After climbing the stairs at Ollantaytambo I returned to Hostal Sauce for a bit of rest. As I went to unlock the door to our room I looked left and saw this scene, the hallway glowing in the last warm rays of the sunset. The light was gone in under a minute, just enough time to get this shot.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Now I've covered pretty much the entire trip to Peru. Just the outlines of course, not all the little anecdotes or all the photos, not by far. So let's go back and check out some of that stuff. Here are a few more of our 1000+ photos from Machu Picchu...
I told you how Wendy is obsessed with llamas. Yes, that includes llama hineys.
And here we see where the obsession turned unhealthy. WTF Wendy?! I don't think the llama needs a prostate exam!
Here you can see the windy road up from Aguas Calientes. It's just barely wide enough for two buses to creep past each other. You can also see the Urubamba river flowing through the bottom of the valley.
A photo of me taking photos from one of the vantage points Wendy would not visit.
Wendy captured a nice slash of light the snuck through the clouds here. You can also see one of the trains, probably a Backpacker, at the bottom of the frame.
Windows in windows, another nifty Wendy photo.
Check out the steps on the outside of the wall. Anyone want to volunteer to try them out?
Sunday, October 26, 2008
From Cusco we travelled south to Arequipa. We barely saw Arequipa though, because we immediately caught a tour bus to the Colca Canyon.
We passed quite a few herds of wild vicuñas along the way. Vicuñas are camelids, like alpacas and llamas, but they aren't domesticated like their cousins. They are kept in preserves, and then occasionally rounded up and sheared. Their fur is very fine and makes excellent clothing, but they only produce about one pound per year. This makes vicuna wool clothing incredibly expensive. We never saw any, but we're told shirts can cost up to $2000 each. Wikipedia says a coat of vicuna wool can cost $20,000.
Just before entering the Colca Valley we traveled over a pass at 14,700' above sea level. That's higher than all but thirteen peaks in the US, and those thirteen are all in Alaska. At the pass there are two outhouses, circular huts with a hole in the middle of the floor. Our guide encouraged us to us them as it might be "the highest piss you'll ever take." If you disqualify airplanes it very well might be.
It's a tradition to put up stone cairns for good luck. There were quite a few there before, but now that there's a road and many tour groups stopping there the pass is carpeted in them. All the loose rocks in the area have been turned into cairns.
We were in the Colca Valle to see the Andean condors that nest in Colca Canyon. Condors are very large carrion birds, like a vulture with a ten foot wingspan. They depart their cliffside nests early in the morning and ride thermals all day. They're talented gliders, so they almost never flap their wings.
The birds were apparently oblivious to the crowds of spectators. They blithely flew back and forth within twenty or thirty yards of us, searching for thermals and preparing for the day's "hunt."
On the way to the condor overlook that morning we went through the "tunnel of dust." They had carved a long tunnel through a toe of the mountain, perhaps half a mile long. But unlike tunnels in the US it had no overhead lights, no ventilation, and no pavement. It was just a dirt road through the mountain. There were dozens of tour buses going through the tunnel to get to the condor overlook, each of which kicked up dust into the still air in the tunnel. By the time we got there it looked like an explosion in a bakery. Thick white dust limited visibility to ten feet or so. We slowed to a walking pace, so It wasn't particularly dangerous. But it was one of the many moments that highlights how differently things are done in Peru.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Saturday night the undead invaded downtown Denver. Wendy and myself, in character as a news team for the fictional Philadelphia Star, went down to check it out. We were expecting a couple dozen enthusiasts, but instead found a ravening undead horde of several hundred zombies. Wendy put the whole thing together in a photo gallery with captions - go check it out.
Update: Video too!
Update 2: Third link fixed. I have no idea how I got a link to Continental in there.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
I think that's enough of rock piles and llamas for a while. Instead of the ancient world let's look at some modern aircraft from the Grand Junction Air Show. But before we go to the photos I'd like to thank John Carmichael and his buddy Ken for saving us some great seats right up front, not to mention being great company during the show. Without them I probably would not have many of these photos. Thanks John!
One of the F-18's parked in the "petting zoo." It also displays the pilot's typically... well, juvenile sense of humor. The pilots name is Richard Woodward, so naturally his callsign is "Dickwood."
A restored WW2 era B-25 Mitchell bomber. For you Milwaukeeans, they've got another one on a stick outside the airport.
Old, meet new. Gene Soucy's stunt biplane flies past an F-16 from the Air Force Viper West Demo Team.
A member of the F-15 Strike Eagle Demo Team getting a move on. There's a nice motion blur on this one, but it's a bit hard to see at this size -- click through for a larger photo.
Gene Soucy again, this time with his wing-walking associate. She also moved around from the lower wing to the upper, did headstands, and all manner of other insanity.
The Blue Angels heading off into the distance. Note that there are actually four planes in this photo, the two in the middle are almost perfectly superimposed.
I think the pilots actually high fived each other as they passed. Or possibly exchange some Grey Poupon.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
The llamas are very tame. Tame enough to eat around people, lie down around people, or do both at the same time. Which I had previously thought was a level of laziness only attained by humanity.
Since they are so tame I thought it was a good idea to go pet one. Yeah, not so much. They're also dirty as hell, and their thick fur is apparently home to an enormous swarm of biting insects which we dubbed Llama Flies (like a Horsefly, but with more "l"s). After I touched the llama they followed me around for 45 minutes. I had my own personal cloud, like Pig Pen from the Peanuts. They tore a dozen holes in me that took nearly a month to heal. So don't pet the llamas.
Some of the area can be tricky to navigate. The narrowest stairs I saw in Peru were down there. I don't think I could've gone down them, but thankfully I was going up them. And notice the NewsGator water bottle - I think I should get a commission on our first South American sale for all the marketing I did.
Yeah, it's a pretty flower. That's about it.
I'm crushing your ancient ruins!
Hm, I wonder where those ruins are?
Living large on the mountaintop.
Last one. I just like this photo.
Monday, October 06, 2008
We got up early the next morning to catch sunrise. Getting up at 5:30 after the long day before hurt. Standing in line with 300 other tourists hurt even more. But it proved well worth it - the morning brought low flying clouds and the soft light that had proven so elusive in Peru.
The photos from the first 15 minutes of that morning are some of my favorites from the entire trip.
We wandered around a bit more and then Wendy headed back to the hotel to photograph the exotic flowers in their extensive gardens. Meanwhile I decided, for some reason, to climb Machu Picchu Mountain.
The climb was just brutal, nothing but stairs and dropoffs for about 3,000' vertical. Along the way I met a Peruvian named Deivid, and we stuck together most of the way up.
Deivid was a bit crazy. There ain't no way I was going on that outcropping, but he climbed out there twice for photos.
After a long hike back down to the ruins and a quick lunch, I headed back for my last afternoon at Machu. Before I left on my trip, Walker told me the ruins are like "freaking Disneyland," chock full of annoying tourists. He was right. There were tour groups 25 strong, oblivious idiots blocking the entry way so they could tie their shoes, and overweight Italians cursing about all the stairs - all the joys of a major attraction. About the only difference was the total lack of litter. They don't allow any food or disposable water bottles into the park, which seems to help quite a bit.
But most tourists treated it like an amusement park. They followed the little colored lines on their maps from one site to the next then hopped the early bus back to Aguas Calientes. They missed the fact that it's not an amusement park but a city. There's a lot to see that's not on the map, but few of them actually went to find out for themselves. I'm thankful for their incuriosity and laziness - it left half the area deserted.
Except for me, that is. The whole area feels much different outside the heavily trafficked areas. The crowd noise floats off into the valley never to return, leaving the area silent.
You can feel the age of the place in the rocks and walls, and see the vitality of the rain forest trying to absorb it again. I imagine it's not far from what the place was like when the Inca's lived there. It's certainly closer than the hectic multilingual mess of the "tourist" areas.
I wandered for three or four hours, absorbing the atmosphere and taking pictures. It was a nice, peaceful interlude.
I even spotted some furry little critters that lived in caves of tumbled rocks. I have no idea what these things are - if you know please drop me a line.
By this time it was getting late. The park was closing soon, Wendy was waiting for me, and we had to catch a train back to Cusco. So regretfully I trudged back up the steps, across the walkways and back out of the park, into the real world. But it was a good day.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Machu Picchu feels as if it consists entirely of edges and drops offs. No matter where you go you're never far from an edge, and beyond that is seemingly a sheer drop to the canyon floor. I don't have a fear of falling but I had developed one by the time we left. It's stressful always feeling like your never more than 10 feet from a fatal drop. Wendy does have a fear of falling - I give her a lot of credit for not cowering in a corner the entire time.
Of course it's not actually a giant death trap. In reality there are only a handful of drops of more than eight feet. It's just that you have to get right up to the edge to see that.
Machu Picchu covers a rather large area for ruins, but it feels small. You can't see very much of it at once because there's always a ledge in the way. Even from high vantage points you can't see the entire thing.
The city is built down the east and west faces of a ridge. This gives a view of both sunrise and sunset, undoubtedly part of the reason the astrologically inclined Incas built here. But it also makes it impossible to see the whole thing at once.
In a far corner of the park we discovered the real attraction: llamas. They keep a few wandering around the grounds. They probably also serve as cheap lawnmowers.
Wendy was, as you can see, in love. These llamas were completely inured to the presence of people. They just blithely wandered around, cropping the grass, munching on trees, occasionally flopping into the dirt.
What's with this? A prostate exam? I don't know. Maybe a flashback to her past job as a veterinarian? After that little episode we decided to go have some lunch. In one of the best decisions I've seen, they allow no food or services on the grounds. There's not even a bathroom. So we headed back to the main gate.
I had basically crashed at this point, still sick, short on sleep and dehydrated. We raided all the soda from our hotel's minibar (hey, it was included!), had a late lunch and took a nap.
Then a few miles more hiking up Inca Trail to the Sun Gate, fighting mosquitoes most of the way. You can see the main ruins off in the distance, past Wendy's right shoulder.
So although we didn't really hike the Inca Trail, we at least did a little bit of it.
We arrived back at the Caretaker's Hut (or, as Wendy called it, "the Little House") just in time for sunset.
And that was our first day in Machu Picchu. I almost feel exhausted all over again just thinking about it, but it really was unforgettable. A few more photos up here.