October 26 – November 9, 2016. After a late night arrival in Quito, Ecuador, we began this life-long Bucket List trip by tackling the high altitude of the Ecuadorian Andes Mountains. Although only a short distance from the equator, the air is thin. With little sleep, and fighting altitude sickness, we did the only sensible thing…we went even higher!
The Teleferico gondola lift transported us up the east side of Pichincha Volcano. One of the highest lifts in the world, rising from 3,117m to 3,945m, it takes about 20 minutes to ascend to the gondola station. The views of Quito and surrounding valley were beautiful. The remainder of the day was spent visiting the Presidential Palace and the 17th -century Church of La Compania.
The following morning a motor coach escorted us as we crossed between hemispheres at the Equatorial Line Monument and The Middle of the World. We were intrigued how water ran in opposite directions on each side of the equator, even though only inches away. While standing on the equator itself, we balanced an upright egg on the head of a nail. The excursion was topped off with a delicious lunch overlooking the Pululahua volcanic crater.
We concluded our last evening in Quito with a fabulous dinner at the historic Hotel Plaza Grande, where the desert presentation was unforgettable.
During the following 4 days we visited 5 of the Galapagos islands hiking, snorkeling and witnessing the magnificence of many, many animals: marine iguanas, lava lizards, Sally Lightfoot crabs, blue-footed boobies, playful sea lions, manta rays, Waved Albatross, graceful flamingos, sea turtles, and Galapagos hawks. To walk among these animals, who have no fear of man, is breathtaking and almost impossible to comprehend. One cannot but wonder how long their habitat will remain, as their water, air and land are endangered at every turn.
While visiting Post Office Bay (named for a barrel left in 1793 by Captain James Colnett as a “post office” for passing sailors) we continued the tradition of leaving a postcard addressed to family/friends. In turn, we took one to deliver when we returned home. The postcard we left arrived in our mail before we returned home; however, I chose to personally deliver the one we removed. By luck, the address was only one hour from our home here in Kentucky.
Our time in beautiful Galapagos Islands ended too soon.
RETURN TO ECUADOR
A short flight took us to Guayaquil, Ecuador, often called the Pearl of the Pacific.
We spent an afternoon touring Guayaquil by foot and motor coach. The tour included the Malecon 2000 waterfront area and the19th-century neighborhood of Las Penas with its Spanish-style houses.
We concluded our day in Guayaquil visiting the beautiful Catedral Metropolitana and its unusual permanent residents.
The following day we flew to Lima, Peru, The City of Kings. That afternoon we took a wonderful excursion 15 miles south of Lima to Los Ficus Casa Hacienda in the Lurin Valley. We toured the ranch and experienced the exciting “Caballos de Paso” exhibition featuring the Peruvian national horse, known for their distinctive, elegant gait that makes them look as if they are dancing. We had a delicious lunch which highlighted typical Peruvian flavors, were treated to Pisco Sour cocktails (the Peruvian national cocktail) and enjoyed traditional music. But the highlight was a short ride on the horse known as the ‘smoothest horse in the world’.
From Lima we flew to Cuzco and landed in another world.
From Cusco we descended through the Andes, via motor coach, into the Sacred Valley of the Incas, once the agricultural center of a great empire.
Finally we arrive at the Sonesta Posada del Inca Yucay hotel, nestled in the Sacred Valley. This charming old hotel had once been a monastery. We were treated to some of the best Pisco Sour cocktails we had received thus far. From sea level we had risen to an altitude of 11,152 ft in one day, and we were feeling the effects; headache and difficulty breathing. In Quinto we had learned of a tea, and candy, made from the coca plant that the locals chew or drink to relieve altitude sickness. We immediately tried them both, but it took some getting used to the bitter taste. We consumed much of both in the coming days.
The following day we visited the Ollantaytambo ruins with their spectral example of Inca architecture.
A short stop at a local pub to taste beer made from fermented corn called “chicha”, was indeed interesting. It was here we had the opportunity to try their local delicacy, “cuy” (guinea pig) Full disclosure: we did NOT try this dish. Unlike eating the worm in Africa, these little guys are cute. We did, however, join the locals in a game of ‘Sapo’, where the object is to throw a coin into the mouth of a metal frog.
The next day we took a train through the Andes Mts. into the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu
Hidden for centuries, the Lost City of the Incas is the most spectacular sight in South America. After awaiting this moment for so many years, it was hard to grasp that we had finally reached that goal. Yet, here it was! Right before us on an unbelievable bright, beautiful day. We were not disappointed! However, as with so many wonderful places in the world now, the crowds limit movement, photo ability, and overall enjoyment of a long-dreamed-of moment. That being said, it was a wonderful experience to look down on this hauntingly beautiful, mysterious place and reflect on the lives that created such a spectacular city.
We spent 2 days in Machu Picchu and enjoyed exploring the markets, hiking, and bird watching. We also experienced a mystical Shaman Ceremony that introduced us to the sacred beliefs and rituals of the ancient Peruvians.
We returned to Cuzco via train and motor coach. Cuzco, which means Center of the World, is the former capital of the Inca Empire. We explored the city and experienced the Spanish style Santo Domingo Cathedral, the Plaza de Armas, and the sacred Incan ruin of Sacsayhuaman Fortress.
While looking for a lunch place, we happened to stumble upon Paddy’s Pub that claims to be the highest 100% Irish-Owned pub on the planet (11,156 ft elevation). NFL football was showing on their TV, the sandwiches were good, and the soda and beer were cold. Take THAT altitude sickness!
On our second day in Cuzco, we took a side trip to the Inca Terraces at Moray. These enigmatic circular terraces are artistically-designed Incan construction. The concentric ring terraces and their meaning still mesmerize visitors and scientist who offer several explanations for their purpose.
We then journeyed into the Sacred Valley Salt Mines. This spectacle was most unexpected, but profoundly beautiful. As we descended down the hillside, the awe-inspiring sight of the Salineras salt pans appeared. In one unexpected moment, we beheld thousands of individual ancient salt pans carved into the terraces and cascading down the mountain. An underground spring fills the pools, causing the salt to crystallize as the water evaporates. As a result, a white quilt-work pattern covers the deep-red earth hillside. Since Incan times, families have passed down ownership of the pools and have made a living from this special place. It was an unexpected explosion of beauty that we won’t soon forget.
The next morning an early flight took us back to Lima. The afternoon was spent touring San Francisco Monastery and its catacombs, the Government Center, the Plaza de Armas’ Cathedral, and fashionable suburbs for insight into the life of Limenos.
Before departing to the airport for our flight home, we said goodbye to our fellow travelers over a delicious farewell dinner at the Larco Museum, housed in a 18th-century mansion. We depart Peru and check off another Bucket List item.
As always I leave you with the wonderful faces of: