the Sun Gate

Imagine the sunbeam coming through the gate from the top of the mountain - now if only those guys would move!

After the encounter with the sunrise, this would be the panoramic view rewarding the pilgrim (just pretend you didn't see the hairpin bends of the Hiram Bingham highway up to Machu Picchu)


Machu Picchu - Sacred Geography

Someone asked me why I have to go all the way to Peru to look at ruins.  My response - you have to be there to see that these are not just any ruins, you have to see the remarkable stone work in the buildings, framed against the backdrop of the layers of majestic mountains around the site and its amazing location on a saddle between two peaks, with steep drops on both sides of the ledge.  The latest interpretation is that Machu Picchu was a sacred site for the Incas because of its "sacred geography" (Machu Picchu, Exploring an ancient sacred center by Johan Reinhard and Turn right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams) - built on and around mountains and close to the sun - all of which were very significant for the Incas.  There were temples at all the high points on the site and sacred mountains at all the cardinal points.  Indeed, if you visit, make an effort to find some quiet time to steep in the majesty of the surrounding mountains; the spirituality of the site is palpable.  It was not easy to find it in the midst of the hordes that came through the gates, therefore it is important to strategize the itinerary, which our guide did.

The typical day trip to Machu Picchu had tourists leave from Cusco in the morning, spend 3.5 hours travelling on a bus, then a train then another bus before arriving middday at Machu Picchu; spend a few hours on the site then leave.   Our tour arrived mid-afternoon, just as other tourists were about to leave and the place gradually calmed down.  We spent some time on some of the important sites with our very knowledgeable guide and took our time because we knew we would return the following day.  Time and space was needed to get the most out of this unique place.  And I was glad I made an effort to find a tour that afforded two days at Machu Picchu.  You can see from the photos below how the mountains were everywhere and how the buildings echoed the mountains around them.

The main gate - you walked through and the entire Machu Picchu site opened up in front of you

View from the Principal Square - surrounded by "skyscraper" mountains

The "Royal Mausoleum" - one of the first pieces we saw.  The steps carved out of  a single piece of granite that grew from the earth below; behind it, the Incan three steps - heaven, earth and the underworld and beyond that, in the cave, first class stonework for buried royalty.  Above this cave, sat the the Torreon, the Temple of the Sun (photo below), so called because in the winter solstice in June, the sun would come through the east facing window and cast a rectangle of light onto the huge carved rock in front of it.  The only round building on the site, it was also aligned with the two mountains, one on each end - Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu, hence the suggestion that it was for mountain worship. 

A closer look at some of the first class stone work in some of the buildings - mortar less, perfectly cut and stacked

This is one of 16 fountains found on the site, part of a complex system of water supply on the site

The ever-present sacred mountains - which ever way we turned

The perfect symmetry of the portals

Steep drops (some terraced) on the sides all the way down to the Urubamba River, which curiously wrapped right around  the promontory that  Machu Picchu sat on - you can see the river coming around on the other side of Machu Picchu (photo below - lower right corner)

The main temple with its wall niches, foundation collapsed on one side, which was how the explorer Hiram Bingham found it in 1911.

Beside the main temple, is the Temple of the Three Windows, a significant Inca symbol.  The windows framed the mountains in front.  This area has been called the Sacred Plaza because of the temples and the Intihuatana (ritual rock) further up near the top of this site.  The rocks in these buildings are particularly large (some as much as three tons - see photo below) and the workmanship first class, denoting this as the most important area on the site.

Look at the precise fit of the rocks

This piece of rock in the sacred plaza must have been a compass - pointing exactly due north

78 steps took us up to this Intihuatana, a ritual stone that must have been also a sun dial.   It was said to give off energy and many visitors considered it a source of magnetic power.

The Sacred Ceremonial Stone - almost a perfect echo of the mountain behind it

The four Ecuadorian boys gave a sense of the size of the rock.  Guido, the boy in the orange poncho, had asked to have his picture taken with me earlier - what an honour!


No comments:

Post a Comment