Ladyhawker - On Sabbatical

I am a Woman Falconer! Falconry is a part of my life and personality. In no way however should anyone construe my life and writings to be the example of all falconers. This blog is about my experiences, and it includes my personal life as well. For now, I am in school and cannot practice this sport, so there is not much falconry related stuff to write about. I will fly a bird again . . . Some Day!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


(I've noticed that Blogger has hidden a lot of my posts.  Here are links to some of the missing ones!





More Raptors at El-Huayco

From January 5 to January 15, 2009 I traveled through many of the large cities and key points of interest in Peru. I have now loaded up all the pictures I wanted to post, but still need to go through and type some of the text. If there are pictures with no text, come back, as I will eventually tell my stories. It was a wonderful experience and I have many good memories!

Machu Picchu! The mountain overshadowing the entire complex is called Huayna Picchu, and it was considered to be a sacred mountain. I was one of the 400 a day allowed to walk on the mountain, and I did climb to the top! Click on the picture for a closer view. It is worth it!
My travel companion, Jay, and I standing outside next to the plane that took us out of the rain forest. LAN Airlines is the primary airline for internal travel in the country. On this trip I rode on 8 planes, 2 trains, a bus, several boats and canoes, and numerous taxis.


As much as possible, I hope to capture here an accounting of my travels in Peru, for my own memories, but also to try to bring to life those who read my blog the sites, smells and feel, the energy of the places I visited.
After a 3-hour drive from La Crosse to Minneapolis, then a 3-hour flight to Atlanta, Georgia, to then catch a 6-hour flight to Peru, then a layover in Lima at the airport, snoozing in the chairs in order to catch the first intra-country flight to Cusco at 5:30 AM, only to arrive and then catch a rattle-trap taxi for an hour and a half drive out of the city, I arrived at the rural village of Ollaytaytambo. This is the final town you can access by road if you want to limit your train time to Aguas Caliente, which is the village at the foot of Machu Picchu. The last leg to Aguas Caliente/Machu Picchu can only be taken by train, or by foot via the Inca Trail. I'm glad we came and stayed a night in this town as it has a lot of character! It is still a functioning village and has not been taken over completely by the tourist trade.
I had previously made a reservation at a hostel, which was the only one I found on the Internet that I could reserve at a distance, and it succeeded in being much nicer on the net than in reality. But it too had it's charms. The first thing I noticed as I sat down in the wicker furniture in the inner courtyard of this hostel was the heat. I had left the frozen north and landed just south of the equator. Peru does not have seasons, like Spring/Summer/Fall/Winter but instead only Rainy Season/Dry Season. Currently, it is rainy season . . . but the rain did not spoil my trip much at all. As I sat in this inner courtyard, alive with many tropical flowering plants, my first bird arrived on stage. It was a hummingbird of some kind, and a female due to its lacking anything distinctive to tell what it was. I was able to catch her picture, but I still have no idea what species she is. I feel safe in assuming she is not a ruby-throat.
And now I challenge my readers to look at the picture above and identify the plant. Yes, you know what it is! It just does not look familiar, as large as it is, looming over the building. This is what these plants look like in their native environment, how they grow when the sunshine is warm and the days long. If you continue to be stumped, e-mail me, and I'll tell ya! ( Below, I took a picture of my first cup of Mate de Coca, of which I had several cups while in the area. Yes, it is tea made from the coca leaf, and a staple of the society. I noticed no ill effect or benefit either way. Supposedly it helps you adapt to the high altitude. I did suffer a bit of head discomfort my first day there, but that was probably from being very tired. The small little bread loaves made in brick ovens was to die for!
There were many signs that the Christmas holiday was still being clung to, the population of the area being Catholic. In fact, I was surprised to find out that I arrived during a minor festival. January 6 is Fiesta de Reyes. This celebrates the date the wise men came to visit the baby Jesus. The townspeople were dressed in their finest outfits, with frequent processions down the streets where they paraded the icons from the church of their saints and the Blessed Mother. The evening was filled with people making merry, grilling out some unknown meats in open pans (which smelled really good), and serving what I would later learn was called Chicha, a very mildly alcoholic beverage made from fermenting corn.
They gathered in the town square to listen to people telling stories. Certain groups of masked men went about the town swinging soft bags, randomly assaulting the young men of the village that were not masked. It seemed an ancient ritualized battle, which was all in fun as it elicited laughs from everyone involved. The townsfolk stayed up late in the night, in the streets, drinking and making merry.
Prior to my leaving the following day I saw all these costumed people gathered in their very quaint church, the local priest saying a Mass. I stepped into the church for a moment and listened and observed. It was a very colorful assembly. I would have liked to have taken a picture, but felt it would have been considered impolite, so left them to finish their holy ceremony.
In the evening I had yet another cup of coca tea and listened to a traveling Peruvian guitar and pipe 'band' as they visited some of the restaurants, trying to sell some of their CDs. A strange mix of modern and historic.
In the mountains that surround this village are the ruined remains of the original Ollaytaytambo. The step structure is common in Inca architecture, as they made steep cliffs tillable for crops. Walls and buildings form lookouts to guard the city, and high advantage places to defend it.
Below, we were told this was a grain storage structure. It was mind-boggling to imagine building it on the steep slope, let alone hauling grain up into it!
Here I saw my first Inca signature structures, those doors and windows set at an angle, which I read reduced their likelihood of collapse in earthquakes, which are common in this area.
Sometimes, the ancient walls, with their lichen stains, and contrasting living grasses, with the breathtaking mountains behind them, make for very dramatic photography! Don't you agree?
Most of the houses, being made of mud brick with ceramic tiles for the roof, had a most unusual attachment to the top. I had to ask what these were. They are called "Dos Torros", or the two bulls, and it is a good luck charm attached on the roof of a house or structure at the completion of its being built. Also, I was told the owner of the house cannot supply this adornment, but it must instead be gifted by a friend. This is just another sign of the connectivity of village life. You should best make friends first before you build your house to make sure you get the proper blessing.
Another little house that I found in one of the local restaurants was the home for the guinea pigs that would find themselves eventually on the plates, most likely, of tourists. The meal is called "cuy" and eventually I did try it, though not while in Ollayville.
When you build in rock . . . things last for a long time! Especially if you build in BIG rocks!
The town sits in a valley with a river running through it. Along the river it is lush, with many crops, primarily corn. The high mountains surrounding the valley are green with desert-like plants, some cactus, dry grasses. Andean wrens are more often heard than seen. The song of the very common Rufous-Collared Sparrow is heard as much as the bird is seen.

It's a really nice village! I highly recommend anyone visiting the area to leave Cuzco and come to stay a night in Ollayville!

Aguas Caliente

I don't really have a whole lot to say about Aguas Caliente (AC). It is a fairly serious tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu. It is the final train destination where you catch the bus up, or walk if you are adventurous. I did not take a whole lot of pictures there, because there was not much to take a picture of. There are some hot water baths in the town, but I was unwilling to pay to see or experience them. Above is a peek at some of the incredibly high peaks you can see on the way. They are snow covered, but also mostly shrouded in the clouds.
There is a daily train (several actually) that travel between Cuzco and AC. There are three levels of service that you can purchase. My trip to AC was in the "Backpacker" service, and it was mostly just a seat to sit in. On the return trip I was on the Vistadome, which gave you a lunch, and a fashion show as well as entertainment (above). The train cars also have glass ceilings, "vista domes" so you can see the surrounding terrain. The highest level is called "Hiram Bingham" and that has cloth covered tables. I don't know what other niceties they have because I wasn't in that train car! You pay the same ticket regardless of whether you get on the train at Cuzco, or many miles down the track, as I did. Either way it gets you to AC, and is the only way, for no roads go that way. Peru is maximizing its income through making something that is already remote and hard to get to . . . continue to be that way.
The town is nested inside several massive mountains. My camera simply does not catch the scope of them. It has none of the charms of Ollaytaytambo. But you can choose from a multitude of places to sleep and eat and buy any kind of souvenir your heart desires. Few, if any, come to this place for the town . . . but of course it is the gateway to Machu Picchu. I slept well the two nights I was there, and experienced cuy, and a Pisco Sour, which is the Peruvian national beverage. Both were good!

I've no idea who this guy is! He stands in the village square. A massive Christmas tree made out of used green soda bottles was to the left of him, but I strategically left that out of the picture. Machu Picchu was the home of Incan royalty and nobility. But that was a long time ago!

Machu Picchu

Above is a short clip overlooking the Machu Picchu complex, with the sacred mountain behind. This was taken later in the afternoon after the mist and clouds had lifted and the sunshine brought out the bright greens of this sub-tropical ruin.

For some, this name brings recognition, and then curiosity. For many, it gets you a blank stare. However, when I knew I was going to get to come to this place, and I mentioned it to people, those who did not recognize the name did seem to recognize a picture of the place. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and thus is being preserved for the world to enjoy. If you would like a history, which I will not give here, click on the bold words at the beginning of this paragraph.

Here I am at one of the several doorways to prove I was there. It can be very hard sometimes to get a picture of yourself alone at any of the structures, for an incredible number of people come to this place, even in what is considered the 'off' season of December through March. This is the rainy season for Peru, and as such, the entire morning was cloudy, with occasional drizzle, but nothing much to spoil the day. In the later afternoon the clouds burned off, and the sunshine made an appearance so that I could take clear pictures, such as the one at the very start of this series of pictures.
My travel companion and I had planned to stay the previous night and the night of our visit in Aguas Caliente to allow us to be on the very first buses that leave that tourist town to take the half-hour drive zig-zagging up to the saddle of the mountain where the ruins lay. After a good night's sleep in comfortable firm beds at Gringo Bill's Hostal, with breakfast laid out at 5 AM we set off. Even at 5:30 in the morning, there was a very long line of people waiting for the buses. Once there, you join the crowd milling about the gates, which include people who paid the incredible $300 a night price to stay at the only hotel outside the site. You pay to take the train to get to this area. You pay to take the bus. You pay to get into Machu Picchu. This is Peru's primary tourist attraction, and you do pay to get to see and experience it. But it is worth it!
As you are allowed to enter the site, people fan out, and very quickly you can find yourself isolated and allowed to walk the moist paths, and through the buildings. The morning dampness serves to muffle the sounds around you. There is the ever present voices of birds, the whisper of the wind, and in some places, the trickle of water dripping, or flowing through some of the carved water channels. Even with as many people that come to this place, you can feel the energy of it's past glory. It may have something to do with the stones. Stones hold their energy for a long time.
The mist added to the mystery of the place. The mountain peaks surrounding the complex overshadow and dominate the horizon. They are rugged mountains that have not seen much erosion. They come in and out of view at the whim of the mists and low hanging clouds.
Here, as at many of the ruins of the Inca civilization, terraces have been constructed to allow for growing crops. Today they only grow grass, and lichen on the rocks, but in days past they would have supplied the villages with the food necessary for life. Primarily this would have been corn, for South America is the source of the corn plant. It's hard to believe that something which feeds the world only was introduced to the world about 500 years ago.
Occasionally there is an accent of color against the backdrop of greens and greys.
You can see that the terraces extend over a great portion of the complex. From this angle you can also see many of the raw boulders to be found in abundance.
Much of the complex is built with the dry rock style of walls, tightly fit stones with no mortar. Many of the walls are small brick, with mortar, especially in the houses that we are told the commoners lived in. However, the truly impressive aspect to Machu Picchu is the incredibly huge stones that make up the structures the elite lived in, and the temples.
You can't tell in this picture, but many of the homes in the commoner area have a structure that allowed for a second story. Each room had a lip on each side to hold wood planks, and there are windows at this higher level.
This complex is in a higher and wetter zone compared to Ollaytaytambo, which was pretty much desert-like except next to the river. The forests are more temperate, and have a greater array of wildlife. I witnessed many birds here, though I had no idea what they were. Later when the sun came out, it got warm, more tropical. Rising thermals brought unknown raptors to make lazy circles high above the ground, beyond my eyes ability to make note of field marks for future identification. A flock of green parrots made their noisy way across one of the canyons.
Here is the best example of the absolutely massive stones used in the construction of this site. You can also see to the left structures are built around the stones already in place. The source of the stone is very local, but the skill of shaping them and moving them defies the imagination. This is one of the main aspects that makes this place so incredible.
Below is what I was told is the Temple of the Condor. The altar stone is roped off to keep people from walking on it. The guide talking to the group here explained sacrifices would be made on this stone, and the blood would pool towards the 'beak' of the condor, and be funnelled down into a hole into the earth. One of the main goddesses for the Inca was PachaMamma, an earth mother goddess. The stones in the rear are the raised wings of the condor, a sacred animal. Beneath the wing is a small cavern.
I did not hire the services of a guide on this trip, but only walked and experienced the place myself. Occasionally I'd listen in to what others were saying. Here I heard the sacrifices were mostly of llamas. The Inca were not given to routine human sacrifice.
Grasses and lichen predominate, slowly working to reclaim the stones.
As indicated previously, those arriving early to the complex can make their way quickly to the other side and get in yet another line to be selected to be one of the 400 allowed to climb Huayna Picchu. Even hurrying over I was in the 360 range, so popular is this opportunity. You choose if you wish to walk up at 7:00 am or 10:00 am. The time restriction is due to the amount of time it can take to climb the mountain. You also have to sign a book prior to entering, and check out when you leave, so they know everyone is off the mountain. In many places the stairs are even and short, but in many more places, especially on the other side of the mountain, they are slippery, and tall, and uneven.

As you climb higher you can see the Urubamba river flowing far below.
After about an hour and a half I made it to the top of the mountain. As you can see by the sign, there are several ways to spell Huayna Picchu. The actual apex of the mountain is still just a little higher than this sign. I climbed up to that lofty perch to join all the other climbers. Most were 20-somethings. Several indulged in smoking marijuana. All reveled in the accomplishment.
And here, on the top of Huayna Picchu, I met up with a couple originally met on the train to Aguas Calliente. Andres and Mariana are visitors from Argentina, spending their vacation in and around Peru. Andres speaks very good English, which is fortunate, for my Spanish is pretty poor. I asked them if I could take and blog their picture. They said yes, so here it is!
And here I am! Quite a bit weary (but going to get more so) with glowing skin from the sunshine, and limp hair from the mist. But I made it!
And what a view from the top! I wish the mist was not as thick for a better picture, but the mist and rain kept me cool on the journey.
What must it be like to be able to open your wings and fly over these valleys? No wonder the condor is sacred to the people who lived here before.

The summit reached, I decided to take a different path down the mountain to visit what is called the "Great Cavern" on the signs, but which my guidebook calls the Temple of the Moon. With a name like that, how could I resist? The journey down was substantially less crowded! I only met one other person on the way to the temple, and there met up with 5 others at the temple. This path took you down three wooden ladders.
The journey down was much longer that the one up, as you were also going around the backside of the mountain. Just about the time I began to despair that I was never going to reach the destination, I came across one of those 6 people who told me I was almost there. I first came across some more Incan buildings, probably rooms where the priests could prepare themselves. Then just a little below is the cavern.
Alcoves and altars are carved into the rocks. The cave does quickly become a dark hole in the very back, and probably goes into the earth some more distance, but I did not have any source of light, so could not go any further. There were offerings of food and tobacco in this place, and it still holds about it a sacred energy . . . felt more here than at any of the other locations at Machu Picchu. Here I met some 'earth children' . . . . barefoot, dread locks, bead and feather bedecked. I am unsure how to classify them, so I will not. They were peaceful souls, who later when I encountered them again after descending the mountain, offered me some nuts and dried fruits. I would have liked to have spent more time talking to them.
Another couple at this location had hiked the mountain with their backpacks, and their baby. I admire their stamina! This alcove is centrally located inside the Temple of the Moon, and the baby's father told me it is supposed to be a central energy point where the male and female energies are in harmony. I couldn't resist, and asked the young lady, since she was a woman, and her baby a boy, if I could take their picture, for it did seem to me the harmony of the energies was manifest. She agreed. You can't really tell from this picture, but the baby was a happy little soul himself. I'd be too if I could come to this place, but not have to walk to it.
The mountain went on to teach me a lesson. Having reached the top, then taken the path down and around to the back, I had to essentially climb the mountain again to leave. Each bend brought another series of steps. Each turn, more stairs. My legs were very tired. My knees were sore from the effort to make my steps controlled. I relied frequently on my walking stick that helped me up and down the mountain. It is a sobering lesson, that you came to this place on your own feet, and that your own feet must get you out of it, for no one else can walk that path for you (unless you are a baby who was carried there ~ and I am not). It is a life lesson that has significance in my own life. Each turn, a brief pause to gather the fortitude, and breathe, then push forward for 15 stairs. Pause, but not for too long. Acknowledge the pain, but set it aside, for it has to be overcome to get to the destination. There will be time to rest at the end. I did make it to the end, and now have the knowledge I can do it! I can climb a mountain, twice. I can persevere on my own path and see it through.
There are animals at Machu Picchu. Many are wild creatures, like these chinchillas.
There are many birds. This is the best picture of the rufous collared sparrow I was able to catch, and it turned away as I took the picture, but you can see the rufous collar. They are trusting little birds, very common in this area, and you can get pretty close to them.
Later I caught a parent feeding its offspring. They didn't sit long for my picture.
And there are llamas!
The llamas are not wild creatures, but placed here for the tourists to enjoy. I know this because some of them had ear tags. They are also accustomed to people and let us walk right next to them and take their pictures. Several of the llama mothers (I wonder what they are called?? Dams?? Cows?? I saw lots of entries on the web for 'llama mammas' but nothing that answered that question) had babies (found this one . . . they are called 'crias'). The crias were very charming and photogenic.
Cute aren't they!
It was an awesome day! It was an exhausting day! I highly recommend that if you consider coming to Machu Picchu you plan your visit to either stay in Aguas Calliente, or the expensive lodge outside the gate, if you can afford it, and not take the standard one-day train tour out of Cusco. It deserves a full day to experience it! I was on one of the first busses to arrive, and departed on one of the almost last ones to leave. I would have walked around more if not for my very aching muscles . . . which complained for several more days. Bring your camera. Bring your bladder control (no bathroom at all on the site, only outside of the gate) ~ oh, and be sure to bring some Nueva Sols too for you have to pay to use the bathroom! Bring your eyes and your ears. But most of all bring an open heart to hear the voice of the mountains, and the stones, and the moss, and the grass, and the wind, and all the animals who call this place home.

It truly is a wonderful, magickal place!

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