Machu Picchu and the Amazon … it’s Peru

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It was a much-anticipated trip – start in Lima, Peru, cruise down the Amazon River, and see Machu Picchu, where the Inca Indians lived hundreds of years ago. Nikki and Bill Conklin were to be traveling with Ron and Cheryl Trivisonno for this adventure. At the last minute Nikki had health issues, so the other three had to go without her.
The first stop was Lima, Peru, the capital and home to 13 million people. It’s a desert area which receives only four inches of rain a year. Bill says the infrastructure is meant for only four million people, so there are traffic jams everywhere, even in the middle of the night. It occurred to him that the main job of the police in the city seems to be to direct traffic to try and keep it moving.
They visited open markets which were two miles long, where they walked for nearly two hours in the heat, not seeing it all. The market opens each day at 3:30 a.m. and closes at noon. There is very little refrigeration in this hot city, where it will soon be summer, so most people shop every day. There were live chickens and fish, all sitting out in the heat. When it gets close to closing time, restaurant owners come in and haggle over the price of food for their business.
Bill also noticed that all around the city there is a mass of electric wires 15 to 20 deep, intertwined, all seemingly supported by nothing and periodically shooting off to a house here and there.
From the bustle of Lima they moved on to a six-day cruise down the Amazon. At this time of the year the 3,000-mile long river is about two to three miles wide. The rainy season is just beginning and later the river will flood six million acres. At that time it will rise 20 feet making it 200 ft. deep.
Their boat held 28 people plus crew and was about 80 feet long. The group stopped periodically and toured jungle villages along the way. Most of those people had no running water or electricity. The men hunt and fish and the women cook outside on wood fires and make crafts to sell to tourists. It’s a simple life, but Bill said all seem happy and well fed.
As an avid fisherman Bill wanted to try his luck from the boat. Mostly, the men in Peru fish with nets, but he used a pole and was fishing for – of all things – piranhas. He caught one and pulled it into the boat, but it fell off the hook and onto the floor. As he reached down to try and save it from falling further out of his reach, it bit him. Blood was everywhere. Two weeks later the injury was still visible.
Yes, they ate piranha that night and he said it’s very good whitefish. There’s no filleting them – you just peel the meat off the bones. During the trip, he also got to try grub worms and guinea pig, not the little ones like we have in cages, but 25 pounders. He said it tasted like ham. The natives also hunt and eat monkey – ugh!
On a two-hour night hike in the jungle, they had naturalists with them and there they saw anacondas, tarantulas and poison frogs. The natives still hunt with dart guns and they take the poison from under the skin of those frogs and put it on the end of their dart to kill their prey. They don’t hunt dolphin because it’s considered bad karma, but a manatee is OK. But don’t eat a sloth because the Peruvians believe you will act like a sloth.
Roads are sparse in the jungle. Paths are more prevalent and the people who live along the Amazon rely on ferries to take them anywhere. They grow their own food and Bill, who is a farmer, is amazed at some of the farming practices. Apparently, little is regulated as far as erosion, unlike in the United States. So, bad farming practices lead to soil erosion. That is why the Amazon is terrifically muddy all the time.
Each little village of about 200 to 300 people along the Amazon had their own little clinic with a couple of nurses and a small schoolhouse that had one room for grades one to six with two teachers. In Peru it’s very important to learn English. Those who want to be guides must pass an English test to get these good jobs.
There are also shantytowns along the river where people actually squat on a property that does not belong to them. They build a one-room shack up off the ground so the Amazon won’t flood them out. They have no utilities and cook outside on a fire.
Other shacks are then built around them and the people continue to cut down the trees to cook. Eventually a large area is covered with these homes and then the owner sues them for the value of the ground or an eviction. Sometimes the people have about five years to pay for their property. It’s an ongoing situation along the river.
At the end of the cruise, the travelers made their way to Cusco, Peru, which is at 11,000 feet elevation and the gateway to Machu Picchu. Apparently you have to really want to go there because you travel by bus and then by train and then another bus and then climb 20 to 30 flights of stairs hiking 1,000 feet up to get to the ruins. The Incas lived hundreds of years ago.
Bill saw beautiful granite stonework and gold and silver that the Incas worked with back in 1100 A.D. In about 1500, the Spanish came and killed their king. The Inca culture dictated that they must then follow the new person. Close association with the Spanish brought disease to them for which they had no immunity. Eventually, over 14 million Incas were wiped out.
As you can see, Peru is a diverse country, with many poor people and the rich in Lima. Then there’s the drug dealers, who must be very rich. Peru is unfortunately the number one producer of cocaine in the world. It is often transported in suitcases to the U.S.
Bill said it was a great trip and good to see the happy and well-fed people of Peru.
(Melanie Behrens – melb@marysvillejt.com)



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