I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Friday, June 30, 2023

The Inca Trail

There is of course another option if you don't want to take the train—you can spend four days hiking the Inca Trail. The trail starts outside of Ollantaytambo, and the train stopped there to let trekkers disembark. (There is also a one-day option now; you can get off the train closer to Machu Picchu and do a seven-hour hike. We all joked that we wished we'd known about that option before we decided to take the train.)

The picture on the left shows the sherpas who carry all the food and equipment for the hike, and the hikers are on the right.

The Machu Picchu Express

The ninety-minute train ride from Ollantaytambo follows the Urubamba River through spectacular scenery. All of these pictures were taken through the train windows so aren't as clear as they could be, but you can see how the mountains change as you move into the high jungle.

The road to Machu Picchu

I always underestimate the size of countries in Africa; on a map they appear comparatively small, just a small percentage of the total land mass of the continent. But that continent itself is huge, and the individual countries are always much bigger than I would guess.

I think the same may be true for South America—I was shocked to learn that Peru is almost twice the size of Texas. I would have guessed it was maybe the size of California, or a little smaller, but it's much much bigger.

And all of that land is very diverse. There are 34 types of climatic zones, and Peru has 20 of them, from the deserts in the south and on the coast, to the Andes, and then the Amazon Basin.

You can see the changes as you head from Cusco north to Machu Picchu. The mountains in the south are brown and rocky, with little snow. Machu Picchu is in what is called “the eyebrow of the Amazon,” a high-altitude jungle.

There are no roads into Machu Picchu; you have to take a train from Ollantaytambo to what used to be called Aguas Calientes and is now being rebranded as Machu Picchu Pueblo, the town at the base of the mountain. From there it's a death-defying (only a slight exaggeration!) bus ride up the mountain to the ruins.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Faces of Peru

Women selling textiles and souvenirs at the overlook very generously allowed themselves and their children to be photographed.

Cordillera Urubamba

We stopped at this overlook on the drive from Cusco to the Sacred Valley. The mountains behind me are the Cordillera Urubamba; I think the snow-capped peak is Sahuasiray.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The altitude challenge

Honestly, I wasn't expecting to have such a hard time with the altitude. I knew that climbing ruins at high altitudes would be a challenge, but I thought my knees would be more of a problem than the altitude itself. I've spent time at altitudes from 5000 to 8000 feet without any symptoms more serious than a headache, so I thought that after a few days I'd be acclimated.

Our first night in the mountains, we were in the Sacred Valley, at an elevation just under 10,000 feet. And I felt fine—until I didn't. I started to feel dizzy during dinner, and by the time we were finished the room was spinning. All of the tourist hotels in the mountains have oxygen available, and our guide suggested I might need some. I thought they'd just hand me something like the little cans of oxygen they had for sale in the lobby, but they wheeled a tank to my room that looked like something you might drop from a plane on an enemy city. I breathed through a mask for ten minutes, the tank was removed, and I spent the rest of the night throwing up.

In the morning they sent me to the local clinic, where I was given more oxygen, and altitude sickness medication. And I was better, but the symptoms came and went until I went back to Lima. So, does coca help? Yes, a little. I would have tea with breakfast, and suck on the candies during the day. It gets rid of the headaches, and gives you a little burst of energy, but it's no substitute for oxygen.

And yet. I would go back. I loved Peru, and I would love to go back. I tell myself that maybe if I started on the medications sooner, or acclimated differently, I would adjust better. It's crazy; I was pretty sick. But I dream about going back.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Fish market

Some of the future ceviche on display at the market.

Welcome to the working week

A woman working at the fish market in Chorrillos.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Sunday bird blogging

Peruvian pelicans outside the fish market in Chorrillos, south of Lima.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Peruvian politics

Since I am talking about Lima again, here's a picture of the presidential palace. It's also known as the House of Pizarro, since it sits on the site of the first Government Palace, built by Pizarro. This building dates primarily from the 1920's.

It is the official residence of the president of Peru, and as such has seen a fair amount of turnover in its occupants. The current president (and first woman in the job), is Dina Boluarte. She was vice president under Pedro Castillo, who was impeached after attempting a coup. (Sound familiar, Americans?)

Castillo is now in the same prison on the outskirts of Lima as two other former presidents, Alberto Fujimori and Alejandro Toledo; I believe a few other former presidents are under house arrest elsewhere.

Saturday reflections

Not technically reflections, but similar effects. These are glass blocks from the hotel in Lima, which turned the streets of Miraflores into abstracts.


Weaving using a backstrap loom. It will take her more than forty hours of work to finish this piece.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Giving it a spin

All of the washing, dying, spinning and weaving is done by hand. The shampoo is a grated root they jokingly referred to as “Inca shampoo,” and they only use natural dyes, mostly from roots and herbs plus cochineal from insects. I was especially fascinated by the dyes, and how many colors it is possible to produce using plants. If I ever want to take up another craft, I would love to try playing with natural dyes.

On the other hand, I have actually tried spinning using a hand spindle like these and I never managed to produce anything resembling yarn. So although it was fun to see experts in action, that's not something I'm likely to try again.

Where the wool comes from

I didn't get any good pictures of the alpacas because I was too busy feeding them. But I like the expressions on their faces here, when the group had moved on to feeding the llamas. “Wait! I'm still hungry!”

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Speaking of textiles

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to one of the weaving cooperatives in Chinchero, a small town in the mountains about an hour from Cusco.

Chinchero is famous for its textiles, and is a center for using and promoting traditional techniques. The cooperative we visited, Sara Textiles, was formed by a group of single mothers. Our visit began with meeting (and feeding) the alpacas and llamas who supply the wool, and ended in the adjoining shop, where scarves, coats, hats, and wall hangings in every color of the rainbow are for sale.

And in between, we saw how the raw wool is washed, spun, dyed and woven to create those masterpieces.


 I've been going through pictures and trying to figure out how to talk about this trip. I slept well last night, and definitely feel more like myself today, but when I looked at all the unprocessed photos and thought about what to say about them, I just got tired.

So I'm just going to pick pictures randomly and talk about them—a Peruvian patchwork.

Not unlike this textile from the Museo Larco in Lima. I loved reading about the Incas when I was a kid, but I never realized how short-lived the Empire was, really only a hundred years from Pachicuti to Pizarro. And before this trip I knew very little about the pre-Incan cultures. This textile represents a fusion of two of those cultures, the Nasca and the Huari, and dates from around 800 AD. The Inca ruins are incredible, but they're only a small part of the history and culture of Peru.

Monday, June 19, 2023


I took this picture at the ruins in Ollantaytambo only a few days ago, but it already feels like a dream. Was I really there?

I would say I'm not even 100% sure that I'm actually back in New York, except that I had fruit salad for dinner and used tap water to brush my teeth and flushed my used toilet paper instead of putting it in a wastebasket, so I'm definitely not in Peru anymore.

Lima airport is quite surreal. I ended up getting there an hour earlier than planned, because the hotel made a mistake ordering the taxi and there was surprisingly little traffic. OK, being early isn't the worst thing—I could easily kill another hour sitting in the lounge, having a snack and reading. Except that I couldn't find the United counter to drop off my luggage. I walked the length of the terminal twice and finally asked one of the security people.

Donde esta United?

Puerta 7.”

I walked back to Puerta 7— no United. I finally talked to the very nice woman at the airport information desk, who spoke only a little English and was patient with my limited Spanish. Eventually I understood that United didn't have anyone there until three hours before a flight was scheduled to depart. Until then, it basically didn't exist. I wasn't sure I really believed this, but as it was almost four hours until my flight, my only choice was to wait. There were no chairs, or bathrooms, so I sat on a windowsill and read and tried not to think about how much I needed to pee. A few minutes before the hour, some monitors that had been displaying a generic Lima Airport logo suddenly changed to United, stanchions were put in place, and check-in/luggage dropoff commenced. I found this pop-up airline setup very funny—once I was on the other side of security and sitting in the lounge, anyway.

At the boarding gate, Peruvian airports have three lanes set up: the Group 1 and Group 2 lanes you see at US airports, plus a lane for travelers requiring assistance, or with small children. When I arrived at the gate, the third lane consisted of a line of fourteen wheelchairs, with more arriving while I stood in line. I had never seen anything like it.

Unfortunately, our hand luggage had to be searched for liquids before boarding the plane, and they only had one agent doing it. Each of the wheelchair passengers was accompanied by one or more family members, so our scheduled departure time came and went before more agents arrived to assist with the security. By the time the plane left the gate, returned to the gate to address a problem with one of the lavatories, took off, cleared the turbulence over the Andes so that I could leave my seat and use the lavatory myself and try to sleep, it was 2:30 in the morning.

I slept a couple of hours but I'm exhausted. Though I will note that I carried all of my heavy luggage up the four flights of stairs to my apartment with only one brief stop to catch my breath, so I am clearly recovered from my altitude issues.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Sunday bird blogging

I was a little disappointed that I didn't see many birds on this trip—I heard a lot of them but they were always hiding in the usually abundant foliage. Then I found these colorful little guys when I was walking along the cliffs above the ocean yesterday: saffron finches. I couldn't get close enough to get a good picture but it's still a nice souvenir.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Peruvian lawn maintenance

An alpaca at our hotel in the Sacred Valley.

I was going to post this earlier this week, but my laptop battery died and the power cable was unfortunately in Lima. As am I now—I had to leave Cusco a day early, because the combination of altitude sickness and the side effects of the meds for altitude sickness got to be too much. But I managed to have some wonderful experiences on this trip. I'm more than ready to get on the redeye tomorrow night and go home, but I have really loved being in Peru.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Lunch in the ruins

I do have one more picture—we had lunch at the restaurant at Huaca Pucllana, which was wonderful. We ate lomo saltado, beef stir-fried with vegetables, and ceviche, only a few feet away from thousand year old adobe walls.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Huaca Pucllana

So it turns out there is a pyramid in the middle of Lima. I had never heard of Huaca Pucllana until I started planning this trip, but our visit there was a highlight of a very long day that began with a lecture on biodiversity and the Humboldt Current, and included a visit to a fish market, a monastery, the catacombs under the monastery, and the Plaza de Armas and colonial Lima.

I'm tired and have to finish packing for our flight to Cusco tomorrow, so one picture is all I'm going to be able to give you. We climbed to the top of the pyramid and our guide said, “This is good practice for Machu Picchu.” I may have muttered something to the effect that since this pyramid is at sea level, I'm not sure how much practice it would give us. But I'm willing to count it.

Sunday bird blogging

I'm traveling light on this trip, which means only one camera and one lens. So this picture of a long-tailed mockingbird in the park yesterday isn't great. I don't think the tail was much more impressive than the ones on its Northern cousins, but unfortunately it wasn't willing to give me a profile shot to demonstrate.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Views from the parks

I loved the cliffs winding along the coast. I never did go down to the actual beach; by the time I found the stairs that led down to the water I was too tired to think about climbing back up again. Maybe when I come back to Lima after the tour.

Parque Chino

This is one of a series of parks on the cliffs above the ocean.

Why I didn't get to see the inside of the church

I planned to stop at the church again on my way back, but it was full of friends and family celebrating a wedding so I walked on.

More Miraflores

Miraflores is supposed to be the prettiest neighborhood in Lima, and there are some fun neocolonial buildings (although the Palacio Municipal de Miraflores, seen from the side street in the photo on the left, was apparently built in 1944). The church on the right, La Virgen Milagrosa, is next door to the Palacio. But most of Miraflores is modern city, with stores and offices and fast-food restaurants. There are a lot of parks, and a long grassy island with trees and benches in the middle of the boulevard from Parque Central all the way to the ocean.


The tower of the Palacio Municipal in Miraflores, Lima.

I haven't talked much about this trip because I dithered for months before committing, and I still wasn't entirely sure that I wouldn't cancel until I left for the airport yesterday morning. (Slight exaggeration, but only slight.)

But here I am. I've only taken a few plane trips since the pandemic upended all of our lives—Minneapolis, the Bay Area twice, Costa Rica last summer—and it's been obvious that my travel skills have atrophied. I book flights for the wrong days (in one case, for the wrong week). I don't pack enough clothes. I get hotels with similar names mixed up. It all just seems so much harder than it used to.

But here I am. At least I managed to figure out that I would want an extra night in Lima before the tour started; I didn't get to the hotel until almost eleven o'clock last night, so I was very glad that I didn't have to be anywhere today. It was much warmer than I'd expected, so after looking around Miraflores and taking some pictures, I headed for the parks above the Pacific beaches. I found chocolate chip cookies from the airport lounge in my purse, and I ate them while sitting on a bench looking at the ocean and enjoying the breezes. It was lovely.

But walking back was a slog, and I was too tired to deal with a restaurant, so I bought a piece of cheese focaccia and some bananas in a supermarket and ate dinner lying on my bed in my air-conditioned hotel room. Ah yes, the glamor of travel! It's all coming back to me.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

This is what I'm talking about

Astronomy Tuesday

Storm systems on Jupiter, as seen by the Juno probe in 2020. A storm on Jupiter can be the size of Earth and rage for years—definitely best observed from a safe distance.

Wildfires in Quebec have turned our skies the color of a chain smoker's fingernails, and I've had to put on the air conditioner just to filter the air coming into the apartment. A week from now I'm scheduled to be up in the Andes and I expect that even smoky unbreathable sea level air will be looking pretty good.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS; Processing and License: Kevin M. Gill

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Saturday reflections

The stadium in Minneapolis last summer.

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