Across the Andes

May 26

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We woke up to a drizzle and fog, which is apparently normal around this time of year in Lima. We had a simple breakfast in the hotel, in a small dining area right next to a miniature office sporting two computers connected to the internet. We were picked up for a ride to the airport. We learned that the teachers have been on strike for the past 13 days and that their protests are blocking many roads, making the traffic worse. How to believe, as even the traffic last night was scary and crazy. We also learned that in addition to the teachers, now the farmers are considering joining the strike, quite an interesting thought. He said that nobody really knows what's going on, that the new president sucks; the old president, Fujimori, may have been bad and corrupt, but at least things worked. The new president just gave himself a raise (to $8000/month) and was cutting everyone else's salaries since. And the front page of today's newspaper had a big headline "US to invade Colombia next?" - it's good to have such a reputation in the world.

The airport was virtually empty, with no check-in lines or other waiting periods. There was an Internet Cafe, which we proudly ignored. Through the security checkpoint to the gate we waited for about an hour, taking notes about the past two days. Essan told me that she needs to take her own notes, as she would write definitely about other things. Asked about what, Essan said "well about more sensual things, such as smells". Well, ok, let me tell you that this terminal smelled like a street in San Francisco. For those of you who don't know, it's not a pleasant smell.

Lan Peru in Lima doesn't board by rows / sections, but rather "here's the airplane, on, everyone!". Once in the air we were served a warm snack (with cheese) and drinks. What was the last time you got warm food, regardless how simple, on a 50-minute flight on a US carrier? The flight over the Andes was very smooth and picturesque. The Cusco airport greeted us with huge Pepsi and Coca Cola signs right next to each other, and with a series of clearly more tourist oriented billboards. Outside the airport we were greeted by another friendly Jirman sign, and were brought to our hotel - Monasterio, the finest five star hotel in Cusco. Now this is not the usual way we travel; usually we are in a tent, or a Motel 6 if we are being really generous. However, I wanted to stay in the Sanctuary Lodge in Machu Picchu, and the only way to do that is by staying in Monasterio, which is owned by the same company.

The hotel was truly beautiful - an old monastery. We were greeted by a bowl of fruit and a complimentary bottle of Champagne. Essan tackled the first, but we skipped the second. We took a quick rest before being picked up by our tour guide for a tour of Cusco. He picked us up with a new Nissan, which clearly stood out in local traffic - question is, for how long. But it did have seat belts, quite a novel experience for us in Peru. Barely seated, we were informed that the new president is no good and that he only parties - that he was here just days ago with a large entourage, and that now he's in Argentina partying again. So far, a consistent picture of the president...

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First, we visited the Qoricancha palace, which used to be the navel of the Inca empire. The construction was really remarkable - stones were placed together tightly without the use of mortar, yet with such a precision that the buildings survived many strong earthquakes. Once the Spanish came they tore the Inca buildings down and built their own on top of the Inca foundation; subsequently, all major earthquakes leveled the Spanish buildings, leaving the Inca foundation intact.

We also visited the main square with the cathedral, the largest church in all of America. It has clearly seen better days, as it was showing wear from earthquakes and simply time. I am no art critic, but this church was a bit overdone - a bit of every style, with gold this, silver that, and carved wood again something else. It reminded me of a painting made by a preschooler who desperately wanted to use all the colors available. Photography was not allowed (and strictly enforced - police were confiscating the videotape from a tourist's camera), so it's hard to bring my point across...

From the cathedral we drove to the Saqsaywaman (pronounced Sexy Woman) ruins just off Cusco. Not much is left over of the magnificent, giant area of worship, but the ingenious Inca construction survived in part until today, despite the Spanish stealing the precisely worked stones for their own buildings. From there we saw the Q'enqo ruins with the ancient operating table, where the surgeons were performing brain surgery with some rocks. Finally, we made a stop at a store with lots of wool goods, mainly made of Alpaka wool. Essan scored a nice red baby Alpaka sweater, which is amazingly soft to the touch - just as the cute baby Alpaka outside. Soooo soft!

Back at the hotel we took a quick nap, were briefed about our upcoming trip to the Manu rainforest, and had dinner at the hotel. It was a truly intriguing menu with prices in US$, but the food was good even if we got something else than we thought we would. Who says I am not experimental with food?

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