I am back in Cusco after a visit to the Sacred Valley to see many small and/or partially demolished Incan ruins and an amazing visit to Machu Picchu today. The smaller ruins seemed impressive until I arrived at Machu Picchu at sunrise after walking up from Auguas Calientes (Hot Water or Hot Springs) in the wee hours this morning. MP is situated in a semi-tropical cloud forest set high on a mountain surrounded by the sharp bend of the Urubamba River and even larger mountain peaks. Compared to most ruins in Peru it is in excellent condition, this is because of it´s remote location and the fact the Spanish Conquistadors never found or destroyed it like most of the others.
I was travelling on my own yesterday and today and was plesantly surprised and blessed by the wonderful people I met along the way. The first person I encounterd at a ceramics studio in a small museum was Lucho Salvero, a ceramic artist who is reviving Pre-Columbian pottery work. He is self taught through studying ancient pieces of pottery and much trial and error. He makes the most beautiful pots and vases all by hand. It is amazing how symetrical they are without even using a wheel. He is trying to teach others these techniques to revive the ancient techniques and quality of ceramics in Peru and around the world. He also learned a lot and worked in Santa Fe, New Mexico for many years.
My second aquantaince was Sonja, a high school math and German teacher from Germany. She is on sabbatical from her job for the year and is spending six months in South America. We were seated next to each other on the train up to Aguas Calientes, the town nearest Machu Picchu, yesterday and realized we were both travelling on our own and had similar interests in visiting MP today. We decided to hike the 6 km up an Incan staircase to MP early this morning to arrive at sunrise instead of taking the tourist bus. It was tiring, but worth it. We were able to take pictures from the most famous viewpoints before most of the other tourist arrived and then we joined a guided tour of the more notable sites. Afterwards we walked about an hour south on the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate where you first see MP if you are hiking in from the trail. We really enjoyed travelling together and share a similar sense of humor, so it is too bad our plans will now take us in opposite directions. I also met a couple from Australia on the trip to MP who are archeologists and museum curators or administrators working briefly in Peru last year and part of this one to help preserve archeological treasures.
Since I last wrote, I was also able to visit many of the museums and cathedrals of Cusco as well as enjoy walking around in the daytime. I met a returned Peace Corps Volunteer friend of Jessica´s who she served with in Macedonia. He is here with a tour group this week. I have really enjoyed getting to know Jorge´s parents, they are very welcoming and have a great sense of humor. It has been fun to learn to greet everyone with a kiss next to the cheek and realize the warmth of the Peruvian people.
Tomorrow I get to visit the Southern Jungle to see many types of monkeys as well as other exotic birds and animals for a couple days.