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The People and Islands of Lake Titicaca

The People and Islands of Lake Titicaca

The baby blue clear waters of Lake Titicaca make up the largest body of water in the world above 12,000 feet. Its islands are windswept, rocky landscapes, reminiscent of the Greek Isles. The moment you expect to encounter the armies of Troy in a battle of conquest, you instead find unassuming ancient Andean inhabitants quietly collecting sea reeds, catching small fish, and planting scant agricultural fields among the lake’s shores. These people have learned to live in a harsh climate. The lake itself is divided between Peru and Bolivia. Puno, which is the economic hub on the western Peruvian side of the lake, is a humble town quickly growing into a small city. The economic and social center on the southern Bolivian side of the lake is Copacabana. It’s a small quaint town that serves as a transportation center between La Paz and Puno, lying among the dry desolate altiplano that stretches between southern Columbia and Chile. South of Copacabana you will find Tiwanaku. An ancient Incan …
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Taking Time Out in Ollantaytambo

Taking Time Out in Ollantaytambo

Everywhere I look I see history. From the narrow cobblestone pathways beneath my feet to the Incan storehouses dotting the hillsides, it is inescapable I’m in a village that has been around for half a millennium. Peru as a whole certainly doesn’t lack for ancient features — Cuzco itself was the capital of the mighty Incan Empire — but the tiny Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo encompasses the true essence of antiquity persevering. Sitting in the quaint center square, stout locals with rainbow-colored skirts billowing at the waist pass me by, some selling local delicacies, but most simply going about their daily business. In the surrounding hillsides, fields are furrowed with foot-plows and the sweat of the brow, and in backyards pens, cuy scurry about, perhaps anticipating their final dinner plate destination. Continuously occupied since the 13th century — long before the arrival of the Incas and later the Spaniards — Ollantaytambo seems untouched by time. From above - Dennis …
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Volcanoes, Beaches, and Wildlife in the Galapagos

Volcanoes, Beaches, and Wildlife in the Galapagos

A picture is worth a thousand words! Recognized by many as the icon of the Galapagos, the islet of Bartolome is a product of the area’s explosive volcanic history. A short climb to the top of an overlook reveals the sublime panorama shown in the picture. From this viewpoint it is possible to gain some appreciation for the profound beauty and unique ecology of the Galapagos. Descending back down, and diving into the crystal clear waters around the Pinnacle Rock, another world is presented to us. Snorkeling through canyons of volcanic rock, a myriad of sea life envelops us. Schools of tropical fish practically brush up against us, and a baby sea lion dives in to check us out. Exploring the sea bottom, we find an enormous sea turtle sleeping, and not far away an equally healthy sting ray. The return boat trip was no less eventful, as we encountered a group of over 20 dolphins, 3 of which decided to race alongside us, and a manta ray gliding past the boat. While I cannot say that the …
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Retracing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Retracing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Rising before the sun in Cuzco, I was on my way to retracing the footsteps of the Incas.  En route, I started thinking about the significance of the journey I was about to make.  The original Inca Trail was the royal highway connecting the Incan empire, a stone-paved path reserved for the nobility and royal messengers.  At a time when overland transportation was slow and communications could take weeks, along the Inca Trail messengers travelling by foot were able to deliver messages from Cuzco to Quito (a distance of over 1000 miles) within a week. The section of the trail between Cuzco and Machu Picchu is particularly noteworthy.  When the Spanish Conquistadors came to Peru they relied heavily on the Inca Trail as their main road system.  Wishing to hide the sacred city of Machu Picchu from the invaders, the Incas destroyed a large section of the trail closest to Cuzco.  Their plan was successful, and it wasn’t until the arrival of Hiram Bingham in the early 20th century that the …
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Adventure in Manu

Adventure in Manu

An early start, we began from Cuzco, driving through cobblestone streets walled in by the fusion of Incan stones and ornate Colonial balconies.  It was not long before we were high above the city, passing the remarkable fortress of Sacsayhuaman.  Periodically shepherds passed by with their herds, and small towns dotting the route were just coming to life.  After a stop for breakfast in Pisaq, we followed a deep canyon to one of the last Andean outposts, Paucartambo, a picturesque village situated on the river banks.  Less than an hour later, we stood, enveloped in clouds, at the gates of the Manu Biosphere Reserve. Manu Cloud Forest Manu is renowned for being one of the largest and most diverse ecosystems in the world.  It covers an area of almost 20,000 square kilometers, ranges in altitude from 150 to over 3500 meters above sea level, and is home to more than 15,000 species of plants and 1,000 species of birds.  Due to its inaccessibility and strict limitations on use, the park …
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A Day at the Pisaq Market

A Day at the Pisaq Market

The long steps that lead down from the impressive Inca citadel take you right into Pisaq’s central plaza and into the hustle and bustle of the market. Pisaq itself was one of the Inca Empire’s most important fortresses located a day’s march (1 hour by car) from the ancient capital at Cuzco. As the Inca Royalty retreated from Cuzco after the Spanish invasion, Pisaq was a critical outpost where much of the Empire’s top brass found refuge and planned their next steps on how to save the dying Empire. Today Pisaq is a thriving Andean town that has retained much of its traditional way of life. Women are dressed in hand woven shawls colored in radiant yellows and reds.  Their heads are adorned with the traditional flattened square hat that is bestowed upon young girls at the early age of 3 in a ceremony dating back to Pre-Colombian times. The variety of vegetables, fruit and local spices complement the vibrant colors of the clothing. Bright greens and deep oranges from the ground local …
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