It didn't take long for the girls to hit the shops looking for genuine Alpaca garments
Not far from the Main Square is the historic Santo Domingo Convent with its distinctive tower, over 46 meters high, rowned by a dome and a statue of the Angel of Fame.
The first black and first Peruvian Saint, Saint Martin de Porres, spent most of his life here. Initially he was left at the convent for being an illegitimate child, he lived there as a monk, and was buried there. In the crypt of the same convent lies Saint Rose of Lima, the first American saint, patron saint of Lima, of Peru, of the New World and of the Philippines.
Inside the convent are five cloisters, with varying decorations including carved wood, Seville tiles and painting, oak roofs, baroque processional altarpieces and impressive carved oak ceilings.
|Very much like Gaudi's work|
A night tour and dinner in the privately owned Largo Museum was special. Housed in an 18th-century vice-royal mansion, surrounded by stunning gardens, it showcases an excellent overview of development of Peruvian pre-Columbian history and finest gold and silver collection from ancient Peru.
The famous erotic archaeological pottery collection was a little in-your-face but totally fascinating and had some of our group giggling like school kids.
Our next stay was in Cusco, another UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. At 3399 m about sea level, our group took all the advised precautions against altitude sickness. We drank plenty of water, coco tea (surprisingly pleasant), rested and moved around at a slow pace. Something worked; no real effects, although we all found we tired quickly in the heat.
|Palacio del Inka Hotel Cusco|
|Palacio del Inka Hotel Cusco|
|Locals selling their wares in the courtyard of the hotel|
The Koricancha is an old Incan palace and main centre of worship to the Sun God. When the Spanish conquered Peru, the Dominican order built a lovely church over the foundations of this temple, which is still there. There is still clearly no love lost by the Peruvians for the Spanish.
|In the courtyard of the Koricancha|
|Wonderful stonework in the old temple|
Our tour of Cusco started in the main square, Plaza de Armas, on a rather hot day
Then a tour of archaeological sites which are important religious and administrative centres for the Inkas. Located on a hilltop overlooking the city of Cusco was the incredible Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman Fortress built of enormous stone blocks somehow brought to the area and expertly shaped by the Inkas.
|Girls looking at alpaca knitwear|
Then onto tour the Ollantaytambo Fortress built by those busy little Inkas in the XVIth century and the fascinating agricultural terraces of Moray, built in natural holes in circular form. The Incas were beyond their time in scientific thinking. Studies done on the soil prove that the soil comes from different regions and must have been brought to the Sacred Valley. Another fascinating point about the Moray ruins is that they never flood, even in Peru’s merciless rainy season. It is believed that there must be underground channels built to allow the water to drain.
|The Ollantaytambo Fortress|
A highlight in Peru of course is Machu Picchu, now listed as a new seven wonder of the world plus a UNESCO World Culture Heritage site; it certainly did not disappoint. The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu was lost to the Amazon Jungle for hundreds of years, until it was re-discovered by Hiram Bingham, an American explorer 1911.
|A welcome drink before boarding the Belmond train|
|Our compartment on the Belmond train|
|Sunrise over Lake Titicaca|
They are man-made out of bundles of dried totora reeds. Dense totora roots interweave and form a natural layer about one to two meters thick. These support the islands and are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. New reeds need to be added frequently. An island lasts about 30 years if maintained well. There are over 80 islands, larger ones house about 10 families.
|A demonstration of how the islands are made|
|The ladies had fun dressing us in their clothes|
There is a small hospital and traditional school. The islands were originally settled as defensive strategy. Tourism is the main industry selling handicrafts and tours of the islands. Their diet is mainly fish, part of the totora reed, birds, ducks and few cattle raised on the island. They barter totora reeds in Puno for other supplies such as quinoa. We saw some evidence of modern technology; boats with motors and some solar panels on a few houses.
The tour may be over but the marvellous memories of our experiences and the fascinating people we met along the way will be with us forever.