October 31, 2007

Something very small

Returning to Paris with my posts, I will start in a very modest way: One single and small photo of what is the smallest building in Paris - with its own street number. The address is 39, rue de Château-d’Eau, 10th arrdt. The building is about 1,2 m wide and 5 m high (3,3 x 16 ft).

It seems that this was originally a narrow opening leading to another street, but after some heritage quarrel, someone decided to obstruct the passage. There used to be a tiny shop, obviously closed, but someone seems to live behind the only window.

The “narrow” sign in front of the building was there for some road works, but I feel that it was at its right place!

The street name (the Water Tower Street) could possibly interest especially one blogger who has a passion for nice and decorated water towers. I’m sorry hpy, there is no water tower around. It seems that there used to be some kind of fountain.

October 30, 2007


My last report from my South American trip will be about Lima, Peru’s capital.

Lima is on sea level, in front of the Pacific Ocean. (The beaches look fairly nice, but the water is quite cold and the city’s sewage is dumped, as such, into the ocean; for nice beaches, go south or north of Lima).

Contrary to the higher Peruvian areas, where the sky is blue most of the year, Lima is covered by a low layer of clouds some eight months, but it hardly ever rains. The temperature is moderate with small variations between the seasons.

The urban population approaches the ten millions – about a third of the country’s total - with a very rapid evolution the last decades. In some of the outskirts, including close to the airport, there are a lot of shantytowns (pueblos jovenes), mostly inhabited by Amerindians. As many of the world’s urban concentrations, Lima has been and is growing too rapidly to allow the infrastructures to follow.

Francisco Pizarro and his conquistadors defeated the Inca population and Lima was officially founded in 1535, became capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru in 1543 and later – in 1821 – of the independent Peru.

The city has suffered from different earthquakes, the most violent in the 18th century, but the old city centre is full of beautiful buildings in colonial style, especially around the central place, Plaza Mayor, including the Presidential Palace, the Cathedral and The Palazio del Arzibispo with some fantastic balconies and, close to this place, some other churches and official buildings.

Close to Plaza Mayor you find the wonderful Church and Monastery of San Francisco, with some impressive catacombs where all Lima citizens were buried until the beginning of the 19th century.

One interesting “detail” in the Monastery is an early 17th century painting of the Cena (The Last Supper), where you can clearly find Maria Magdalena leaning her head on Jesus’ shoulder.

When you go to the areas of Miraflores (and its neighbour San Isidro), closer to the Ocean, the city looks almost European; wide streets and avenues, parks, modern office buildings, residential housing, hotels, restaurants, casinos…and on the Ocean cliffs a fantastic shopping and amusement centre, Larcomar.

Lima has also some remarkable museums, including the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum).
All nice things come unfortunately to an end; time to go back to Paris – of course also quite nice!

As usual, I would suggest that you go to my photo blog, if you wish to see the photos in large!

October 29, 2007

La Paz

The two last remaining posts from my South American trip will cover the capitals of Bolivia, La Paz, and of Peru, Lima. Following the itinerary, I will start with La Paz.

Actually, Bolivia has two capitals; La Paz is the administrative capital where you will find the Presidency, the Government, the Parliament…, but Sucre is officially the constitutional capital.

Bolivia was established as a republic in the beginning of the 19th century (Simon Bolivar, first president), the country lost access to the Pacific after a war with Chile in 1884. Totally the population is about 9 million, whereof some 1 million in La Paz (2 millions, suburbs included). There are three official languages, Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. It’s still the poorest of the South American countries, has suffered from frequent coups d’état, but seems now to have a stable government, with an Aymara as president, Juan Evo Morales Ayma. We have all heard about the eradication of the coca crops (but the local coca leaves consumption will not be abandoned), the domestic control of their enormous gas and mineral assets…. OK, this was a sightseeing visit.

La Paz is the highest capital in the world and has also the world’s highest golf course (a place to beat your driving length record, thanks to the thin air). Actually, the city is a valley and it starts on a level of about 4100 meters (13500 ft) – the industrial suburb El Alto with its international airport - and reaches its lowest point at about 3300 meters (10800 ft). Wherever you go, it means climbing or descending. The average temperature is quite cool and it hardly changes from one season to the other.

The city centre can be said to be limited to two major points:
- The central place, Plaza Murillo, where you find the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace and the Parliament (the Congress)… and thousands of pigeons. Around this place there are some well kept, restored colonial style buildings, including the building of P.D.Murillo, a martyr of the independence revolution, and some museums.
- The main street, El Prado, a park-like avenue, surrounded by a mixture of old colonial and modern office buildings, restaurants, hotels, cinemas...

The rest of the city is a multitude of more or less narrow streets, with a very heavy traffic - basically taxis and local buses -, markets, shops, people… and an enormous amount of electric and telephone cables in all directions.

The further you go down the valley, the higher the standard of the housing. Some 10 km down from the centre you will find an astonishing landscape, Valle de la Luna (the Moon Valley), full of canyons and pinnacles (with a flute player staying on top of one, for the pleasure of the relatively few tourists).

Please note the fashionable hats used by the ladies – and the “hat shop”. Obviously the fashion was brought in by the British when the rail track between La Paz and the Pacific Ocean port Arica (Chile) was built during the 19th century.

The city corresponded very well to what I had imagined, full of life - in a certain disorder – and with, again, smiling and nice people!
Once more, if you wish to see the photos in full, please go to my photo blog!

October 26, 2007


We have now reached the Titicaca Lake. Only two South American episodes left… then back to Paris. (I’m sorry, but this will be a bit long; there is so much to tell about this Lake.)

Titicaca, at some 3800 meters altitude (12500 ft) is the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest in South America. There is a great number of arriving rivers, but only one major departing river, taking care of only 5 or 10% of the lake’s water balance, the rest is handled by evaporation. The water is actually slightly salty, about 1%. The level changes somewhat according to the seasons and there is also a small tide. The shores and the lake are split between Peru and Bolivia. There are more than 40 islands, some of which are inhabited. As a curiosity: Bolivia has no access to the Sea, but has a Navy, based on the Lake.

The legend says that not only the first Incas, Manco Capac and his sister Mama Ocllo emerged from the lake, but also the sun! Already before the Incas, the lake was “holy”, inhabited by Aymara Indians. Today part of the population speaks Aymara, part speaks Quechua, the Inca language. Titicaca means the “Rock of the Puma” in Aymara language.

It was said that the Inca treasure was hidden in the Lake. J-Y Cousteau spent eight weeks with his submarine, but found nothing but a new frog specie.

I spent two days on the Lake, its shores and some of its islands.

The islands which are the easiest to reach when you are based in Puno (arrival point of the train from Cusco) are the famous Uros artificial islands made of floating reeds. They are populated by some 2000 people - meaning a lot of intermarriages -, living on fishing, bird hunting and eggs and today on tourism. As the bottom of the islands decay, they put new reeds on top, but after some ten years they have to construct a new island. Their “houses” are very simple (see one of the photos) and there are no commodities… however some of them have invested in solar panels and can have some temporary access to light, television…

Some three hours navigation in a small boat allows you to reach the Taquile Island. The island, with a population of some 3500, is self governed (you can see the “government” having their weekly meeting on one of the photos) – they try to avoid their way of living to be too destroyed by tourism. One particularity is that only men have the right to knit. The handicraft they produce is slightly different from what you find elsewhere and is really beautiful.

On the way back to Puno, the engine of the boat gave up and we were seriously delayed before another boat came to tow us ashore.

The following day, I went by a small bus along the shore and we crossed the border to Bolivia (the arch you can see on one photo below). We arrived at Copacabana. I learnt that the name is Quechua (Inca) and should mean “Looking out on the blue” or something similar. The more famous Copacabana actually got its name from this place, which has a very modest beach compared to the Rio version.

From there we left by catamaran to Isla del Sol (Sun Island), another fantastic (Bolivian) island. We fed some friendly (but spitting) llamas and alpacas, got a blessing from the local island governor (I’m sitting with him and a young girl on one of the photos), got an opportunity to (try to) row a boat made of reed… and left again with the catamaran for the Bolivian shore, from where we took a bus in the direction of La Paz.

One last detail: On the lake I looked up on the sun and found that it was surrounded by a rain bow… or do you say circle? This lasted for half an hour.
Added 27/10:
Isabella kindly advised that this rare phenomenon is called an icebow!

Once more, I suggest you go to my photo blog to see the photos in full size.
... and now I will give you and myself a break until Monday; nice weekend to you all!

October 25, 2007

The train from Cusco to Titicaca

I expected the train trip from Cusco to Puno on the shore of the Titicaca Lake to be another top event during my trip and I can confirm that it was!

You travel during about ten hours in a luxury Orient Express type of train, doing totally some 390 km (240 miles), meaning an average speed of 39 km or 24 miles / hour. There was no hurry and the trip is so nice that I would have wanted it to be even slower and last even longer! You have the time to see and there is a special glass-walled observation car with an open air platform at the end of the train; that’s where I spent most of my time.

Onboard, you are served Pisco Sours, a nice lunch, snacks… there is some entertainment in the form of music, fashion shows…, you talk with all the other tourists from all over the world…, but the most fascinating things are the landscape, the villages you pass, the inhabitants you see along the tracks…- we were waved at all along!

The first number of hours you follow some rivers (Huatanay, Vilcanota) and the train climbs until it reaches the highest point at La Raya at 4321 meters (14177 ft), where it makes a stop for some 15 minutes. Then it goes slowly downwards over some rather flat, beautiful, agricultural land (Altiplano), passes the city of Julianca and arrives finally at Puno, on the shore of Titicaca, at about 3800 meters (12500 ft). … and tomorrow I plan to talk about the lake!

As usual, I would recommend to visit my photo blog, if you want to see the pictures in full!

October 24, 2007

Valle Sacrado

Before leaving the Cusco region, there are a number of places to see. Cusco is situated close to the Valle Sacrado (Sacred Valley), where the Vilcanota River, later changing name to Urubamba, is surrounded by fertile lands, cultivated since thousands of years with a lot of memories from the Inca times and still basically inhabited by natives of the Quechua ethnic.

I made a tour together with a local guide, 73 years old, retired teacher, fluent in Spanish, French, English, German… and of course in the local Quechua, as talked by the Incas.

On the way to the valley we first visited Chinchero (3800 meters, 12500 ft), believed to be the “birthplace of the rainbow”, an important town during the Inca times. There are some fantastic agricultural terraces still in use, some ruins, a market place, a church… and some splendid views.

Arriving to the valley, we first visited Urubamba, surrounded by Inca installations. We also went to see the local market, not at all dedicated to tourists, just there for the daily needs of the local population.

We made stops as Yucay and at Calca. By chance it was the day of the month when the natives descend from their mountains to receive a monthly very modest governmental allocation. The central place of Calca was full of women, queuing in front of the small bank office. Only women… ; I guess that if the men would have been there, little money, if any, would have been left at their return. They were so friendly and offered some of their potatoes, the only food they had brought.

Next goal was Písac, where we first visited another fantastic Inca settlement with the best remaining Inca “andenería” (irrigated platforms) system (what you can see on the top picture) and a number of ruins, high above the present village with the region’s perhaps best known market place.

We ended the tour by a nice lunch between the guide, the driver and myself, costing me 15 $, beer, wine and coca leaf mixture included, maybe the best meal I had in Peru! On the Peruvian menus you will generally be offered excellent soups, trout as dominating fish, llamas, alpaca, “cuy” (guinea pig) or chicken as meat, “papas” (potatoes; some 600 varieties), corn (also in a lot of varieties and colours), a magnitude of wonderful vegetables – all this can be rather spicy -, nice cakes (cucadas, churros, champus), fruits of all kinds, very good beers and some more than acceptable local wines….

As usual, I propose that you have a look on my photo blog, if you wish to see the above photos in full size.

October 23, 2007

Machu Picchu

To see Machu Picchu, another World Heritage site - and also on the list of the new version of the Seven Wonders of the World - was obviously one of the major reasons to visit Peru!

The normal way to approach Machu Picchu is to use the train from Cusco, either the whole way to a surprising little town called Aguas Calientes (= Hot Waters), or to leave the train, generally at a point called “Km 88”, and walk the Inca Trial for three or four days. I had dreamt of making the last part by foot, but had some fears about the 4200 meters (13800 ft) Huarmihuañusca (Dead Woman’s) Pass and my (smoker) lung capacity, so I decided at last for the easy way – train all the way (four hours) to Aguas Calientes and bus (30 minutes) on serpent roads up to Machu Picchu. I somehow regret, because I believe I could have done it!

The train trip is already an experience; you first take the direction to Valle Sacrado (Sacred Valley) and then you follow the Urubamba River, downwards, to the end station Aguas Calientes. The landscape becomes tropical – actually the slopes of the Andes here encompass the upper Amazon basin!

Once I got off the bus and entered the Machu Picchu site, I thought I must first at least do part of the Inca Trial, so I made it backwards, some almost two hours’ tough walk up to what for the real walkers is the first point from where they can see Machu Picchu, called Intipunku (2720 meters = 8924 ft). The view of Machu Picchu, some 400 meters (1300 ft) below is splendid, but as it was a little bit misty, it was difficult to make the nice photos I wished.

Anyhow, I walked down the slopes, spent a few hours on the site and took some photos of this marvellous place, but as I wanted something better, I decided after a night at Aguas Calientes to take the first morning bus at 5.30 back to the site, just in time to see the place wakening up at the sunrise at 6.00. It was worth it!

I don’t believe that I here have to tell you the story about the discovery of this place, never found by the Spanish conquerors, in 1911 and how it now has become one of the world’s major tourist sites!

A few words about Aguas Calientes: There are two main streets in this little town, more or less only living on Machu Picchu tourists. One of the streets has also a rail track where some trains pass now and then. The other street climbs to the thermal springs where you can take baths in a number of pools with very varying temperatures, from very hot to ice cold. Some of the below pictures are of the local population.
To see these photos better, I would suggest you go again to my photo blog!

October 22, 2007


After Arequipa, the Colca Canyon and the Cruz del Condor, my next goal was Cusco, which I reached after an early morning flight via Julianca.

Cusco (or Cuzco, or Qusqu in the native Inca – Quechua - language, still spoken by the local population) is the centre for visits to all kinds of pre-Inca and Inca sites. The altitude is around 3500 meters (11500 ft) and the city is today - of course - a Cultural World Heritage site.

Cusco (translation, the “navel” – of the world) was the capital of the Inca Empire, which more or less covered the present Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile and part of Argentina. When the Spanish conquerors arrived around 1533-34, they made it to their Peruvian capital, but later they transferred this role to Lima and Cusco lost its importance, until the discovery of Machu Picchu and some other nearby sites, making it to a tourist capital.

The Spaniards of course destroyed most of the Inca buildings, but constructed on top of Inca foundations, which have resisted to different earthquakes, including an important one in 1650 and another one in 1950, when actually a number of foundations, which had been more or less covered, reappeared. This goes e.g. for the foundations of the Sun Temple Koricancha, the major Inca temple, on which the Church of Santo Domingo had been built. Many of Cusco’s central buildings are standing on today visible Inca foundations and you can admire with which precision they fit the heavy stones together (see one picture of a stone with 12 angles!!).

The Spaniards built a large number of churches including the Cathedral and La Compañía, which you can find on the central place, Plaza de Armas, not to mention Le Merced, San Francisco, San Blas…. Most churches are full of gold, of course “stolen” from the Incas and smelted down. (Basically, you are not allowed to take any pictures inside churches, but I took a few in Cusco and elsewhere – of course without flash – and in some cases I even got the exceptional permission.)

The city centre is of course full of tourists, meaning hotels, restaurants, shops…, but you can also take walks on the surrounding hills, where you can again find traces of the Incas, but especially the local population and their streets and houses. You can see some school children – often in uniforms; schooling is compulsory in Peru, which however does not mean that all children attend school. I spent four nights in Cusco and it was worth it! But, Cusco is of course the place from where you visit Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. These will be the following episodes.

For a better view of the above photos, I suggest that you visit my photo blog!