Dear Boys and Girls,
On October 24 I flew from sea level to Cusco at 11,000 feet. This is like almost going to the top of Mt. Rainier which is 14,000 feet high from sea level in Seattle. When you go higher, the air gets thinner because there is less gravity and it is harder to breathe and move until you acclimatize. So, just getting off the plane and to the luggage section took a lot of effort. I was glad when our guide Maricel met us and I got to sit in a taxi for a long ride to the Sacred Valley. It´s a very strange feeling to be exhuasted from taking just a few steps. A long nap, taking it easy, and by day 3 I was doing quite well. It takes a whileto fully acclimate to such a high climate.
Peru is a country full of amazing and fascinating history. Tourism is the main business of the country. Guides are carefully trained, have to speak 2 or more languages starting with Español and English. Our guide also speaks German and some Quiechua, the language of the Incas. Guides have to pass strict tests at different levels to be able to conduct tours. This means as a tourist I get the very best teachers. And that is what this trip is like, like I am in school on an extended field trip! We also see lots of Peruvian boys and girls on field trips and efforts are made to be sure local boys and girls learn about their country as well as tourists.
I will start with my trip to Machu Picchu. It was built by the Incas as a spiritual place to honor the sun, an important part of their religious practices. After Peru was conquored by the Spanish conquistadores in roughly 1535, Machu Picchu was abandoned. Even though the elevation is very high, 8500 feet, becuase it is close to the equator and a sub tropical region, it soon was overgrown by dense jungle growth. That meant it disappeared among bushes, trees, vines and an amazing variety of birds and other animals. People forgot all about Machu Picchu. It was almost 400 years later when a man named Hiram Bingham an explorer, learned about Machu Picchu from some Quechua Indians living high in the Andes. It must have been a most difficult climb cutting paths through the jungle with a machete and climbing at great height to find this special place. But, when he got there in 1911, he discovered carved in one of the rocks, in English, the names of some people who had been there in 1901! but had not told anyone about the place.
So there are amazing adventure stories with the discovery, hard archaeological work to clean the sight and try to figure out what the place was used for, who lived here, how they fed themselves. The archaeologists have found many answers. And there are many many more questions. The Spanish conquistadores in their conquest destroyed all the records and many many buildings of the Incas, so much information has been lost.
I am afraid this is a rather long letter, but the guides have shared so much amazing information of the Inca civilazation, the amazing things they could build with hugemongous rocks hauled without machines from great distances. We saw one 9 ton stone that would have been pulled by 350 men! How could they do this? They tied a huge rope around the rock, then attached 350 ropes to the one around the rock. Next, 350 men picked up the individual ropes and, I don´t know how, pulled all together to get the rock to the place where I saw it! They really had to cooperate. One slip, one lazy man, and whoop! someone could get seriously hurt.
People are very friendly in Peru. The food is very tasy. There is always a glass of some fresh juice. Fresh fruit and yogurt is a very popular and tasy drink.
I will stop here. I look forward to seeing you when I return and showing you pictures of Machu Picchu. It is very hard to explain in an e-mail what it was like to be there, and I´m not sure I can do that then. Perhaps someday you can come to Machu Picchu and see for yourselves.
Goodbye, Galapagos Grandma-Diane