Category Archives: My non-trip in the time of coronavirus

My non-trip in the time of coronavirus # 18: Amazon River Cruise

Well, if I ever do this trip with my son, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter, it won’t be before 2021 (if that) and Baby Nina will be two years old. Which means that we can (perhaps) risk malaria to go on an Amazon River Cruise.

So, we’ll catch a bus to Juliaca Airport and then a flight to Iquitos which will have two stops along the way. My daughter-in-law will love it -all those takeoffs and landings!  There are no roads into Iquitos. The main form of transport within Iquitos is via“motocarro”, a motorcycle with a small, rickshaw-like passenger cabin in the back.

The main reason for going to Iquitos is to embark upon an Amazon River Cruise. I could only find one tour that allowed children under nine years old, so Maniti Eco Lodge it is!  Three days and two nights should be right, I think .

We drive from Iquitos to the port town of Nanay (Bellavista) then travel the 70 km by boat on a two-hour trip. We’ll visit Monkey Island, look for pink dolphins and maybe swim with them in the Amazon River (as if….), go for a nocturnal hike, and sleep in our bungalow by kerosene lamp. Next morning we’ll watch the sunrise over the Amazon, go by boat on a morning wildlife observation trip, go fishing in the afternoon to catch piranhas (in the same river that the pink dolphins are in!), go on a sunset canoe excursion with the opportunity to touch and hold a caiman (what’s a caiman?- of course, an alligator!). Another night in the bungalow, another early morning jungle hike, then back on the boat for a 2 hour trip back to Nanay.

Hmmm.  My Nana-Antennas are quivering. This is no place for a toddler.  No place for a Nana either. Nup. It’s time to come home.

My non-trip in the days of coronavirus #16: Cusco-Puno

Would I really subject a 15 month old baby to a 10 hour rail journey? Probably not. But as I’m not really doing this, let’s enjoy the train trip from Cusco to Puno

or if you want a 3 minute video instead (although it is travelling in the reverse direction)


My non-trip in the days of coronavirus #13: Sacred Valley

The main tourist destination from Cusco is Machu Picchu but I’m going to spend a day or so exploring the Sacred Valley instead.  I would probably go on a one day tour, I guess.

First stop, after about an hour’s travelling is the Mirador de Taray.

From there, we would go to Pisac, which is famous for its markets. For the vegetarian in the family, there is a Potato Park.  Why not? Big banana, big pineapple…although I think this is just a Potato Park. It covers 10,000 hectares, and they have 600 varieties of potatoes, many of which are endemic to the area. It’s a local conservation project, formed by Six Quechua communities joining forces. You can have lunch and guess what’s on the menu? However, I think I’d pay them to stop playing music at us. I confess to only lasting about 2 minutes through this video. It’s like listening to a Grade 3 student learning the recorder.

There are ruins above Pisac, and this young fellow is climbing up to them. He thought that he would avoid the taxi fare.  I would take the taxi, myself.

Yep, that would be me, one of the tourists hopping on and off a bus at the main site.  My, he looks quite peaky by the end.

Then on to Urubamba- and here’s our Aussie narrator again!

Had enough ruins yet?  On we go to Ollantaytambo, which is at a slightly lower altitude. During the Inca empire, it was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti, the 9th ruler of the Inca state, who conquered the region and built the town and ceremonial centre. He created the Inti Raymi celebration that we ‘saw’ yesterday. At the time of the Spanish conquest, Ollantaytambo served as a stronghold for the Inca resistance. In 1536 their leader Manco Inka defeated a Spanish expedition, blocking their advance from the high terraces. But knowing that his position was untenable, he withdrew .  There lots of water being piped around the city – generally a sign of wealth and display.

This one is a bit longer, and beautifully photographed.

Back home, I think, going past Chinchero where there are plans to build an international airport to attract visitors direct to Machu Picchu without having to go to Lima first. They are expecting six million people a year to use it by 2023, and there is opposition from historians, anthropologists and scientists who argue that the plateaus and valleys are lined with ritual lines, that the soil is not suitable for an airport, and that it would affect the water supply for Cusco. But contracts have been signed with South Korea, and it seems that it will proceed….well, it would have if not for coronavirus.  There’s a market here  in Chinchero, too. Given that I’m not a great souvenir shopper, I’d probably give this a miss.

Enough ruins for today?  I think so.

My non-trip in the days of coronavirus #12: Cusco

Well, we did really have plans to go to Cusco and Machu Picchu but even before the coronavirus put the kybosh on the whole trip, we hit a roadblock with Cusco. At an altitude of 3399 metres (higher, in fact than Machu Picchu) we were told by The Travel Doctor that we shouldn’t take a 15 month old baby there.  (I’m sure that amongst its population of 428,450 according to Wikipedia, there must be a baby or two – but who is to argue with The Travel Doctor?)  So, in real life we would have had to rethink this part of the trip – but sitting here on my computer chair, I can do whatever I like! So…off to Cusco!

Another city, another Plaza de Armas. This plaza looks huge, but fairly low rise. It has two prominent buildings, the Cusco Cathedral and the Church La Compania de Jesus. It looks gigantic now, but it was in fact just part of the Haukaypata,  the Great Inca Square, that predated the arrival of the Spanish.

It is the site for important festivals, including Inti Rayma- the Inca Festival of the Sun, and the religious festival of Corpus Christi. The ceremony of Inti Rayma has three different scenes conducted in three different places. The first scene of the festival, is held at the Qoricancha Palace situated on Av. El Sol. (see below). It then moves to the  Plaza de Armas and finally ends up at  Sacsayhuaman 3 kms out of Cusco. It is held on June 24th, the winter solstice and the Inca New Year.

The original Inti Rayma celebration was first held in 1412. It went for 9 days, with dances, processions and animal sacrifices. The last one held in the presence of the Inca emperor took place in 1535. I’m sure that it comes as no surprise that the Spanish outlawed it and other Inca religious practices. In many places the celebration was interwoven into the Catholic festival of St John the Baptist (no doubt to appease the Spanish Catholics) which occurred at much the same time. In Cusco, the Inti Raymi was reintroduced in 1944 as a historical reconstruction, and has been conducted every year since then as a theatrical production.

Theatrical production notwithstanding- this would be amazing to see. (I guess it won’t go ahead this year, though)

Very close to the Plaza de Armas is Corichancha, variously spelt Koricancha, Qoricancha or Qorikancha. It is now the Convent of Santa Domingo,  but it was built on the base of the Inca temple which was uncovered in 1953 when an earthquake destroyed the church but left the Inca walls intact.  Corichancha was the centre of the Inca cosmos, from which 42 straight lines spread out on all directions, sometimes for hundreds of miles.  It contained several temples within the complex, with the walls covered in gold plate.  As you can imagine, the Spanish were quick to ship that gold back to Europe and, as was their wont, they quickly demolished the Inca temple and built a church on the site instead.

Now here’s a different take on Coricancha, presented by a tour group interested in megaliths, who are exploring the sonic and energy fields of the old Inca Temple. Apparently if you stick your head in the alcoves on the walls and sing ‘A’ it sets up a reverberation. Likewise, you can take your dowsing stick and detect a petal shape of energy in the centre of a courtyard. Hmmm.

My non-trip in the days of coronavirus #11: Colca Canyon

This is all just fantasy, right? Because I don’t know if I really would get up at 3.00 a.m. to sit in a minibus for many hours to visit Colca Canyon. It is located 160 kilometres out of Arequipa on very small roads, and the altitude is high (4910 m. above sea level). I suspect that both the bus ride and the altitude would see me doing this trip by myself, as it wouldn’t be suitable for a 15 month old baby.  You can do it as a two day hike, but there’s no way that I’d be climbing out of this canyon.

But the canyon itself is one of the deepest in the world at a depth of  3,270 metres (10,730 ft) and it looks spectacular.  Touristy, yes but- hey, I might see a condor! I’ll stand there with a bloody great eagle on my head!

Not too sure about that tunnel in an area full of earthquakes and volcanoes, though.

I know that many travellers suggest taking a 2-3 day hike, instead of trying to squash it all into one day. That way you walk from the bottom of the canyon to the top. But this fantasy, remember, and this fantasy doesn’t stretch that far!

My non-trip in the days of coronavirus #10: Arequipa

Close to the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is the Santa Catalina Monastery. Built in 1579, it served as a cloister for Dominican nuns between the 16th and 18th century, and it still houses a small religious community.  Like much else in Arequipa, the buildings are made of volcanic sillar stone, which is porous and prone to cracking, and it was badly damaged in the earthquake in 2001. It was founded by Doña Maria de Guzman, a rich young widow who was the first prioress. All women admitted to the convent were expected to bring a dowry of $150,000USD in current-day money, and a list of 25 items including a statue, a painting, a lamp etc. No wonder it became enormously rich, until the Vatican sent someone out to clean it up (and send all the riches back to Spain).

(Familiar accent narrating the video!)

One of their most famous nuns is Sister Ana de Los Angeles, who entered the convent as a three year old in 1607 for her education. Her parents took her out at the age of ten or eleven in order to marry, but after receiving a vision of Saint Catherine of Siena, she wanted to return to the convent as a nun. (I’m sure that the prospect of being married off as a 10 year old had nothing to do with it). Her mother was furious, and refused to pay the dowry, so her brother paid it instead. She spent the rest of her life there, becoming noted for her ability to predict whether a sick patient would live or die. When she died in 1686 they didn’t need to embalm her because of the sweet perfume her body gave off, and after being exhumed 10 months after burial, she was still fresh. The sisters petitioned to have her proclaimed a saint, but 334 years later they’re still waiting (and she’s probably not quite so fresh).


Creator: Murray Foubister   Source: Wikimedia 

They have a beautiful website here, in both Spanish and English.

A 15 minute walk from the historic centre is the Casa Museo Mario Vargas Llosa.  In Chile, I was hunting down houses belonging to Pablo Neruda, in Cartagena I enjoyed a Gabriel Garcia Marquez tour, so while in Arequipa, why not check out this museum, located in the birthplace of Peru’s Nobel Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa. Only 48 people per day are allowed to visit.  I have read only one of his books, The Feast of the Goat, and his most well-known book is probably Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. He ran for the Presidency in 1990 but was defeated by Alberto Fujimori. Hmm…his politics are probably more right-wing than I’m comfortable with, but you can’t argue with his Nobel Prize, awarded 2010 for a huge body of work.  He was a former President of PEN International, and he was recently attacked by China for a column he wrote about coronavirus. Apparently they had a crisis meeting late last year to discuss the poor state of the museum, which has a heavy reliance on holograms but….if I were there, I’d go anyway.  Museums for writers should be encouraged, I reckon.



My non-trip in the time of coronavirus #9: Arequipa

Arequipa is known as the “Ciudad Blanca” (White City) because many of its public buildings are made of a beautiful white volcanic stone. It is the second most-populated city in Peru. It is surrounded by snow-covered volcanoes and it looks stunning.  As usual, there is a Plaza de Armas, built on the Spanish template. This one was built in the 17th century and has much more architectural unity than some of the other Plaza de Armas. It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

This video is in Spanish, but you’ll get the idea:  (actually, it’s nice clear Spanish)

The Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa takes up the whole of one side of the square. It has been damaged several times by earthquakes, and after the most recent one in 2001 the  left tower was completely destroyed and the right tower was badly damaged.  The altar and the twelve pillars are made of Italian marble, the brass lamp in front of the altar is from Spain and the pulpit was carved in France. The organ was shipped out from Belgium, and is said to be the largest in South America, but it got damaged on the way out and doesn’t sound the best, apparently.

It looks spectacular at night


Source: Wikimedia.   Creator: Bruno Locatelli

Historically, the Spanish population retained fidelity to the Spanish crown, even when the independence movement was afoot elsewhere.  In 1805 the Spanish crown gave the city the title “faithful” by Royal Charter. It remained under Spanish control under the Battle of Ayacucho in 1824 (which was later than many other cities). There has long been rivalry between Ayacucho and Lima.

Apparently, there is even a distinctive dialect, where they elongate the last vowel of the final word in every sentence.  And, unusually for South America, they use the ‘vos’ form of ‘you’ (replacing ‘tu’ and ‘usted).  They seem to use ‘vosotros’ too. I’d be doomed: I never bother learning the vosotros form.  Life is too short.

You’ve got to love a city that has the Chili River running through it. Unfortunately, all the city’s waste water is dumped into it.


Flickr: Santiago Stucci

You can go white water rafting on the Rio Chili, about 20 minutes out of the city where I should imagine the water might be cleaner. It advertises itself as being for “all ages” but nah-  you young ones go ahead and I’ll mind the baby.

My non-trip in the time of coronavirus#8: Arequipa

We knew that Easter Week (Santa Semana) was very important in Peru, so we were keen to see some Easter festivities, little realizing that they would all be cancelled.

On the Friday morning, while still in Lima, we could have seen the Good Friday parade. A statue of “Del Señor de los Milagros” (the Lord of Miracles) is brought out from Lima Cathedral, preceded by women in white veils walking backwards bearing incense. He has been a feature of the Good Friday parades since….1999. That’s invented tradition for you.

We heard that the main cities for Santa Semana celebrations were Cusco, Ayacucho and Arequipa.  At this stage, we were planning to go to Cusco later, and apparently they throw eggs around in Ayacucho, so Arequipa it was.  We were going to fly out of Lima on Good Friday in the afternoon, in time to catch the evening festivities in Arequipa.

Actually, this beautifully filmed video is better than anything we would have seen:

They finish up with a ceremonial burning of Judas. This happens in other cities in Spain and in Mexico too, where they often substitute political figures

He’s a remarkably modern looking Judas, and they do start the fire in a curious place. I’m watching this with a horrified fascination. Boy, that got rid of him.

My non-trip in the time of coronavirus #7: Lima

I’m cheating a bit here, because if we had really gone on our trip, we would have moved on to Arequipa by now on Good Friday.  But given that our planning didn’t get much further than Arequipa, I’ll mentally linger in Lima for a bit longer.

If I’d been there, I would have gone to LUM (Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion- I must say that I don’t know how those words in Spanish fit into the acronym). On my travels I have found myself visiting a museum commemorating atrocities that have occurred in living memory : in Medellin with the Museo Case de la Memoria, The Museum of Human Rights and Memory in  Santiago,  ESMA in Buenos Aires, and the Rwanda Genocide Memorial in Kigali.  I often feel a bit ambivalent about visiting such museums: I’m aware that they spring from a political impetus and are often strongly contested and I fear that I’m being voyeuristic. But I’m also well aware of the importance of truth-telling, something that the Uluru Statement from the Heart implores us to do in relation to Australia’s indigenous history, and something that we seem unable to bring ourselves to do e.g. in the Australian War Memorial. So yes, if I were there, I would visit the museum in this spectacular building.

LUM  opened in 2014 to commemorate the dead and to address the country’s enduring polarisation over human rights abuses committed by both the Shining Path guerrillas and  the armed forces in the 1980s and 1990s. It was  funded principally by Germany and also the EU, Sweden and the UN development program. It came under fire almost immediately for being biassed towards Shining Path by the supporters of former president Alberto Fujimori (who is in jail now anyway). However, it was championed by Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa .

Here’s a video about it with English subtitles.

It’s closed at the moment, as is everything else in Peru, because of the coronavirus.  But there’s a good virtual tour you can do, accessed through the link below. Click on the black arrows to go forward, and the blue dots have more information.  It’s all in Spanish, but that’s what Google Translate is for. Or, if you’re learning Spanish as I am, there’s hours of reading here.



My non-trip in the time of coronavirus #6: Huaca Pucllana, Lima, Peru

Hey-  if I had been there, I would have wanted to go and see this!


It’s a whacking great adobe and clay pyramid, built in Miraflores (where we were intending to stay). It was built as an important ceremonial and administrative center for the Lima Culture, a society which developed in the Peruvian Central Coast between the years of 200 AD and 700 AD.  It was built in two sections: the western half of the site was an important ceremonial center for religious rites, complete with a 22-metre-high, seven-level pyramid. The eastern half of the site was used as an administrative outpost for the surrounding irrigation zone and included several open spaces likely used for public meetings. The two sections were divided by a large wall. They were invaded by the Waris, who were invaded by the Ychmas, who were absorbed into the Incas.

Shame about the bloody great restaurant in the middle of it. What were they thinking? I wouldn’t have eaten there on principle.