Some of the more amazing tourist locations in the Western Hemisphere are in South America. Perhaps the two most prominent, as designated by the World Heritage Foundation, are Machu Picchu in central Peru and the Galapagos Island some five hundred miles off of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. Not having snowdomes from either, why not see them in real life. By the way, we never found any.
After flying into Lima, it was off to the Andes in search of the cities of the Incas. Stopping at the market in Pisac, you can buy just about everything from alpaca sweaters to coca leaves (which cannot be brought back to the US). We then went to Ollantaytambo in the Valley of the Gods to climb the ruins of a temple-fortress whose construction was interrupted by the invading Spanish in the 1530's.
But perhaps the highlight of our trip was next. Perched atop a mountain further down the valley is Machu Picchu--called the lost city of the Incas. Because of its remote location, Machu Picchu was never discovered or destroyed by the Spanish. Also abandoned about the same time, it was simply forgotten and only 'discovered' in 1911. Storehouses, living areas, an observatory and temples are accessible. Machu Picchu can be reached by trekking over the mountains or numerous switchbacks from the valley floor. Choosing the latter, we were privileged to stay on the mountain top just steps away from the ruins. While sunrise is thought to be a magical moment, and it was especially when there is just no one around, the end of day was also special. We watched llama and alpaca wend their way through the ruins and walk past us bringing their various flies, fleas and biting insects.
Then it was back to Cusco, the actual center of Inca civilization. At 11,500 feet, and with hotels having oxygen tanks in the lobbies, walking up hills can really get the heart beating. Above the city is the impressive fortress of Sacsayhuaman. Again, the massive stones still are tightly set together. The prohibition on photos inside Cusco's cathedral prevented us from capturing the giant painting of 'The Last Supper' with the Pizzaro as Judas and the meal consisting of guinea pig--a Peruvian delicacy.
The next major stop was in the desert of southern near Ica--a town with huge sand dues, the only oasis in the Western Hemisphere and no paved roads to/from the 'airport'. Then it was on a tiny plane to the mysterious Nasca Lines--viewed out the window by continually turning sharply. Etched into the sands, these massive drawings (thousands of feet across) were not known until the 1920's when airplanes overflew the region. Pictures of animals and an astronaut thousands of feet across. And hundreds of trapezoids. Who drew them? And why? Extra-terrestrials?
The final stop was the Galapagos Islands. Visiting one or two different islands each day in the volcanic archipelago, we saw a wide range of unique wildlife. Along the way we picked up dolphins that effortlessly swam along with the bow of the ship. Limited human interference and the absence of predators enables the birds, iguanas, tortoises, sea lions, etc. allow visitors to approach them. Care was needed when walking among the marine iguanas to avoid stepping on their long tails (they just didn't move out of the way). Swimming with the sea lions was simpler--they just frolicked as we snorkeled in deep, but rather cool, water.
Many of these wonderful times were shared with our new friends--Patsy Bloom and Robert Blausten. Here's Patsy and Judie with a bottle of Inca Kola--so sweet it's locally called bubble gum in a bottle.