Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Aguas Calientes

The name of this town means hot water in Spanish as there are hot springs here. It’s the closest town to Machu Picchu and is nestled in a narrow valley. There are no roads leading here - it’s only accessible by train. 

The train follows the fast flowing Urubamba River and is a very scenic ride. Evidence of Incan terracing and ruins as well as snow capped mountains can be seen along the 1.5 hour journey from Ollantaytambo. 

The train has nice overhead windows to help you catch the mountain view. 

At the entrance to the town. 

There really isn’t much room to build in this narrow valley and you’d be hard pressed to find a small piece of flat land. The river runs right through the middle, the two sides connected by 3 or 4 bridges. 

It was a beautiful day (as all our days have been so far) so we made our way to the hot springs. Along the way are these marvellous, huge carvings in the rocks depicting various important Incan symbols. 

The hot springs were quite quiet for a Sunday morning and we enjoyed the peacefulness. 

Much better scenery than our hot tub at home plus you just wave your hands in the air and someone comes along to take your drink order. That doesn’t happen at home either! 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Peruvian cuisine

There are some very distinctive culinary traditions in Peru. First of all they are avid meat eaters - that includes alpaca, llama and of course guinea pig which is sold at roadside stands roasted on a stick. Roasted chicken is very popular as is ceviche - fish ‘cooked’ in lime juice. At street stands you’ll find empanadas, churros and the corn with the giant niblets.

Favourite drinks include Inka Kola, kind of a yellow cream soda, Coca tea is available everywhere, and as I mentioned before, Pisco Sour is the national drink. 

On one of our unscheduled days in Cusco Ross and I couldn’t bear the thought of touring more ruins so we booked a cooking class which started at the market with our chef picking out some meat, fruit and veggies. 

Back at the restaurant we started by making a Chilcano, another local drink. First we cut up then crushed some ginger and strawberries. Then Estevan added 2 ounces of Pisco, a liquor made from grapes, some ice, then topped with sparkling water. 

 Now we were ready for the main course - Lomo Saltado or Loin stir fry - a Peruvian dish with a Chinese influence.  
First cut up the beef and garlic, marinate together with some soy sauce. 

Cut up peppers, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, green onions. 
Stir fry the meat mixture in hot oil then add Pisco to flambé. Remove meat. 

Saute the veggies till cooked, return the meat to the pan, then add rice and lastly the green onion and cilantro. 

We enjoyed our meal with the other member of the cooking class, Ben, who will be starting his PhD in particle physics at Cambridge in the fall!

All in all a great experience and another recipe to make back home. Cheers!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Innovative Incans

The Incans had 15 different types of terracing. Most of it was for growing crops but it’s not clear what some of it was for. For example these circular terraces which we visited via a very windy, narrow, single lane (but vehicles going both ways) up to about 3600m. For size perspective you can see people walking on the far side above the terraces. 

The Maras salt mine, dug into the side of the mountain high above the Sacred Valley, consists of more than 3000 small ponds fed by a salt stream that comes from high in the Andes. Each pond is owned by a different family and provides them with an income during the dry season. Ponds are passed down in families. Solar evaporation takes 1-2 weeks depending on the weather. 

If you look towards the top of the hill in the next photo you’ll see the Sky Lodge - a recent innovation advertised as sleeping among the condors. Several large domes perched on the side of the hill provide accommodation- all you have to do is climb 400m to the top. Fortunately they have zip lines for the descent. If you look in the bottom right you’ll see hikers starting the ascent. Not for the faint of heart (me)!

As well as the precautions I mentioned in my last post for preventing altitude sickness there is also coca - in the form of tea, leaves, and candies. There is no scientific evidence to suggest it helps but it can’t hurt!

We had a beautiful lunch at a lagoon and of course they had a pet alpaca. Doesn’t everyone?
And I’m still trying to figure out the difference between alpacas and llamas. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Hitting the Heights

Lima is at sea level; Cusco, the ancient Incan capital, is at 3300 m so the threat of altitude sickness is to be taken seriously. First, we have Diamox which is supposed to lessen the effects; drinking lots of water is advised; also don’t eat meat or raw fruits/vegetables as your system has to work harder to digest those. Within a few hours of arriving at Cusco, a short walk up a slight incline left me breathless, a tightness in my upper chest, and my heart racing. Altitude sickness can strike anyone no matter their fitness level so its best to be cautious and go slow. 

Flying into Cusco you could see these extensive networks of switchbacks below which look quite intriguing. 

Cusco has about 300,000 people and is anchored by several large squares with cathedrals. A lot of the churches and major buildings are light brown and combine different architectural styles. 

After our first night in Cusco we had a full day of touring the area. First stop was the towering white Jesus where we had a great view over the city.

Then on to a weaving cooperative that is sponsored by GAdventures (Planeterra). Here the women demonstrated how they clean and spin the alpaca and llama wool. From natural items such as flowers, leaves, lemon, salt they can combine items to get a huge array of colourful woollens. 

The alpacas also allowed us to feed them. 

Next stop was the Sacred Valley of the Incas. A beautiful fertile area. 

 Then on to a pottery making shop where we were shown the steps from raw clay to finished chess pieces (and other stuff).

Lunch was at another GAdventures Project where we were served a wide array of local products. Did you know Peru has 3500 varieties of potatoes! My kind of place. 

Corn harvest has ended and a lot of corn was set out to dry. The ears of corn have giant pieces and they are sold on the street for a snack. 

Somewhere along the way I managed to get my photo with the baby alpaca and a couple of locals. 

Finally we ended up at Ollantaytambo - where we will spend the night before heading back to Cusco for a few days. There are a lot of vendors everywhere selling their colourful wares and Ross and I restricted ourself to a couple of toques at the weaving coop.  My selfie skills still need some work.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Starting on the wrong foot

Of course just to make things exciting the airline decides to cancel our flight the day prior to departing. Actually they only cancelled one of the 3 flights, the one that meant we wouldn’t make it to Toronto on time to catch the flight to Peru. This comes a few months after our original Kelowna/Vancouver flight was cancelled which meant we needed to completely change our plans as well as book an additional night in Lima. Airlines don’t really mind inconveniencing their customers like this, but try to make a small change yourself and hoo boy. 

We found out first thing the morning before the scheduled departure and after a few hours of scrambling, emailing, calling (and being on hold and hold and hold......) we got it sorted out. In the end the trip to Lima was without any issues thankfully. 

Lima is a very old city and the architecture has a very Spanish influence. This photo is in front of a building in central Lima. 

This fountain is in the same square and one day a year it’s filled with Pisco Sour, the national drink, and people bring their glasses to fill. Shouldn’t Canada have a national drink?

We hired a city tour today and our guide Athena took us to a bunch of historic and geological sites including the Parque del Amor (Love Park) with this gigantic statue of a couple kissing. Every February 14th there is a kissing contest to see who can kiss the longest, won this year by a couple in their 60s!!

We stopped in at the Chocomuseum for some local chocolate tasting (yes of course I bought some and it’s delicious). 

We’re staying in a very quaint colonial style hotel and our room has this giant balcony complete with cacti!

There are many shops selling “Peruvian” wares - all the colourful knits and weaving. Here’s Diane trying to choose from among a selection of dolls with bambinos.

Tomorrow’s another full day in Lima before heading to the higher altitudes of Cusco. No plans yet but I think I hear the Chocomuseum calling! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Exploring Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) proved to be quite a contrast to my recent trip to Croatia. The number of tourists we encountered was in the 10s, as opposed to 10 thousands; and I saw more sandy beaches in 5 days in Haida Gwaii than my 3 weeks in Croatia!

Our trip began with a flight into Sandspit which is at the north eastern tip of the southern island. Haida Gwaii consists of 2 main islands, and 100s of smaller ones. Just outside the airport is this gigantic copper/cedar sculpture of a Coho Salmon:

We were staying at the Seaport B'n'B and had this amazing view from our bedroom. As we were a bit farther north and at the western edge of the time zone, the sun set about 10:00.

Sandspit is the only significant community on Moresby Island. It has 302 residents and we managed to tour the entire town in, to be generous, 5 minutes. However they've found a way to do away with lawnmowers on the ball diamond:
The next day we took the ferry (20 mins) across the strait to Graham Island which is home to a few more communities. Skidegate is known for its Haida Heritage Centre - don't miss this if you come here. We were just in time for the Totem Pole talk; each of the 6 totems that have been raised in the last few years were described in detail, highlighting their significance to Haida culture, symbols and mythology.

The museum includes an extensive collection of art, artifacts and information. Since many of the original artifacts were removed and taken to museums around the world, the Haida community is working to repatriate them.

A few miles up the road we stopped to check out this gigantic balancing rock.

Then we headed north to Tlell, Port Clemens, Masset and Old Masset. At the very north eastern point of the island is the blowhole and although we didn't time the tides right to see it in action, the rock formations and miles of empty beaches made the drive/hike worthwhile.

Saturday morning was the start of our 2-day Zodiac tour with Moresby Explorers. They also do a one day and 4 day as well as 8 day kayak trips.
This lovely canoe was in front of their offices in Sandspit.
After a 45 minute drive on a gravel logging road, we arrived at Moresby Camp where we 'suited up': starting with our shirt, fleece, winter coat, rubber overalls, rubber coat, rubber up-to-the-knees boots then topped off with a PFD. Also critical was warm head covering.
Although the rain gear kept us warm on the boat, thankfully it never served its real purpose. Clear blue skies and glassy waters greeted us as we headed off. 
There were 10 of us (all from different parts of Canada) in the Zodiac plus our guide, Jessie. Our first stop was a walk through the forest, exploring the Sitka spruce, Western Red Cedar, Hemlock and alder. Because the deer eat most of the undergrowth the forest floor is completely moss covered which creates an 'other-worldly' feeling alongside the giant trees.
This particular location was a logging camp for many years in the 1940s and there are many remnants of machinery including this old steam donkey that was used in conjunction with the spar trees for hauling the logs out of the forest.
After lunch on the beach we headed to the first of our 2 'watchmen sites'. Historically the watchmen in the village were kind of like lookouts - watching for enemies approaching. After the devastating small pox epidemic wiped out most of the population (late 1800s), the remaining Haida evacuated from their original townsites and consolidated into a few communities (such as Skidegate). Many of the artifacts from these townsites were eventually (illegally) removed (stolen is the word you might use) and taken to museums all over the world. In an attempt to try to protect their culture, several Haida took on the task of becoming watchmen for the old townsites. There are currently watchmen on 5 original village sites and the program is now supported by Parks Canada and the Haida nation. The watchmen serve as guardians protecting, educating about their culture and helping preserve the sites.

Prior to contact with Europeans most of these villages consisted of 20-40 longhouses, a variety of frontal poles as well as mortuary poles, memorial poles and story poles. The total population might be 700-1000. The watchman at K'uuna was a young Haida man, Patrick Shannon, who graciously led us through the forest where you could clearly see the moss covered remains of the longhouses and poles which revealed the status of the person who lived there. Patrick clearly has a deep connection with his heritage. He was informative and well spoken and our 2-3 hours went by in a flash.

Remains of a pole that is being taken over by nature:

Our last stop for the day was the floating lodge - for dinner and accommodation. Quite surprisingly, it had all the comforts of home except internet and a shower! The pond in front had several huge 'fried egg' jellyfish and lion's mane jellyfish.

After a leisurely breakfast the next morning we headed out to a few more sites, including a small island covered in huge sea lions. The second watchman site was at Tanu where we were greeted by Penny and her 5-year old sidekick Raven who guided us through the village and up into the forest towards some waterfalls. Raven has lived on watchman sites since she was born and has a surprising amount of knowledge. She and Patrick (from K'uuna) left us with a lot of positive energy about the future of the Haida nation.

We stopped for one last walk through the forest but unfortunately a wasp nest was disturbed by the front of the group and I was the unlucky victim of the then-angered wasps! Thankfully a bit of After-Bite soothed the 2 or 3 bites I'd received and all was well as we returned back to Sandspit.
If you're like me and are interested in visiting different parts of our own province I'd definitely recommend a trip to Haida Gwaii. We only explored a very small part of it but we left with an incredible respect for the local culture and increased appreciation for the vastness of nature. 
(Note that any information about Haida culture I've included here is just my own interpretation of what I learned.)

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