Tuesday, March 13, 2018

South America, Day 4b - 20 Feb 2018

Off to Cusco, Peru and Machu Piccu!

We left the NCL Sun at 9:30 am and drove 20 minutes to the nearby Arica Airport in Chile. The airport is situated on the edge of the Atacama Desert, which is recognized as the driest place on earth. No recordable amount of rainfall has ever been recorded here (as we were told). The landscape is a mountain range of sand with zero vegetation. The airport is a tiny one-gate airport surrounded by planted / irrigated palm trees and flowering bushes. Otherwise, pity the poor plants that have to try to survive here...

We got our tickets, went thru security, then through immigration, and finally boarded the plane with 100 other NCL passengers. Our takeoff took us out over the ocean before we headed back inland and over the Andes Mountains for a 1-hour flight to Cusco, Peru. I have never seen such dense cloud cover during a flight in my life. Everything was covered except for snow-capped mountains over 16,000 ft in height.

I attempted to take photos of the Andes Mountain through the window of our plane. The heavy scratches and glare from the wings made it an extremely difficult ordeal to do so, but the scenery was spectacular. Thank God for Lightroom and Photoshop, because I had to use every tool to recover whatever detail was lost in the haze of my photos...

We landed in Cusco and went through immigration before boarding a bus to get a tour of the city and its square, and to acclimate to the 12,000 feet climate. We drove to the town square and had lunch at a place called INKA. A pair of Rufous-collared sparrows in the town square garden were my first Peru birds.

From there we drove to the ancient citadel of the Incas called Sacsayhuaman that sounds very much like “sexy woman”. 
This mountain top with its ruins provided a stunning view of nearby Cusco, and gave us wonderful looks at the marvelous architecture of the Incas. Skies were cloudy with intermittent rain showers, so the ambience of location was intensified. So was the headache I was experiencing that was testament to our altitude.

We were greeted by a small pack of Alpaca as Eyner, our guide, described the architecture of the ruins. I spent some time chasing down some of the alpaca, then turned my attention to more Rufous-collared Sparrows, and found another Chiguanco Thrush.

A female Andean Flicker was foraging in the lawn nearby, so I turned my camera toward it. This bird is much larger than our North American flickers, and looked somewhat prehistoric. The black mustache stripe is found on the females while the males sport a brighter red one.

From there we continued on until a great statue of the Cristo Blanco came into view. This statue is a smaller replica of the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janero. 

An American Kestrel sat atop one of the rocks of the ruins as we made our way back to the van, where we were greeted by locals persistently trying to sell us local crafts. We caved...

We then drove to the Qorikancha of the Incas, which translates to “ Golden Enclosure”. This part of the city was captured by the spanish who coveted the 2” of gold trim that covered the tops of the wall that surrounded several large cloistered rooms made entirely from large slabs of limestone trapezoids that fit perfectly together. This construction has withstood all of the south american earthquakes since it origin. I enjoyed the lovely song of the Rufous-collared Sparrows, and attempted a long-distance photo of a Chiguanco Thrush poking its head out from among the garden plants. 

Rufous-collared Sparrow

Chiguanco Thrush

We then drove to the largest church in Cusco. The Basilica Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is an absolute stunner of architecture, history, shrines, and about 5 churches in one. The main altar, with its massively-detailed carvings is completely covered in gold and silver leaf. Most of the gold and silver mined in this region went into covering almost every square inch of the shrines, statues, and altars that are spread out over an entire city block. We werent allowed to take pictures... I couldn't do the place justice, anyways.

Exhausted from the day’s travels we headed back to the city square where we had lodging at the Palacio Del Inka Hotel, a 5-star hotel and ranked among the top 20 hotels in the world. This place is gorgeous! We felt like we were in one of the largest and most expensive wine cellars we had ever seen. My brain was fried, and we hit the pillows the moment dinner was over. Luckily, we had internet, so I could catch up on some emails from back home.

snacks in our room

ruins from our window

kitchen nook
Tomorrow we are up early and boarding bus, train, and bus to make our way to Machu Piccu!

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