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Qhapaq Ñan – Third Expedition

Qhapaq Ñan – Third Expedition

Qhapaq Ñan – Day 1. Third Expedition. The team departed this morning from Jauja with 12 llamas heading along a transversal Qhapaq Ñan towards Pachacamac, 200 miles west, near the Pacific coast in southern Peru. At the height of the Inca’s reign, 600 years ago, Jauja was a major administration center, serving the empire’s expansion northward from their capital, 480 miles to the south at Cusco. Pachacamac in its own right was an important religious center going back two millennia and influenced successive cultures leading up to the Incas. It makes sense that the road linking these two ancient centers would be an equal in its planning and grandeur. It’s an example, as impressive as any other large scale public work of the empire. In three days by foot west, we’ll arrive to the great Inca stairway in the shadows of the great Apu Pariacaca (mountain deity). The set of 1800 steps will be the entry to another three days on some of the most spectacular Qhapaq Ñan anywhere on the 25,000 mile …
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Pariacaca in literature...Of gods, engineers and doctors

Pariacaca in literature...Of gods, engineers and doctors

The section of the Qhapaq Nhan which joins the highland outpost of Jauja (aka Xauxa) and Pachacamac on the coast traverses some of the continent’s most spectacular – and storied – landscapes. For centuries travelers have marveled at, and written about, the fabled mountain of Pariacaca – an 18,868 ft ‘apu’ or sacred mountain. For this month’s blog I read as many accounts of the region as I could find and have shared some of the best excerpts below. There are pieces on the beauty of the landscapes, descriptions of the incredible flight of 1,500 stone steps known as the Escalera de Pariacaca; and a fascinating treatise on Pariacaca’s unlikely and important place in the history of medicine. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I did... On the natural beauty of the landscapes The Jauja Valley is commonly regarded as one of the most beautiful in Peru – something which clearly has not changed much since Pedro de Cieza de Leon, author of the definitive Crónicas del Perú, passed …
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The Two Day Inca Trail – The Best Kept Secret

The Two Day Inca Trail – The Best Kept Secret

Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu and the subsequent photos published in 1913, in the fledging National Geographic magazine, changed the course of Peru (and the magazine). Today the region of Cusco, which is the gateway to the most stunning of mountaintop Inca citadels, now sees over a million tourists a year. When Bingham first arrived to the site, he traversed the beautiful stone roads that the Inca’s built 500 years prior, a walking path that was bypassed in the subsequent decades by a rail line, built in the 1940’s to bring ever more visitors arriving to Peru, on modern jet airplanes. The Re-discovery of the Inca Trail By the early 1980’s some entrepreneurial explorers recognized the potential of these same paths that Bingham took in 1911 when he re-discovered Machu Picchu (Bingham’s route differed slightly from the current Inca Trail) and created a four day trekking circuit that again changed the course of tourism for the region. It established one of today’s most …
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Qhapaq Ñan: Not your average World Heritage Site

Qhapaq Ñan: Not your average World Heritage Site

Spanning six countries and 273 distinct sites, the Qhapaq Ñan’s nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was a global first. We unpick the backstory. Not all UNESCO World Heritage Sites are created equal. Honoring and protecting a single cathedral or castle in a developed country with an established infrastructure is a relatively facile process, but doing the same for a road network which in its heyday spread across the length and breadth of the Andes is an entirely different prospect. El Caminante awakens the sleeping giant Were it not for the exploits of Peruvian author and adventurer Ricardo ‘El Caminante’ Espinosa, the Qhapaq Ñan may well have been forgotten by history. As recently as the 1990s the Qhapaq Ñan was – in the words of Espinosa – “just another legend, or in any event, a reality that time had snatched from us forever...which had lain hidden for centuries precisely because of its gigantic size.” Ricardo 'El Caminante' Espinosa enjoys a rare breather alongside the …
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Five staples of Andean cuisine

Five staples of Andean cuisine

When you combine high altitude, low rainfall and bitter winters you get hungry people. This week’s blog looks at five cornerstones of the Andean diet. Corn Choclo, the most common variety of Andean corn or is much paler than its North American cousin and its kernels are larger, starchier and chewier. Choclo is eaten on the cob (usually with a slice of cheese as choclo con queso) but it also makes its way into soups, stews, humitas and ceviche. What’s more, it’s the base for the quintessential drink of the Andes: chicha, or corn beer. To market, to market... (Photo: Tomas Sobek) While choclo is the most common variety of maize in the Andes, it is by no means the only one. Colors range from white and yellow to red, purple, and black, and Peru alone boasts over 50 varieties. One of the most eyecatching (and delicious) variants is maíz morado, or purple corn which is the base of api morado – one of the most delicious hot beverages I’ve ever tasted. Potatoes The potato was first …
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Qhapaq Ñan–Second Expedition, Part 2

Qhapaq Ñan–Second Expedition, Part 2

Qhapaq Ñan - Day 8.  Second Expedition (Part 2) After a sleeping through a loud and boisterous night, we left Paras ascending towards the highest point of our journey at Apacheta Chico at 16,000 feet. However, after walking 10 hours yesterday, we decided to pace ourselves, trekking only three hours to Barrios Altos about halfway up from the Pampa River valley to the pass, which seems to be the last waystation before going up into the clouds. Were all in good spirits as the llamas are recharging with some of the best pasture yet and the team is napping and lounging around the camp which also happens to be the local school. I know, camping at the local school seems to be a pattern...It always has water, fields for the lamas and, if needed, covering from rain and hail. Our early arrival today meant we had plenty of time to meet with the students and discuss the Qhapaq Ñan as their teacher had asked. The exchange of a campground for a class lesson is always a hell of a trade and the team …
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Qhapaq Ñan–Second Expedition, Part 1

Qhapaq Ñan–Second Expedition, Part 1

Qhapaq Ñan – Day 1. Second Expedition After 14 hours of traversing treacherous Andean roads, in route from Cusco towards Ayacucho, we arrived to Vilcashuamán. Vilcashuamán was a great center of the Inca Empire during the 15th century and laid at the very geographic center of the Inca world that went from northern Argentina to Southern Colombia along the western coast of South America. It has been said that Vilcashuamán was the retirement home for Pachacutec, the great Inca king who many also believe built Machu Picchu. Vilcashuamán takes about 4 weeks by foot and llama on the great Inca road, the Qhapaq Ñan, which we’ll be doing next year. But this visit starts us off on another expedition along the Qhapaq Ñan for a 200-mile march on route towards the Pacific to a desert oasis near modern day Ica, where we will arrive by the end of October. Being in the Andes, we will also be supported by our team of 12 llamas which arrived by truck after two days on the highway from Northern Peru. …
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Things to do in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

Things to do in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

Most first-time visitors to the wildlife wonder that is the Galapagos are surprised that it's got a bona fide town, with shops and restaurants and schools. Read on to find out more about Puerto Ayora's main attractions. Catch a pelican in the act at the fish market There's a real buzz at the market when the fishing boats come in at the end of the day. Watch as the fishermen unload their catch, the locals pick out their dinner, and the sea lions and pelicans try to steal scraps. After hours the market transforms itself into an open air plate. For a modest fee you can enjoy a seafood feast at a shared table with local patrons. Photo credit: John Haxby Hobnob with the iguanas at Tortuga Bay This vast, white sandy beach is reached via a 20 minute walk from Puerto Ayora. It's open from 6am to 6pm Access is controlled by the Galapagos Park Service. The bay actually incorporates several distinct beaches. There's a surfing beach (beware the currents), a swimming beach (watch out for the …
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The mysterious Band of Holes at Monte Sierpe, Peru

The mysterious Band of Holes at Monte Sierpe, Peru

Peru is home to many curious mysteries. But this mile-long band of around 6000 holes near Pisco is surely the most confusing of them all. Where is it? The Pisco River cuts a swathe of emerald through the exceptionally arid, stony landscapes of central Peru. The city of Pisco receives only 0.06 inches of rain every year, but it is famed for its lush vineyards…and its pisco of course. 25 miles from Pisco lie the Inca ruins of Tambo Colorado, another settlement which owed its existence to the river’s bounty. Built during the reign of Pachacuti, Tambo Colorado served as an important administrative center along the Qhapaq Ñan –  much like the sites of Huanuco Pampa and Vilcashuaman which have already been discussed on this blog. Due to the extremely dry climate, the ruins are excellently preserved and they are well worth including on your Peruvian itinerary. Tambo Colorado (Photo: Jocelyn Saurini) The Band of Holes is located 3 miles from Tambo Colorado, in a relatively flat area that …
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Shopping for souvenirs in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Shopping for souvenirs in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentina is a shopper’s paradise – If you know what to look out for and where to find it. This blog gives you the inside scoop on three quintessentially Argentinean gifts. Because nobody wants to be given a knock-off Maradona football shirt or a made-in-China mate gourd… Wine Wine has been produced in Argentina since the 1500s, but the country has only entered the premium market in the past few decades. Argentina is now the largest exporter of wines in the New World and home to some seriously high-end wines. Most first-time visitors are under the impression that wine is only produced in the regions surrounding Mendoza, but in actual fact there are wine farms as far north as Salta, which is closer to Bolivia than to Mendoza, and as far south as Patagonia. Different regions specialize in different varietals, so look out for: Malbec and Chardonnay from Mendoza Syrah from San Juan Torrontés from La Rioja Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontés from Cafayate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from …
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Mi Teleférico: La Paz’s brilliant urban cable car network

Mi Teleférico: La Paz’s brilliant urban cable car network

The world’s highest and longest urban gondola system has transformed the way people commute in Bolivia’s capital. At 11,913 feet, La Paz is the world’s highest capital city. Clinging to the sides of a natural depression in the Andean escarpment, it really is one of the most incredible cities on earth. Endless shanties and skyscrapers hang from ochre cliffs and canyons, with snow-capped Illimani an ever-present backdrop. Open image in new tab to view full-size version. But its dramatic location, coupled with decades of poor urban planning, mean that it’s also a commuter’s nightmare. When I lived there I took hour-long walks in the thin altiplano air to avoid having to use city’s the overcrowded and sluggish buses, minibuses and trufis (more about the these some other time!). That’s all changed with the introduction of Mi Teleférico, a network of fast, silent cable cars that criss-crosses the city and connects La Paz with El Alto – a massive satellite city that’s more than 1,500 feet …
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Vilcashuamán: An Inca experience like no other

Vilcashuamán: An Inca experience like no other

“Vilcashuamán is now a small village, remote on its hill-top, perched on the ruins of the great Inca city whose temples have been pillaged for building blocks.” – so said the Canadian explorer, anthropologist and academic John Hemming. In five short centuries Vilcashuamán has gone from being a thriving Inca city located at a vital strategic crossroads to a geographically isolated rural backwater… Albeit one replete with incredible archaeological and historical treasures. Vilcashuamán was founded by the Inca Pachacutec after Inca forces defeated the Chanka in a bloody battle which is re-enacted annually in Vilcas Raymi – a colorful festival in the last week of July. Check out this link for a video of the festival. The current plaza pales into insignificance when compared to the Inca square which could hold 20,000 people. (Photo credit: Eduzam) Then and now In its heyday Vilcashuamán enjoyed an incredibly strategic location on the Qhapaq Ñan at the point where the main North-South …
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