Peru & Bolivia

Summer 2006

Part 1: Lima and Cuzco

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In June I'd finally completed the book I was writing and decided on impulse to make another trip and start a new job after the summer. I had no idea where to go at first but when I saw that Peru is best visited in winter (our summer), my mind was immediately made up as it had always been high on my list.

I wanted to travel alone again so I could make it a long trip. I decided to leave after the Tour de France, the World Cup, the Gentse Feesten and my birthday - so July 25th - and to be back right after the summer holiday - so September 1st - in case a job opportunity would pop up. This would turn out to be incredibly foresighted. So I bought a plane ticket to/from Lima for those dates and then started figuring out how to spend the 37 days in between them.

Since my last trip to India had been stressful I intended to make very few plans this time and just take it slow, but as soon as I started reading about Peru - which I knew very little about beforehand - I learned about many places I had to see. Then I happened to see a picture of the Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia and decided that I had to see that too, so now it became another two-country trip and I was set for a very busy five weeks instead of a lazy vacation.

So on July 25th I flew from Brussels to Lima via Atlanta. On the way back I'd visit Atlanta during a 10 hour transit - which was the reason why I got this particular ticket.
Me at Brussels airport, ready to depart.

Watching that picture makes me cherish the feeling of starting a journey. There I am with all my belongings for the next five weeks hanging around my shoulders, and with no fixed plan on where to go - that is freedom. Of course on the day itself I just feel awkwardly torn away from the routine of my daily life and am worried that it's gonna suck. But those feelings always disappear when I wake up at my destination on the first morning and think "what shall I do first?"

July 26th (day 1): Lima (154m)

Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, shortly after he'd conquered the empire of the Inca's. The Inca capital, Cuzco, was useless to the Spanish since it lay far inland. They needed a coastal town to maintain contact with the homeland, and hence Lima was founded to be the new capital. Nowadays Lima is a city of millions, but the center has maintained its historic character.

After a short, sleepless night (jet lag), I decided to start with a taxi ride to Cerro San Cristobal, a 400m high hill just north of the city center. This turned out to be a bad idea. There was so much fog that I couldn't see much, and when I wanted to walk to the city centre through the slums that surround the hill - I have a sort of social interest in slums, or is it just voyeurism? - several people stopped me and told me it would be way too dangerous. Apparently an American guy with the same idea had been robbed at gunpoint there a few days earlier, and that was rather common.
Cerro San Cristobal.
The slums at the foot of the hill.

So I arranged to drive back with a bus of school children that were visiting the hill. They dropped me near the historic center, and I started my exploration at the Plaza de Armas, the main square of Lima. As in all colonial Spanish towns, this main square has a garden with a fountain in the middle and is flanked by the cathedral and the palace of the governor - nowadays the presidential palace.
The Plaza de Armas, with the cathedral in the back.
The bronze fountain in the middle of the Plaza.
Left of the cathedral stands the Archbishop`s palace with its exquisite balconies.
The cathedral has a chapel with the tomb of Pizarro; this mosaic of him in action adorns its walls.

The Monasterio de San Francisco is a Franciscan monastery not far from the Plaza de Armas. About 70000 people were buried in its extensive catacombs, and for some reason their skulls and bones have been separately collected in boxes or arranged in neat patterns - a most amazing sight.
The church of the Monasterio de San Francisco.
Wandering through the catacombs along boxes of human bones.
The main sight of the catacombs: skulls and bones arranged in concentric circles at the bottom of a wide round pit.

Some street scenes...
The Jiron de la Union, a shopping street that starts at the Plaza.
A street with a glass roof.

To fill the afternoon I visited the Museo de la Inquisicion which was good fun. It is housed in the building that was used by the Spanish Inquisition between 1570 and 1820 and has wax figures reenacting the many gruesome torture methods of that institution. Most impressive were the messages carved in the walls of the prison cells by the unfortunate victims.
The Museo de la Inquisicion.

I'd return to Lima on the last day of this trip, but then I'd stay in the business district Miraflores.

July 27th (day 2): Cuzco

Flight Lima-Cuzco

After that first day in Lima I flew to Cuzco to save myself a 30+ hour busride.
Paris Hilton billboard at Lima airport. I called my Trackmania team the Paris Hilton Fan Club so I was obliged to make this picture :)

I managed to arrange a window seat on the left of the plane and as a result got to enjoy a superb view on the Andes during the one hour flight.
Flying over the Andes.
White mountain tops.
The 6271m high Salcantay sticking out of the clouds near Cuzco.
The landscape near Cuzco.
And here is Cuzco itself with the central Plaza in the middle of the pic.

Cuzco (3400m)

Cuzco (or Qosq'o in the Inca language Quechua) was the capital of the Inca empire. The Spanish captured it in 1533 and looted and destroyed it within years, building a new colonial town on the foundations of earlier Inca buildings.

Nowadays Cuzco is the touristic capital of Peru, being the base from which tourists visit Macchu Picchu and other Inca sites. This means the town is too crowded with tourists and too much geared towards serving them to still be interesting or appealing. It's a lively and charming place but so is Disneyland. I'd expected to need two days here but I saw everything I wanted to see during this first afternoon and had a hard time filling another afternoon when I returned a few days later. These pictures are from both visits.

As in Lima the central plaza is called Plaza de Armas, which already existed as the central square of the Inca capital. Two flags fly here, the red-white-red Peruvian flag and the rainbow flag that now represents the Inca empire (but is better known around the world as the gay pride flag).
The Inca and Peruvian flags waving in front of the cathedral of Cuzco.

Besides the cathedral, the plaza has a second and more interesting church, La Compañia, built by the Jesuits on the foundations of the palace of Huayna Capac, the last Inca ruler before the Spanish conquest. Though it was rather expensive to get inside it was forbidden to take pictures there - really the kind of thing that pisses me off. I still managed to sneak some decent pics.
La Compañia.
La Compañia.
The altar of La Compañia.

Many of Cuzco's colonial buildings were built on top of the walls of earlier Inca buildings, and such was the quality of Inca masonry that these foundations survived the earthquakes of subsequent centuries much better than the Spanish constructions on top of them. In much of Cuzco's historic center, the bottom 1 or 2 meter of the walls still consist of Inca masonry, and in my opinion this masonry is Cuzco's main sight.
Inca wall in a little shopping street.
Incredibly tight seams between irregularly shaped stones - that`s what makes Inca masonry so remarkable.
A typical street in Cuzco. On the left the Inca wall is the height of the ground floor, on the right it is only waist-high.

While walking around Cuzco this first afternoon I started feeling a bit dizzy and short of breath. The city lies at an altitude of 3300m and I'd flown in from the coast, so my body needed to acclimatise. This was the first and last time I'd have an altitude problem though. From here on I increased the altitude very gradually and two weeks later I'd climb to 6000m without any problem.

There were some more churches and museums I visited in Cuzco, but the only good part was when I asked a taxi to take me to the big statue of the ninth Inca ruler Pachacutec. This statue was not mentioned in the LP but I'd spotted it on the way from the airport and it was fun to visit. Pachacutec ruled from 1438 to 1471 and led the first major expansion of the Inca kingdom.
The statue of Pachacutec stands on top of a 22m high tower which you can climb.
Taken from the top of the tower.

July 31st (day 6): Sacsayhuaman (3555m)

A few days later I returned to Cuzco for a full day. In the morning I made the short walk up to the Inca fortress Sacsayhuaman which guarded the hills above the Inca capital.
Walking up from the center of Cuzco

In 1536, two years after the Spanish conquest, the Inca leader Manco Inca rebelled and recaptured this fortress from the Spanish, laying siege on Cuzco from here. Unfortunately he was soon driven out again by a Spanish force led by Juan Pizarro, the younger brother of the conquistador. He retreated to Ollantaytambo, and I'll tell the rest of his story when we get there in part 2.

Most of the fortress Sacsayhuaman was torn down by the Spanish who used the stones to build their houses in Cuzco. What remains are the three-tiered, zigzagging fortification walls. The Incas are said to have built Cuzco in the shape of a puma, with Sacsayhuaman its head and these zigzag walls its teeth. I personally think this theory originated in the lively imagination of an archaeologist, even after seeing a scale model of the town with the puma lined out in a museum.

The fortress provides a splendid view on Cuzco. Unfortunately it was clouded most of the morning so I didn't get many good pics of the fortress itself.
The zigzag fortification walls of Sacsayhuaman, and behind them Cuzco.
Cuzco from above. On the bottom left is the Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas. At the far end is La Compaña, on the left the Cathedral.

On the pics above you can see how the text "VIVA EL PERU GLORIOSO" was written on a mountain above Cuzco in gigantic letters. You see eye-sores like this all over Peru; it's terrible how they ruin their landscapes like this. Anyway, now some pics of the fortress itself...
The northern end of the three-tiered fortification walls
Closer look at the walls
Playing Leonardo`s guy in front of a particularly huge stone in the wall. Admire the Inca stonework!
On the wall

In the afternoon I just killed my time around Cuzco. The pics of that were included above.

 Back to Index   -    Part 2: MP and the Sacred Valley >>

Cy Mon 12 Feb 2007 @ 15:58
I enjoyed your photos, especially of Arbor de Piedra! How fragile it looks. Thanks for your tips on traveling to Machu Pichu on

Daria Thu 07 Dec 2006 @ 00:20
Ammmazing photos and exciting views!!! :)
I can't find the right words!

I bet in real life these views were much more breathtaking :) At some point I envy you - you had a chance to see all this beauty by your own eyes!
But the same time thank you very much for sharing this beauty with us :) This way it is also very nice ;)

Looking forward to seeing new pics and reading new reports ;)

Godsmurf Thu 30 Nov 2006 @ 00:11
It'll be 90% nature pics in the rest of the report. You ain't seen nothing yet :)

Well apart from some really wild desert llamas I saw penguins, condors, flamingos, pelicans, other birds, and sealions!

Fia Wed 29 Nov 2006 @ 15:07
Excellent pictures! Very beautiful sceneries! As usual I prefer mountain pics before buildings. ;-) I especially like the green colours of the mountains and the blue colours of the lakes that you visited.

By the way, you didn't happen to see any wildlife? Apart from that creepy millipede I mean. (And lamas don't count as wild.) :-)


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