South American Cruise 2012 Update #5 - The Machu Picchu Edition

Before I start to describe the events of these days here is some general information about this shore excursion. The ship made two stops in Peru. The first was Salaverry which is actually the port for a more important city called Trujillo. The pronunciation of this goes something like this: “Tru – who – low”. The flight departed from the Trujillo Airport. Later in the day, planned for around 4:00 the ship sailed from here to Callao (pronounced Call – low) which is a western suburb of the city of Lima, Peru where it stayed for two days.

There were two groups to this excursion. The biggest group was called the standard excursion and contained 42 people. The second group, called the superior group, had 18 people. This made for a total of 60 going from the ship between the two excursions. The differences between the two groups were that the superior group had a very high end hotel (higher than the quite high end one those of us in the standard group were in), ate in a higher end restaurant on the first night in Cusco, and took the Hiram Bingham train to and from Machu Picchu on day two. There are three different trains that go from Cusco to Machu Picchu with the “Bingham” being the “Orient Express” grade super high end version. All of these trains are run by the same company that operates the Orient Express so it may give you some idea of the service offered here. The first day and the last day of the excursion were basically the same for both groups as far as the when the events occurred and the air flights involved with the big difference being the second day to and from Macho Picchu.

We found out that the standard excursion group was sold out before the ship sailed and the superior one had a single opening that went very quickly. Apparently there were many people who had hoped to go on one of these excursions but had not tried to book prior to sailing and were disappointed when it was not offered on the ship. Investigations were made into getting more space but there were no more hotel rooms to be had in Cuzco and no air flight space available to get people there as well as no space on the trains from Cuzco to Machu Picchu.

The descriptions that follow will, rather obviously, be for us low life people on the standard excursion. I may also add some of what I heard occurred on the superior version based on information from one of the ships shore excursions staff that was accompanying that group.

Thursday, November 1st; Day 15 of 21 of the trip; Day 13 of 18 of the cruise; Day 1 of 3 of  the Machu Picchu Shore Excursion; To Cusco.

Time to get up: 4:00am. Time to go have breakfast: 4:30am. The Lido Restaurant opened especially for the people going on this excursion. Time to meet the group: 5:15am in one of the theatres. Time left the ship: approximately 5:45am. The buses, one for each of the groups, then left at about 6:00 heading for Trujillo airport approximately a 45 minute drive away. Along the way the Peruvian tour escort, who travelled with us all the way to the end of the excursion, handed out the boarding passes. There are no direct flights from Trujillo to Cusco so it required a stop in Lima and then the flight to Cusco. The busses arrived at the airport in a bit less than the 45 minutes predicted and those that had to check bags did so. I had packed in such a way that no checked luggage was required so I was able to go directly to security and then to the gate for the 7:45am flight to Lima. There were no problems managing the 60 people and the flight left on time and was full. The airline was LAN Peru and all the planes used were Airbus A319’s with 26 or 27 rows of 6 seats. They were hard to distinguish from a Boeing 737 type plane and about the same size. The flight was a bit choppy in spots but arrived some 45 minutes later on time at the Lima International Airport.

There are quite a few flights to Cusco from Lima every day by LAN Peru along with a couple of other Peruvian airlines. They had not been able to get all 60 people on one flight from Lima to Cusco so 8 had to take a slightly later LAN flight. The flight was less than half an hour later so it was no big deal. The flight of the main group I was in left at 10:45 for the roughly hour long flight to Cusco. This flight was mostly uneventful until the landing approach started and it got a bit bumpy. Cusco is surrounded by mountains higher than it is, and it is at 11,500 ft. or about 3300 metres. The airport only has one runway so there are only two ways to make the approach both of which are over these mountains although there are some valleys that are likely used as well. I know they are on takeoff but that is two days away. Even with the bumps the landing was uneventful and approximately on time even though the plane did leave a bit late for unknown reasons.

Those that checked their luggage collected it (it was all there) and we headed for 4 minibuses. These sat about 20 people (tightly) each and were rather small for someone my size but bigger than some I have seen. It does not take long nor do you need to drive very far to discover why they use minibuses. There are some rather tight turns and narrow streets in Cusco that limits the size of vehicles, especially in the main part of the city where the hotels for both groups were located. It was about a 20 minute ride to the hotel from the airport and check-in proceedings commenced. These took under half an hour and then we had some time to rest before the Cusco city tour that was to begin at 3:00 pm.

The room was quite nice but I think there must be a conspiracy to not give me heating or cooling that is comfortable to me in the various accommodations I have had on this trip. It was a problem here too. They never did completely resolve it. The design was a bit unusual but quite functional. I did not take any pictures of it so I cannot show it to you.

The city tour left at its appointed time and after a short drive the first stop was the main city square. At one corner of it was the Catholic Cathedral. Peru is about 80 percent catholic and just over 70 percent of those are considered to be practicing Catholics. Would it not be nice if that were the same for churches in North America? They do not allow photography in this church so the best I can do is to show you the outside.

The inside consists of a number of small chapels around the outside of several larger naves. Most of these have great importance to people in the Cusco area as well as relations to the areas Incan history. This church looks somewhat similar to Lima’s main cathedral where they do let you take photos without flash. There are some photos of Lima’s from that city’s tour on Saturday a ways below. The picture below is a panorama of Cuzco’s main square from the cathedral.

After some time here we went off up one of the nearby hills (maybe a small mountain) to visit an Incan archeological site called Saqsaywaman (and do not ask me how to pronounce that!). It is considered one (if not the) next most important Incan ruins site after Machu Picchu.

The main importance of these sites is for the construction techniques used to build them. Apparently much can be learned about how they lived from these sites as well. One of the biggest problems with the Incas is that that did not have a written language so there are no writings or pictures of any kind to describe things. Apparently as far as anyone can tell they used small scale models to design and build their structures.

These Incas used rather large stones. Luckily in this case the quarry was not too far away.

Incan construction never used mortar. The stones are held together by these precise angles cut on the stones and their weight.

This will give you some idea of the size of these stones. The biggest one can be seen in the centre of the image.

The next biggest stone here is the one on the far left of this picture.

In the picture below our guide is explaining how it is thought the rocks were placed here and the best guesses as to why. It also give you quite an idea of how large some of these stones are.

The biggest problem with this location was that a very cool (maybe cold) wind was blowing right over this mountain and it was really cold. The wind chill made the already cool temperature feel even cooler. By the way, the weather here this day was mostly cloudy with a few sunny breaks and the temperatures were in the mid 50’s F or around 10C. You can imagine what adding a fairly strong cool wind to those temperatures would make it feel like. It may not have been as bad if it had been sunny with little or no cloud but it was the other way around.

The last stops on the tour were the mandatory shopping stop at a place on the cold mountain top, and a quick photo stop looking over Cusco and then back to the hotel.

Here are a few pictures of those last stops.

The mandatory shopping stop.

This is a three image panoramic shot of most of Cuzco from the mountain.

The last event scheduled for this day was a dinner at a local restaurant on the main square but me (and a number of others apparently) were too tired (and or too cold) to go. They left at 7:15 and returned around 9:00. Some of those that were there said that many of those who were there seemed to “be asleep in their soup”. Apparently the “superior” group had the same trouble. I also heard that the guide traveling with the groups had told them not to eat certain things at the restaurants because of concerns relating to the quality of local water to tourists and how it may have been used during the food preparation. My reason for not going was that I had gotten too cold on that mountain and I was having trouble warming up. I also had, what ultimately turned out to be, a slight altitude related headache. I was far from the only person who had one of these. In the end I just went to bed and the cold got warm and the headache reduced slightly but did not go away until I got to lower altitudes. I will likely say more about this in tomorrow’s descriptions.

Thus this day completed and on to excursion day 2 and Macho Picchu!

Friday, November 2nd; Day 16 of 21 of the trip; Day 14 of 18 of the cruise; Day 2 of 3 of  the Machu Picchu Shore Excursion; To Machu Picchu and Back.

This was a second early day, but not quite as early as yesterday.  I was up at 5:30am with a wakeup call that came at 5:45 (in Spanish) and breakfast any time after this but before departure at approximately 6:30. The train departed at 7:42 and all passengers were to be at the station 30 minutes before which we were with time to spare. It is a three hour trip to Machu Picchu by train even though it is only 117 miles. There were a couple of brief stops along the way with arrival at Machu Picchu Station on time almost exactly three hours after departure. It might be useful to mention that the train or by hiking are the only two ways one can get to Machu Picchu, there are no roads.

The passengers boarding at Cuzco (Ponroy) Station.

A scene along the way.

A farm house.

The train follows this river whose name I cannot track down at the moment. It recently has been proven to be one of the source rivers of the Amazon.

Farther down the river.

I think this is where the Inca trail begins.

This is an archeological site that looks a lot like Machu Picchu. It is not open to visitors.

The group had reserved seats in two different train cars so the group had to be joined back together and then taken to a bus pickup location for the 10-15 minute trip to the site some 1300 ft. above the train station. This group is just the “standard” group of 42 people. The other group was following an entirely different schedule on this day. The ride is on a twisty turvy dirt road with many switchbacks and takes at least 10 minutes if not 15. The train station is at approximately 6562 ft. (2000 metres) and the ruins are 7874 feet (2400 metres). The train station is just under a mile in altitude lower than Cusco and the ruins about ¾ of a mile lower. This made quite a difference to those of us suffering from the effects of the altitude at Cusco. For most people, including me, the effects were virtually unnoticeable at Machu Picchu and had gradually reduced or disappeared during the train ride which helped the visit to Machu Picchu a lot.

Here are some pictures at the bottom and during the ride up to the site.

What is known as Machu Picchu city around the train station.

Part way up to the ruins.

The first view of the ruins.

And closer yet!

Part of the road one needs to climb to get to the ruins.

The main entrance.

Once at the top there were tickets to deal with and Passports. Peru seems to have a thing about passports. If you are a tourist they want to see your passport for everything. They wanted it to get on the train, to enter the ruins, and to do just about anything else that required any type of ticket. There was also a landing card which the people on the ship were able to use along with a photocopy of the passport. We needed the actual passport document because we were flying and doing all this other stuff that a photocopy was apparently not good enough for. The hotel required the landing card because if they could reference its number there was some tax they did not need to charge.

I digress, so we have now entered the ruins site and we are in two groups with two guides and were taken on an escorted and narrated two hour tour of the site. The tour did not include the whole site but the main important parts. This is probably the best spot to place the pictures of the site as anything more I can say might not mean much unless you have some reference point.

The first thing one sees after entering the site.

A little closer view.

I think this is the area around what is called the Main Square.

The Temple of the Sun.

Who is this character???

The tiered area is known as the East Agricultural Sector.

The sun dial in the observatory.

A view looking north, I think, from the observatory.

People looking into the main courtyard.

These tiers were used to grow crops.

The picture to the left shows the small Machu Picchu town area and some of the road in the right foreground that gets one up to the ruins.

After the tour, which as I am sure you can tell from the pictures is up and down uneven stairs and through narrow openings and tunnels it was time to leave.

As you can see in the following pictures the line for the buses down was rather lengthy and a long wait was required. Most people think that the wait was about half an hour. The line only got longer and eventually more and more minibuses started appearing from the station below and the line started to move.

This is where I started in the line waiting for a bus going down. You board them at the green roof area just left of centre.

I am just about to the buses. The line has grown significantly since our group joined it.

The ride down was somewhat more exciting than the one up. Unfortunately the delay at the top caused us to arrive at the restaurant at the bottom where lunch was scheduled late and caused it to be rushed. I missed out on what looked like a really yummy piece of chocolate cake that was for desert because of this. I was most annoyed!!!!

The train back was scheduled to depart at 4:22 with the requirement for being there early. We were there a bit too early as it turned out (there certainly would have been enough time for that piece of cake). I guess it is better to be early than late. We boarded, passports in hand again, and the train departed. There are three types of train that run from Cusco to Machu Picchu. The other group used the ritziest one, and we had used the cheapest one, called an Expedition Train this morning. This afternoon we used the middle version called the Vistadome train. We only took this train to the first station that can be driven to and then we got on our minibuses, the same ones from Cusco for an hour and fourty-five minute drive back to Cuzco. The name of the station was Ollantaytambo station. It is even more difficult to pronounce than the one I mentioned earlier. They claimed that the reason for this was that drive back would to get us back to Cuzco somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes earlier than just taking the train and that would be better for us. I think the real reason is that the Vistadome train was a lot more expensive. The earlier Expedition Train ticket cost $54 US Cuzco (Ponroy station) to Machu Picchu and the Vistadome train ticket just to that one station which is a bit less than half way to Cuzco cost $60 US.  

There was some entertainment on the train. One thing was a fashion show of Peruvian clothing by the train’s staff and this, in the two pictures that follow, which nobody seems to be able to explain, doing some sort of local dance.

The train after we got off it at Ollantaytambo station.

The train arrived there at 6:00 and we left there at about 6:15 and arrived back at the hotel in Cuzco at 8:00pm. The altitude problems returned as we went back up almost the mile in height we had gone down earlier. Most people thought it was not as bad this time because the increase was more gradual and not sudden like getting of the plane yesterday.

The Libertador Hotel in Cuzco where the standard group stayed.

Supper was available but I do not think anyone had it as there had been the late lunch and a small snack on the train.

It was then off to bed and another early but not quite as early as today, day.

Saturday, November 3rd; Day 17 of 21 of the trip; Day 15 of 18 of the cruise; Day 3 of 3 of  the Machu Picchu Shore Excursion; To Lima and then to the ship.

This day started fairly early but quite as early as the last two. The wakeup call was at 5:45 am with breakfast at 6:15. Departure for the airport was set for 7:00 and occurred just after that. Before departing the boarding passes were handed out at the hotel and as before there were a group (not sure how many but likely 8) that had to go on a different flight about a half hour later. Arrival at the airport was by 7:30 with all the check in formalities completed by the entire group by about 8:15. The flight I was on was not scheduled to depart until 9:25 so we hurried up and waited. The boarding occurred by rows. They create two lines and board rows 12 to 27 first and if you are in the wrong line you were sent to the end of the other line. On this flight I was in row 21 seat K which put me in the middle of a group of three seats on the right side of the plane as you face the front of the plane.

The plane departed on time and headed down the only runway at Cuzco airport which is pointed right at a mountain. The mountain is a couple of kilometres away but looked a bit interesting out of the planes window as we turned onto the runway. There was a valley just to the right of the mountain and when the takeoff occurred there was a short period of straight flight then a turn into this valley. Looking out of the windows after the turn, mountains could be seen on both sides that were higher than the plane was flying. After several minutes the plane climbed above the mountains and eventually to 38,000 feet for most of the flight to Lima.

The flight was uneventful and with it only scheduled to take an hour it is like flying from Toronto to Montreal it seemed like it was starting down only a few minutes after it got up.  Arrival was 10 – 15 minutes early in Lima where the weather was mostly cloudy with temperatures in the high 60’s/ low 70’s f or approximately 18-22 C. Apparently Lima is cloudy much of the time due to its location.

It took quite a while to get all the people off the plane and even longer to get the baggage off. One thing they do in Peru is allow refueling of the planes while the passengers are getting on and off. They open the rear door of the plane and make an announcement that any passengers on board should be seated but with their seatbelts unfastened and not to use any electronic equipment. This also happened when we were going to Cuzco at Lima and there was an incredibly strong odor of jet fuel inside the plane during the process. Just before we left on that flight, a whole bunch of emergency vehicles showed up near the plane. It did not seem to be related to our flight but I suspect that it did have something to do with the fuel odor.  This would not be allowed in North America!

After about an hour we made it to the bus that was taking us on our city tour. The late arriving group had a bus of their own so we were not delayed by needing to wait for them. Callao is a western suburb of Lima and both the port where the ship was docked and the airport where we landed are located there and are only a few kilometres apart but to do the city tour we had to take a half hour drive to get to downtown Lima for the tour. Here are a few pictures taken as we drove to the first stop in Lima which was the main square with its Catholic Cathedral on one side. Does this sound a bit familiar or what? (Think Cuzco!)

A building on the second main square in Lima.

There are many brightly coloured buildings here.

The cathedral looks a bit like the one in Cuzco with the inside here being a bit more modern than Cuzco. Here are some pictures.

The outside of the cathedral.

The high alter.

The center of the nave with an organ that does not work.

One of the chapel alters.

After the cathedral we were shown the square across the street and then a short walk to a Franciscan Monastery a couple of blocks away. There is a uniquely South American drink called a Pisco Sour which, at least in the Peruvian version, has a mixture of things and is 42% alcohol. A number of people stopped to try one at a bar we passed on the way to the monastery from the square. Here are a few pictures of the square and the walk.

The Presidential Palace. The president lives in the back.

These yellow buildings are mostly Peruvian government buildings.

The Franciscan Monastery.

The Monastery was a “no picture inside” area but our guide did allow some in one spot but was not supposed to. There is a large catacomb below this monastery which is believed to contain the bodies of over 20,000 early inhabitants of Lima. It was a rather unusual place to say the least. Here is one of those pictures that we were not supposed to take just to give you an idea.

Sometime around 2:45 we returned to the bus which returned us to the ship arriving at approximately 3:30. This completed the Macho Picchu shore excursion.

The ship from the bus as we arrived.

Before the ship sailed at approximately 5:00 I took a few pictures of the area surrounding the pier where the ship was docked. The haze makes small versions of these hard to see so I will not use any of them here.

Sunday, November 4th; Day 18 of 21 of the trip; Day 16 of 18 of the cruise; At Sea heading for Chile

A number of things that required attention after being away for a few days were sorted out and I started writing this.

Monday, November 5th; Day 19 of 21 of the trip; Day 17 of 18 of the cruise; At Sea heading for Chile

In the previous update I noted that there was only one more “At Sea” day. Well, it turns out there were two more days and this is the second one. The disembarkation presentation was held this morning for the 400 or so of us who are leaving here. The rest, along with 400 new people, are going on to Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

The rest of today will be used to complete this and the early stages of packing for the departure on Wednesday.

One other unusual event occurred this afternoon. The time on the ship had to be adjusted forward one more hour to come into sync with the time in Chile. Usually this is done at 2:00 in the morning. For some unknown reason it was decided to do it at 2:00 this afternoon. I have never seen this done before. It does not seem to have caused any major problem.

This is the last update that will be sent from the ship as there simply will not be time to do any more. I hope to do one last one to complete the trip which will be done after my return.

Originally sent as Update #5 by email from the ship: November 5th, 2012
Web Page Created: July 1st & 2nd, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 7:42 PM