It’s a beautiful, crisp night in northern Ohio and the sky is clear. A perfect night for setting up the tripod in the driveway at home and capturing the moon.
Spelled the same but pronounced differently than the Ohio city, Lima is the capital of Peru. I can’t say it’s an exciting place to visit–the taxi driver told us on arrival that the sun never shines in Lima and so far it’s true. But we did walk to the Pacific Ocean, stroll through endless tourist markets filled with alpaca knitware, items of silver, artwork and ceramics, and taste some of the local delicacies. I’ve had braised alpaca for dinner, crunched on a sticky, intensely orange-glazed pastry in the park, experienced a wonderful ceviche dish, but (as of this writing) have not yet tried the traditional roast guinea pig.
Lima is grey overhead, but street sweepers and landscapers keep everything on the ground neat and tidy. Traffic is beyond congested and smog is omnipresent. Maybe that’s why Lima is known as a foodie capital–people keep their heads down and enjoy the sights and aromas of what’s on their plates.
It’s sometimes called one of the great wonders of the world. It’s certainly an important archeological site where scientists are seeking clues about the life and culture of ancient Inca peoples. Believed to date to the 1400s, it is a site that showcases the amazing architectural and building skills, artistry and urban planning of a very advanced, if isolated, society.
Visitors can walk among the ruins in the ancient city that has survived the ages, including homes, factories, an amphitheater, storage facilities, and two temples and their courtyards where sacrifices were made to the sun god. Llamas graze on the terraces and get as much attention as the ruins.
From the UNESCO site that describes this world treasure:
The approximately 200 structures making up this outstanding religious, ceremonial, astronomical and agricultural centre are set on a steep ridge, crisscrossed by stone terraces. Following a rigorous plan the city is divided into a lower and upper part, separating the farming from residential areas, with a large square between the two. To this day, many of Machu Picchu’s mysteries remain unresolved, including the exact role it may have played in the Incas’ sophisticated understanding of astronomy and domestication of wild plant species.
To get to Machu Picchu requires travel to the city of Cusco, a one-hour flight from Lima, Peru. Cusco is perched high in the Andes with an elevation around 11,000 ft. above sea level, and it’s the gateway to the ancient Inca ruins.
From Cusco, we took a 3.5 hour train trip to the village of Aguas Caliente (or Hot Springs). From there, one can hike or take a bus to the entrance of the historical site of Machu Picchu. We opted for the half-hour bus ride. More about Machu Picchu later, but first I’ll share a few photos of the beautiful city of Cusco with its grand plaza and cathedral, and the smaller, more humble village of Aguas Caliente. In those places, we found excellent food and hospitality that offset all the challenges of getting there.
The best planned trips can hit a snag sometimes that creates a major headache for the traveler. That’s happened to me on several international trips. Sometimes it’s been my fault–like that time in India I could not locate my passport and had to unpack my entire suitcase at the ticket counter to find it–and other times I’ve been able to put the blame elsewhere.
After nearly three weeks of smooth travel, our flight to Johannesburg, South Africa was late and we missed our connecting flight to Cape Town. The airline’s next flight out would be 12 hours later, and we only had one day to spend in Cape Town to begin with. We missed checking in for the connecting flight by two minutes, and though the jet was still at the gate, there was no way to get our suitcases onboard. Still, it seemed an arbitrary decision by the airline, and I was angry and stressed.
The situation was further complicated because we had booked this portion of the trip ourselves as separate legs with several different airlines. Now, standing at the ticket counter, we had only minutes to decide what to do before the airline’s agent left for the night, and none of our options looked good.
So we paid the required fees for a change of flight plans, but left to find another airline’s ticket counter and hope for an earlier flight. The first agent we spoke to looked completely disinterested and told us no, but another had mercy on these two ragged travelers and we were allowed to purchase tickets on South African Airways. It was not in our budget, but we did it anyway, forfeiting the flight change fees we had just paid at the other airline.
In the end, it all worked out. The flight on South African Airways was excellent in terms of comfort and service. We enjoyed a great day in Cape Town, and it was well worth the extra trouble and cost it took to get there.
A brief overnight stop in Brazil didn’t end so well. After a long 15 hour flight day and arriving in Sao Paulo, the Immigration Service there would not allow us to have our luggage or clean clothes without a visa for $150 each. Our flight arrangements for Peru had gotten a bit fouled up, too. There was a lost-then-found-six-hours-later bag. There was that one sketchy hotel with no elevator and a 3rd floor room.
But I’m writing this now in Aguas Caliente, Peru, our basecamp for tomorrow’s visit to Machu Picchu. And I have luggage. I’m jet-lagged and feeling the effects of high altitude, a little tired and grumpy, yet otherwise happy and healthy. There may be an extra white hair on my head when I return home, but all in all, I have a sense of blessing greater than before my trip began. I mean, who wouldn’t feel blessed riding a train through the Andes mountains, eating freshly caught trout from a local stream, and preparing to see one of the great historical wonders of the world? That’s been my day today.
PS: I have photos to share of these past two days in Peru, but WiFi is hardly working in my hotel tonight. Sigh. Photos later!
We’ve had just one day to explore Cape Town, South Africa, and I wish we had more time. It’s already a new favorite city of mine. After a few days in the grittiness of Nairobi, Cape Town feels very modern, clean and almost tropical. It’s located at the very southern tip of Africa and the sea waters are cold and clear. There’s good food and lots to see, and transportation via Uber is very cheap.
This morning we took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain, considered the oldest mountain in the world. The view from the top was stunning, as was the sunset over the ocean this evening.
Getting here was the hard part. After flying to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and then to Nairobi, Kenya, we have begun the central part of our journey: a photo safari in the Maasai region of Kenya. We have twice daily game drives, which means that a driver-guide escorts us around the Maasai Mara National Game Preserve and adjoining conservancies. Our goal has been to seek the “Big 5” wild animals: lion, leopard, rhinocerous, African elephant, and cape buffalo. These are among the most rare and hard to find animals. But we have an expert guide, Manfred, who was the guide for Barack and Michelle Obama when they stayed at the very camp we are enjoying.
We’re here during the great wildebeest migration, and there are thousands of them moving across the grasslands. Today we checked off the last of the Big 5 when we came suddenly within a stone’s throw of a black rhino. There are dozens of other animals we’ve encountered as well: giraffes, cheetahs, vultures, hyenas, and many types of antelope. There’s a family of warthogs living across from our tent, though one less today after we witnessed a leopard enjoying a lunch of wild pork.
Driving through the Maasai Mara is like living inside a zoo with no barriers. It’s thrilling to happen across a family of elephants, a herd of hippos bathing in the river, or watch the zebra run with the wildebeest. God’s creation (and the divine sense of humor in creation’s design) never fails to amaze me.
An hour’s flight from Nairobi, the Masai Mara National Game Preserve is home to amazing wildlife and landscape. Staying in tents on the Talek River, we are taking two game drives each day, early morning and late afternoon, when we are most likely to spot animals. The jeep hardly seems to faze the animals and we’ve had up close and personal connections with lions, wildebeests, vultures, hyenas, hippos, buffalo, antelope, monkeys, zebra, and much more. And we’re only on day 3.
At the Pyramids in Giza and in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, you walk among treasures that are 5,000 years old.
On the Acropolis near sunset
With a day to spend in Iceland, we rented a car and drove to the city of Reykjavik. The day was rainy and glum, but the city–and its people–were bright and cheerful. Other drivers were especially courteous to this Yank driving a stick shift for the first time in many years and maneuvering through their many highway roundabouts.
After exploring the city, we headed to the famous Blue Lagoon for a soak in the renowned mineral waters which bubble up from the lava rock to form an eerily blue natural pool of water around 100-degrees. Just as the staff at the Blue Lagoon promised, I felt 35 years younger after the swim. Alas, the mirror tells a different story today.