Peru: Cusco, Machu Picchu, Nazca - Oct 2017

Cusco (located at 3,400m; 435,000 inhabitants) in the 13th-16th century was the capital of the huge Inka empire which in early 16th century reached from Ecuador to Central-Argentina. The town was conquered by Spaniards in 1533. Many of the buildings erected during the colonial period around the Plaza de Armas (Central Place) were established on the locations of former Inka holy sites using stones of the Inca temples.

Two churches dominate the Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral and the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús. The archbishop and the Jesuits rivaled which of the two baroque churches would be more magnificent.

The Qorikancha was the most important Inka temple devoted to sun god Inti. Parts of the temple have survived within the Convent Santa Domingo. Originally the walls have been covered with gold plates. Impressive is the tightly interlocked stone masonry.

The Sacred Valley east of Cusco holds many important archeological sites. The town Pisaq, 33 km east of Cusco located at 3,000m, is famous for its agricultural terraces. By transferring soil from different regions of the country to the terraces, using a sophisticated system of hydration and producing different micro-climates, Incas were able to grow plants originating from the coastal areas, the Amazonas areas and the highlands at the same slope.

Ollantaytambo was an important Inca settlement located between Cusco and Machu Pichu which temporarily served as center for Inca resistance against then Spanish conquerors.

The famous town of Machu Picchu has been built around 1450. Located between step hills at an altitude of 2340 m 80 km north-west of Cusco it took an estimated 20,000 persons over a period of 10 years to build the town.  Machu Picchu which had been populated by approx. 750 people probably served as temporary residence for the Inca king. Being abandoned around 1550 and not know to the Spanish conquerors it has been rediscovered in 1911. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. In order to cope with the mounting number of tourists the Peruvian government introduced a strict access regime regulating the number of tourists per day. Access is only allowed via train to Aguas Calientes and then using a bus.

Believe it or not: On one of the many stairs in Machu Picchu I suddenly bumped into an Austro/Bolivian friend of mine, Cecilia Baldivieso De Witzany, which I know from my home town Linz/Austria. Cecilia was guiding a tour of Austrian tourists visiting Machu Picchu. Funny enough: We unsuccessfully tried to meet last summer in Linz.

The road from Cusco to Nazca (650 km) leads over several mountain passes between 4,000 and 4,500 m. The true heroes are those who do it by bike.

Passing through a small village along the road we met a family preparing for the wedding of one of their nieces. In order to feed the expected 300 guests they slaughtered several pigs next to the road. Looking at the scene, maybe we all should better become vegetarians.

The Nazca Lines are a series of large ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, one of the driest deserts in the world. Between 500 BC and 500 AD people of the ancient Nazca culture using an area of 450 km2 produced several hundreds of lines and figures, the largest being 370 m. There are many theories re the reasons for drawing these lines varying from purposes related to astronomy, worshipping gods for water, till theories re attempted communication with extra-terrestrials.

Moving on through the arid region we passed a newly established settlement for daily wagers lacking even basic utilities. The settlement is an example of poverty and poor living conditions in rural Peru. “El agua no se vende, el agua se defiende” – “You do not sell the water, you defend it”.

The Natural Reserve Paracas is a treeless peninsula some 200 km south of Lima. It offers some great and remote places to camp.

Pisco is a small town south of Lima. Pisco is also the name of Peru’s famous brandy made of grapes. It is commonly consumed as Pisco Sour, which is Pisco plus freshly squeezed lime juice, syrup, ice, egg white, and Angostura bitters.

There are quite a lot of “overlanders” on the move up and down South America with different vehicles and histories: Michi, who is paralyzed from a motorcycle accident, is travelling since two years; a French couple bought a school bus in the USA and since then is travelling south; and a German couple which wants to drive in their truck around the world in 15 years.