Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 9: A Wonderful Day of Leisure at Sanctuary Lodge

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Today was a day of pure indulgence. We had planned a free day to relax, thinking that we would be exhausted from the Inca Trail. Even though the trail was not to be, we had still been very busy (endoscopies are hard!), and it was good to have a day of leisure. Sanctuary Lodge is aptly named. It is a place to enjoy the beauty of nature and God’s creation.

I got up at sunrise to chase the light around and got a few good shots. I love the mist and the clouds and the blues and pinks.

You can see Machu Picchu from the hot tub area at the lodge:

The queue forms early to get into Machu Picchu:

I came back into the hotel to find my sleeping beauty still out cold, Andrea the alpaca at her side:


We ate breakfast on our private terrace while wearing big fluffy robes and slippers. I felt like a Trump, only with all my own hair.

We all got massages. We had scheduled them to work out all the kinks from four days of hiking. Perhaps they were not earned, but who cares! Greg and I had Inca massages, which seemed to be a combination of deep tissue, pressure point and circulation. Some of it hurt, in the way that a great massage does. Genene got a relaxation massage, which I think is probably lighter. She said that some of it tickled, but she tried hard to stay still. She was glowing. She had better get a good job or marry well, for she does enjoy the finer things in life. (Is there a Tiffany she can marry? It worked for Bingham!)

The front desk had to call us and shoo us out of our room so that housekeeping could come and clean.

We took lunch at the lodge and returned to our rooms for a siesta.

We took a walk in the botanical and food gardens. We saw beautiful flowers, hummingbirds, warblers and lizards.

We took a short trek down the hiking trail toward Aguas Calientes. It was a stone staircase in a switchback straight down the side of the mountain. If the Inca Trail was like this (and I am sure that it was), it would have been incredibly difficult. Genene bounded the stairs with ease. Youth is wasted on the young.


We had high tea with the Hiram Bingham train riders.

We sat in the hot tub, with its gorgeous view of Machu Picchu, until the sun set.

We dressed for dinner at 7:00. Genene wanted the beef tenderloin again. She said that she did not want to order anything else since last night’s meal was “perfection.” I drank a passion fruit sour, which was fun, and had a deliciously prepared alpaca steak. Poor Greg is trying to find bland things, but it is difficult. He had a grilled trout with potatoes, a very traditional dish. We strolled back to our room, content from our day of resting and recharging.

We will hate to leave this place, but tomorrow we head back to Cusco via the train for more adventures. Our time at Sanctuary Lodge has been a heavenly respite from all the excitement and bustle.

Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 8: Machu Picchu

Friday, August 1, 2014 (afternoon)

There was not much leisure in today’s operation. We got into our room at 1:00 PM at Sanctuary Lodge and had 30 minutes to gather ourselves for the tour. Entrance to Machu Picchu is strictly controlled, and our tickets were for today and today only. I decided to pack as light as possible as far as camera gear goes. I got my city Blackrapid strap, loaded it with spare batteries and memory cards, and shouldered the Nikon with the 18-300 lens. I’ve never really done a lot of hunting, in spite of it being a favorite Arkansas pasttime. When I gear up with the camera, I feel a bit like a hunter. The camera is my gun. The batteries and cards are my ammo, and today I was loading for bear. Greg packed a day pack with water, sunscreen, snacks–anything we might need inside Machu Picchu. Genene went light, though she made us pack Andrea the stuffed alpaca. Since Senior can’t see Machu Picchu, Andrea will do it and tell him all about it.

We met Antonieta, our guide, at the door to Sanctuary Lodge. The lodge is less than 100 yards to the entrance to Machu Picchu, and there was no line. We showed our passports and tickets and in we went.

Antonieta suggested that we do the hard part first. She asked us to climb up to one of the terraces so that we could have a stunning vista of the entire complex. We started up. I felt so sorry for Greg. He was much improved but still not fully recovered from his altitude sickness. He was huffing and puffing like a smoking asthmatic. Antonieta was very kind. She listened carefully to his breathing and stopped often. She told us there was no hurry and that it would be worth it. I took Greg’s daypack to lighten his load. He did not like having to let me take the pack, but I prevailed upon him not to be a hero. I have felt good here. I don’t know whether I just don’t react to the altitude or whether I have just been lucky. I am alllergic to sulfa drugs and therefore cannot take the gold standard for altitude sickness, diamox. Greg and Genene have been taking the diamox religiously. Genene has done fine. I have taken dexamethosone, which I think is a steroid. Maybe that has helped me. Maybe I was an Inca princess in a past life.

Anyway, back to the story of Machu Picchu. American Hiram Bingham III gets the credit for “rediscovering” Machu Picchu in 1911. Of course, the people of Peru knew this ruin was here, but they did not tell the world. Some say that a Peruvian explorer came to the site for exploration purposes some 10 years earlier than Bingham, but this expedition was not publicized. The Peruvian may been searching for artifacts to sell on the black market. We do not know what may have been hauled out. In any event, Bingham is the scientist who gets the credit for the discovery of this awe-inspiring place.

Bingham was the son and grandson of Pacific island missionaries. He attended Punahou school in Hawaii. I know at least two other important alumni of that exclusive private school–Herman Little and Barack Obama. Bingham went off to college and there knew he was never going to be a missionary. He married a Tiffany (the little blue box jewelry Tiffany family), so his money worries were at an end. He became a professor at Yale University and became fascinated with Peruvian culture and finding the lost city of Vilcabamba. The movie character Indiana Jones is loosely based on Hiram Bingham. Can you imagine the adventures he must have had?

Here’s a couple of old photos of BIngham (Harrison Ford looks better in the hat…. and in a space suit…and in a business suit….and he would look really good eating crackers in…well, never mind.)

Bingham arranged an expedition in 1911. Here he is with his local guides:

He went in bars and villages along the way, asking people if they knew where ruins were. He found a guide to take him to the countryside. There was also a young boy named Pablito. Our guide told us that Pablito showed Machu Picchu to BIngham for the price of a sole. Why can’t I ever get a bargain like that?

Genene was intrigued by the story of Pablito, seen here:

Bingham came back with another expedition in 1912. He brought scientists, archaeologists, professionals of all sorts. Their work was memorialized in “National Geographic,” and Machu Picchu belonged to the world.


Machu Picchu was a holy place. It probably took 20,000 people to carve it into the mountainside, but only 600 people would have lived here. It was built over a period of about 70 years beginning at around 1450 but was abandoned before it was completed. There was civil unrest in the Inca Empire, and then the Spaniards came to finish the job. Because the place was sacred, the Inca destroyed portions of the trails leading to the site. The Spaniards never found Machu Picchu, so it was never destroyed. The jungle slowly reclaimed it, where it lay under vines waiting for Hiram and his fedora to show up. Over 80 percent of the ruins are original.

I apologize for the photo overload that is about to occur. The place is simply beautiful.

The sun gate:
The sun gate is on the left, at the first “notch”:
Did our friend from Singapore make it to the top of this in 29 minutes?
Aguas Calientes sits in the valley floor below:
Genene and Antonieta:
An aquaduct:
An original roller stone, which was used to move the heavy stones into place:
The Inca used existing stones in the construction of Machu Picchu. Genene is here with a big rock that rises out of the earth :
We step inside the gate and into the city:
Flora in the ruins:


Greg was intrigued by the fact that the archaeologists found only a single gold bracelet in the ruins. Since the Spanish did not get it, who did? Over the hundreds of years, perhaps the local people got the artifacts piece by piece.

There were regular animal sacrifices in Inca culture, and in extraordinary situations, there were human sacrifices as well. Girls were chosen for their beauty and would be taken from her family between the ages of 2 to 5. The girl was groomed, like a vestal virgin. She was given the best foods and taught the ways of the upper class. Human sacrifices were only made during times of hardship–earthquake, drought, bad crops. Those events were interpreted as displeasure of the gods, and the finest sacrifice must be made. The girl was drugged with cheecha (corn beer) and native hallucingenic plants. She was bundled warmly while sleeping and carried up the mountain and buried alive in the glacier. Mummified remains of these girls have been found in the glaciers, lovingly placed in the fetal position to be born again in one of the three worlds.

One of the most fascinating buildings was the Temple of the Condor. The Inca took advantage of natural shape and color in the rock to emulate the condor’s wings. The head of the condor and its left wing are visible below:


There was a rock called the Southern Cross Rock. The four points of the stone align perfectly with the cardinal points on the compass. Our guide demonstrated with an iPhone.

In this photo, you can see another original roller stone. These were used to move the large stones into place:

We saw chinchilla in the rocks.

There are many llama roaming the grounds. They cut the grass and keep it out of the cracks and stones. Natural lawn mowers:


Bingham did many good things by bringing scientists and professionals. He also made some critical mistakes. He only had four years to clear the site, and so he burned the jungle vegetation. Some of the vegetation was intertwined in the rocks, and the burning caused some walls to collapse. That said, over 80 percent of the site is original. Only 20 percent was reconstructed.

In the Inca times, the roofs would have been thatched. A recreation is below:


There was a royal house. We know this because there was a royal bathroom:

Take a look at this corner stone, found in the royal house:

As the day wore on, the light changed. I know I am showing some of the same scenes over and over, but I love the way the afternoon light makes for a totally different mood:

There was an aqueduct that brought water from the other side of the mountain into Machu Picchu. It still brings water today to Machu Picchu and to Sanctuary Lodge.


We saw another Temple of the Sun. Again, many of the windows align with solstice events. Harmony with nature.

Very important sacrifices would have been made inside the Temple of the Sun:


Our guide delivered a lot of information as we walked through the city. The city was divided into three areas: agricultural/storage, religious, and living quarters. We strolled through all of them as Antonieta explained their significance in Inca culture.

As the day wore on, my stomach rumbled a bit. They serve a lot of quinoa around here, and I enjoy it. It does, however, have a particular effect on me. It makes me rather “airy.” Somewhere between the Temple of the Condor and the Royal House, I decided to try to sneak a little relief. We were walking along in a nice little single file row–Antonieta, Genene, me and Greg following up the rear. What could go wrong? So in the words of Idina Menzel (or if you are John Travolta, Adele Dazeem), I “let it go.” Holy cow! It was a sonorous blast, like a trumpet. I think condors took flight, and there may have been a llama stampede. Without missing a beat, Greg said, “Goodness, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to do that!” In that single act of unselfish quick-thinking gallantry, he repaid me for carrying that pack and took the blame (or maybe I should say credit; it was a good one) for my bad act. Genene rushed back to admonish him for his crudeness. Antonieta, ever gracious, pretended to hear nothing. You can take the girl out of Arkansas….


Our tour was complete at around 4 PM, and Machu Picchu closes at 5. Antonieta took her leave of us and left us to wander around. We were down in the temple and housing structures, and it was like a maze. We were trying to leave, but we kept hitting dead ends. My inclination was to climb up and so we went up, up, up. Periodically the guides would whistle at us and gesture with their hands to try to get us pointed in the right direction. It became frustrating and a little unnerving. Finally one guide took a bit more pity and told us exactly how we needed to go, straight back down. We hit the door at straight up 5:00 PM. We were among the last to leave.

Back at Sanctuary Lodge, safe and sound:

Finally, we could relax for a few minutes. We scheduled dinner for 7, washed up and put on dress clothes. I am not one to dress up a lot, but it was so enjoyable tonight. I’ve been living in convertible hiking pants and boots, and the skirt made a nice change of pace.

Our meal at Sanctuary Lodge was divine. Tenderloin, suckling pork, traditional Peruvian appetizers, and I had the best Pisco Sour I have tasted. Now I understand what the fuss is about. We were entertained by musicians. I swear I have heard “I’d Rather Be a Hammer than a Nail” every night. It’s a good thing I like that song. Greg went to the bathroom, and our waiter approached me, his eyes alight. He wanted to know exactly what we had done today, and I began to wax on about Machu Picchu. He agreed, and he asked if we had seen the Temple of the Sun in Cusco. I told him that we had. He began to talk about the stones, the light, the construction. His eyes glowed with passion and fire. I asked him if he was from this area, and he told me that he was from Lima but had gotten here as soon as he could. He told me that he goes to Machu Picchu whenever he can and just wanders. Machu Picchu claims another victim.

Our dinner complete, we took a short walk in the dark. Outside the glare of the few streetlights, it became very dark. The sky was cloudy, so there was no chance to stargaze. I took the opportunity to walk a few steps into the darkness and then rush forward, scarying the crap out of Genene and Greg. It was hilarious. We saw the last workers leave Machu Picchu at 9:00, climbing aboard the last bus.

I always like to do one really indulgent thing on my vacations, and we are staying in the Presidential Suite at Sanctuary Lodge. It’s a Belmond property (Orient Express). The suite is not the fanciest room. I’ve stayed in nicer hotels, as far as the facilities. The place has a gentle shopworn look about it. However, the service is out of this world. We are greeted by name everywhere we go. We are Mr. Gordon and Mrs. or Madam Gordon and Genene is “Miss.” Every very single person–concierge, waiter, housekeeper, doorman–greets us in this way. The towels are the size of magic carpets, and we could get used to lounging around in fluffy white robes. Everything is included. Minibar, food, drink, as much bottled water as we can drink. It is the high life. We thought this would be a treat after the Inca Trail. I think we earned it anyway in the endoscopy room.

Machu Picchu is one of the most phenomenal things I have ever seen. The sheer magnitude of effort it took to build it boggles the mind. Shirley MacLaine helped to popularize this place when she wrote a book about her life in the 1980’s. I think it was called “Out on a Limb.” (That’s appropriate.) In it she claimed to have been an Inca princess in a past life and she also claimed to know that aliens helped to build Machu Picchu. Antonieta says that this sort of talk is a bit insulting to the Peruvian people, as if their ancestors could not have done such a thing without help from beyond. I get that, but I must confess: it is difficult to wrap your mind around the idea that a people– any people–could carve a citadel out of solid rock without the wheel, horses or steel. This human achievement is simply staggering and must be seen to be believed. I’m still not sure I believe it.

Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 7: Train Ride to Aguas Calientes, Bus Ride to Machu Picchu and Arrival at Sanctuary Lodge

Friday, August 1, 2014 (morning)

The day started early. Carla and the driver met us at our hotel at 5:30 AM to get us to the train station in Peroy. We would be taking the Vistadome to Aguas Calientes (Hot Springs) and then a short bus ride to Machu Picchu. This would get us back on our itinerary. We enjoyed our stay at Sonesta Cusco (but not the endoscopy!). The hotel was not a part of our original itinerary, but it served us well.

It was a 30 minute drive to the train station in Peroy through dark and empty streets. Carla commented on my short sleeves and asked me if I were cold. I don’t get cold much these days (Carla will understand when she’s 48), though the morning was very chilly. My light jacket was enough for me, but Genene wore fleece and Greg had on his down jacket. It will be warmer in Machu Picchu, and the altitude will be lower, which should provide Greg with even more relief.

The train station was bright and clean. They were selling coffee, hot drinks and snacks in the corner. I went to get Genene a hot cocoa and me a coffee (Greg is now forbidden to have coffee.) My order cost 14 soles, and I had a 20, and the lady could not make change. She kept saying, “One minute, please,” and she even sent her helper to get change. The helper came back empty handed. Keep in mind that this is a train station that serves mostly tourists going to Machu Picchu. Every single person on the line behind me pulled out a 20 or 50 sole bill, probably because they had all just gone to change their money like we had and were only carrying bigger bills. The woman could not make any change for anyone. How do you start your day without a proper change drawer?! As the train came into the station, Carla came to the rescue. She had enough change in her pocket so that the woman could give me back a 10 sole bill. I could have just left it, but it was the principle of the thing. Now I owe Carla 2 soles.

Carla stood in the line for us and told us when to board. She has also arranged for a local guide to meet us at Machu Picchu. Carlos would have been our Machu Picchu guide, but it did not make sense to transport him when there are plenty of good guides on the mountain. Carla saw us off and told us, “You are going to have a wonderful day!”

The Vistadome train is lovely. There are large picture windows throughout the car sides and on the ceiling, giving a 360 degree view of the stunning countryside. The train left the station on time at 6:45 AM for a 3 and 1/2 hour ride. They gave Genene a warm blanket, and she was soon fast asleep.


Greg and I sat quietly enjoying the scenery.

I tried to chronicle the people and animals I saw along the way.

Greg loved seeing all the dogs outside the train window. They followed their owners around in the fields and towns, doing their dog jobs.

The structures are interesting.
I still want to ride in one of these, but not on a main road!

The train is probably like a poor man’s Orient Express. I’m only guessing, because I have never traveled on the Orient Express. There’s something else for me to do. There were neatly uniformed attendants. Before breakfast, they made a ceremony of putting down placemats, a small bowl of flowers, precisely placed silverware. They served a good breakfast of quinoa pancakes with marmalade jam, spinach brochette, fresh strawberries and banana with hot tea and coffee (none for Greg). It was very refreshing.

More scenery.

We enjoyed seeing how people live and work in the Sacred Valley. I spent a lot of time snapping pictures of them through the train window. I love their colorful clothes.

Did I mention that the scenery was stunning?

There were periodic announcements on the train. They pointed out Mount Veronica, a mountain climbed in 1956 by a team of Swiss and French. Those guys love to climb. They pointed out Mile 82 of the Inca Trail, the place we would have started our hike. I was content to rock gently along and let it pass.

Mile 82 of the Inca Trail:

Genene woke up. We bought a deck of playing cards and passed some time playing “Unoish.”

Genene loved how abruptly green everything became as we got close to Aguas Calientes.


We got to Aguas Calientes on time and made our way through the bazaar and to the bus stop.

It smelled of incense and earth.

We stopped for a quick picture as we crossed a foot bridge across the roaring stream in Aguas Calientes.
We found our way easily to the bus stop. We already had bus tickets, courtesy of Carla, so we simply climbed aboard. The shuttles were organized and efficient. The bus driver handled the steep switchbacks with ease.
Some views out the small shuttle window. It was exciting to me to see the mountains and jungle as we climbed up, up, up toward Machu Picchu.
You can walk a trail from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.

The bus unloaded right at the doorway of our hotel, Sanctuary Lodge. We arrived before lunch. Check in was at 1:00, so they showed us to a day room so we could wash up.

What a stunning view we had from the day room:


We were soon joined by a couple from New Jersey and two ladies from Singapore. One of the ladies had just climbed Wayna Picchu (the citadel mountain beside Machu Picchu) in 29 minutes (so she said). She told us that she does “only 30 minutes of exercise a day.” She was as skinny as a puma, and I didn’t believe it for a second. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I believe her time up the mountain either.

Sanctuary Lodge has stunning vistas.

Their gardens are lush and teeming with bird and plant life.

As soon as the clock struck noon, we departed the day room and ate lunch at the hotel. By the time we were finished, our room was ready. We would have a half-hour to wash up, gear up and meet our guide for a tour of Machu Picchu.

Stay tuned.


Adventures in Peru 2014 Part Six: A Day with Carlos and family in Cusco


Thursday, July 31, 2014

When our Inca Trail guide Carlos visited us yesterday afternoon, he told us that his daughters were out of school today. He offered to bring them to town to meet us for a family day in his city. We eagerly accepted his offer of hospitality since we were on our own for the day in Cusco.

Carlos met us at hotel at 10 am. His daughters, Debbie (12) and Tais (8) introduced themselves and gave us all hugs. We piled into Carlos’s small car, with Greg and Carlos in front and me and the three girls in the back.

We were headed for the Chocolate Museum, but we did not make it three blocks before the tour operators called to tell us that they could not acquire train tickets. Apparently the train company only sells a certain number of tickets to tour operators; the rest are reserved for individual “walk-ups.” We had a new mission! Carlos turned the car around and took us to the train station. The line was terrible. We pulled a ticket like you do at the DMV and went out front to sit for a minute.

The girls were initially shy and reserved with each other, probably due as much to the language barrier as anything else. Debbie is studying English and could speak a little and translate. Genene knows a few Spanish words. She is, after all, a Texas girl, much to my mother’s chagrin. We spent a few minutes teaching them rock, paper, scissors, and that broke the ice. Then Carlos really got things going when pulled out a deck of Uno cards, and no more translations were necessary. The girls were soon playing cards and giggling together like old friends. It was amazing.

Greg was feeling much better, thank goodness:


While we were waiting in the line at the train station, operations director Carla was scoping out another ticket sales office. She called Carlos to say, “There is NO ONE at the sales office at Plaza de Armas.” It was less than a mile a way. We abandoned the long line, jammed back into our car, and drove to Carla’s location, where we easily booked three train tickets for Machu Picchu tomorrow. We were glad to have that errand done.

You can see Carla in the red coat in the picture. She is the rock star director of operations at Enigma who has been taking such wonderful care of us:

Card sharks in the shadow of the Cathedral:
We crammed back into the car like sardines and headed out. The girls kept up their card games:
Carlos drives the streets of Cusco with elan:

Carlos took us all to the Chocolate Museum. It was a commercial establishment dedicated to production of chocolate. Genene was instantly in love. It smelled heavenly in there. We tried chocolate tea, chocolate nibs, chocolate everything. The cacao tree can grow 40 to 50 feet tall. In the wild, it grows under a canopy. and is pollinated by midges, not bees. Most interestingly, it cannot release its seeds itself. It depends on animals or humans, and many times, it is the monkey who breaks open the pod to eat the sweet pulp and spit out the bitter tasting beans. Thank goodness for little monkeys!

There was a brief explanation about how chocolate is processed, and more nibbling.

I bought some chocolate liqueur and hot chocolate to try later, and the girls and I each picked out one piece of chocolate, which we later ate with gusto in the streets of Cusco.

Our next stop was to be Qurikancha, Temple of the Sun. Carlos turned into a “garaje” to park the car. From the street, a man opened narrow gates, and we pulled into a parking lot of sorts. There were sheds, and the cars were all double parked. Carlos pulled his car into the inside spot, and someone immediately double parked behind him. They discussed how long each of them would be gone, traded cell phone telephone numbers and we were off.

Walking the streets of Cusco:


The Temple of the Sun was a Catholic Church constructed atop an Incan ruin. Carlos said that the Spaniards tried to tear down the Inca structure and could not, so they built around and on top of it.

A beautiful urn we saw along the way:

The first room we entered was dedicated to the worship of the rainbow. As I have mentioned, the Inca venerated the natural world.

The niches would have held idols or offerings. All windows, doors and niches are built in a trapezoid shape to provide stability, as this region has a lot of earthquakes.


The Inca built the altars and rooms for worship. Their finest stonework was reserved for these structures, and everything was done with excellence for the gods. Carlos told Genene, “If you do something with love and passion, you can make a masterpiece.”

Again, I am in awe of the stone work. As you can see from this picture, the stones fit together perfectly–no mortar.

It is true. You cannot slip a credit card between the stones.
Windows aligned perfectly:


At the time of the Inca, the temples were covered in gold and silver, and there were idols everywhere. When the Spaniards invaded, they took all the idols and melted them down for their gold and silver. Little remains.

There was a temple dedicated to the worship of thunder and lightning. It had three doors. The number three has special significance to the Inca, as they believe there are three worlds, basically sky, earth and underworld, although they do not have the same connotations as our sky (heaven) and underworld (hell). When people die, they are put into a fetal position to prepare them to be reborn into the next world.

Carlos explained a theory about how the stones are connected. As you can see below, there are two half-moons. These two stones would have been set next to each other so that a circle was formed. Then hot metal would have been poured into the circle, interlocking the stones together and making them more stable.
Since the Catholics could not tear down the Inca stones, they built on top of them. They also painted frescoes over them to hide the stones. You can see an example here, along with three beautiful girls:
Can you see the holes that almost look drilled around this window? The theory is that there would have been pegs in these holes, and then ropes or textiles could have been stretched along them to make patterns or decorations.


The Incas were great observers of the stars. These modern murals explain the important constellations, which included the llama, the puma, and others.


In the hallways of the Catholic Church, we saw a beautiful painting of Jesus Christ. Carlos explained that the painting was done by a local artist. Of course, when the Spaniards invaded, conversion of the Inca to Catholicism was accomplished by force, but the church did try to capture the minds and hearts of the people through the art of the church. In the painting, Jesus is dark skinned. He is on the cross and instead of looking up to the heavens, as is typical in a European painting, he is looking down at Mother Earth. Native flowers and plants adorn the painting. I wish I could show it to you, but no photography was allowed.

There was also an incredible mural of first Spaniard/Inca meeting. It did not go well for the Inca. The priest showed the Inca emperor a Bible, and the emperor tossed it to the ground. Bad move.

There were great views of Cusco from the church:

This is a recreation of a work of art that would have been in the Inca temple. You can see the Southern Cross, a rainbow, lightning, sun, moon, sacred animals, and people.


The tour complete, we went back to get the car and encountered a problem. The first double parker had left, and another had pulled into its place. This person had not been kind enough to leave a number or his keys, so our little car was trapped.

Trapped by the Rubicon:


We waited around for a few minutes, but the owner of the car did not show up. Carlos talked with the lot owner and told him we were going to go for lunch or to the movies in the hopes that by the time we returned, the car would be gone and we would be free.

I love these two views from the garaje:



Carlos’s wife Elizabeth was planning to meet us for lunch or for the movies. She called on the cell phone to say that she had already been to the cinema and found that the only English speaking movies started at 9 pm, much too late for the girls. We elected to go to lunch instead. She met us on the street. What did we do before cell phones?

Carlos and Elizabeth showed us to an upstairs restaurant we would have never found, and we had a great little three course meal. The girls sat at a separate table and played Uno, Concentration, and Scrabble. We asked them how they were playing Scrabble and in what language. They were using English and Spanish. Greg joked that it gave them all a good opportunity to cheat.


As we left restaurant, a small drama unfolded right under our noses. As we came down the steep stairs, two women in the traditional Peruvian garb came running across the street from us, a llama in tow. They were clearly frightened, and they jerked that llama up the stairs with them and said something about the police and pulled the gates closed to hide. Elizabeth explained that the police were chasing the women because they are not supposed to wander the downtown streets of Cusco with a llama, pestering people for money for photos. We saw the police van come by in hot pursuit. We played the part of lookout and told the women when the police van was gone. Aiding and abetting in Cusco!

I caught this picture as they raced up the stairs with their llama:

The lunch was leisurely, and it was 4:00 PM before we headed home.

Some street scenes along the way:


Carlos and the girls said their goodbyes and went to get their car. I hope that the double parker was gone. Elizabeth escorted us back to the Plaza de Armas so that we could get our bearings and walk back to the hotel. It was a lovely family day. We got to experience something very real. We talked to Carlos and Elizabeth about how they met, where they worked, where the girls went to school….we learned about their lives. Genene got to play card games with girls her age on the streets of Cusco. For a moment, we were not just tourists. We were two families, sharing a day. It was a wonderful bonding moment that I will cherish, and it’s something we would have missed on the Inca Trail. Carlos did not have to give us his free day with his girls to squire us around the streets, and I told him so. He said simply, “There is a saying here, and you must understand this. Mi casa es su casa.” Of course, I have heard that saying many times in my life, but it has never held as much meaning as it did for me on this special day.


Adventures in Peru 2014 Part 5: More fun with medicine

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I have been holding back on everyone. I did not want to tell this story until I knew the outcome, because I did not want anyone to worry. Don’t worry. All’s well that ends well here, and I can tell this one for laughs now, though it was not funny at all at the time.

Greg did have altitude sickness, but he had another problem as well. He had a black stool, classic evidence of bleeding somewhere in the body. In typical man fashion, he did not mention this problem to me until late on Monday, and so we arranged the doctor visit, which had turned into the day clinic stay. The doctor in Yucay had nixed the trail and recommended an endoscopy, telling us it was absolutely essential to determine the source of the bleeding. He assured us that Greg’s blood tests did not indicate anemia and that everything was under control, but he told us it was necessary to make sure we were okay to continue with our tour. We were scared to have the procedure and scared not to. The endoscopy could not be scheduled in Cusco until Wednesday because Tuesday was the Peruvan Independence Day. We always seem to get into the thick of things. No wonder the evil town had been partying into the night when we arrived. It was all a part of their festivities.

We had purchased a Travelling Nomads insurance policy before we left, the first time we have ever elected to do so. It was a godsend. If they do not pay a penny on our claims, I was still be forever grateful for their assistance. Within an hour of sending them an email, they contacted us with forms that would be necessary if Greg needed to make a quick exit from the country. Then their medical support team called us and asked us to explain everything. When we told her where our tour operator had sent us to the doctor, they quickly replied, “We have worked with that clinic quite a bit, and that is exactly where we would have referred you. You are in good hands.” That reassurance enough made me feel so much better. We decided we would book the procedure but cancel immediately and walk out and come home to the states if we felt as if the care was not adequate.

The head of operations for our tour company, Carla at Enigma Tours, met us with private transport in Yucay and helped us check out of our nice hotel and get to Cusco for the procedure. She stayed with us every step of the way, assisting us in dealing with medical personnel, translations, hand-holding and bag carrying. I am not one to cry much, but I teared up a time or two and Carla would immediately brush her hand across her face and say, “No worries. Everything will be okay.” It is such a blessing and gift to have been so well cared for. Enigma Tours went above and beyond.

We arrived at the clinic in the early morning. It was clean and bright, and they were waiting for us at the door and greeting us by name. The doctor in Yucay had arranged everything, so paperwork was at a minimum. We dropped Greg off, and our driver took the bags, Carla, Genene and me to the hotel two short blocks away. Carla helped us get checked in. We quickly stowed our bags and got a room key and walked back to the clinic. By the time we arrived, they had Greg’s IV line started and were ready to put him in a transport vehicle to another clinic a few blocks away. This concerned me a little because I liked the look of where we were. We had a lady escorting us the entire way. She wore street clothes, not scrubs. I called her our “concierge.”

We arrived at something like a small hospital, with mazes of halls and lots of people. I could see various departments–gynocology, gastro, surgery. We waited for an elevator and when the doors opened, an ashen old man was wheeled out on a gurney, dried blood in a bag beside him. I did not like the look of that, but we kept going forward. After an initial misstep, our concierge led us to the gastro department. We walked down a long hallway, and Peruvians lined the walls on either side. Our concierge led us right to the front of the line. I felt badly about this, but I did not say no. I figure that our American credit card took us to the front of the line, and by God, I was okay with that. Many times I have sat for hours in a waiting room in the United States. I just figured it was our turn to catch a break. We went right into the procedure room and met our doctor, a woman younger than I. She was matter-of-fact and apparently spoke no English. Thank goodness for Greg’s Spanish and for Carla. There was very little in the way of preliminaries. They removed all the instruments and needles from sterilized containers, just like in the USA. There were no worries there. They put Greg onto a bed, turned him on his side, and stuffed a spacer in his mouth with a hole in the middle, into which the endoscopy tube would be fed. He looked like Hannibal Lector in “Silence of the Lambs,” and his ability to talk and translate was immediately gone. They gave him a bit of dope (he said later that it was not nearly enough). The doctor waited no more than two minutes and started jamming that scope down his throat. He was gagging and making the most horrific noises. Spit was roiling out of the side of his mouth. The doctor kept telling him to swallow, not spit, and to relax “tranquile se.” Yeah, doc, you stay calm while someone jams a two-foot tube down your throat! I rubbed Greg on the leg and kept saying, “Be calm. Be calm. It’s okay.” I did not know what else to do. After she finally got the tube into Greg, he got a little calmer and it got pretty interesting. It’s been a long time since I took biology, but it was easy to see his esophogus, stomach, and even part of his small intestine on the TV monitor in living technicolor. I was gratified not to see any blood spurting anywhere. It was just lovely pink guts all around. I tried to get Genene to look, but she was pretty put off by the sound of her dad hacking out his guts and stayed on the floor, wrapped up in a game on her iPod. The concierge had pressed a small deck of cards into her hand, and I found Genene gripping it tightly later. What a sweet gesture. Carla and the concierge were in the room too. I could not believe that Carla would stay right there by our side for all that drama, but she did. She acted like it was just another day at the office, though later she confessed that this was her first time to see such a thing. She was rock solid. By the end of the procedure, I felt a little put off and woozy. I sat right down on the end of the exam table beside Greg and told no one. I was afraid they would throw me out. My niece and nephew are both very talented RNs. I could not do what they do for all the tea in China.

The doc jerked out the tube, and they sat Greg up and gave him a couple of minutes to regain composure. The doctor explained to me that Greg had a small hernia at the spot where his esophogus joins his stomach, and that prevents the valve from closing at that spot, causing reflux. He also had a small ulcer, which had been the source of the bleeding. It was not bleeding any more, and the doctor thought Greg was stable and in good condition. She assured us that we can follow up with our doctor when we get home. The bad news is that she told him to go on a bland diet, told him no booze (boo hoo), and gave him a ton of different medicines to take–Nexium, antiacids, etc. It was a lot to take in. Hindsight is 20/20. Greg had to take blood thinner and baby aspirin for 2 years after getting the heart stent. The aspirin likely contributed to the stomach irritation, while the blood thinner made it more likely to bleed. Greg’s cardiologist told him he could stop taking those medications anyway at the 2 year anniversary, which is about 3 weeks from now. We are going with the local doctor’s advice and stopping it now. I figure we made it close enough to the anniversary, and Greg’s cardiologist has been pleased with the strength and condition of his heart. You take drugs to fix one problem and you end up with another.

Our concierge told us that we would have to return to the original clinic location several blocks away to check out and get our medicines. Our transport ambulance had been called away to the airport, so the concierge hailed a small cab. I had to sit in the floor in the back seat, while Greg, Genene and Carla squeezed into the seats. We were jammed into that taxi like sardines, and I just hung on for dear life. The concierge sat up front with the taxi cab driver and paid the tab. It was actually very efficient, better than waiting hours for an ambulance.

We talked to another doctor back at the bright, cheery clinic, and like in America, his instructions varied some from the doctor who ran the endoscopy. (Isn’t that always the way it goes?) The variances were not too major, so I think we have a good plan. Again, the prescriptions were dispensed on the spot, our credit card was accepted, and we walked the two blocks back to our hotel. We had arrived at the clinic that morning at 10:00 AM and were done by noon. The whole bill, including medicines dispensed, was something in the range of $500. I did a Google search of endoscopy procedures in the USA and saw some figures as high as $8,000. Greg described the whole medical experience as “rough and ready,” and I agree with that assessment. I have to say that overall, I was impressed. Easy for me to say since no one tried to gag me to death.

Carla showed us a good place to have lunch later, made sure we were settled in at the hotel and said her goodbyes. She has a lot of work to do on our behalf and will be back in touch. Train tickets will be hard to come by at this time of year, but we really want to see Machu Picchu.

Greg wanted to rest for a few minutes, naturally. Wouldn’t you?

After a slight break, he said, “I’m really hungry.” That was a great sign in my mind, for Greg had not had much of an appetite since our first night in Yucay. We went to Valentina’s and had a delightful lunch. I had been dying to try the Peruvian delicacy, cuy (guinea pig). The waiter assured me that it was good, and so I took the chance. I must confess that it does not look all that appetizing in the photo, but it was delicious! The skin tasted like a roasted pork. The meat was fatty and succulent. Best of all, the waiter told us it was to be eaten with our hands, Peruvian style. I am all about that. The weight of the procedure was off all our chests, and we wolfed it down.

I did not eat the head.


We went back to our room for a siesta and spent the rest of the afternoon resting. I blogged while Greg read or slept. Genene happily played games. We even had a visit from Carlos, who was to have been our guide on the Inca Trail. He and his wife came by with a giant bottle of water, which was much appreciated. He told us that his daughters (12 years old and 8 years old) are out of school tomorrow and asked us if we would like to join him and his girls in a day of family fun around Cusco. He said we could do some light walking, touring, and maybe even take in a movie. We were excited and honored to accept this invitation and are looking forward to it. There are wonderful people all over the world. We had felt really bad about leaving all the porters, the cook and the guide in a lurch. I am sure they do not get paid if they do not go on the trail, and tips are a part of what they work for. At least we will get to give Carlos a job, and I am thinking that it will be fun for all of us. His wife made Genene promise to try to teach her daughters some English, and they took their leave. We will see them in the morning.

In the late afternoon, Greg said, “I’m tired of sitting around. Let’s go out.” Again, a great sign. We walked down to the main plaza and past the cathedral. Carlos had told us of a trendy restaurant, Fallen Angel, located behind the cathedral down a long, narrow street. We found it easily and had a nice meal.

Our table was a large bathtub with a glass top, inside of which were fish swimming.

Even the bathrooms were groovy:

The walk home was very cold, and Genene felt a little queasy. I chalk all that up to the long, harrowing day, the increase in altitude (Cusco is at 11,200 feet), and the change in diet. She is sleeping contently now after chewing two Peptos, and I think all is well.

Greg’s altitude sickness seems to have quickly abated. He seems essentially normal to me now…or at least what passes for normal in Greg world. He is making bad jokes and sighing each time we pass a bar that serves Cusquena beer. I fear a bland diet will be hard for him to maintain. He loves spicy food and until now has had a cast iron stomach.

What a day!

POSTSCRIPT: I am writing this postscript in current time on Thursday, July 31. I just wanted to leave everyone with assurances that Greg is continuing to do great. We had a great day sightseeing in Cusco today, and he felt good all day. We have our train tickets, and Machu Picchu is in our future. I will tell you more about that later, but I will leave you with a photo of our intriped medical tourist.

Let the adventure continue!