Travellers' Tales: Peru, Ecuador and Galapagos
Gabrielle and Peter Mollett travelled to Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos recently with Audley. Find out what they thought of Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.
Cathedral, Cuzco, night view.
Arriving at Aguas Calientes it started to rain. Undeterred we handed our luggage to the waiting porters sent by the Inkaterra hotel where we’d be staying overnight and took the bus up the hairpin bends (we counted 13) to Machu Picchu. The rain if anything accentuated the architectural achievement of building this site on a small ridge high between two mountains.
A veritable town in the clouds that today engulfed the site like some ghostly apparitions unsettlingly close to us. Its terraces, walls, buildings and temples seem to have been raised like some organic architectural seedlings out of their precarious location, they harmonise perfectly with their surroundings. And indeed today such environmentally conscious design is called ‘organic architecture’. We returned early next morning with the site bathed in sunlight. This was the iconic picture we’d hoped for but I wouldn’t have missed the spectacle of the ghostly clouds brushing against mountains and rushing through the site itself. We returned in high spirits to the fabulous Inkaterra hotel, itself a destination with its a beautiful gardens teeming with hummingbirds and extending to acres of rain forest through which we were guided by one of the resident biologists who work at the hotel’s own ecological projects. These include the largest orchid collection in Peru plus the reintroduction of the bespectacled Andean bear to this area.
There was so much more of course, the mighty and mysterious Andes that frame the spectacular high plateau we drove through on our way back from Machu Picchu. We left the secret valley in sunshine and as we climbed up on the Road to Cuzco we experienced lightning, rain, hail and snow all in the span of one hour. Returning to our hotel, the Casa Andina Private Collection, was like returning home with the staff warmly welcoming us back. Our last day in Cuzco fell on a Sunday, a good opportunity to look out for a church procession at the Plaza de Armas in front of the cathedral. We had just missed the procession but watched the doors of the cathedral open after mass and release the numerous churchgoers that emerged. There were many families dressed in their Sunday best, including indigenous Peruvian families, the women in their full bright skirts carrying small children wrapped in equally bright shawls on their backs. A colourful picture, bearing witness to the still largely catholic culture. We also encountered street sellers, many selling rather good hand painted scenes of Cuzco. Our ‘No thank you’ received more than once the reply ‘Ok, maybe tomorrow? Have a nice day!’ This was characteristic for the easygoing friendliness we encountered again and again in our contact with Peruvian people.
We left Peru for Ecuador and a stopover in Quito already looking forward to our cruise around the Galapagos Islands. However Ecuador and Quito literally got in our way. What an amazingly beautiful country awaited us. And again it was our guide Cecilia who provided the key to the rich culture of Ecuador. In the all too short three days we stayed there she gave us a very comprehensive introduction to Quito and Ecuador. We were guided through picturesque colonial Quito, visited the church and monastery of San Francisco with its rich art treasures, including paintings of the famous School of Quito, and the even grander Iglesia De La Compania De Quito, whose Interior dazzles the visitor with its gold leaf décor covering almost everything you see.
There are also many good museums to choose from, we visited the excellent Museo National and loved the smaller Museo Casa del Alabado with its very well presented archaeological treasures. We also visited the fascinating archaeological site of Tulipe, about two hours drive north of Quito through the lush countryside at the foot of the Andes and took photos standing on the Equator line at Mitad del Mundo just outside Quito. We liked staying at the historical Casa Andaluz and can recommend dinner at Theatro, an affordable gourmet restaurant in the old theatre with the added bonus of them picking you up and taking you back to your hotel free of charge. From a high viewpoint in Quito we could see part of the famous Avenue of Volcanoes and hope that we can return to explore this spectacular country some more.
What can one say about the Galapagos after all we’d experienced by the time we finally arrived there. Only one thing and that is just go if you can. It is quite simply unlike anything we’d ever experienced. Not only are the islands more rugged, untamed and beautiful than we expected, but the way the excursions are planned on our ship The Odyssey, you really get the feeling of taking part in an exploration, an adventure. The animal world is a daily surprise and delight, it is as if you are in a zoo where all the animals are tame and there’re no fences – magical. Rissei our guide was outstanding. His passion for the islands and his in-depth knowledge about the history, biology and ecology of the Galapagos as well as his enthusiasm in conveying all of this to us were infectious and we became a close-knit team rather than mere passengers on a cruise. The Odyssey can be highly recommended, they have a great and tireless crew, always on hand for us, and the ship is stylish and comfortable. Our cruise was certainly a great finale to a fabulous trip that surpassed all our expectations.