The picture shows the section of town where the poor folks live. The houses are built on stilts to stay dry when the river floods each year (this was what they call the 'dry' season, when the river is low). There are no utilities and no building codes. Everything comes from and goes back into the river. We were told that drug dealers with powerful speedboats have houses hidden here.
Our boat, the Rio Amazonas, was the largest of three owned and operated as tourist boats by American Paul Wright. The Rio Amazonas is a steel hulled former rubber trader and you can see evidence of its previous occupation onboard. The cabins are modest but efficient, tidy but a bit grubby, but most important, quietly air conditioned with en-suite facilities. There are other sets of cabins on board, built earlier and much more modest.
The next smaller boat, the Arca, is wooden and more picturesque, but each air-conditioning unit is shared between two cabins, and the facilities are 'down the hall'. The smallest boat, the Delfin, is used for up-river 'camping' tours for those who are willing to rough it.
The boat stopped frequently during the day for us to see villages or to take nature hikes. All along the river there are homesteads where an indian family or two has cleared a small area and live there independently. The people who live on the river or small villages seemed to me noticiably much happier and less oppressed by poverty than the people who live in the city (Iquitos). They are undeniably poor from a monetary standpoint, but they are cleaner, and I would guess healthier.
The kids were impressed by our huge boat and were amused by the gringos. There was only one family of Peruvian tourists on the boat and the rest were from the U.S.
At one of our stops, we visited the Boras. Their individual family dwellings are spread out over a wide area, but they get together at 'communal area' that belongs to the whole tribe. The woman in the center of the dancing circle holding the baby is one of the wives of the young chief.
After the dancing performance, we were invited to trade goods with the indians for their locally made handicrafts. In anticipation of this I had brought fishhooks, which turned out not to be in great demand. The chap in the blue shirt, our biologist guide George Amato, had brought a large assortment of t-shirts and other garments.
My thought was that it was regrettable to encourage the indians to dress like us. Perhaps my opinion was influenced by how attractive the younger indian women were without shirts. I wondered if perhaps they normally wear shirts and only remove them for the tourists. Though in contrast, one day as the boat rounded a bend and a shirtless indian woman came into view, she hurried to put a t-shirt on. Much to be pondered here.
We tied up for the night at a small village named Caballo Cocha. It was interesting to watch them tie up this huge boat where there were no docking facilities. Basically they just nosed it in and then scrambled ashore through swampy area to find a tree to tie to.
Since the tap water in our cabins came straight from the river, when we were in shallow water like this, the water in our bathroom was brown with silt. Sometimes we had to rinse with drinking water.
On one of our excursions in a small boat, we met a family padding their dugout canoes to town (Caballo Cocha) to sell watermelons and pineapples. The man, who was in the lead canoe, kept paddling. But his wife and child stopped and we bought several. We gave her dollars and she looked very doubtful about their worth. (This was at a time when the Peruvian Inti was inflating at a rate of 19% a month and was at 2000 per dollar.)
We stopped to visit the Yagua tribe and trade with them. We managed to get the cool necklace and headband shown here, plus a necklace that incorporated a small animal skull. The indians decorate themselves with a vegetable dye and they are quite handsome folks, as well as being sweet and friendly.
As we were departing from our visit here, our biologist guide George remembered he had saved the Faucett Airlines magazine and it had color photos of the Yaguas. He retrieved it from his cabin and gave it to them. They were amazed and delighted to see themselves in a slick magazine, and it was fun for us to give them something that obviously generated such great fun.
We were on the boat two nights down-river and three nights back up-river. We tended to travel all night since we didn't cover many miles during the day due to the many stops. The captain navigated strictly by sight, and at night he stayed fairly close to one shore or the other so he could see where he was on the route.
In the picture, the river is one band, about a mile wide. But there are many places where the river is broken by islands into many smaller courses. The captain didn't use a map, I suppose since the routes change yearly. And he didn't have any depth finding equipment other than the traditional lead-line technique.
Going down-river the engines had been just a minor background noise. But when we were headed back up-river, we were always trying to make up time, so the engines were cranked up. The river's current also became very noticable. Bunches of brush and an occasional tree trunk would drift down with the current and we would steer to avoid the larger ones. On one night it was very foggy and it was difficult to see any drifting trees or the nearby riverbank. Occasionally the engines would slow and the crew would scan the bank with a spotlight to try to determine where we were. That night my sleep was occasionally interrupted with a thump and then a slowing of the engines. I supposed that we had hit a tree trunk and were pausing to ensure that all was still intact. The engines would be cranked back up and we would resume our progress up-river. It's good to have a steel hull.
Our hotel, the Royal Inca, was near the Plaza de Armas in the central part of town. The plazas were festive and pleasant, and the streets were quite clean. The city officials had been campaigning to keep trash picked up, and their many waste containers specially decorated with child-like themes. In this picture in the backgound, the guys are working on fixing a flat tire on a police car. It's cool in Cuzco and sweaters are the thing to wear.
The ruins at Sacsayhuaman above Cuzco is the famous spot where the TV shows ponder 'how did they get these huge blocks to fit so closely?'. This portion of the ruins are probably from a water system built to suply Cuzco years back. The guide tells the story that Shirley MacLaine came here and stood in the center of the circle to absorb 'cosmic energy'. Well above Cuzco at 12,000 feet, one needs any energy that is available. I can also see how mystical experiences are much more likely when the brain is a bit low on oxygen.
The area of ruins and terraces above town of Pisac is beautiful, somewhat off the tourist-beaten track, that appealed to me. It's rural Peru, with a sleepy little village by the river set off by magnificent mountains on both sides. The Incas were busy fellows around here and their terraces are still in use for farming. Cows are used to till the terraces and the farmers manage to get them up and down very steep faces.
The ruins are most appealing because they seem very 'original' and unrestored, as if we were finding them first.
As the picture shows, the hotel rooms look right out onto the ruins, only 100's of feet away. I suppose it's a bit crass to plop a hotel right next to a magic place like Machu Picchu, but I was glad to be able to take advantage of it.
I think the most impressive part of the Machu Picchu ruins is their setting. They are perched on the saddle between two peaks (Huyna Picchu and Machu Picchu) which overlook the deep Urubamba river gorge.
The Aguas Caliente train station, at river level, is at about 6000 feet elevation. One then rides buses up a dirt road to about 9000 feet to the hotel and ruins. The road itself is pretty amazing. On the way back down, the local kids race the buses, cutting across the many switchbacks, and are there expecting rewards when the buses arrive back at the station.
Most of our visit the sun was obscured by drifting clouds. But occasionally the sun would break out and illuminate the place to spectacular effect.
In the background is Huayna Pichhu peak.
Everywhere you look it's amazing. There are volunteer flowers growing in tucked away places in the ruins.
Again, the setting highlights the gem, lifting it away from the valleys on either side and presenting it as a spectacular vision.
We climbed to the top of Huayna Picchu. It's pretty steep, but the Incas had prepared our way with strategically located stairways and paths. At one point there was a choice between going up a very steep stairway or going through a tunnel. The stairway appeared dangerously steep, with no handholds and a lot of exposure, so we chose the tunnel. It was a low tunnel, slanting uphill and it was a bit of a struggle for me to get through. For some reason, the downhill slant coming back was much easier.
This view from the peak, shows the agricultural terraces and the hotel at the extreme left.
Aguas Calientes is a busy little spot due to the train and the tourist business. The chap in the baseball cap in the right foreground is Gringo Bill who runs a Gringo Bill's Hotel in town. We stopped by, had a look, and chatted briefly with Bill. The hotel is not elegant but looks homey and friendly.
After our stay up at the ruins, we stayed one night at a fairly new hotel on the outskirts of town, run by a Frenchman. He was making every attempt to provide an elegant hotel experience, but seem to be thwarted by Peruvian misadventure.
The hotel provided individual cabins, elegantly appointed, and separated by beautiful grounds. Our cabin overlooked the river and the traintrack.
The trains were not a disturbance since there are quite infrequent. We did hear in the backgound however, a metallic rattling/clinking sound that continued for many minutes at a time. The sound would pause, and then perhaps 15 minutes later there would be a large explosion. It turned out they were blasting out rock near the track to add a station to serve the hotel better.
While walking through the grounds, we noticed that some of the staff were hanging bedsheets on a clothesline. Not unusual, except that many of the sheets had large burned holes in them. Apparently there had been an accident with the electric dryer.
Besides being the gateway to Machu Picchu, the other claim to fame of Aguas Calientes is its hot baths. We walked through town to the baths, intent on partaking of every available experience, even though it was beginning to rain. I bathed, Ronda waited, and by the time we headed back all of our clothing was soaked. I didn't want to change back into wet clothes so I walked back through town in my speedo swimsuit, to the horror of the gentle townspeople. Perhaps they won't recognize me if I should ever return.
- Panorama of the Macchu Picchu - not my pic.