Traveler: Tina C.
Travel Dates: July 18-August 4, 2014
Destination Visited: Machu Picchu, Amazon Rainforest, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Sacred Valley
We decided to go to Peru last fall, as we had laid out plans to undertake 3 days in the Peruvian Amazon, the 2-day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, hikes up Huayna Picchu and Putucusi, mountain biking and horseback-riding in the Sacred Valley of Cusco, sea kayaking in Lake Titicaca (which is just fun to say)…all of which was met by my usual angst regarding our capacity to meet the physical challenges, tolerate the heights, not fall of cliffs, or cycle off the edge of the world….
Day 1 (July 18) – Travel to Lima
We left early morning….The Lima guide met us at the airport and I was thrilled to discover that Peruvian winter here was 20 degrees Celsius! We drove to our hotel and soaked in the atmosphere at 1 am…sketchy, rundown, deserted, third-world country neighborhoods. Hmmmmm…this was Lima? We later learned that the drive from the airport is not representative of this beautiful city…very very true. Got to our hotel, found our rooms, kids speaking far too loudly in the hallways, waking the other patrons, and hit the hay at 3ish. Wow…we are in Peru!!!
Day 2 (July 19) – Lima
We had a good breakfast at the hotel and then set out on foot to explore Lima on our own. Walked through markets and discovered the souvenir and specialty items particular to Peru…including phallic monkey pipes toting giant penises that the boys amongst us got quite the kick over. We walked to Huacca Pullaca, in C.’s words “The Mud Pile”… a pre-Incan historical/ceremonial site that covered large portions of the city at one time….We walked and walked around Lima and discovered it was an awesome, large, bustling city with an active downtown core. It reminded me a little of Mumbai…in the sense of a large coastal city, bustling with people, merchants, and restaurants with the charm of old-world architecture, imperfect store-fronts and oodles and oodles of people. I just love the atmosphere in these older countries…just walking down the street is a feast for the senses. We made our way to the ocean and discovered tons of surfers, a beautiful oceanside boardwalk, and all the American outlets you can imagine…Guess, Nike, Starbucks…you name it!….
Gr. had organized for us to attend a futbol game between two rival Lima teams at the Stade Nacional, and we were all super psyched to go! We had absolutely NO IDEA WHAT WE WERE IN FOR!!!! THANK GOD WE DECIDED TO GET THE FULLY ESCORTED EXPERIENCE WITH LIMO AND GUIDE BECAUSE WE WOULD HAVE BEEN TOAST OTHERWISE!….
We got dropped off at a Japanese restaurant called Osaka, where we were meeting a colleague of the guys living in Davis, CA, and his beautiful Peruvian wife from Arequipa (B. and S.)…. We drank Pisco Sours, lychee martinis, and ate divine sushi…enjoying a very nice late late dinner with this couple. We discovered that just as in Europe, restaurants are bustling at 11 pm far more than at 6 pm for their evening meal!…..
Day 3 (July 20) – Lima City Tour
We waited for our guide for a city tour of Lima at 9 am, who didn’t arrive until 10 am…mixup at the local office for which they were insanely apologetic. We piled into the coach for a half-day tour of the city and got to see how large this city of 9 million people really is. As we got off the bus at one of the town squares, we happened upon a back street where the members of a parade (taking place that evening) were practicing. Independence Day in Peru is July 28, but the parade was happening today, and scores of young and old from the community, adorned in bejeweled costumes and makeup, danced, sang, and twirled down the street. It was super cool to see…felt like Peruvian Mardi Gras, without the naked women and pearl necklaces flying about! . . . .
We made our way around town, and finally took a tour of St. Joseph of San Francisco (I think…I’m writing this on Day 6 of what feels like three weeks in!), where we enjoyed seeing the catacombs! Walking through centuries-old tombs carrying scores of bones, skeletons, and skulls…all beneath the chapel of a huge beautiful church. At one time, it housed over 2000 (or 3000) monks (can’t recall the number…but what’s a thousand monks between friends?)…and now only holds 20! Far more elbow room at the dinner table in the 21st century! (Do you think they ASK to pass the salt???).
The coach dropped us off at our paragliding adventure cliffside, some of us with knots in our guts…but what the hell…YOLO, right???….We paid the 87$ each to jump off a cliff, and signed multiple waivers clearing the company of any responsibility for their performance….We were literally SOARING through the air…way above the city buildings and far above the beachside highway and ocean! It was SURREAL!….
We then made our way back to the beautiful restaurant at Huacca Pullaca where we were meeting our new friends for lunch….The boys immediately chose to order the Peruvian specialties of Guinea Pig and Alpaca….and loved it!….It was awesome to meet this delicious family, and the experience of shared laughter with people you’ve just met from another culture makes you realize that the world is a small place and that family is family everywhere….We said goodbye to our new friends and headed home, preparing for a 2:30 am wake up call to catch our 5:30 flight to Iquitos. The Amazon Adventure Awaits…
Day 4 (July 21) – Lima to Muyuna Lodge
Soooo much fun waking up waaaay before the crack of dawn to catch a crack of dawn flight! We were flying to Iquitos in the north of Peru, to spend two nights in the Muyuna Lodge 140 kms up the Amazon River, and one night in Iquitos….It was beyond surreal to be in the Amazon…seriously…how are we here??? Thick rainforest brush could be seen from the plane absolutely everywhere, a spectacular view. The humidity hit us immediately upon landing, and C. was quick to find a gargantuan moth in the airport within five minutes. I loooooved the drive from the airport to the offices of the Muyuna Lodge within Iquitos, as it reminded me of Kerala, India. Little tuck-tuck scooters littered the roads, entire families on mopeds with infants between (slightly older) siblings, tropical foliage along the roadside, old, rundown signage everywhere and that general feeling of “this city has existed here forever”!….
We get to the offices of the Muyuna Lodge, where we leave our large suitcases for two nights, and take our essentials in BACKPACKS…soooo not easy for a woman…even if she’s headed to the rainforest! NO…the bugs won’t care what you wear and your hair is a humidity nightmare throughout, but we still need options…long-sleeved/short-sleeved…shorts or pants…etc. etc… We then headed out to breakfast before the 3-hour speedboat journey to the Lodge….We then headed over to the boat dock and made our way down the AMAZON RIVER to our home for three days….I felt like Huck Finn going down the river, and observing the locals, in their hand-made houses, cleaning their clothes and pots at the rivers’ edge; young children in canoes all by themselves, spear fishing for the needs of their family. Our cultures were dramatically contrasted by the sight of a five-year-old boy canoeing all alone in a dilapidated old canoe…no adult supervision…no life jacket…just doing his thing! It was adorable and AMAAAAAAZING to see!
The lodge was a super cool, eco-friendly venue, with exceptional staff and brilliant food. We had four rooms assigned to the eight of us, so each pair got their own spacious hut, bathroom, and deck with two hammocks to lie in and relax between jungle excursions. No hot water but who needs hot water in this heat? Very Amazonian…except for the flushing toilets, showers, and king size beds!!! There was a dining hall where all the guests would enjoy their meals, a game of cards, or just relaxing with a drink. We were assigned a fabulous guide named Carlos, offered a delicious lunch, and given the keys to our huts with a time to return for our first river adventure with Carlos. It was truly surreal. WE JUST COULDN’T BELIEVE WHERE WE WERE!
Headed out down the river a couple of hours later in a comfortable motorboat with Carlos as our guide…He had an uncanny ability to locate the wildlife within the trees…even smelling the monkeys before seeing them….
After dinner, we had the most exciting excursion of caiman viewing in the dark! We headed out after 8:00 pm with Carlos and …an expert at catching caiman. We would slowly approach these smaller alligators near waters’ edge and the guide would literally grab the caiman from deep down in the water with his bare hand! After missing the first few, he caught a white caiman for all of us to admire, touch and hold before releasing him. This was definitely a highlight for everyone, but particularly the kids….The hysterical part of this excursion though, was the experience of being hit by jumping fish as we jet-boated down the river…they would jump in willy-nilly, hitting us by surprise in the darkness…. Sleeping in the huts was very comfortable…no AC or fans but it was very pleasant. Fascinating to hit the hay with all kinds of animal calls, whispers, screeches, buzzes…when are you EVER in a position to sleep with the wildlife of the AMAZON…like seriously?
Day 5 (July 22) – Muyuna Lodge
It would seem that Peru, like India, runs on its own standard time. Meals are at set times, but inevitably arrive 30-60 minutes later…but really…where are you rushing to in the middle of nowhere???…We got up early for a river excursion with Carlos at 6:30 am, and saw birds, monkeys, sloths…well…some of us did! We returned for breakfast and then got ready for our jungle excursion…a two-hour hike in the woods! Dressed in long pants, long sleeves and billy boots, bug- and sunscreen-creamed…we were an enthusiastic bunch bug-eyed for the local wildlife! Carlos stops us within the first five minutes to explain that we must walk quietly, in single file, so that he and his assistant, armored with a machete, can keep an eye out for poisonous snakes…an unlikely occurrence, but nonetheless…let’s embrace the boy scout motto…be prepared!
We set off on our hike on a trail through the rainforest pinching ourselves that we WERE IN THE FLIPPING RAINFOREST…and admired the flora and fauna that was pointed out to us along the hike….Shortly thereafter, as we were following the guide in anything but single file as instructed, Carlos suddenly screamed in his native tongue, arms flailing..EVERYBODY STOP NOW!!!!! THE DEADLIEST SNAKE WAS WITHIN A FOOT OF R.’S FEET! We initially didn’t know what the hell was going on, but his assistant was quick to hack it with a stick, stunning it to immobilize it…scaring the sh– out of everyone!….Thin little innocent-looking bugger…but with a deadly venom that had caused deaths…so the lodge now stocked the anti-venom…but only enough to save one small gringo! After everybody recovered from our near-snake experience…we went on to see tree rats, marmoset monkeys, red ant villages, and drank tree sap called Cat’s Claw that cured everything from arthritis, to parasites living in kids’ bellies…and I think he said AIDS and cancer too…but don’t quote me! Super cool walk…ready for lunch.
After lunch was a highlight for the group…piranha fishing! We took off in a small motor boat and got stuck in some seriously thick floating plants with the motor. It occurred to us that deep in the Amazon, there ain’t no cell coverage so when you’re stuck….As we watch our kids’ noses buried deep in their iPhones…it’s seriously tough to imagine being CYBER-MIA FOR MONTHS AT A TIME!
Thankfully, our machete-toting snake killer was equally handy at releasing us from this thick brush and we were off to our fishing sites! We got super cool makeshift fishing rods…out of a forest stick, some heavy wire (we are seeking man-eating piranha after all), and chicken liver as bait….At various times, the fishing rods would break and a neighboring fishing crew would offer theirs as they floated by…everyone’s so generous and friendly around here!…
We enjoyed some lovely aji galina, a common Peruvian chicken dish served in a yellow, flavorful sauce with their local rice for dinner in addition to our beautiful plate of lightly fried fish…many bones but very tasty!….After dinner the girls and Gl. decided that we’d had enough Amazon for the day and chose to forgo the tarantula- and snake-sightings during a night walk through the jungle, guided by Carlos. It’s tough to get up off your tukhus after wine, a yummy meal and the energy involved in re-anti-bugging oneself for an evening stroll filled with deadly surprises! Non Merci! The night sky in the Southern Hemisphere, unfettered by city lights, is however, SPECTACULAR! I don’t think we’ve ever seen as many bright stars, the Milky Way as clearly, or the constellations one would see at this latitude. Amazing. The boys and Gr. discovered two scorpions (one extremely venomous), tarantulas, a red beetle, and bamboo rats amongst other night crawlers. Everyone was quite happy with their cold-water showers after a great day. Dying to wash some of these clothes we are re-wearing…containing a lovely melange of deet, sunscreen, sweat, the occasional fish spray…you name it! As we packed only for the few days here in our knapsacks, a large variety of clothing was not really an option! Who cares…we are in the AMAZON…can’t stop saying that…
Day 6 (July God Knows What…) – Muyuna Lodge
We all marvel constantly at the ability to lose complete track of time….Seriously…when the days are so jammed with activities…time FLIIIIIIIIIIEEEEESSSS…NOT JUST THE BUGS! We had lots to do on our last morning at the Muyuna Lodge so we were up and at ’em by 6:30 with Carlos…! We canoed over to a local village, entitled San Juan de Yanayacu containing the grade school for nearby families, a few huts and a few stalls selling handicrafts, literally right on the river. We explored the small area and offered full price to the ladies selling their wares, trying to buy from each of them so as to spread the wealth… to the locals…and THAT was the point. School was out on break, but we peered into the one-room classroom to discover desks and chairs, chalkboard…some artwork on the walls…no whiteboards, internet, iPads, or computers here! Underneath one of the small huts held up on four sticks was a wooden box…the local jail! If ya done wrong you be holed up in solitary for up to a week!!!
We then jet-boated down the river while Carlos prepared our breakfast trays to be enjoyed under full sun, along the amazon river ride, with scores of white egret birds flying before us…rather surreal. We were heading over to the highlight of our stay…a swim in the river with the pink and gray dolphins!….It was AMAAAAAAAZING! Refreshing water, with a significant little insidious undercurrent that had the three girls miles from the boat within minutes I must say! It was seriously awesome…definitely an amazon highlight! On our way back, we stopped to see the GIANT lily pads in another body of water….
We returned to pack our bags, shower, and eat another yummy meal before our three-hour boat ride back to Iquitos for the night….All in all, a truly memorable experience at The Muyuna Lodge…another great highlight of our Peruvian adventure….Finally reached Iquitos, retrieved our luggage from the offices and got a lift to our hotel close by. Super cool colonial-style hotel…3-star place with some opulent appeal…recommended by Barbara…cool digs for our one night. The BEST part was that they were willing to do laundry for 35 Soles/kg of clothing so we gave them everything but the kitchen sink! Poor guys stayed up quite late and worked early morning to finish the task!
We headed out to dinner and I just loved the feel of this small Amazonian city…it reminded me of India. We passed stalls of merchants selling the same souvenirs we purchased from the village near Muyuna (go figure), and we strolled along the local boardwalk, choosing one of the restaurants recommended to us….
Day 7 (July 24) – Iquitos Tour, Belen Island, and Flight to Cusco
Got out around 7 am after breakfast at the hotel, for a quick tour of Iquitos with our guide Mario, and a stop at one of our favorite things to do on vacation together…VISIT THE LOCAL FARMERS’ MARKETS…WITH ALL THE LOCALS SELLING THEIR MEATS, FISH, VEGETABLES, FRUITS, WORMS, ENTIRE PIGS, CHICKENS, COWS, GUINEA PIGS, AL PACA, STILL-MOVING CATFISH, SPICES, SHAMAN MEDICINAL PRODUCTS, TEA…YOU NAME IT, YOU CAN FIND IT! Gr. was determined for us to see Belen…one of the districts of Iquitos that housed this famous market and it was soooooooo worth the early wake-up call! People were all set up by 5:30 am…ladies wearing their jewelry and dresses, scaling and gutting fish…then turning to their daughters to brush their hair or mind their babies swinging in the famous Peruvian blankets that DO EVERYTHING! Seriously…properly knotted, these blankets will cradle a newborn-to-toddler on your back for the whole day, a sack of potatoes, be a hammock in the market for a small child, etc etc…! We marveled at all the food, took tons of pics and thoroughly enjoyed our early morning walk! I don’t know too many friends who would enjoy such experiences on holiday…another incredible compatibility between our families! This is like Disneyland for us!!!
We then hopped on a boat and got a tour of the floating islands of Belen, with a boat driver and Mario as our guide. Super cool experience…saw the village along the water with their straw hut homes, satellite dishes and apparently, 52-inch TVs…within walking distance of their wooden box outhouse located at river’s edge! Floating school, bar, disco, wow, wow and wow! We all sat on the roof of our boat and marveled at how some people live their lives…absolutely fascinating to me! Sooooo cool…all of it a feast for the senses and a great education for all of us! We all reiterated that these types of holidays are indeed, our favorites because ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING IS NOVEL, STIMULATING, AND JAW-DROPPING…TRULY UNFORGETTABLE!….
Off to the airport we went…headed to Cusco for a few days before our trek to the incredible Machu Picchu…Peru’s jewel in the mountains! Arrived in Cusco around 5:30 and we were met by Nick, the local agent who picked us up and delivered us to our hotel for three nights. He was super friendly; offered a few bits of history during our drive; suggested ways to acclimate well to the higher elevation by having a light meal, drinking coca tea (but not too late as it’s considered Peruvian Red Bull) and taking it EEEEEAAAASSSSY! It gets dark very early in the Southern Hemisphere at this time of year, so we arrived at our hotel at dusk, with all the city lights in the town square making Cusco look absolutely BEAUTIFUL! There were homes situated up along the mountains with a large town square in the “valley”, lined with beautiful cathedrals, shops, restaurants, and hotels. It was stunning. It reminded us of a ski village to some extent, with the mountains in the backdrop, and the cooler evening air necessitating warmer clothing. Gl. noted an immediate shift in his breathing capacity, and a faster heartrate, as did K. within a little while. We headed out for dinner after settling into our Casa Andina classic, ideally situated in the heart of all the action. We ate at The Inka Grill, and I was very very much on the lookout for altitude sickness symptoms, and as such, mildly uptight! We elected to wait on considering the Diamox medication to see if we acclimated on our own accord. Hit the hay early…we were in Cusco! Huuuuuuge temperature shift from the Amazon!!! M. and I were FREEEEEZING…it was ridiculous considering what we deal with at home!
Day 8 (July 25) – Cusco
We had the morning to ourselves so we slept in until 7:30…oh my…what a treat! Walking outside our hotel, we were floored to discover hoards of people right outside our hotel, and effectively all over the square, preparing for the grand festivities of the day…the ceremonies and parade associated with Peruvian Independence Day….We walked around on our own all morning, ending our time in the Inka Museum, where Gr. organized an English guide. We learned about the Inkan Empire, enjoying the tour, but eventually finding ourselves grabbing bench seats wherever we could to sit down. I suppose we were all feeling the altitude. We decided to head for a short nap before meeting our guide, Harry Salo, who would accompany us throughout Cusco, and onto MP…thereby spending 6 days with our group….we headed out to lunch with him prior to an afternoon of walking about town, visit to the large cathedral in the town square, and other things I’ve since forgotten because I’m now 47 and writing this a week later!!!
[We] headed over to Uchu, a Peruvian Steakhouse, and the number 4 resto on Trip Advisor for Cusco! Gl. discovered this gem…we all ate like kings…perfectly grilled beef tenderloin kebabs for the men, a trio of meats for Ch., shrimp in a yummy glaze for the boys and myself, and the local stuffed potato treat for K. (as well as half of Gr.’s beef!). It all came served on a big wooden block, with four delicious side sauces, a fantastic fresh salad with avocado and peppers, and your choice of potatoes…hot chili/peanut-infused mash, sweet mash, fries, or regular mash. OUTSTANDING!…The only bummer was the fact that they placed us in an unheated section of the restaurant, outside the main building with a few other patrons…it was Saturday night of a long holiday weekend in Peru and the town was buzzing, women were dressed to the nines, and the restos were active. Oh well…it’s all an experience!
Day 9 (July 26) – Sacsayhuaman & Horseback Riding Excursion
Unfortunately, altitude symptoms have no mercy and I had a wicked night of chronic headache despite my trusted friend Advil. Manageable pain the day prior…albeit still a drag to experience…but the night came with greater intensity and I finally succumbed to the Diamox. Gl. and K. also started taking it today…R. was symptom-free. After a short while…the edge was off the pain and I felt much better.
Harry met us early today for a tour of Sexy Woman…or Sacsayhuaman? We took our coach up to this large archaeological site, where we saw the large stone constructions of the Inkas over 500 years ago. He was a great historian, and we enjoyed our tour of this large expanse of land and lookouts over Cusco. We also had an opportunity to explore some caves in this area…a definite hot spot for the kids! Shortly thereafter, we headed over to the horses, and all hopped on our vehicles for a couple of hours’ tour of the Sacred Valley on horseback! TOTALLY COOL experience! We were horsebackriding in Peru! Within the beautiful mountains, rolling hills, and guided by a lovely woman carrying her toddler daughter in one of those all-purpose multi-colored blankets on her back, as well as a young man who kept the horses in line. We would get off our hosts every so often to go explore some Inkan ruins and then resume our ride through the hills. I only freaked out once or twice when my horse bit the ass of the horse before him, suddenly changing direction and causing me to yelp! Thankfully…everybody is used to me by now…
After our ride, we went into Cusco for lunch at LIMO, a great spot in the central square recommended to us by Harry, where we enjoyed more yummy Peruvian fare. Despite the original agenda of free time after lunch, Harry offered to accompany us to the local markets for great shopping…so sweet of him. The Mercado was bustling with stalls…ladies selling everything from alpaca sweaters to futbol jerseys, to all of the local handicrafts, fruits and veggies…you name it! Most of us enjoyed trying on and buying some cozy, soft alpaca sweaters…I had to buy two! We then enjoyed a nice rest before heading out to PachaPapa for dinner, where we sat outside near a heat lamp and enjoyed EATING AGAIN!!! Not much exercise accompanied by three full meals per day…starting to feel a little rolley polley!!! Always fun navigating the narrow streets of Cusco…sidewalks are two feet wide at most (so large crowds are walking in single file along narrow streets), and motorists enjoy their right of way so good luck to ya! Good times!
Day 10 (July 27) – Chincera to Maras Mountain Biking Expedition and Ollantaytambo
We are checking out of The Casa Andina in Cusco today to head out to Chinchera, Maras, and ultimately Ollantaytambo for our mountain biking expedition. I was somewhat (okay…seriously) anxious about this ride as I didn’t know how technical, steep or flipping scary the experience would be…given my limited mountain biking experience and nervous disposition next to steep cliffs! Looking good so far, as we stopped on a wide dirt road, got outfitted with all the appropriate gear and took off at over 12000 ft altitude! Yuri and Harry were our guides for the day…very impressive riders…and flat tire changers! OMG…just a minor incline can leave you quite breathless at that altitude…but the ride was lovely with the spectacular array of mountains all around us, and sheep and cattle sharing the road! Suuuuuuper cool experience until the lunchtime stop…even with the insane uphill climb we conquered around a hairpin turn and narrow road. We enjoyed our boxed lunch that Harry provided nearby the 500-year-old Inkan agricultural site, Moray. The latter was an experimental project involving a series of circular terraces of increasing height within a large field, to determine what crops grow best at what altitudes/temperatures. Very impressive for 500 years ago!
We then took off for the more hair-raising and exhausting part of our mountain biking adventure…along some steeper cliffs and rocky terrain…I had to walk some of the more technical elements…The gang continued on after that for the final ride down the mountain to the 2000-year-old salt pans. After hemming and hawing on whether to continue, I decided to quit while I was ahead…and apparently, I made a good call. As K. exclaimed, “Fearing you’re not gonna make it is what I loved the best!”…this is MY child??? Gotta find me some of that moxy…
After visiting the really cool salt pools, we headed to our hotel in Ollantaytambo for the night, prior to our day-long trek to Machu Picchu the next day. A crazy volume of traffic had us abandoning our coach in favor of a walk to this little village from which thousands board the train, or choose to trek to Machu Picchu. After settling in, we headed out to eat at what appeared to be a sports bar in the village. Headed back to pack all of our needs into two small duffle bags and our backpacks for the next few days in Machu Picchu. Thank God for Harry’s experience and advice here…M. and I would have packed down jackets and wool hats/mitts for the hike…when shorts and short-sleeves were more appropriate! TRUST YOUR GUIDE!!! NOT THE FOLKS AT ‘SPORTS EXPERTS’ AND ‘SAIL’ THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY WHO SOLD ME SNOW PANTS FOR THE TREK!!!!!!!
Day 11 (July 28) – 2-Day Inca Trail Express to Machu Picchu Trek
….We had to take off at 5:30 for the train to km104, from which our trek would begin. I was nervous as hell….The hike was SIMPLY SPECTACULAR…exceeded all our expectations. We started out at the train station waaaaay down below, and every hour we reached new heights…often hiking along edges of cliffs, amongst the most breathtaking array of mountains…going higher and higher! Often, I had to focus on the path ahead rather than look down or really take in my surroundings…when the treeline disappeared, we could feel the cliff’s edges!….
We finally arrive (about 5.5 hours and 12kms later) at THE SUN GATE, and come across tons of people enjoying the view of Machu Picchu from a vantage point far above. It was like turning a corner and getting the surprise of your life! IT WAS SOOOO BEAUTIFUL! WAAAAAY MORE GRAND AND SPECTACULAR THAN MY EXPECTATIONS! WOW….WOW….OMG….AND WOW…!!!!!! Like a jewel in the sky, with the most spectacular mountain backdrop…our jaws were dropping BIGTIME at its beauty. M. and I chatted with a couple from Oregon who had done the four-day alternative trail…Salkatanay?…the trail selected by trekkers when the original Inka Trail has sold out. They said it was flipping steep, scary and difficult…with many hikers literally CRYING on day 2…the steepest, most challenging, hands-and-knees part of the climb! I was VERY VERY GRATEFUL that we got to have the opportunity to enjoy the trail for one day, saving both time and energy for other activities in Peru…not to mention my nerves (don’t particularly wish to CRY on vacation!). After a million pictures cliffside…, we made our way over to MP, to revel within its stone walls, multiple terraces, hundreds of steps, some llama and sheep, and thousands of visitors.
A zillion pics later (thank God Harry had the patience of a saint), the skies which had threatened rain for a few hours, darkened and (thankfully) ONLY AFTER our day’s hike and arrival…the rain came. We slipped on our rain ponchos purchased in Ollantaytambo the night before…each of us in a different color, and enjoyed Harry’s informative tour of MP in the rain! It was suuuuuper cool…a very different experience…the crowd thinned and we had a hoot of a time giggling at our colorful, goofy, cone-head outfits, touring a wonder of the world! We even saw a rainbow in the mountains…beautiful! Eventually, we headed down to the shuttle, and the rain fell in sheets as we waited for the bus. Took the shuttle to the quaint little village of Aguas Caliente, the town that hosts travelers to MP, and settled into our Andina Luxury Hotel…a lovely venue with rooms overlooking a beautiful stone-filled river, at the base of the mountains. Harry made reservations at a funky, warm, inviting restaurant, and joined us for dinner. We had a great night and felt pretty damned awesome about where we were, and how we got there…we hiked the INKA TRAIL!!!
Day 12 (July 29) – Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu
After breakfast, Harry met us to return to MP for more exploration, pictures, and the Beattie’s hike to Huayna Picchu. The latter is the steep mountain seen in all MP pictures, hosting 1192 steps to the top, where your view of the entire site is spectacular and flipping terrifying at the same time! This was the hike I had YouTubed in advance of our trip, and had vertigo at my desk, as I watched various hikers’ GoPro images of their hike up, their terrifying experience at the top, and their hike down this massive structure. Having seen the videos themselves, the kids and Gl. equally agreed that we would sit this one out! Apart from any concern for cliffside danger, we were also exhausted from the previous day’s hike…finding every step quite physically challenging today…general fatigue at this altitude. So 1200 steep steps uphill were not on my wish list today!
They returned from their hike, sharing that indeed, the steps at the top were about 10 inches wide, and only thick enough for part of your foot, no handrails or ropes, in the open with 100 meters fall to one side! NON MERCI!!! M. was surprised that it was as scary as it was, as she was not typically anxious with heights…needing to engage those steps backwards, facing the mountain, so as not to be aware of her POSITION ON TOP OF THE WORLD! I WOULD HAVE FLIPPED OUT FOR SURE!!! SOOOOOO GLAD WE ENJOYED MP FROM BELOW FOR THOSE COUPLE OF HOURS!!!
We then spent the remainder of the day taking goofy family pictures from various terraces onsite. One of the guards interrupted our photo shoot when we were having too much fun climbing on top of each other for silly snaps! So pics were taken whenever he turned his back and walked in the other direction! It was a silly, goofy, fun afternoon in the sun…at MACHU PICCHU! Surreal…
Headed out to another great dinner with Harry at The Tree House…a sophisticated, beautiful restaurant in Aguas Caliente where I had the most delicious meal of my trip…a spectacular quinoa ravioli filled with walnuts, parmesan and Andean cheeses, and covered in a delicious pesto cream sauce…OUT OF THIS WORLD!!! HARRY DID NOT DISAPPOINT! Our boxed lunch today was also from this resto and it was delicious! Finally, M. got a great gluten-free lunch that wasn’t bags of potato chips and crackers! We had a lovely evening….
Day 13 (July 30) – Return to Cusco
….We walked and walked and walked this morning along the railroad tracks, with the kids placing one soles coins on the tracks to flatten as the trains went by. It was a beautiful warm day, and it was nice to walk on flat land for a change! . . . . We enjoyed a lovely lunch beside the train tracks with Harry, before heading over to the train station for our 90-minute ride back to Ollantaytambo, to retrieve our suitcases from hotel storage. We regrettably discovered that our almost 6-hour hike to MP could have been replaced by a measly 10-minute further ride on the train! ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? WE HIKED FOR HOURS TO COVER A 10-MINUTE DISTANCE??? We said goodbye to Harry, our guide for over six days of this fabulous adventure, and thanked him for being, in the kids’ words, A BEAST! We loved having him with us, and I particularly enjoyed a long chat along the tracks today. He was a fantastic guide, and we will miss him heaps!
The VISTADOME train was another cultural experience…and one I was much happier in than on the way TO km104 with my tummy bugaboo! We all got to sit facing each other, enjoyed coffee and snacks, and a FASHION SHOW by the train staff who were both modelling and selling their warm wear…sweaters, coats, and shawls. They also dressed as joker clowns and danced, tickled and surprised the passengers to Peruvian tunes…particularly engaging the kids who were trying desperately to pretend they were asleep! Never a dull moment on this trip…full of surprises!
On arrival in Ollantaytambo, our driver met us at the train station, guided us back to our luggage, and…we were off to Cusco for one last night.
We decided that Uchu was a must do-over for our final night in Cusco…this time in their restaurant proper!…….probably the priciest meal of the trip, and yet very reasonable in North American standards for the quality of the cuisine! We were a VERY HAPPY BUNCH TONIGHT!!!
Day 14 (July 31) – Puno
The coach retrieved us this morning for our drive to the bus station, for our WONDERBUS adventure to Puno…our final destination on this trip. Upon arrival, we discover that instead of our 4-6 hour expectation, we would be embracing a 10-hour drive today…with multiple stops at Inkan ruins, lunch, churches, and burial sites! WTF??? SERIOUSLY??? TEEEEENNNNNN HOURS??? At this point, we were at the end of our trip, and all the ruins start to look the same, and we don’t really care anymore!!!….Surprisingly though, the day passed quickly, and I was able to blog our trip throughout…an opportunity I had not had to date in our busy schedule!
….We arrive in Puno at dusk, and are met by our guide Roya, and coach. We laugh as we drive through Puno to our hotel…None of us were particularly enthralled by Puno, but our hotel was very nice, and centrally located…and we were here for Lake Titicaca. A bit nervous about reexperiencing altitude symptoms as we were now at the highest elevation yet…13500 feet!….We went out to Pizza Andina for dinner and enjoyed pizza for the first time on this trip, as well as pisco sours and red wine. Lima Street in Puno is a pedestrian-only street, hosting shops, restaurants, coffee houses and banks…and was attractive in the evening lights. Definitely cooler here when the sun goes down!
Day 15 (August 1) – Taquile Island
After breakfast, Roya and coach picked us up for the 90-minute ride to our kayaks for our trip to Taquile Island. We were outfitted with gear, including waterproof (haha) jackets, kayak skirts, life jackets, paddle and double kayak for our 2.5-hour trip. I paddled with K., who controlled the rudders from behind…and managed to soak myself through my waterproof wear! The kayak was more comfortable than I had anticipated, particularly with my sore tailbone, and it was a beautiful, warm, sunny, calm day on the water….The island never seemed to get any closer despite our intense paddling but we FINALLY got there!….
Alejandro, our host, guided us to his lovely home on the island, uphill…again…:) It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, and the lake looked spectacular. We arrived at the family lodge, our home for the night, and our jaws were dropping! It was the coolest venue ever, perched on the edge of the lake, a multi-room facility with bathrooms shared between pairs of double rooms, a separate dining hall and a lovely terrace overlooking the beautiful lake. We were so excited to be there…it just felt like a surreal experience to be staying with this family, and learning about their lifestyle. Soon after settling in, we were invited to the dining hall for a DELICIOUS lunch of quinoa/vegetable soup, homemade quinoa bread, and fantastic grilled fish, rice, mixed vegetables and potato. It was all beautifully presented and served to us on a lovely long table, garnished with their textile table linens that we later purchased! Papa Alejandro joined us for the meal, and Roya translated his boisterous and warm invitation to our stay. We learned all about the customs of the Ketchwa people here; their dress, how they present themselves if married, single, engaged; how to identify the “authorities” in the community by the color of their stitched caps and belts. We discovered that there was a two-year dating cutoff for the young lovers…if you haven’t decided whether you’re going to marry your partner in two years…you’re out the door…or off the cliff!….
After lunch, we headed over to the Catholic Festival…yet again, Peru seemed to have waited for our visit to host a festival/parade!!! EVERY SINGLE PLACE WE VISITED HAD THEIR YEARLY PARADE THE DAY WE GOT THERE!!! WTH??? TOO MUCH… So the inhabitants of this island celebrate only once per year, enjoying their moonshine alcohol, over a few days during the Catholic Festival. It was taking place within a kilometre of our lodge, at the town square….
Upon return from the festival in daylight, we had 2.5 hours before dinner at 7:30. In the southern hemisphere at this time of year, the sun goes down around 5:30, so it was about to be dark, and as such, much cooler. Without heat, electricity, wifi, or hot water, we all went to our rooms to lie under the warm alpaca blankets until dinnertime!….Dinnertime finally arrived, and we had been looking forward to another meal that paralleled the yummy fish lunch, but instead we were served white pasta with salsa and cheese…hmmm…a new combo! The soup was good, as was the homemade bread…but the meal was a wee bit disappointing…especially for poor M. who couldn’t eat any of it due to the gluten! We all accepted the invitation for more alpaca blankets and we were off to bed by 9:30. Wearing every damn piece of clothing we brought, and buried under several layers of llama, we actually slept very soundly, and had the ability to remove layers over the course of the night. Well, most of us did…K. had six blankets all night! Too cute…
R. woke up at 5:30 to watch the sunrise over the lake, so he and I sat outside on the terrace for 40 minutes waiting for the sun to peer above the shoreline. It was spectacular, and an enjoyable moment with my wonderful boy! In all honesty, I was so enjoying R.’s enthusiasm since our arrival at this lodge! He was attempting to speak Ketchwa from the list of statements we were given by our guide, and was most enthusiastic to give back to the community that worked so hard for their daily bread! It was a pleasure to watch him take such an interest in this community…I was a proud mommy! Equally excited by K.’s enthusiasm to buy a table cloth…he was determined and on the lookout for me…too cute!
Day 16 (August 2) – Uros Island
We enjoyed quinoa pancakes for breakfast and more homemade bread and jam, instant coffee and mint tea. We then decided to purchase the tablecloths made by the family hosting us, and felt really really good about being able to give back to the community by doing so. We learned that all proceeds are shared equally in this community, to go along with their simple good life motto…DON’T STEAL, DON’T LIE AND DON’T BE LAZY! As a psych, I would have rewritten it as a positive, but otherwise…WORDS TO LIVE BY!!! We walked down the path to the dock late morning and took the motor boat back to Puno. En route, we stopped at the floating islands of Uros…a series of 86 islands made out of straw and mud, housing mud homes, floating toilets, and a community of people that did not own shoes!!! Another fascinating experience! We got a brief lesson on how they constructed their mud homes, visited the small hut for a photo or two, and purchased some souvenirs from the young children before returning to our boat for the remainder of the journey to Puno. Apparently, when disagreements transpire between members of the community, the president of the island can simply cut that individual’s home right off the straw island…so this week there were 87 islands rather than 86!!! TALK ABOUT OSTRACIZATION! Again, the desire to just give these people the shirt off your back is intense…so we spent a few bucks on souvenir items from the two families selling their wares.
On arrival in Puno, we refreshed in our hotel, and while Gl. chose to recuperate with a long nap, the rest of us were treated to a lunch with Roya at the same pizza venue we enjoyed our first evening in Puno. Pisco Sours all around for the last time, and a nice lunch was enjoyed as we chatted with Roya about family life in Puno….After lunch, we walked the streets of Puno, purchasing alpaca blankets to take home, and greeting some “interesting” salespeople in the public markets that lined the streets. Later, we enjoyed the final meal of our trip … at a nearby restaurant, Ekekos. We had eaten our way through Peru…and yet my loving husband and great friends lost tons of weight…whilst I gained a pound!!! Dammit… 🙂
Day 17 (August 3) – Silustani and airport
Our final morning walkabout found yet another parade…a military one that takes place weekly on Sundays. After purchasing a few more souvenirs, hitting a coffee shop for a light lunch and cappuccino, we were off to Silustani, a burial site, on our way to the airport… As if we hadn’t had enough excitement, a volcano was erupting in our flight path from Arequipa to Lima, necessitating a change in direction…pretty damn cool to see a volcanic eruption from one’s airplane seat!!! And many many hours later, following airport madness, and waaaay too many customs lines, baggage checks, and security gates, we were once again seated on our far-too-small-for-my-sore-tailbone-economy-fare-plane-seat-on the original Boeing aircraft, ON OUR WAY HOME!!!
Day 18 (August 4) – Going Home
Another wondrous, incredible, exciting adventure under our belts with our great friends and fabulous travel companions!…I find it absolutely delicious that…the kids’ favorite experiences have been in third world countries!!!…We thank you Adventures Within Reach for creating such a fantastic adventure!