Read part one of Brad’s trip to Peru – Trip Preparation: To Plan or Not to Plan?
One morning we woke up in Peru with nothing planned. I offered the idea of horseback riding. It sounded so idyllic, and Shannon sort of knew how to ride horses. She took riding lessons when she was a child, but I’d never been on a horse. I’d seen people doing it though, and it didn’t look that hard.
After a wonderful morning walk and two cups of coffee, we found ourselves outside of a business that had an adventurous-looking sign above its door. A woman said hello and handed us a piece of paper with their options on it. They offered rafting, climbing, horseback riding, and ATV tours. I wanted to ask “Can we take the horseback trip to Pumamarca?” but my Spanish is only slightly better than a 2 year old native speaker. So I cleared my throat and said in my best Spanish “We go in the horses of the mountain?”
The nice woman smiled at me, laughed, and responded in rapid-fire Spanish. I understood one or two words, but not enough to respond to her, so I said “No Se” and just pointed at the picture of the tour we wanted to do.
She made a phone call and asked us to sit down. I understood “2 Horses,” “2 people,” and “one hour.” She hung up the phone and told us to come back an hour later. The stroll back to the hotel was gorgeous. The weather was brisk and sunny, and it doesn’t hurt that Ollantaytambo (Oy-yahn-tai-tahm-bo) is an unbelievably beautiful town. There are jagged, towering mountains on every side, and a river cuts it in half. It’s also framed by two impressive Incan ruins.
On one side is the massive Ollantaytambo fortress. On the other side, several hundred feet above the town sits the smaller Pinkuylluna (pink-ah-yoona). While military and government officials stayed in the fortress, Pinkuylluna probably housed civilians. Like many small towns in Peru, Ollantaytambo was built around its Plaza de Armas. The old part of town is small – only eight blocks or so. The roads are cobblestone and the majority of the businesses and homes have foundations that date back to the Incas. The city was gorgeous, but our destination was two hours northwest.
After a quick stop at the market and our hotel, we headed back to the adventure shop. Our guide, David, knew three words in English: “Left,” “Right,” and “Easy.” That was all of the instruction we received before we were hoisted up onto our horses. We were assured that Torredo and Desplantes were muy tranquillo. We trusted David, strapped on our helmets, and began the two-hour ride to Pumamarca.
The ride was beautiful. The Andes have a way of making you feel insignificant (in a wonderful way). The sheer cliffs and snowcapped peaks were just breathtaking. After two hours of scenic views, Torredo and I arrived at the base of the Pumamarca ruins. I’m not a small man, so I pet Torredo on his neck and thanked him for his strength and bravery. David told us that we’d need to head back in half an hour, so we had a quick snack and started hiking to the top.
There were only a couple of people at the top. We poked around a little, inspecting the precision stonework that the Incas are famous for. The entire complex is about the size of a city block, so it didn’t take us long to soak it all in. After a couple of photos, we hiked back down and got ready for the descent. The ride back was just as stunning, and we were sad to see it. We dismounted and wobbled back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. Sadly, our time in Ollanta was coming to an end. The next day, we packed up and took a two hour taxi to Cusco.
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Poppies in the moat – Tower of London
Photo © Peter ,
licensed for reuse
Today, Veteran’s Day, is the final day for the breathtaking poppy installation at the Tower of London. Poppies have been a symbol for veterans since the wars of the early 19th century.
The symbol of a red poppy for the fallen soldier really crystallized around a poem written by a physician and soldier named John McCrae in 1915. Today, as the last of almost 900,000 ceramic poppies are installed outside the Tower of London – one for each of the fallen English soldiers from World War I – it is worth reflecting on the words of that poem:
In Flanders fields the poppies grow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Red poppies have been used as a symbol to represent soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice many times. The sheer horror of some of the worst battles merits remembrance. John McCrae had been a victim of one of the earliest uses of chemical warfare, and burying his fellow soldiers in Flanders in Belgium was an inspiration for this poem.
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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close up the wall with our English dead.
Thus begins King Henry’s speech as he rallies his troops to besiege the French city of Harfleur. It’s a stirring speech, beginning of Act 3 of Henry V by Shakespeare, describing a battle that was fought in 1415. The English won. Harfleur fell. Henry’s army included about 8,000 men. Henry’s tactics included smashing the walls of the French city, as well as scaling the wall to break in.
Fast forward 500 years to World War I. Many, many, more Englishmen fought than had ever fought before, and English soldiers died by the thousands. One single infamous day, during the Battle of the Somme, caused the deaths of 19,240 men (The English were fighting with the French, instead of against them, unlike in Henry V’s day).
WWI was not just different from medieval conflicts – it was unlike any previous war. It was known at the time as the “war to end all wars.” It was the beginning of modern warfare, with battles fought in trenches and the first uses of chemical weapons.
Now, fast forward another 100 years to today. A stunning new tribute to the English soldiers who gave their lives in World War I is now on display in London. Surrounding the Tower of London there are hundreds of thousands of red, porcelain poppies. There are 888,246 poppies, one for every English soldier who died in WWI — so many that the grass surrounding the Tower resembles an ocean of blood. The poppies themselves are enough to “close up the wall”. I was there a couple of weeks ago on a beautiful October morning and was deeply moved by the sight of the poppies. According to the Derby Telegraph, the artist was inspired to create the installation when he read a soldier’s will. The installation is called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.” WorldStrides International Discovery provides tours featuring the tower of London, as well as tours of England and France that touch on warfare in the 20th century. These journeys are chances to reflect on the sacrifices made by previous generations of soldiers of all nationalities.
More stunning photos of the poppies are linked on Twitter (see #towerpoppies). The poppies project also helps support nonprofits for veterans. The installation will be available until the 11th of November — Veteran’s Day in the U.S.
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