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Our journey from Houston was a long one, and we arrived in Shanghai in early evening, tired but excited. First impressions are these: the people are friendly and helpful; everything is well organized and efficient; Shanghai is beautiful and huge and there is no visible bureaucratic overreach. We got a great night’s sleep and arose in the morning to explore our surroundings.
Our hotel is located in “the Bund” waterfront district–the heart of Shanghai and the financial and commercial center/hub of China. The Bund runs along the Huangpu River and features European colonial style buildings from the past on one side and striking modern skyscrapers on the other. Right out the door of the hotel was an alley that led directly to the old Shanghai shopping market. The architecture was everything one imagines China to be: narrow passageways and intricately carved wooden buildings with pagoda styled roofs and red Chinese paper lanterns adorning the shops. It was fascinating.
We walked the promenade along the Huangpu River and enjoyed watching the ships gliding by the amazing architecture of the city. We noticed that, in spite of its immense size, Shanghai is dotted with parks, and streets are lined with trees–many stately sycamore with white pealing bark. We walked through one park with topiaries, flower plantings and expansive green lawns. On one side, under the trees, Chinese music wafted through the air and people were dancing in the middle of the day. It was delightful.
We ate in a Dim Sum restaurant for lunch. I followed the instructions of the server and picked two “small” portions from each category. Oh my! Overall, I picked foods I have never eaten, i.e., dates in plum sauce with water chestnuts, Chinese congee with ham, crayfish in chili sauce with ? (I have no idea, but it was crunchy). It was all very tasty, but it just kept coming and I could not eat all the food on the plates. At the seventh course they brought a bowl of vegetable fried rice. I was maxed out and this bowl was anything but small. Literally, it could have fed three people for lunch by itself. I felt so guilty leaving so much food behind on the plates–think of the irony of it all–my mom telling me to clean my plate as a kid because of all the starving children in China! Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough money to buy Kathy any food, so she just watched me eat. She said the wonderful smells soothed her hunger. (She ordered fried seafood with cheese and avocado.)
It was a relaxing first day and we are super excited for the ones to follow. WEG
We had no idea what would lie in store for us today on Lake Titicaca, South America’s largest lake that lies between Bolivia and Peru. The lake is beautiful with reeds growing in the shallows along the shore and ringed with low lying hills. At 12,500 feet above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It is 103 miles in length and 27 miles in width and its deepest point is almost 900 feet. Big lake!
We took a boat ride on the lake from our hotel’s dock. We followed a channel cut through the reeds. Our destination was the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. We were immediately blown away when we approached the islands. They are indeed floating. In fact, they are anchored so that they will not float away into the deeper lake. When we got off our boat onto one of the islands, we were greeted by the inhabitants dressed in native dress and shouting out welcomes in the native language of the Uros people.
The best way to describe walking on the floating islands (there are many in close proximity) is to say it’s like walking on a soft mattress. Try doing that for several hours. The islands are covered in small homes built out of the reeds along the shore that our boat had passed through. Some have rounded and pitched roofs and others are “tepee” like. Everything is made of reeds–furniture, beds, flooring–even the island’s earth is of reeds. One of the women invited Kathy and me into her home where she insisted that Kathy try on some of her clothing. Fun! Kathy and I agreed that this was the most intriguing place we have ever visited in all our travels.
Why and how did these islands come about? Five hundred years ago the Incas were invading the lake’s native peoples in an attempt to bring them under the control of the empire. The people in this part of the lake realized that their future was threatened, and so they escaped by boat into the lake. After living in the boats and realizing they had no place to go, they noticed that mounds of tortora reed roots that had dried out in the dry season were floating in the lake. They tied the floating roots together and covered them with layers of reeds. Then, they constructed their housing on top using the reeds. This tradition has continued until today. However, maintaining the islands is labor intensive, and we were told that in the next twenty years, the islands will likely no longer be what we were able to experience today, since children are going to college never to return. The floating islands will probably become government maintained in the future with hired actors to welcome the tourists.
All of a sudden a large flock of flamingos flew overhead, portending the large migration of this bird from Chile to the lake. Lake Titicaca was an unexpected surprise that we enjoyed immensely. WEG
I heard the guide say several times that we were going to visit “Sexy Woman.” Kathy and I were curious to know what that might be. When we arrived, the sign read, “Sacsayhuaman.” All of our fellow travelers, who had also harbored a silent inquisity about where we were being taken, were in awe as the bus carried us to a major Inca Fortress on the hills above the Inca Imperial Capital of Cusco, Peru. “Sacsayhuaman” was impressive. The foundations of the ruins still remain–huge stones weighing up to 1,000 tons. Twenty-thousand workers labored years to build the Fortress–quarrying, cutting, transporting (on sleds pulled by human hands) and setting the stones in beautiful precision. Such ingenuity and persistence!
The day began with a Cusco city tour to the archeological site of the Temple of the Sun. Covered in pure gold, it was an instant attraction to the invading Spanish conquistadores, who took all the Inca gold (22 carat) and silver (pure) that they could find and had it shipped to Spain. The temples were often torn down to use the stones in other construction, and colonial cathedrals were built on top of the remains. An earthquake exposed the Temple of the Sun’s foundations, and now it is a protected site.
We arrived in Cusco on the major holiday in Peru, Corpus Christi. Huge parades had brought ornate, larger than life-sized statues of the Virgin Mary from churches in the area to the city cathedral. When we toured the cathedral, the statues were on display. We admired the altars clad in 22 carat gold. “Look, but don’t touch, and no pictures.” We gazed in wonderment at the massive painting of “The Lord’s Supper” by a Peruvian artist as he used the inspiration of Leonardo daVinci’s famous painting, but personalized it for a Peruvian audience using tortillas for the bread and roasted guinea pig for the meat in the Passover meal. Judas was portrayed as Fernando Pizarro, the invading Spanish conquistador.
Outside was a big party! Thousands of people–young and old–were parading in native Indian costume (do not think North American Indian–there is no comparison in dress or music) with bands playing native music. It was beautiful and an explosion of color. You really did want to dance along.
We had another evening of “dinner and a show.” Kathy and I had mountain trout, and we both thought is the best trout we have ever eaten–and we have eaten trout around the world! The music and dancers showcased the Peruvian art forms over time. It was fast-paced, colorful and entertaining.We have met some outstanding folks on this trip. I have a special fondness for two widows from Florida who were New York transplants. They could be my older sisters. They are not only cute but funny! They both have a joy for life and, although alone, they found each other and risked traveling together. What a hoot! They do not cook any longer and Marcia told me Charlotte doesn’t even own pans. I tease them about this and, when they went to the cooking class, I told Charlotte that I was going to be watching closely. She responded that I would have to eat her food! Marcia said that would be the end of my trip. Well, I’m still standing. WEG
P.S. We could not post this blog yesterday. So, it is a day late. Today, we flew into Juliaca and then drove to Lake Titicaca, taking most of the day. This short note will suffice for today’s blog. There will be pictures and descriptions of the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world in tomorrow’s blog as we get back on schedule.
Traveling the mountain highlands at 13,000 feet above sea level, the farmlands stretched out further than the eye could see. Above them loomed the ever present Andes. At one point, I could count five over 18,000 feet peaks that were snow/glacier covered. It was breathtaking. One could think I would get used to the sight, but I am mesmerized every time. We boarded the domed PeruRail in the early afternoon in Machu Picchu Town for an almost two hour ride to Ollantaytambo. It was fun. The staff dressed in costume for dancing and also for a fashion show of native arts. Of course, the scenery along the way was fantastic, since we followed the river the entire way.
Once in Ollantaytambo, we boarded a bus for our ride to Cusco, the imperial capital of the Incas and now a city of around 500,000. We stopped along the way at a brewery named the best in all of South America. We had a tasting of five of their beers that have won major awards as the brew master explained each one. Really cool!
We have been treated to some excellent food along the way. Our hotel in Machu Picchu Town hosted a cooking class for us. We learned how to make Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru, as well as cerviche. We learned some important culinary tricks, such as, squeeze only 3/4 of the juice from the lime used in cerviche because, if you squeeze the lime next to the pith, it will sour the fish used in the dish. It was a great time, and we have an apron to prove we passed the class.
Our food has been excellent, and I did try the grilled alpaca. Delicious! One thing we have noticed is that much care is placed on appearance of the dish. The food looks good before you ever take a bite. Next, we have learned that only fresh and organic foods are used. Finally, Peruvian food is complex. The cerviche, for instance, had twelve ingredients, each used in a specific way at a specific time. I can say that Peruvian food is some of best looking and best tasting food I have eaten.
As we close out the day, we are encouraged and at rest. We have been blessed to have an adventure far beyond our expectations and, since it is fall of the year here in the Southern Hemisphere, the weather is gorgeous. WEG
One mountain peak stacked upon another and another and another; deep valleys running in several directions with more mountain peaks, like ducks in a row; tropical foliage with bromeliads growing in the trees and colorful flowers, even orchids, adding color to the green landscape and then steep sheer cliffs adding drama. This was our amazing ride up from Machu Picchu Town to the World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the wonder city of the Incas, Machu Picchu.
We arose early from our mountain retreat and took the dome car PeruRail, itself known as one of the best train rides in the world, to Machu Picchu Town at the base of the mountains leading up to the famed ancient city. The sights were wonderful. First, we were in high country farm land, and all of the sudden, in the tropics along the river that is a tributary to the Amazon, which originates in Peru. Snow-capped mountain peaks could be seen here and there. We pulled into the handsome train station in Machu Picchu Town and walked across bridges above rushing streams to the bus terminal, with buses leaving every five minutes to take visitors up the mountains to the famed archeological site. What a ride! The bus drivers make those hairpin curves quickly.
And then, there it was, the mountain city of Machu Picchu. Only the leader of the ancient peoples was known as the Inca, the Son of the Sun, his wife, the Daughter of the Moon. The Temple of the Sun was clad in gold and the Temple of the Moon in silver. While the imperial city was in Cusco, the Incas loved Machu Picchu, and it was a royal retreat. I can see why–the scenery is stunning, overwhelming, impressive, captivating, astounding! It was a citadel, surrounded by imposing peaks, some snow-covered with steep cliffs. It was isolated, in fact, so much so that the Spanish conquistadors did not find it to destroy it as they did every other Inca city. Canals were built from the glaciers of nearby mountains to bring fresh water into the city for hygiene, irrigation and drinking purposes. Here in Machu Picchu, the astronomers developed the calendar that was precise. By watching the stars, through water plates that reflected the stars on the surface like a mirror, strategically located throughout the city, they mapped and chronicled the movement of the stars and created an accurate knowledge of the heavens, and their sun dials were marvels of time keeping.
Machu Picchu is a wondrous city. Its buildings climb up and down the hills. There was a place for the common people, with a farming area, with fabulous terraces built down the mountain sides for agricultural purposes. What human might it must have taken to carry the stones and build the walls on such steep inclines. And, there was a place for the Inca and the elite. Here the temples were built and the royal homes. There were gates to the city and garrisons for soldiers. It is a large archeological site. We walked up and down steps, marveling at the sites and listening to the history and explanations of the site given to us by our guide. You had to be careful in walking. It was so marvelous that you could easily forget your bearings. While we walked, in fact, two tourists had major accidents–one backing up too far to take a picture and falling over the ledge for a five foot drop, and another gazing in wonderment, not noticing the steps and breaking her leg in the fall. I held onto the rock walls to stabilize my path! What can I say about Machu Picchu but that it is a marvel of industry and might and ingenuity and science. It is breath taking!
Our evening is spent in a very nice hotel in Machu Picchu Town. We were greeted after our rather grueling day with iced tea and hors d’oeuvres. Hors d’oeuvres were also delivered to our room. The mountain stream passes by and the mountains rise up before us. My mind is and will be occupied at how these people built such a magnificent place for us to marvel over today. WEG
I bask in the first cool breezes of fall at home in Texas. You know how it feels when that cool north air hits your face and you breathe in the fresh air. Still, the sun is shining and you get those warm rays at the same time. That was Cuenca, Ecuador, today. At 8200 feet above sea level, the city of 350,000 was clean, fresh and cool on this day when the sun and clouds mixed in the sky.
After arriving in the evening the day before, we slept in at our suite at a remodeled colonial home in the Centre Historico of this charming city. Our accommodations are modern and roomy. The interior courtyard has a fountain and the walls have wonderful art displays and the original wood railings on the floors above the courtyard remain. Cuenca is alternately known as the best preserved “colonial city” in South America and the most European city in Ecuador. The heritage of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture is everywhere. We were impressed as we walked the cobbled streets to see beautiful plazas with usually white washed churches and colonial buildings. Passage ways through buildings open up into interior courtyards filled with flowers and fountains and shops, restaurants, and small hotels. It is quite inviting.
As we walked, we crossed a street and all of the sudden above us loomed the city’s cathedral with its blue domes. It was an impressive sight and, frankly, overwhelming. We had not expected this imposing or massive building! All around the cathedral, teeming life. Plazas with vendors and gardens and large colonial buildings, restaurants and hotels stretched out in every direction. As we walked in the main plaza, Kathy noted what looked to be an American couple sitting on a park bench beneath trees blooming with beautiful purple flowers. She struck up a conversation with Doug and Barbara that lasted well over an hour. They regaled us with stories of this beautiful city they now call home. Four through ten thousand U.S. expatriates call Cuenca home at any one time during the year. It is easy to see why: impressive weather, natural beauty all around, marvelous colonial city, culture and art and inexpensive. We found out that if you are a senior, health care is quite attainable and quite inexpensive; entrances to all cultural events from opera to sports is free; if there is a line anywhere, you are moved to the front, as seniors are valued, and transportation originating in the country from bus to air is half price automatically, and the list goes on.
I am heading out the door. We had a great lunch today in a beautiful restaurant. Kathy chose the featured entree’–a delicious potato cheese soup and a main of beef and rice and fried plantain–all for $5. I chose the chicken stuffed with shrimp in a palmodoro sauce. So, we are not particularly hungry tonight, having stopped in a pastry shop and eaten sweets around 5pm. I saw an elderly woman last night upon our arrival with a movable charcoal bar-b-que on the street corner with kabobs of chicken and pork situated across from the plaza where our suite hotel is located . Sounds just right to me! WEG
Today is a travel day–taxi and airplane–and so it was an unexpected surprise when we ventured upon a parade of horses in Cotacachi in the morning. There were over 100 horses divided into riding groups, many accompanied with rhythmic music. The braiding on the manes and tails of some of the horses was quite intricate; the saddle work on others quite handsome. The atmosphere was happy and fun.
Earlier in the morning, we walked through the Cotacachi Market and there was a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, straight from area gardens. The area between the Cotacachi and Imbabura Volcanoes is quite fertile, and farmland abounds. That may be one of the reasons Cotacachi feels so homelike to me. It is definitely a rural area in a paradise setting, with many natural wonders close by and close-knit communities of indigenous people who are tied together in their Christian faith. It was hard to say, “Good-bye.”
Our afternoon taxi ride to the Quito airport took us through mountain passes and was easy and efficient. We will soon board an airplane to our next destination, Cuenca, Ecuador. WEG