Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week is the letter M, with two m’s in the word.
national monument (Devil’s Tower, WY)
momentum/movement (Women’s March in Chicago, Jan. 21, 2017)
Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week is the letter M, with two m’s in the word.
national monument (Devil’s Tower, WY)
momentum/movement (Women’s March in Chicago, Jan. 21, 2017)
On our cruise to Alaska last year, we took a boat tour through an area called “Misty Fjords.” At times the surface of the water was so still that it was hard to tell where the land ended and the reflection in the water started.
This is my first time as a participant in the Weekend Reflection challenge.
August 31, 2016
We didn’t have anything scheduled today until an interpretive hike at 5:30 pm. We went to Karstens – a restaurant at the McKinley Chalet Resort – for breakfast and I ordered the continental buffet for $13.00 (Full buffet, which Dale got, was $18.00). I was in the mood for oatmeal, which I covered with brown sugar and dried cranberries. I wanted a pastry but all they had were hard scones with raisins and mini lemon poppy seed muffins, that common type you find in supermarkets. I asked one of the attendants to look into it, thinking they had just run out of pastries, but she didn’t do anything – anyway, nothing more was put out so I had to be content with oatmeal and mini muffins. For $13, that was a total rip-off!
We decided to take a free shuttle to Denali National Park and go to the Visitors Center. Then at 2:00 we could go see the sled dog demonstration. We had to be at the shuttle stop for that at 1:20.
The Visitors’ Center is quite extensive and one can spend quite awhile there. There was a display of works by previous years’ artists-in-residence.
There were exhibits on the flora and fauna of the park, with life sized statues of animals such as a Dall sheep and a moose.
In the middle of the room on the main floor was a 3D topographical map,
surrounded by native artwork and artwork depicting the park’s landforms.
I had gone through the display on the history of the park and had started reading about the native peoples of the area when Dale persuaded me to leave so we could have lunch. Afterward, we took a short walk before going to the shuttle stop for the sled dog demonstration.
The dog kennel and training center was only a few miles from the entrance to the park. The kennels were open yards with dog “houses”, each labeled with its owner’s name, most of whom were either sleeping on top of it or alongside it. They were all leashed. We also walked along an area with a chain-link fence, where there were a few other dogs. One who was lying next to the fence Dale bent down and petted his fur.
There was also a pen with 5-week old puppies, who were lying in a heap, asleep.
Not all the dogs were sleeping, however. When we arrived, the dogs knew there was going to be some action. Huskies who are used as sled dogs are bred to love to run. They enjoy nothing more than being hooked up to a sleigh and taking off. During the summer, of, course, they cannot use sleds, but they have training vehicles with wheels. Six dogs were selected to train that day, for us to watch.
When the dogs were selected, the other dogs in the kennel went ballistic – barking, jumping, pacing. They all wanted to get into the action! There was one that we could see from where we were sitting in some blocked off bleacher seating (we were told to keep our hands feet and all objects behind the barrier) who barked and leaped as high into the air as his leash would allow. We saw him shoot upward into the air, then down again, then up again, then down again. He was like a kid waving his arm and jumping up and down, saying, “Pick me! Please! Pick me!!”
In the fall, the growing puppies are taken on walks so that they are exposed to new terrain and challenges they could face on the trail. This is a good time to get a sense of their personalities. While they are still pups, they are observed by their handlers who notice particular personality traits. Leaders, followers, pullers – each require certain characteristics, and like all animals, each dog is unique. When the dogs are half grown, they are sometimes allowed to run alongside the training vehicle to see where they naturally feel comfortable: are they hanging around the dogs in the back? Do they run to the front to be first in line? These behaviors also help determine which position a dog will fit into best.
Each position in line is made for certain dogs. All of the dogs are highly intelligent, but they have different personalities. Who loves to explore and lead the way? Who gets tired first? Who has a lot of energy and just wants to keep going and going? These are traits that are observed during the pups’ training in order to select the best position for each dog. The lead dogs must be able to calculate danger and avoid it in a split second, able to make the decisions those in the front of the line need to make.
The dogs in the rear are those with the most physical strength. They are the ones who bear the most weight of the sleigh and all its contents.
Traditionally, the native Alaskans used sled dogs to pull their sleds from place to place to hunt, fish, gather food, or go from one settlement to another. The famous race, the Iditarod, immortalized in children’s literature by Balto, requires tremendous stamina to run for hours across the cold, snowy landscape for many days. The Iditarod takes place every year and covers hundreds of miles over a period of a few weeks. It is a test of physical strength and endurance. In Denali National Park, however, sled dogs are used by the rangers to accomplish tasks deep inside the park that need to take place during the winter.
Examples of the tasks that the Denali sled dogs accomplish are written on an informational sign at the entrance to the sled dog kennels. Sled dogs hauled more than 10,000 lbs. of building materials, such as lumber and steel cables, for a suspension bridge completed in 2010, . When the project was completed, they helped haul out the crew’s summer camps. Sled dogs assisted the installation and maintenance of remote sound monitoring stations, which were placed in various areas of the park. When a researcher wanted to begin a project to learn about the wolverine population in Denali, the sled dogs hauled remote camera stations necessary to learn the size and habit of the wolverine population.
Next: Late afternoon interpretive hike
Monday, August 29, 2016
Today we had a 9-hour train ride from Anchorage to Holland America Line’s resort north of Denali National Park. The train was also a collaborative effort between Alaska Rail and HAL. This train was called the McKinley Express.
We were seated in a specific car in assigned seats on the upper floor, where domed windows afforded fine views. This time we had comfortable seats not at tables. People were called in groups to go downstairs for breakfast (which we’d already had) and lunch.
The bartender on our train car was Doug. Tami was our guide. Besides really bad puns, Doug would say crazy things like “Yeah, I climbed to the summit of Denali yesterday” or he would see a really beautiful house on a hill and say, “That’s my house!” Tami would mockingly rebuke him.
At the beginning of the ride, when we passed through the Anchorage suburb of Wasilla, Doug pointed to a big house on a hill and said, “That’s Sarah Palin’s house!” Which it wasn’t, of course, although he told us the Palins do still have a house in the hills around here even though they mostly now live in Arizona.
In the end, Doug and Tami told us they were married – to each other! – and they hugged and kissed. No one apparently had guessed – this was presumably their regular “routine” on the train. Doug said usually the more they argued, the more passengers would guess they were married!
The weather we’ve been having this entire trip has been unusually beautiful. August usually is the beginning of the rainy season, we were told, and in fact, a week before we arrived, it had rained so much that August was on track to be the rainiest on record! But today, the sky was clear, as it had been in Anchorage, and we were able to see the top of Denali clearly, from over a hundred miles away!
That, Tami said, makes us members of the 30% Club. This is the percentage of visitors to Alaska who actually get to see the top of Denali! The mountain is so high that it creates its own weather system and most of the time it is shrouded in clouds. We’ve been so lucky on this trip!
We passed stands of dead trees periodically. It was eerie. Tami told us it was because of the 1964 earthquake, which registered 9.2 on the Richter scale, exponentially higher than the 2011 Japan earthquake at 9.0. Alaska suffered heavy damage from the quake and the tsunami that followed. The earth shook for 5-6 minutes, followed by a huge tsunami that reached as far inland as the area we are traveling through! (We are in about the center of the state west-east). The tsunami caused the trees to die and then their trunks hardened, as if petrified. According to Wikipedia, 139 people were killed in the earthquake and its aftermath. A whole town disappeared.
(For more resources on this earthquake, see The U.S. Geological resource web site:
We saw another large area of blackened trees, caused by a forest fire out of control.
We passed Spencer Glacier north of Anchorage.
Alaska has 100,000 glaciers but only 600 have been named. The largest is Hubbard Glacier. Alaska also has many thousands of lakes, far more than Minnesota and Wisconsin combined! Kenai Lake is long and narrow: 22 miles long and only a mile wide, so it kind of looks like a river. There are many lakes like this.
The lakes can be very deep and so can the rivers. Silt River is 800-900 ft. deep! At high tide this river looks like a lake!
We were entering the tundra area of Alaska with fewer large plants – there is a lot of brush and low ground cover. The ground is spongy when you walk on it. Some river beds contain so much glacial silt that a very thick layer has formed. If you walk on it, you get stuck, like quicksand!
Two types of evergreen trees grow in this area – the white spruce, which we think of as Christmas tree-like in shape : wide at the bottom and narrowing to a point on top. Black spruce, which is becoming far more common as we go north (also called Sitka spruce), is scraggly, thin and sometimes misshapen. It produces a large quantity of cones at this time of year, which grow in large clumps at the top of the tree. Squirrels collect these cones as a major staple which they store for the long winters.
The train arrived in the Denali area later than expected – it had had to stop several times and go onto a siding to let other trains pass. From there, we got on a bus, “Coach 5” for the transfer to our hotel.
We had a tour booked for 6 pm, which I was prepared to cancel because I didn’t think we were prepared in terms of clothing. We were going on an “Argo ATV adventure” with a company called Denali Tundra Tours. I was beginning to have serious misgivings about this tour, but was unable to do anything about it, because a young woman named Andrea was already waiting for us inside the main lodge. We had to leave immediately – no time to eat or go to our room first. Our luggage would probably not be there yet anyway since it had come on the same train we were on. Andrea assured me we’d be fine – in fact, we’d probably feel hot once we got off higher ground where it was windy.
We decided to leave our backpacks stored there, and the main desk gave us tickets with numbers on them to identify our bags when we got back.
Andrea told us on the way that she was from Michigan and had a good job there as a veterinarian technician. Her boss had been nice enough to give her a sabbatical for the summer so she could come up here and work for Denali Tundra Tours. She has been loving it and wishes she could do it every summer from now on.
This place was a long way away – it took us about ½ hour to get there in the van Andrea was driving. No one else from our cruise had signed up for this but Andrea said they were expecting two other couples.
John and Dan are the two owners of the company. They had put out clipboards with a 2-page waiver to read and sign. I began reading it carefully and became alarmed at the description of all the awful things that could potentially happen, but the guys assured us it was just for liability sake and that none of those things had ever happened.
The other two couples arrived – four young Australians. I had the feeling that we were the only ones there over 30…hmmm! Dan and John went over the safety rules and took us out to the Argos. Andrea gave everyone a helmet to wear while Dan and John taught the drivers how to drive an ATV. All I needed to do was figure out how to stay in the vehicle and…well, just get through the experience.
There was a short “practice course” for the drivers to practice, weaving around cones (Dale went around only one, then drove past the other two) and then we were off down the road. I felt a little chilly with the wind whipping through the ATV, but Andrea was right – once we got off the road into more sheltered territory, it wasn’t windy.
We got a gorgeous view of Denali before leaving high ground and stopped to take pictures.
We drove along rutted paths full of boulders, and through puddles, big and small. The route actually led through portions of creeks. We were the second in the procession, behind Dan and Andrea. John brought up the rear behind the two Australian couples.
As for taking pictures en route, although both Dale and I had our cameras dangling in front of us, it was impossible to take any pictures unless we were stopped. It took all our concentration to negotiate the boulders, water, and uneven paths. Several times, I closed my eyes and let Dale figure it out. This was usually when he had to swerve to avoid a dramatic dip on one side of the path. Fortunately, he slowed down when we entered water, the opposite of what Andrea had suggested because it was part of the fun to get splashed with water and mud. No thanks! I suppose it is fun for a 20-something. One’s idea of “fun” changes with age!
We hadn’t been out real long when we stopped for quite awhile. John had fallen backwards into the water and was soaked from head to toe! At first I thought he’d fallen out of the ATV – but no, he was walking in the water to check a tire on one of the other vehicles when he slipped and fell. Although he had a dry shirt to put on, he had to finish the trip with wet jeans and shoes. I took advantage to take a couple of shots of the woods around us.
We took a longer break in a clearing shortly after that. For the guys, it was a convenient potty break. Although we women had a designated “area” to urinate, none of us did. Too complicated for us!
Clearly, we weren’t the only ones who had been here.
Then we were off again. Up to then, I had been gripping a hand hold bar below the seat on the side with my left hand, which was beginning to hurt with the effort, and pushing down on the seat with my right hand. On the break, John showed me a better position – put my right foot in a foot rest, which I hadn’t noticed before (well, I had but didn’t know what it was used for) and left foot against the side to brace myself, and put my right arm across the back of the seat and hold on that way. I did this for the rest of the trip.
Meanwhile, Dale was navigating the vehicle, veering to avoid large dips and holes in the path, and pretty much stayed between 11 and 14 mph. In the orientation, we were told that 14 mph is the fastest safe speed. When Dale went over that, I told him to slow down, which he did.
I eventually got used to the jarring and jostling and actually think all the bumping somehow helped take the kinks out of my neck! Still, I can’t say it was my idea of fun – although Dale said it was fun for him. I kept wondering what on earth I had been thinking when I signed up for this tour (it promised stunning views of Denali). I mean, I don’t really believe in rumbling through the wilderness in a noisy off-road vehicle. We were unlikely to see wildlife, which would be scared away by the noise. I guess I really didn’t see the point of it. Although I later told Andrea I’d write a good review on Trip Advisor, I also will probably state that if your goal is to admire scenery and see wildlife, you probably shouldn’t take an ATV tour.
I knew when I began to feel chilly in the wind again that we were back on high ground and almost done. I could see the familiar buildings coming into view – yes! It’s almost over!
After turning in our helmets we went back into the shelter for hot chocolate or coffee. They put out wipes for us to clean our hands, as there was no running water in the shelter, and Dale and I each took one. My hands were dirty from gripping the sides of a vehicle that most likely hadn’t been cleaned and Dale’s were worse – he had some oily stains on his hands. The sun was setting as Andrea and the two of us got back into the van.
August 26, 2016
Today we cruised Glacier Bay National Park. At the park’s visitors center, we picked up two rangers, one of whom provided commentary from the Crow’s Nest (Deck 10), while the other answered questions and sold NPS merchandise.
There is really no other way to see this park except by boat or by air. There is a small airport a few miles from the park entrance, but other than a road linking the airport with the visitors center, there are no roads in the park, which is due west of Skagway and Haines. While cruising, we saw a total of three boats – two ferry-sized and one cruise ship. Every cabin had received a map in our mailboxes and many people tried to locate where we were on their maps.
We decided to go to the Bow – outside at the front of Deck 4. Of course, when we arrived, there were already tons of people along the railing and we had to worm our way in. I was wearing a gray fleece sweater with my windbreaker over it, plus a hat and gloves.
I forgot our map, so I made due looking over a woman’s shoulder who was willing to share with me. She had a GPS on her phone that actually functioned in this remote place, so she could locate our position on the map. We identified a glacier we passed on the starboard side as Carroll Glacier and another, smaller one as Rendu Glacier.
Although we could hear the ranger’s commentary from the Bow, we often could not understand it because the speaker wasn’t working well, and his voice would break up. Someone said it sounded more like he was speaking Klingon than English! So we missed of what he was saying, but persevered because of the panoramic view, unimpeded by windows which reflected whatever was in the room.
It was extremely windy and the floor was wet. I was warm enough in my fleece and windbreaker, gloves and hat, but finally went back, because of all the things I had hanging on me – I wanted to get rid of the camera case, at least – and got the map.
While we were chatting with another couple, stewards brought trays of split pea soup. The wind made it a challenge to hold the tray, especially when it was nearly empty! It wasn’t much – a snack really, at 10:30 in the morning – but it was warm and good.
The wind shifted and first we got a blast of warm air, but soon afterward it turned cold again and blew even stronger. The ranger said were going to head toward Margerie Glacier and stay there for about an hour. The wind by this time was making me uncomfortable and there seemed to be even more people crowding at the railings, so I suggested to Dale that we go up to the Crow’s Nest on Deck 10.
It was crowded there, too, but I took advantage of a temporarily empty chair to take some pictures. Soon the woman who had been occupying it came back so I had to get up.
Getting close to Margerie Glacier allowed us to really look at it in detail. I had expected a solid block of ice looming alongside us but it wasn’t like that at all. After Mendenhall, I knew glaciers could be blue in places but Margerie displayed a variety of colors: stripes of brown (soil & dirt it picked up along the way) alternated with dirty white and there was even a section on the far right that was black. Margerie is 250 ft. above the water.
It’s about a mile wide and 28 miles long. We could see it winding its way down the mountain from its origin high above.
The top and sides were very jagged, as if the pieces of ice had been jammed together haphazardly. There was one flat piece that slanted off the front of a larger chunk and I was sure that every time I looked at it, it was leaning farther and farther, and that it would calve (break off) at any minute! So I stared at it if willing it to fall with my mind. There were a couple of very small calvings, which disintegrated as they fell and hit the water with a splash. Apparently these are typical calvings but I was hoping for something bigger, more colossal! The inlet in front of Margerie became studded with small hunks of ice that floated outward with the current. These calvings and meltings fed the inlets and the streams that began high in the glacier-covered mountains. Glaciers are made of fresh water but they also carry a lot of silt with them that turns the water a grayish-brown. The fresh water mingles with the salt water, so the salinity in these inlets is lower than in the open sea.
The ranger told me that the brown lines visible across the bottom left of the glacier were layers of dirt, rock and silt. These layers cannot be dated as can layers of rock, but the number of lines tells us how many times avalanches have occurred in the life of the glacier. As the glacier moves along, carving the landscape and shearing off pieces of rock, the rocky hillside destabilizes, causing these avalanches. This is the reason the sea bottom drops off so precipitously – no sloping hillsides here! – and the sea level here is 800 ft. deep. What we see of Margerie above the water line is literally only the tip of the iceberg!
Looking at the black part of the glacier it’s hard to believe its main component is ice!
When we left Tarr Inlet, the ship headed back toward Lamplugh Glacier and into Johns Hopkins inlet, which could be seen on the port side, so instead of returning to our room, we sat on the port side of Lido Pool to watch the dramatic landscape unfold, even though the captain had assured us that the starboard side would get a chance to see it on the way out.
As the ship approached the inlet, we watched with anticipation as the cliff blocking our view slid back slowly, to reveal a landscape of high peaks and several glaciers winding their way down toward the shore. Immediately in front of us was Johns Hopkins Glacier. I thought we would get closer to it, but although the ship paused long enough for everyone to get a good look (as well as plenty of photos!) , we didn’t sail into the inlet and consequently also didn’t see glaciers marked on the map that were hidden from view.
We could take a thousand pictures of this dramatic landscape. Every view seemed more awe-inspiring than the last – and of course, I wanted close ups of the high glacier-covered peaks.
Gradually, as we traveled back toward the entrance to the park, the landscape became less dramatic and even the streams that trickled down the mountainsides and ended in waterfalls no longer held excitement. A pilot boat approached and took on the rangers, then headed back to the tiny town of Gustavus, the official address of Glacier National Park.
August 23, 2016
I wasn’t sure what to wear on the excursion “Misty Fjords Wilderness Tour.” I ended up wearing a T-shirt with my hoodie over it. I packed the warmer of my two jackets, and my hat in case of rain. I also packed my little purse that help my key card, driver’s license, credit card, and my phone. At Dale’s suggestion, I stuck a pair of binoculars into my backpack. Those turned out to be unnecessary; the tour company provided everyone with a pair to use on the boat. The weather cooperated so I also never needed to wear my hat.
The excursion was exploring this national monument on a 4-hour round trip on the “St. Nona” , a catamaran – a boat which is quite stable and unlikely to tip over even if everyone stood on the same side!
We were given a map of the area with information about its history and wildlife, so we could follow along with the tour guide, a short woman with gray and black hair down to her waist named Sonja.
We set out at the first low tide of the day (there are two low tides and two high tides per day). I sat on the top level of the boat so I could take pictures without a window in between. Sonja gave a running commentary of the place we were going, what we were seeing off the sides of the boat, and the wildlife we encountered. It was hard to understand her through the speakers sometimes.
First we saw a black-tailed deer, which is native to Alaska. It is smaller than the white-tailed deer we are used to. it was hard to see at first, in the distance, but I spotted it when it moved. There was also a bald eagle sitting on the shore.
The captain slowed the boat down for wildlife – we would later see a group of harbor seals basking on a reef island and there were reports of a whale, although I didn’t see it myself.
The views of the mountains, islands and water were spectacular. The water was so still, allowing mirror-like reflections of the land on its surface. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the border is between land and sea.
I had expected to see waterfalls but there were none – maybe it’s the dry season, but you could see where the waterfalls would be. According to the information we got, Ketchikan is the 4th wettest place on Earth! The greatest amount of rainfall occurs in the fall, especially October. We were lucky to have a beautiful day weatherwise.
Climate change is more visible in Alaska than most places. In the summer of 2004 they had a heat wave, with temperatures in the 90s (degrees Fahrenheit)! For fishermen, hot spells mean very few salmon are caught. Sonja pointed out a mountain that used to be covered with snow year round, but now it has only a few traces of snow.
The spectacular landscape in Misty Fjords, like the rest of the Inside Passage, was carved by glaciers. You can tell how a glacier moved to carve the landscape because of the direction of the striations (lines in the rock). Many rock faces have white marks, or scratches, on them caused by the scraping of boulders that were carried by the glacier.
When we reached Punchbowl Cove – a cove in which the rock face formed a curve in which the glacier had advanced and then receded – we turned around to go back. For some reason, I thought we’d have a chance to actually get off the boat and hike a little.
Instead, at 10:30, we were served a small lunch, either vegetarian chili or clam chowder; I chose chili. Shortly after that, I went downstairs and had a look at the galley where we could buy alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, smoked salmon, dried salmon (I call it “salmon jerky!”), and Alaskan jams and jellies. These had been described to us and there were samples to try. I bought a small jar each of the two most unusual: salmonberry – called this because they resemble salmon eggs – and Sitka spruce jelly, which was very sweet; it tasted almost like raspberries. There was also a sweet honey, also from a spruce tree that bees pollinate because it’s sweeter than other more common sources of honey.
Later they passed out samples of smoked salmon on a Ritz cracker to everyone on board, which was excellent!
On the way back, we had a good look at New Eddystone Rock, located near the entrance of Rudeyerd Bay. It was formed of basalt that rose from a volcanic vent. When glaciers moved in, they carried away most of the flow, leaving behind several islands including New Eddystone. In 1793, while searching for the Northwest Passage, Capt. George Vancouver sailed his ship up Behm Canal, which is now part of Misty Fjords National Monument. Vancouver wrote in his journal, “we saw the remarkable rock resembling a ship under sail. I called it New Eddystone.”
We returned to Ketchikan at nearly high tide, with plenty of time to spend a couple of hours shopping and/or sightseeing. Sonja gave us maps of the town as we got off the boat.
It was June 28, 2008 that my husband, son and I visited Machu Picchu as part of a 14-day trip to Peru with the program Overseas Adventure Travel. Machu Picchu was at the top of my “bucket” list for travel destinations. It was an experience I will never forget.
I highly recommend OAT to any adult who is physically fit and has the desire to see their travel destinations a little differently – most days are jam-packed but everything is interesting and worthwhile.
For Flashback Friday this week, I am reposting Machu Picchu Day 1, Part 1.
June 28, 2008 (Continuation of journal, with additions from Internet later)
The great Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, described Machu Picchu this way:
“Machu Picchu es un viaje a la serenidad del alma, a la eterna fusión con el cosmos, allí sentimos nuestra fragilidad. Es una de las maravillas más grandes de Sudamérica. Un reposar de mariposas en el epicentro del gran círculo de la vida. Otro milagro más.”
(“Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to eternal fusion with the cosmos, there we feel our own fragility. It is one of the greatest marvels of South America. A resting place of butterflies at the epicenter of the great circle of life. Another miracle.”)
The town of Aguas Calientes, sometimes referred to as the town of Machu Picchu because its existence is totally dependent on and justified by tourism to this “Lost City”, is the end of the line for the train ride. From there, we were to take a bus up to the ruins. But first we walked to our three-star hotel, Hanaqpacha Machu Picchu Hotel, where we were to check in and leave our overnight bags in our rooms before being served lunch in the hotel dining room.
I was feeling weak as we got off the train, so either Dale or Jayme carried my bag for me. I don’t know which one it was but was only grateful for having what seemed like a heavy burden taken from me. I trudged along behind the others as we descended the main street and crossed a bridge over a wide aqueduct. Boris had said the hotel was about a ½ mile walk, but I don’t think it was that long – perhaps ½ a kilometer.
I had already decided that, in order to fortify myself for the trip to the ruins, which I was determined not to miss, I would skip lunch and take a nap. After all, the snack on the train had been substantial enough that I was really not hungry now. Sleep was more important. My cold was now developing into its next phase – sinus congestion. I dug in my toiletries case to search for Advil Cold and Sinus, and took one before lying down for a 45-minute nap in our quiet room, which really helped.
When Dale came up to get me, I got up quickly and readied myself for the bus ride up to the ruins. I had my bag, my walking stick, hat and two water bottles. Finally, I was to see the place I had dreamed of visiting since I first saw pictures of it decades ago!!
We walked to the bus station, where there were lots of buses waiting for tourists to fill them, and of course lots of Peruvians trying to sell us things: “Lady” or “My friend” they would begin, holding out the trinket they were selling, murmuring something of the merits of their wares in broken English and ending with, “only two (or ten or whatever) soles, my friend.”
If I’d harbored any illusions of an exclusive bus for us to take up to the ruins and the possibility of sitting near the front, it soon vanished when we boarded the ¾ full Number 21 bus. Instead of debating which side would be best to sit on to get the best view, I took an empty seat about halfway back next to a young Asian-American tourist who spent the majority of her time snapping pictures out the window with her small digital camera. I resolved not to be disappointed that I couldn’t take pictures on the way up – pictures from moving buses rarely came out well anyway – and was content with just enjoying the view.
I had to admire these bus drivers, deftly negotiating a narrow road that climbed by means of switchbacks up the side of a mountain through a jungle landscape – Machu Picchu is situated in a cloud forest – and knowing when to pull over for passing buses or to be the one passing. I imagined doing this job all day every day. I wondered how many times they actually made the round trip each day. This bus was Number 21, but there were many more than that – passing ours I saw numbers from eleven to thirty-four.
Out the window, the scenery was often a tangle of vines and trees typical of the cloud forest, but there were frequent glimpses both of the Urubamba River and valley below as well as high mountains above. I kept searching for a glimpse of Machu Picchu high above us, and was incredulous of how remote this place actually was – hidden away so completely in these mountains, no wonder it wasn’t “found” for 400 years! Although I knew that there were some local people who did know of its existence during that time, it was abandoned and uninhabited surely due to its isolation. That, it seemed, was the intention when the site was first selected by the Inca ruler, Pachacutec, who allegedly was responsible for orchestrating the building of this place.
Finally I spied the shapes of stone buildings above on a high plateau – my first glimpse of Machu Picchu! I glanced at my watch: it was 1:15 pm on June 28, 2008.
By the time we actually arrived at the Control gate, showed our entrance passes and stamped our passports with the official Machu Picchu stamp (for tourists, they have a stamp you have the option of using in your passport as a memory of your visit), it was close to two o’clock.
This afternoon, we were to have a tour given by Boris to orient us and show us the highlights of this spectacular place, the crown jewel of Inca ruins. Tomorrow morning we would have the opportunity to return to explore on our own with a local guide, Ronaldo, who was introduced to us now. He was to accompany us on our tour today as well, as Boris’s assistant. He was friendly, but mostly stayed in the background during the tour, listening to Boris’s account and chatting casually with members of our group.
Just inside the entrance, as we walked along the path leading to the main ruins, I was awed by breathtaking views all around me. Mountains surrounded us on all sides, their tips covered by a blanket of low clouds. To the east, I could see below us the winding river, its course shaped by and itself shaping the forest-covered peak whose name I don’t know. This mountain hugged by the Urubamba River, and the layers of towering peaks around and beyond it, became to me the most memorable and beautiful landscape at Machu Picchu. To get here, ancient people had to cross these mountains and ford the river, before making the steep climb up to this plateau. Looking at this scene in front of me made me realize the importance and the sanctity of this place to the people who built it. How they must have searched to find just this spot and yet it was intricately connected astronomically to other sites built by the Incas, including Cusco.
The first part of the ancient city reached via the path trod by most tourists who enter through the Control area above the bus stop is the Agricultural Sector. Machu Picchu is divided into two basic sectors, based on their functionality. The Agricultural Sector primarily consists of terraces linked by a stone stairway which runs along a series of storage buildings or granaries. Here the Incas would store their surpluses of crops to distribute among the people living here in time of need. The Inca king would also reserve a portion of it for himself, the common method of tribute among the people conquered by the Incas. These granaries have thatched roofs, a reconstruction done to show what they would have looked like during Machu Picchu’s heyday. Of course, the thatch did not survive the centuries, and the rest of the ruins are not covered. It should be noted, however, that some buildings probably did not have roofs and that the Incas, like their descendents today, spent most of their time outdoors. Thus everyday buildings such as houses and storage buildings tend to be quite small – one small room usually – except for the residences of the royal families.
We descended a portion of the stairway and passed through the storage area to walk along a path which crosses the terraces to the Urban Sector. Boris pointed to a lone building high above us, the Watchman’s hut or guard house, from which you get beautiful, panoramic views of the entire site, and the mountains and valleys surrounding it – if you are willing to climb the steep path to reach it from where we were standing.
I was quite content to take in the view that unfolded in front of me: to the north, the precise stonework of dwellings and temples flanked two plazas, a small one and a much larger one, the Main Plaza.
The most sacred sites were built on hills above the rest, and the imposing and famous mountain, Huayna Picchu (meaning “new peak” in Quechua), marked the far northern end of the site. Machu Picchu (“old peak”) was built on a high plateau, with steep slopes delineating its borders on east and west, on which were constructed more terraces for growing crops. There was so much to explore that to see everything could take a week. I was glad for the slower pace today, as the combination of altitude and my cold would have made it impossible for a vigorous and ambitious exploration of the entire Urban Sector.
A dry moat separates the Agricultural and Urban sectors. We followed a path leading to the southeast corner, a zone containing the houses of the nobility in which the Incas’ masterful stone masonry can be seen. Entrances are marked by trapezoidal doorways constructed with beveled rectangular stones and single stone lintels above them. There were short sections of wall with openings between them. These sections were topped by the three-tiered construction reminiscent of the Andean cross, representing the lower, middle, and upper worlds. Other walls contained trapezoidal windows or niches, which Boris said were used for placing idols and other items.
The first temple we visited was the Temple of the Condor. This was truly spectacular. Two enormous pieces of natural rock, streaked with shades of black, gray and brown, were carved just enough to be set to resemble open bird wings. Each rose up diagonally above a smaller center section which perhaps was to represent the bird’s tail. On the ground in front of us were laid three pieces of rock, one carved to resemble the condor’s body with its head and beak, and the other two the ruff on its neck. Boris pointed out that the shape of rock forming the condor’s body also resembled the continent of South America.
“But how would they know this?” I asked. Could the Incas have been aware that their empire occupied only a small portion of a much larger landmass whose contours had not, as far as I knew, ever been completely delineated? Boris thought that they did – the Incas had trading partners all over the continent and probably had received word about other lands and cultures that they never could have had time to discover. Some of the peoples they had subjugated lived along the west coast of South America, while others knew about the east coast.
It’s an interesting theory and the Incas’ knowledge quite astonishing if true, but I remain skeptical. Even if they were aware of these other areas, how could they have figured out how to put it all together? I liked to think, as I looked at the stone, that they really did know the shape of this continent long before white people ever arrived, but it was probably a coincidence.
What really impressed me about the Temple of the Condor was that, looking up at the right wing, there were other structures built right on top of the slant of the wing. It looked like a small chamber of some kind, built with round edged rectangular stones, not the perfectly fitted and beveled stones of sacred sites, purposefully balanced upon the sloped rock.
Later, doing research on Machu Picchu (but I also could have missed or forgotten Boris’s explanation), I found out that this chamber above the condor was a prison or jail, where people may have been tortured or sacrificed. On the web site “Rediscover Machu Picchu” it says the following:
The Temple of the Condor, according to some specialists might actually be a torture chamber. Tourists are told by guides that it’s a “temple”.
Between the “wings of the condor”, there is a chamber with grooves, that’s the place where prisoners were tortured (or could have been tortured), there’s also a pit that was created to drain the blood of the victim.
To the Incas, the condor was a symbol of cruel justice.
It was a bit horrifying to read this, as I thought the Temple of the Condor was one of the most beautiful and spiritual places at Machu Picchu, but I do know that the Incas practiced ritual sacrifice. This, however, does not fit the idea given to us of ritual sacrifice in which it was considered an honor to be sacrificed. Prison and torture are hardly the same thing, and certainly not honorable. I didn’t know, for instance, that prisoners were even a part of Machu Picchu life. I suppose some “whitewashing” of the true nature of some Inca practices is to be expected when you’re given the tourists’ version of all of this, but it has only piqued my curiosity to find out more about what life under Inca rule was really like.
However, I still cannot help but admire the artistry and beauty of the Incas’ architecture, and how they fused the natural with man made creation in all constructions, demonstrating their honor and awe for the natural formations of the earth and placing themselves respectfully within that natural world.
Our next stop was a structure within which there are two mortars with water in them, which had a dual purpose. Placed as they were on the ground, they were used as mirrors, but also this site is allegedly a sacred vortex, or a spot in which the forces of natural energy unite. By placing one’s hand above one of the mirrors, a sensitive person can feel the energy emanating from it, which enters and courses through the body. Of course we all tried it, and although I didn’t feel anything unusual, some members of our group claimed they did feel a surge of energy when they did this.
There was lots more to explore on the eastern side of the citadel, but to hit all the highlights, we followed a path between the small plaza and the main plaza over to the western side, to the zone where many of the temples are located. We passed the quarry, full of rocks with sharp points jutting out of the ground. Some were embedded there in their natural state, where others had obviously already been worked on and were left for later transport to their proper position in a wall, window or doorway. Having this quarry on site must have been a great convenience for the construction of a citadel with the grandeur and magnitude of Machu Picchu, but it seemed impossible that all of the stones used in the surrounding buildings could have come from here.
In the temple zone you can see some of the finest examples of Inca stonework. For the temples, they reserved the most skillful of their techniques, showing their reverence for the gods they worshipped. The Main Temple was where they worshipped their main god, Viracocha, the creator of all things. The walls of this temple are a reddish color, which Boris said was the residue of the original bright red paint the Incas had used. The walls are constructed using beveled rectangular stones which fit together perfectly without mortar. You cannot even insert a fine knife blade between these stones. Boris told us that this type of construction has withstood not only erosion but also earthquakes – when the buildings of the Spanish crumbled during an earthquake, the Inca walls stood strong. We would see more examples of this in Cusco.
However, there was a section of wall of the Main Temple that looked as if it was falling: the stones had separated and were tilted downward on one side. Boris said that this was not due to earthquakes or natural forces. He told us that Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor who discovered Machu Picchu in 1911, employed a lot of native people to accompany him in his exploration and excavation of Machu Picchu. These people were mostly poor farmers who were ambitious and had good knowledge of the area. Bingham was anxious to find as many artifacts as possible, whether for study to understand more about this place or for less altruistic purposes, such as greed and fame, I don’t know – probably both – but anyway, he offered his workers one sol (a substantial sum in 1911) for each artifact they found. The workers scrambled to find bits of gold (they hoped) or shards of pottery to claim their reward, and one of the places they dug was the foundation of the Main Temple, surely a place of many riches. By digging there, they weakened the foundation of the construction, which was what ultimately caused the wall to slip. However, it is now secure and no longer falling, and has been left in its current state.
Hiram Bingham, by the way, took all the artifacts he collected back to the United States and gave them to Yale University, where they are now displayed. This has been a bone of contention for Peru, who would like to have these artifacts returned, and I believe justifiably so.
The Temple of the Three Windows is next to the Main Temple. This temple has only three walls and seems to be of less importance than the Main Temple. The construction of these windows using polygonal stonework is quite impressive. Each has a long rectangular shaped lintel on top, while at the base of the middle window there is a stone with ten VISIBLE sides (I’m wracking my brain to figure out the total number of sides or angles of this stone, but have never been particularly mathematically inclined)! Boris pointed out certain features, such as a tall rectangular rock in front, perhaps representing male fertility, and a stone carved with the three tiers representing the lower, middle and upper worlds, a very common theme in Andean art and religion. Off to the side there is a large flat rock, already carved, but which apparently never reached its intended destination.
Note the massive rock on the left side of this wall – beside the niche carved into it, there are at least 10 visible sides!
It was in transit to the highest and most sacred point of the ruins where the Intihuatana is located that we stopped to admire the western view with its steep slopes and terraces, and someone pointed out some birds soaring, circling over the valley far below. First believing they were falcons, we realized, after watching them for a few moments, that they were condors! This was a special and rare occurrence – most people never have the chance to see a condor here, Boris said with amazement. Those with better telephoto lenses than mine took pictures, including Dale. We all stood there, awed, watching these majestic birds swoop and soar silently over the western terraces of Machu Picchu. Knowing their importance in Andean religion and worldview made this rare sighting all the more spiritually wondrous.
When the condors disappeared behind from sight as they honed in on their prey far below, we continued on our way up to the Intihuatana, stopping first to examine a carved rock that Boris was showing us, carved in the shape of the site of Machu Picchu itself – a sort of diorama in rock. It seemed too coincidental to have been an accident: perhaps an Inca stonemason saw this rock and fancied it looked a bit like the place on which he was standing, so he shaped it just enough to show the prominence of Huayna Picchu and the river carving the gorge below with its meandering through the surrounding peaks.
Here I go again! This is the first in a series of travel journals for our recent driving trip to South Carolina and Georgia. On March 22, 2014 Dale (my husband) and I left our home near Chicago and drove as far as Knoxville, TN. Although we didn’t have much time, as we were meeting our daughter in Charleston, SC the next day, we were able to at least drive through Smoky Mountains National Park, a place I would love to return to someday (in better weather)!
We got up fairly early and went to breakfast at our hotel, The Clarion Hotel in Knoxville. Both of us decided to make waffles in the waffle maker, a common fixture in hotel breakfast rooms. The coffee wasn’t too good, so we found a Starbucks for our coffee fix shortly after hitting the road!
Knoxville is located just north of the Smoky Mountains National Park, which I very much wanted to at least drive through. The weather was terrible – cold and rainy, and I thought we could bypass the park and go through it on our way home. However, Dale vetoed that idea and we drove through it anyway.
As we approached the park, we went through little towns with garish billboards advertising various attractions, including country music venues. Dolly Parton’s musical venue is in one of these towns. The town which borders the park, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, is Gatlinburg, TN, known for the country music festivals held there. We didn’t drive through it – we bypassed it – but once we entered the park, we saw it nestled in the valley below the peaks, at an overlook near the visitor center.
The weather was what it was… It was actually kind of cool – there was a lot of fog and I took many pictures as we drove, showing stark black, leafless trees which looked ghostly against the foggy background. Occasionally we could catch a glimpse through the trees of the Little Pigeon River as we drove through the park along the main road, the Newfound Gap Road.
I could tell by the way my ears were plugging up and I held my breath to pop them, that we were going up in elevation. The highest point we reached was at Newfound Gap, at 5,046 feet, on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.
After that, we began to gradually descend. The road conditions were somewhat treacherous – windy mountain roads, slick with the rain and sometimes fog so thick we could barely see a few feet in front of us! Even so, we saw some beautiful views. At the next scenic viewing place we stopped after Newfound Gap, the fog was showing signs of lifting, and I took some interesting pictures of foggy wisps rising over a series of ridges. By the time we left the park, there were patches of blue sky above!
Sky is lightening somewhat in the distance!
I also wanted to spend some time in Cherokee, at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. I could have spent more time there, but a little more than halfway through, Dale rushed me the rest of the way, concerned about getting to Charleston in time to meet Tam’s flight. I’d seen most of what I wanted to see, though.
I was fascinated by the Cherokee language. It was due to one man who had the idea of creating a system of writing for the Cherokee language. The alphabet is based on syllables rather than individual sounds. Most syllables in Cherokee have the CV pattern, making it efficient to create symbols based on these syllables. The inventor of the written language was at first mocked by his family who felt he should be doing something more worthwhile with his life. However, there are now many books translated into the Cherokee language, including the Bible, of course, and the street signs in the town of Cherokee are all bilingual.
This display shows the different symbols of the Cherokee alphabet. Each lights up as a recorded voice recites its sound.
After picking up our daughter, Tam, in Charleston, we headed south. The drive to our resort on Hilton Head Island was dark, as we traveled over many back roads, using our GPS to guide us. The name of our resort was Island Links, in the Port Royal Plantation section of the island. HHI is shaped like a shoe, with Port Royal being on the heel of the shoe.
Island Links is not on the beach, but there is a golf course nearby; too bad – we found out that we were each entitled to one free round of golf each day of our stay there! Dale didn’t have his clubs and didn’t intend to rent – his policy is when he’s on a family vacation, he leaves the clubs at home.
We arrived at around 10:00 p.m., and per instructions, we found an envelope with our building and unit number and instructions in a drop box outside the club house office. Our unit was on the second floor, so we hauled our suitcases up the staircase (Tam had brought just a backpack – she travels light; we travel heavy, especially when we travel by car!), leaving whatever wasn’t necessary for that night in our car.
The unit didn’t have a key to get in; instead it was a combination lock. It was easy to memorize and when the keys were pressed on the keypad, the door opened easily.
Grand – what does it mean? In Spanish, the cognate is “grande”, which means big. However, “Grand” means more than just big: to me, it means majestic, awesome, breath-taking. In my travels, I have seen many places, both man-made and natural, that I would consider “Grand.” Here are just a few of them:
By far the grandest place I have ever been, in which nature and man have come together, is the incomparable Machu Picchu in Peru. To this day, when I look at the pictures I took there, I can scarcely believe that I was actually there.
Hawaii, too, has grand scenery – mostly nature, but man-made too. Here are three examples:
One of the grandest places I visited in Spain was the still unfinished Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona, conceived by the brilliant architect Antonio Gaudi, and constructed based on his design (he died before he could see it built). The spires of this church are so high that they rise above the entire skyline of Barcelona. This was Gaudi’s monument to God. Here are two views:
I hope to collect many more photographs of all things “grand” as I continue the grand journey of life.
July 3, 2008
We are comfortably accommodated in the Taypikala Hotel Lago, with a view of Lake Titicaca. We slept well and didn’t have to rush: we were able to have a leisurely breakfast this morning, as late as 8:00 a.m.!
Today was a very interesting day! We started out at 9:00 am, very late for us – nice! We had an assistant guide today named Edgar, who is from Puno. His English is not nearly as good as Boris’s, and he was sometimes hard to understand, but he used a lot of illustration and gestures to get his point across.
He told us a little about the history of Chucuito, this town we’re staying in. Some of the houses around here look unfinished, with bars sticking out the top. This is intentional! As long as they are unfinished, the owner doesn’t have to pay taxes on them, so they’re often left this way.
We walked to the central square with its topiary garden, and Edgar was saying something that I didn’t catch because my camera was malfunctioning.
However, one thing he pointed out was a brick building off to the left of the square, where he said the Spanish printed money for the entire Viceroyalty of Peru, so Chucuito became known as the place of money.
Sundial in central square of Chucuito
He also talked about education. We passed an elementary school, where children are provided with meals, and we also stepped into the courtyard of a high school.
Students are on a one-week winter break right now. He said that the people in this region of Puno are among the poorest in the country (2nd poorest), but that the state of Puno is very rich in natural resources. Therefore, the government has money to help poor students. If children in elementary school can’t afford uniforms and books, the government will pay for them; however, they will NOT do this for secondary students.
In today’s local paper, Correo, there’s an article about high school students receiving free laptop computers (I think sponsored by Apple), which he showed us later on the bus. Apparently the Puno government will provide each student with a new, slim laptop that runs on solar energy, since many homes don’t have electricity. The students can keep these for an entire school year. Teachers will also get a more deluxe model, which they only have to pay a nominal fee to use for a year.
We then visited the Temple of the Fertility God, right across from our hotel. This Inca ruin contains a courtyard full of phallic symbols, some pointing upward, some downward.
Outside the enclosed area are other small outcrops of rocks, which could have been thrones for nobility to sit on, or perhaps had astronomical uses.
Next to the fertility temple is the Chucuito (Catholic) cathedral.
OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel, our tour company) is big on “discoveries”. Everywhere on this trip, we stop to experience things you might miss if you don’t pay attention, short bus stops to look at something different, basically anything not related to our main destination.
Our first discovery on the way out into the rural area was along the road where two heads had been sculpted into the rock on either side of the road. They were of Manco Capac (first Inca) and Pachamama (Mother Earth).
We then continued out into the countryside, with miles and miles of farmland and small villages. People were hard at work herding sheep and cows, threshing and winnowing grain, or cooking potatoes in their fields in conical shaped mounds made of clods of baked earth, into which they put a fire, fueled with reeds of the same kind used on Lake Titicaca (“totora” reeds grow abundantly there). We later found out how this is done.
Finally we stopped in the middle of farm fields to take pictures. Some people bury their dead in the field and grave markers delineate the edge of their property.
Some people don’t like having their picture taken – we even saw a clump of four schoolgirls who ran to hide their faces against a building as we passed so we wouldn’t take their picture. I remember learning once that some people think you capture their soul when you take their photograph, and I was a bit reluctant to take pictures, even though I wanted to. I tried to be discreet and also selective, asking myself, is it interesting or unique?
Edgar and Boris were talking to a woman and we were told it was OK for us to take her picture if we gave her a tip. Several of us posed with her. She was shy at first, but friendly, and introduced herself as Lidia. She called her children over, who were herding sheep. She has six children but the oldest is away at school. Her 9-year-old son, Alex, came over, and she called her younger daughter, but the child instead ran inside the house.
However, she soon reappeared wearing a colorful new hat that single girls wear. It is made to resemble the national flower “kantu” or “kantuta”. It has a scalloped brim and falls down the girl’s back, and is knit in many beautiful colors.
The little girl’s name was Silvia and she’s six years old. There is another sister too, but she stayed in the field.
Lidia invited us in to see her home, but we stayed in the courtyard, onto which face 3 rooms, the kitchen on the left, and two bedrooms (front and right), one for the “family” and the other for the “children.”
Apparently this was a spontaneous visit – Edgar and Boris had never met these people before, but now they have established a contact and may be able to use them for other OAT tour visits.
Our next stop was to climb up a steep and rocky hillside! I took my bag with me this time, because we were going to spend 45 minutes there and I figured there’d be people to give tips to, or something to buy. I often had to stop along the way up in order to catch my breath – the climb was steep and the air thin at this altitude of 13,000 feet!
At the top, I reached the stone arch that stood there and the sight below was absolutely gorgeous – Lake Titicaca shimmered dark blue below us, with features of islands and peninsulas, as well as a distant line of snowcapped mountains!
On the way down, people were gathering to take pictures and to listen to Edgar explaining the geography. He used a stick to draw on a flat slab of rock and small stones to mark important places.
He made three connecting circles, the largest being in the middle. This represented Lake Titicaca. The smaller circles on each side were bays bordered by peninsulas. He put a small stone on the near side of the small circle on the left, to mark where we were. In this small circle, he placed a stone to represent the Uros Islands, which we will visit tomorrow. The people who live on these floating islands speak Aymara. On the southwest side of the large circle (the main part of the lake) he placed another stone to represent Taquile Island, which we’ll also visit tomorrow, where the people speak Quechua.
Diagonally across the middle of the large circle he drew a line to mark the boundary with Bolivia. (Boris had said the lake is split between the two countries – Peru has the “Titi” and Bolivia has the “caca”!). Finally he placed two stones side by side in the smaller circle on the right (in Bolivian territory) which represent the two sacred islands of the Incas, the Island of the Sun and the Island of the Moon. According to the Inca creation story, these islands gave rise to the origin of their people.
Along each side of his rudimentary lake diagram, Edgar drew a line. The line closest to us represented the Western Range of the Andes, and the line on the far side of the lake was the Eastern Range. The two lines met north of the lake at the Continental Divide, the mountain pass which we had crossed on our bus ride from Cusco to Puno at La Raya. About five rivers empty into Lake Titicaca, but only one river empties the lake into the Pacific Ocean. North of the Continental Divide, rivers that originate in the Andes empty into the Amazon.
Boris had told me about a peak in Bolivia that can sometimes be seen from Lake Titicaca, the second highest peak in the Andes, called “Illimani”. It means “the light of the world.” So I now understand the name of the Chilean folk group that I have always liked, Inti-Illimani: “Sun, the light of the world.”
Edgar’s diagram and explanation was a good introduction to orient us about Lake Titicaca. We continued our descent to the fields and roads below, where our bus was waiting.
NEXT: In the afternoon, we have lunch and spend time in a rural village.
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