photos at bottom of page (text that refers to a photo is followed by o)
IN THE BEGINNING... Bus ride and Lima
Oh my gosh, where can we begin... We saw so much, did so much, and traveled so much during our five quick weeks in Peru. To start with, we spent a total of 133 hours traveling by bus, we ate some good, some strange, and some delicious foods, we saw some amazing sites, met super nice people everywhere (both local and international travelers) we went, and in general had a fabulous trip. Our trip began by bus from Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. Our first stop was Guayaquil, Ecuador, where we spent the night in order to catch the bus the next morning to Lima, Peru. Guayaquil is a very modern, upscale river front city. There is a beautiful, river walk area with museums, theaters and restaurants. We had a fun evening exploring and even took in an IMAX movie. The next day we boarded the bus to Peru. The 28 hour ride was really not too bad. They feed you three meals on the bus and show lots of movies. They take pretty good care of you. We woke up on the bus on May 1, Dana's birthday. We had brought along the mandatory Desiderata birthday balloons for her to wake up to o. Once we got to Lima, after deciding on a neighborhood to stay in and finding a hotel, we wandered around the town. The neighborhood that we were in (Miraflores) is quite upscale and very safe to walk around at all hours. It is right along the cliffs above the ocean. There is a huge outdoor shopping/eating mall with theaters, bowling alley, bakeries, etc. that we explored and went back to later for fancy deserts and a couple of rounds of bowling for the birthday girl o. After opening presents, we had dinner at a nice restaurant right on the main plaza of the town with lots of exhibits and art for sale in the center parks. We spent a couple of days in Lima seeing the sites, eating Dunkin' Donuts, going to the zoo and having fun. In the downtown, historic district are many museums and cathedrals all with very interesting histories. We walked the catacombs under one monastery where the bodies of all the local inhabitants were put. In some spots the bones are arranged in geometric patterns. We visited the inquisition museum and learned the history of the inquisition from Spain to Peru. We went to an archeological museum so that we would be familiar with the history of some of the sites that we would be visiting, and we went to the zoo, just to get familiar with the local animals that we may be seeing on the trip. Not the best zoo, but we had fun. Another thing that they have in Lima is a big China Town. We spent a couple of hours wandering around there, picking up some of our favorite Chinese treats and eating Dim Sum for lunch.
Our plan was to head straight to Cusco, the large colonial town near Machu Picchu, to try to beat the crowds that start to come in when schools get out. We took the second longest bus ride of our trip, 20 hours from Lima to Cusco from the coast, high up into the Andes o. This bus was really cold at night and really warm during the day. When we arrived in Cusco, we found a nice, small family hostel to stay in. Cusco is 10,776 feet high and is pretty cold. We bundled up in almost all the clothes that we had brought with us o and set out to explore this historic town o. It seems that the whole town is built on old Inca sites o. You can see the large perfectly set stones everywhere o. Somehow they would manage to move these huge stones that were expertly carved and set tightly together without any mortar, so tight that you cannot even get a credit card between them. The really beautiful, classic square edged stones were the most highly prized and used for the most sacred building projects. The streets were very small, windy and narrow cobblestone passageways o. Very picturesque. Many were too narrow for cars and were just for pedestrians. We spent the next couple of days exploring the town, finding out about the trips to Machu Picchu and doing tours of the local archaeological sites o and acclimating to the altitude. We chewed coca leaves and drank coca tea (this is available everywhere, all the stores, hotels and restaurants) to help us get used to these higher climes. On our way to Machu Picchu, we stopped at several sites in the Sacred Valley o and got lots of information about the Incas and how they lived and their history in the area. The landscape is very stark at this altitude, and you are surrounded by snow capped peaks. Beautiful scenery everywhere you look. We also went to a nice spinning, dying, and weaving demonstration o. There are many shops where the local artisans wares are sold. Many items were made from alpaca wool. Sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves, socks, blankets, etc... There were so many beautiful colors and designs, it was mind boggling to try to pick out anything. Three of us got sweaters, just to help keep us warm o. It was hard to buy too much warm stuff knowing that when we return to the boat it will just get packed away in the bilge.
We took the night train into the village of Aguas Calientes (7,808') that is actually at the base of Machu Picchu. The next day we just took it easy and wandered around this beautiful area on the tropical side of the Andes. Everything is very lush and green. A huge river flows through this steep valley with Machu Picchu perched on top. We went for a hike and stopped at a great little museum and botanic garden at the base of Machu Picchu. One of the reasons that Machu Picchu is so special, is that the Spaniards never found it, so it is in very pristine condition, unlike most other sites where there are only remnants left of the original structures. The Incas often built their special cities in the shapes of sacred animals. Cusco is laid out in the shape of a Puma, and Machu Picchu is laid out in the shape of a Condor. It was interesting to see the layout this way. We woke up at 5:00am so that we would catch the 5:30 bus up to the top of Machu Picchu and be able to watch the sunrise. We spent all day wandering and climbing around this awe inspiring site o. What a wild place to build a town! They had a huge engineering job to build up there and to make these almost vertical faces habitable. The irrigation system was also very elaborate to get the water through the village. We did the Wayna Picchu hike (to the top of the tall mountain that is in all of the classic photos of the site), as well as a couple of other hikes o. We were up there for about 10 hours. Right now, you can pretty much go wherever you want and do it at your own pace. We have heard that soon they will really be limiting the visitors and may be building viewing platforms to see the site from, but you will not be able to actually walk the site. Not sure when that is going to happen. While we were there, we were surprised at how unpopulated the site was. We expected throngs of folks, but most of the day, the visitors were really pretty sparse. Nice surprise! Mike had been worried about being able to get good enough pictures, but as you can see, that was no problem at all. We did the initial two hour tour and got the general information about the site, what was where, and what was what. Then we hiked to the top of Wayna Picchu, which they limit to 400 hikers a day. We were #201,202,203 and 204. This hike is so steep o, as are many of the other paths and trails. What might look steep in the photos is really twice as steep as it looks. Wayna Picchu is where the Oracle (a spiritual leader who can talk to the Gods) lived, a really beautiful and special place. There were tons of pretty flowers along the climb to the top o. Looking back down on the main site from the top was breathtaking o. We are so glad that we got to do this hike. We also did a small side trip to walk to the Inca Drawbridge o. Another example of engineering prowess. We revisited some of our favorite spots from the tour as well as discovering some spots that were not as highly visited. There is a resident herd of llamas o that live up there and keep the grass all nicely mowed. At the end of the day, we were exhausted, and so excited that we all had gotten to see this special, special place together.
The next morning we were up early to take the first train (5:30am) back up the mountain to make our way back to Cusco. You take the train for a couple of hours and then get off and take the local bus the rest of the way. We had a couple of sites that we were planning on visiting along the way. But, you know how plans are. As we were getting close to one town, we saw some folks in costume and got off the bus and decided to follow them to see what was happening. There was a huge regional festival that was just about to begin. This was not a tourist event, we were the only westerners there. We grabbed ourselves the nearest curb and waited for the parade. It seems that every town and village had an entry and that it was an annual event. It went on and on. Nancy got dragged up to dance with one group of highly costumed folks. Each group had very unique, elaborate, colorful, and/or funny costumes o. We watched for quite awhile before we decided to move on. By then the parade had blocked the main road. We got on a bus, but, it could not go anywhere. Finally, the driver turned around and started driving the wrong direction. All the little old ladies on the bus started to babble about what the heck was he doing. Well, he knew a back way... really a back way. Here we were on this big bus going down these narrow country lanes way on the outskirts of town. It was so narrow that at times the bus was knocking roof tiles off of the homes that we passed. At one point people were reaching out the windows of the bus and putting the tiles back on as we drove past. It was pretty entertaining. We finally made it out of town after about an hour detour, the scenic route I guess you could say. We skipped one archaeological site that we had been planning on, but did manage to get to a very authentic local village crafts market o. Again, I think that we were the only foreigners there. Lots of local crafts, especially things made from alpaca. The prices were amazing, about $7 for a beautiful sweater. We would have bought more, but our backpacks were already overflowing. When we arrived back in Cusco and got back to the hostel that we had stayed at before, we had a nice surprise. Our room was waiting for us with fresh picked flowers and a handwritten Mothers Day card o for Nancy that our travel arranger and owner of the hostel had left. So sweet! She took such great care of us. She would arrange a bus for us and then get on the bus early and hold the best seats for us, talk about service! We really loved her and staying at her home. She also helped us arrange the next segment of our trip to Lake Titicaca.
We had a beautiful daytime bus ride through the fields, farms and villages of the Andes to the town of Puno on Lake Titicaca. This is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,409'. It is the highest altitude that any of us have ever been outside of an airplane! It was high dry and cold, cold, cold. Including the hikes to the top of two islands in the lake, we probably topped out at about 13,000'. When we first arrived in Puno it was drizzling and we were told that there was going to be a strike for the next two days and that we should probably get out of town. We were planning on going out to the islands anyway, so we booked a trip for the next morning. We were up early for our walk down to the docks and to board our small enclosed boat to go to the islands. Our first stop was the floating islands of the Uros peoples o. This is a pre-Inca civilization that moved off shore when the Incas came, to continue to live their traditional life style. They figured out that they could create islands by multi-layering the reeds that grow in the area. They became pretty self-sufficient out there, fishing o, eating the roots of the reeds, using the reeds for weaving, building their homes and boats, etc... It was very interesting to see. They even raise their own guinea pigs (cuy- a common meat served at meals in Peru). We even got to take a ride from one island to another on a reed boat. We then set out on the boat for about three hours farther from shore. We arrived at the next island, Isla Amantani o. We would be spending the night here with a local island family o. On this island, life is very traditional, especially for the women. The men have been known to go the mainland for work or festivals, but the women often spend their whole lives on the island. All of the people on the island are mostly vegetarian, that is all of their daily food is vegetarian, they only eat meat for festivals or celebrations. They do raise sheep on the island o, but they sell them to the mainland towns, they do not eat them. Mostly they raise them for their wool anyway. They are up early working their fields where they grow many grains o and potato varieties. They are a very fun loving, gentle people who often live into their hundreds. We stayed with a wonderful family that we just adored in a cute two story house o. We were told that accommodations were rather primitive and were pleasantly surprised to have regular beds and even electric lights! I had been picturing a pile of straw with a couple of blankets thrown on top. They prepared us wonderful vegetarian meals of homegrown grains, beans and vegetables in their authentic wood fired cooking areas o. Later that night, there was a dance with their traditional music and they dressed us all up in their traditional clothes o. It was very fun. It was nice to see them keeping their old ways and teaching it to the next generation. Everyone was at the dance, kids and great grandmas. You should have seen the smiles on the old ladies faces as they danced, they definitely enjoyed themselves, it was not just a show for the tourists! After a nice breakfast with the family, we again boarded our boat to go to the next island of Taquile. When we arrived, you walk up about 500 steps to the village on the top. This island also is very traditional, but a different peoples than those on Amantani. Both islands peoples rarely inter-marry with people from the mainland or other islands, so they are a very pure race. You can see differences in their facial structure as well as their traditions. They are both very proud peoples, proud of their heritage and their island. While on this island, we saw two weddings o and a festival o. It was a very big day there. The priest only gets out to the island about 3-4 times a year, so anyone that wants to get married, waits for these dates. They take marriage very seriously, we were told that there is no divorce, they mate for life! We had a nice lunch of lake trout before wandering around some more, taking in the sights and walking down the other side of the island where the boat would meet us to take us back to the mainland. We had a nice easy trip back to shore, again about a four hour trip. When we got back to town there were barricades of rocks and broken glass bottles in many of the streets from the strike, but we heard that not much had actually happened. The next day we planned to take a bus to the other side of the lake into Bolivia. We were going to stay in the town of Copacabana for a few days of R&R. We will tell you in person about this e-ticket adventure border crossing! It turned out that we all came down with a mild bug, low grade fevers and just not feeling well. We had a very nice (but inexpensive) small hotel right on the shores of Lake Titicaca. It was very beautiful and they had great, hot showers. We stayed three days and stayed in the rooms much of the time. The owner thought that we were mighty strange tourists just staying in our rooms and not doing very much of the tourist stuff, but we just wanted to rest. From there we boarded a bus to take us to our next destination.
The drive back across the Andes and down to the lower altitude city of Arequipa was beautiful. Still a very stark landscape, but there were wild herds of alpacas, llamas and vicunas (similar to alpaca or llama) o that were fun to see. Arequipa is a beautiful, colonial city surrounded by high mountains and volcanoes with quite a bit of history. High up in the Andes peaks are glaciers and snow covered volcanoes. It turns out that there were many sacrifices up on these peaks, including human ones. Several mummies have been found recently that are in very good shape because they have been frozen for the past 550 years. We went to see one and it was quite amazing. They are still doing testing of the skin and organs to learn more about these ancient peoples. We also toured a wonderful monastery o that was like a city within a city, that was shrouded in mystery for hundreds of years, it is like taking a step back in time to wander around in there. Another place to visit in the Arequipa area is Colca Canyon o, which is touted as the deepest canyon in the world, twice as deep as the grand canyon! (There is actually another canyon near by that is slightly deeper, but much more difficult to get to.) It is a full day drive to get up into this area. You spend the night in a small village (Chivay, 11,760' high) where there is a hot spring. We spent a couple of hours gazing at the afternoon light changing on these high Andes mountain sides as we soaked in the outdoor hot pool drinking a cocktail. It felt like we were on vacation or something. That evening we went to a dinner where there was a traditional folk dance show with fun music and dancing afterwards. The next morning, you get up very early to travel by bus to the canyon sides where the Andean Condors o catch the updrafts as the morning air heats up and rises to the canyon top. We saw five condors, which was very exciting, especially for Nancy who spent part of her childhood on a ranch with California Condors flying overhead.
We left Arequipa on the most uncomfortable bus ride of our trip. We were so glad to finally arrive back at sea level, and to get off of that bus! Our destination was a small, coastal, desert oasis o for some sand-boarding o. The kids had been talking about and looking forward to this the whole trip. We checked into a fun, place with a pool right at the base of a very tall dune o. After spending a couple of hours sleeping to catch up from the horrible bus ride, Mike and the kids took right off for a few hours in the dunes. Nancy stayed at the hotel and hung out by the pool and relaxed. Needless to say, they had a blast on the dunes o! Speaking of dunes, it seems that the whole coast of Peru is sand dunes, sand mountains, very sterile and bleak. It is mostly the same going up into the mountains, very sparse plant life. The only green areas were right around and along rivers and lakes. We were very surprised at how stark much of the country was. That evening we had a nice walk around the lagoon o and ate at a lagoon side restaurant. This was a very small village with a very international group of tourist visitors. It seems like it is on everybody's list of things to do. From there we headed a couple of hours up the coast to a small town that is known for surfing , Cerro Azul. The next morning we rented a board and sent Fletcher out into the cold South American waters. It was not great waves, or a great board, but at least he can now say that he surfed Peru o! Later that day, we went inland along the Canete River to the town of Lunahuana. We were looking forward to some river time, wine tasting and horseback riding, all of which we did the next day. It was a fun day, the river is cold and fast moving o, the wines were sweet o, and the horses slow o. We also got to visit a haunted house! This area is also famous for it's Pisco's, the local brandy. It tasted more like moon shine, but we bought some anyway. We were now four+ weeks into our trip and were all about ready to get back to the boat and the animals. We took a few local buses to get two hours up the coast to Lima where we would catch our bus back to Ecuador. We spent a couple of days in Lima, went back to China Town for more dim sum, raced around to the artisans shopping areas to buy the last of the souvenirs, and bought our tickets for the long bus ride back. We had a very comfortable 29 hour ride back to Guayaquil. They again fed us and showed some fun movies. The time really goes by pretty quickly. We saw lots more of the stark Peruvian coast and were amazed at the change of scenery as soon as we crossed the border into Ecuador. It was suddenly lush, green and tropical again. We got to Guayaquil in the evening and had to spend the night to catch the last of our buses back to Bahia de Caraquez. It was warm and humid again, at least more that we had been used to for the past several weeks. The next day we arrived back home, where the bus dropped us off right at the gate and there was a fun social gathering of about 20 cruisers for Sunday game day to greet us. It was so great to be home! The animals were as happy to see us as we were to see them!
Please click to enlarge!
Dana's birthday, bus ride into the Andes, Cusco scenes
Sacred Valley sites and scenes
Machu Picchu scenes
Machu Picchu fauna and flora
A great regional festival that we happened upon in Urubamba on Mother's Day
The floating Uros Islands of Lake Titicaca
Isla Amantani and the sweet family that we stayed with
All dressed up, island style, and ready to rock
Isla Taquile, a wedding and annual festival
Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Andean Condors, and alpaca/ llama/ vicuna herd
Huacachina sand dunes
Cerro Azul surfing, Rio Canete river day, and Lunahuana wine tasting and horseback riding