Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Peru - Day 11 & 12 - THE END!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Today was a nice day, relatively relaxing! I was up with the sun, again not intentionally, but it was beautiful! I walked around the property a bit and enjoyed an amazing breakfast – the breakfast buffets in these hotels have been amazing!

After breakfast, I took a nap, but was up in time to meet Betty for another Incan ruin tour and then off to the Juliaca airport for my trip to Lima.

The day was beautiful and we drove an hour outside of Puno to Sillustani. There are funerary tours, both Incan and pre-Incan. Pretty amazing cylinder structures used as tombs. Plus, the views of the surrounding lake are really breathtaking. We climbed around for about an hour and then it was back in the van for another hour as we drove to Juliaca so that I could catch the plane to Lima.

An hour later, I landed in Lima, walked 40 steps across the street and arrived at the hotel. No more 5-star hotels for me; although, this Ramada is perfectly nice! AND I am back at sea-level with I like MUCH better!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I SLEPT! I slept from 8pm until 6am! Yeah! Being right across from the airport, I woke up when the first planes took off this morning. I put on my running shoes and took off for a run.

Another amazing breakfast buffet and then I walked across the street to the airport to hit the duty-free shops. The airport also had a Starbucks AND a Dunkin’ Donuts! I know, I already had breakfast, but a blueberry donut was calling me name!

After a little shopping, I headed back to the hotel to wait for my guide show me Lima! Unfortunately, the guide never showed…. So I hopped in a cab and just toured the city with my guidebook, but in all the excitement, I forgot my camera in the lobby. Thankfully, I don’t think I missed much as Lima didn’t seem to be that exciting. But… oh well.

Right now, I am packing and am going to take a quick nap since I have to be at the airport at 3am! I fly from Lima to Miami to Dallas to LA. First Class frequent flyer award ticket meant... I take whatever route I could get! I do have a two-hour layover in Dallas and my parents have already promised to buy me NACHOS! I can hardly wait!

Thanks for taking this journey with me – I hope you enjoyed it!

Love, Kathleen

Monday, May 26, 2008

Peru - Day 8, 9 & 10

Friday, May 23, 2008 – Cusco, Peru – Monestario Hotel

So another night of tossing and turning. I think I am ready to attribute my sleeplessness to the altitude. We are really close to nature here – river running and birds chirping. My little bungalow was apparently near the path of the bird tour, so that was what initially woke me up at 5am. Then when I tried to burrow back under the covers, I looked at the wall and… a HUGE spider. HUGE, bigger than my hand HUGE! That pretty much woke me up and there was no going back to sleep!

At that point, I figured I might as well grab breakfast and start the day. I wandered the streets and did a little shopping - bought some jewelry and a few trinkets. Then I found a little street cafĂ© and watched the world go by – so many excited tourists!

At noon, I jumped on the train to Ollantaytambo. I met five guys from Houston on a Bachelor’s Party TRIP and so it was a ton of fun to talk to them. It made the 1.5hrs go by very quickly. There was also a “show” on the train – they had some native dancers perform and sing in the aisle. Neat idea, except the singing was horrible. Being a horrible singer myself, I can recognize horrible singing and THAT was horrible singing! But amusing/entertaining nonetheless! The singing and dancing were followed by an Alpaca wool fashion show (to ABBA’s Dancing Queen) and then naturally, we could buy the sweaters, hats and shawls they were modeling. It doesn't get cold enough in California for wool so I didn't buy anything!

I parted ways with my new Texas friends at the train station and I found my way back to Cusco. The route back to Cusco was through the Sacred Valley, but it was so pretty that I enjoyed seeing it all again.

I made it back to Cusco by 4pm which barely gave me enough time to check-in to the hotel – The Monsaterio (Probably the nicest hotel I have EVER stayed in - I could get used to 5-star hotels :)) – grab a guide and see a few things in the city. Thankfully the hotel was centrally located so it was easy to see a lot of the main sights. Cusco is an amazing city – I really enjoyed it.

The first stop was the Plaza de Armas – the main square. The Festival de Corpus Christi had started that week and I was, inadvertently, lucky I was there that week. I couldn’t take pictures inside La Catedral, but it was amazing. As part of the festival, all the local churches march the statues of their Patron Saints into La Catedral and so there were 17 (?) statues on display inside the church. They will be there the whole week and then they will be marched back to their home churches. It was quite unique.

The church itself was also amazing. It was built in 1550 (a LONG time ago!) and had some awesome colonial art and intricate woodwork throughout. One of the most interesting pieces of art was a painting of the Last Supper, but the main dish in the center of the table was a Guinea Pig!

After leaving the church, we then headed to Qorikancha, Temple of the Sun. The temple was used by Incan priests to monitor celestial activities, but is currently the base of the Convent Santo Domingo. The stonework was amazing. At one time the walls were covered in Gold, but were looted by the Spaniards and so we can only guess at what it must have looked like.

Because we were crunched for time, we dashed to Incan ruins, Saqsaywaman, which were 15 minutes outside of the city. The ruins have both religious and military significance. The site is one of the bitterest battles of Spanish Conquest and marks the end of the Incan Rebellion. By the time we finished walking the ruins, it was cold and I was wiped out so it was back to the hotel for me!

I had a chance to explore the grounds of the hotel for a bit and even in the dark, the grounds and gardens were amazing. The hotel is on the site of 16th century cloisters with Jesuit roots.

After exploring a bit, I showered, ordered room service and then watched a little TV. Even in Spanish, “Full House” is funny :). Get this – the hotel is so fancy that to help with the elevation, the pump Oxygen into the rooms! Hopefully, I’ll sleep well!

Saturday, May 24, 2008 – Puno, Peru – Libertador Hotel

I was up bright and early to catch a ride to the train station. Today, I rode the Orient Express (in Peru) from Cusco to Puno. Our train was called the “Andean Explorer.” I had the option to take a bus, hire a car or fly, but I thought the train ride sounded fun and a neat way to see the countryside. So for the next 10 hours I saw a lot of the Peruvian countryside.

The train itself was very comfortable and I had my own little dining table. There was a couple from Colorado at the table next to me, an Italian couple on their Honeymoon in front of me, an Australian Couple and a German couple behind me. It made for quite an interesting journey.

I am glad I did the train option, but 10 hours is a long time! They served us food, kept us entertained and let us walk around. As we passed through the various towns, people would come out of their houses to wave at us. The cutest were the kids who were waving so hard I thought they’d fall over!

So for 10 hours I chatted with the people around me, listened to my Ipod, read a book, wrote in my journal and looked out the window. The train only made one stop and so we were able to get off and walk around a little bit. Naturally, the stop also had street vendors selling Peruvian trinkets.

All in all, it was a nice way to see the country and slowly climb to 14,000ft. By the time we pulled into the Puno Train Station, it was dark. But I managed to find my luggage and get to the hotel – Libertador, same chain I stayed at in Arequipa. Very nice, but I am tired and ready to go to bed!

Sunday, May 25, 2008 – Puno, Peru – Libertador Hotel

I was up at 5am because the hotel clerk told me I would have an amazing view of the sunrise and he wasn’t lying! It was spectacular and I watched the sunrise over Lake Titicaca!

Today my tour guide was Betty. Betty picked me up at 7am and we took a speedboat to the Uros Islands in Lake Titicaca. I am not even sure how to describe the islands! They aren’t even islands; they are floating boats – made of straw. Each “island” is home to about 7 families and if you want you can actually spend the night with one of the families – not an option I chose! The islands are obviously very wet and cold and we were allowed to look in the homes. Sadly they are a bit commercialized, but still nothing like I have ever seen! We visited two islands and traveled between them on a reed boat. I was on the boat with the couple from Colorado I had met on the train, so it was fun to chat and take pictures with them.

After we were done exploring the Uros Islands, then it was back on the speed boat to go to Taquile Island. Taquile is a really island of about 2,000 inhabitants and it is like traveling back in time. We hiked for about two hours and the altitude was a bit daunting. I was definitely breathing heavily, but we made it to the top of the island and the view was worth the effort!

The Main Square was interesting and fun to explore. It included a church and you often hear that Peru is 95% Catholic. However, I *think* their Catholicism is more broadminded than what I expected. Many have never attended a Mass and their churches, at least in the rural communities, have heavy Incan influences with Sun, Mountain and Water worship.

The people of the island were very friendly and opened up their homes to us for lunch. I even ate trout :( so as to not appear rude! The bread was yummy. And as entertainment, the children performed various native dances for us. It was a nice experience and I enjoyed the glimpse of a different culture largely untouched my modern conveniences.

After lunch we caught the boat back to Puno and I was barely able to keep my eyes open for dinner!


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Peru - Day 7 - Machu Picchu!

Thursday, May 22, 2008 – Aguas Calientes, Peru – Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

I tossed and turned a lot throughout the night – seems to be a reoccurring theme on this trip! But I was up at 6 and ready for pick up at 6:30. Then it was back through the Valley to the train station and I hopped on the 7:45 train to Aguas Calientes. The train ride was about 1 ½ hours long and they served breakfast so I felt like I was traveling in style! The scenery was, again, magnificent and I spent the whole time looking out the window.

We passed by the “start” of THE Inca Trail, when in reality there are hundreds of Incan Trails in Peru. This particular one is the infamous one and now, in hindsight, I am sad I didn’t hike it. I really thought about it quite a bit but in the end decided against it knowing I was traveling alone and not knowing how I would handle the elevation. Oh well.

But the train ride was nice, too! I was almost sad to pull into the train station!

Next step was to find the bus stop. Aguas Calientes is the small down at the base of the Mountain, so you need to take a 25-minute bus ride to actually get to the ruins at the top of the mountain. The buses were really easy to find and so the journey began!

I hired a guide for a ½ day to help me navigate the ruins, but it turned out to be a HUGE waste of money and my time. I was so disappointed. He didn’t know anything worth anything, was rude to other tourists and I think he was making things up - I actually ended up eavesdropping on other tours to get an idea of what structures I was looking at as well as their significance. My tour agency helped me find this guide and I’ll most certainly let them know that he was useless! He was even an accredited guide – they have to take a 5-year college course to be “official”. He was “officially” worthless! Thankfully, I had only hired him for half the day and I was so eager to get rid of him, that I skipped lunch and sent him on his way. I could have done without a guide – the logistics were all easy enough – but I was hoping for history and stories!

So, I took the afternoon and explored the ruins myself! Suffice it to say that pictures I have seen of the ruins don’t do it justice! NO picture I have ever seen captured what I was able to see, touch and climb today! The evidence of human erosion is sad and there is a pretty strong movement to close MP to tourists and build an observational balcony for the future. That would be sad to see, but it would also be sad to see MP ruined because of an overflow of visitors. Either way, I am lucky enough to have walked the grounds, touched the rocks and smelled the flowers! I climbed all over the ruins and again, eavesdropped on various tour guides, and just tried to learn everything I could! Finally, near the end of the day, I just sat down and looked over the Valley and ruins and watched the sun start to set. There really is something to the “vibe” people mention when visiting Machu Picchu – it is something to reflect on!

And right before I left, I ran into more Aggies! 3 men proudly wearing their Aggies’ hats – they really are everywhere! But it was fun to chat with them and talk about where we had been!

I could spend paragraphs and paragraphs describing everything I saw, but nothing I write would come close to capturing what is Machu Picchu! Over 300 pictures! Even on the pictures, I didn’t put captions - you’ll just need to visit it for yourself! It was just a peaceful day and I left a little before 5, found the bus and rode it back to town.

I still hadn’t checked into my hotel. I had a general idea of where it was and so I started to wander. There are street vendors everywhere, restaurants on every corner, but… no Starbucks! :) I stopped in a few shops and bought a few little trinkets. I wasn’t able to find an ATM so I needed to conserve the $ and decided to make my way to the hotel. Naturally, with my sense of direction…I got lost. I did ask a few people for directions and they got me on the right path, or so I thought. Apparently, I misused a word – so here is a fun fact I learned along the way – a red light above a door means it is a brothel. Prostitution is legal in Peru; although, you need a license… – all part of the adventure :). Eventually after a few wrong turns, I made it to the RIGHT hotel and got checked in.

This hotel is AMAZING – so far it is my favorite. Checking in is actually a “process”, where you have to listen to an orientation. Apparently it is very eco-friendly hotel and every possible amenity you would/could want is here! There are only 85 individual bungalows and the views are spectacular. Plus the rooms are very luxurious. I’ll be sad to leave it in the morning! Apparently I got upgraded – I have a sitting room and a fireplace, which they lit for me!

So I am just going to relax this evening. Tomorrow I am going to head into town to do a little shopping and then catch a 12:30 train back to the Valley and then on to Cusco for a quick city tour!

So far this has been a fun trip and it has been over a year since I have been out of the US. It was about this time last year I was biking through the Irish countryside with Simone, Leslie, Dan and new friends – fun times. But this trip came at just he right time – I was going a bit stir-crazy being stuck in the US! I blame my parents – they are the ones who emphasized the importance of traveling and seeing the world!

I have been going out of my way to try to be friendly to everyone, attempt the language and smile at anything that moves. Of course, as I said, I am having a ton of fun so it is hard not to! But growing up overseas, one of the many lessons I remember my mother adamantly enforcing was to never be the “Ugly American.” So I try to leave people with a positive impression (and tip well) but I have noticed a lot of rude tourists, not just Americans. They don’t seem to have any regard for the culture and it is a bit unsettling to watch – we are visitors in someone else’s country and we should behave like polite guests! My mom also taught me to always carry Kleenex because toilet paper is a luxury many don’t have, including many Peruvians! So Momma - thanks for that tip, too!

Love, Kathleen

Map of Peru

I thought this would help clarify where I have been and where I am going. I am only exploring the southern part of the country. Lima - Arequipa - Sacred Valley/Machu Picchu - Cusco - Lake Titicaca - Lima.

Peru - Day 5 & 6

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 – Urabamba (Sacred Valley), Peru – Sol y Luna Lodge

Up bright and early! Early as in 5am! I have yet to really sleep in any morning on this “vacation” – there is just so much to see and do and I am trying to pack in as much as I can.

But we can't have a trip without a little drama! While getting ready to checkout, I realized that my phone was missing…. Thankfully, it had been turned into the front desk and had only been used to send three text messages (my apologies to the three of you who got text messages from “me”). I apparently left it in the gift shop when I was getting change. That phone is my life line home - I use it to keep my parents updated so they aren’t worried about me getting kidnapped by South American Guerillas, occasionally check email and live for text messages - thanks to everyone for staying in touch so that I don’t feel so…out of touch.

But after the phone fiasco, I got to the airport, checked in, paid my airport tax and cleared security with no problem. (I WAS a bit worried after my last airport fiasco…)

I met a nice group of English girls on “holiday” while we were waiting for the plane. Apparently the planes have to leave early in the morning because the winds and the temperature do …something….that makes it hard to fly. So we took off at 6:45am. An uneventful flight and I arrived in Cusco an hour later. Cusco is a pretty big airport and it was really easy to get to the Sacred Valley. I did quickly notice that we were at 11K ft elevation, but after 16K the previous days, it was a piece of cake. The Sacred Valley is only 9200ft so I wasn’t at that elevation for long, although, I‘ll be back in a few days for a ½ day and an overnight.

On a side note – I found out that Jorge and Felix (my guide/driver from the previous days)made a bet I wouldn’t be able to make the Colca Canyon journey because of the altitude. They had oxygen in the van and didn’t think that this “senorita” would make it past 8K! Hmph - they apparently underestimated me. I bring this up because it is apparently a badge of honor! In Cusco, the driver’s jaw dropped when I told him where I had been. He actually pulled out a map and pointed to the Canyon to confirm we were talking about the same place (my Spanish is conversational, at best, so the map helped!). He kept shaking his head and mentioning it to other drivers whenever we stopped – "Fuerte senorita de Canon del Colca”. Apparently the altitude and cold weather aren’t tourist draws… not sure what I was thinking or why I went… but I am going to wear it as a badge of honor, especially if it gets me discounted cab fare again.

The point of the day was to tour the “Sacred Valley” known for its Incan heritage and preservation of that heritage. Outside of the historical significance, it is also beautiful with terraced landscapes, green fields and serves as the border to the Jungle. The mountains are huge and the weather was beautiful today so it everything was bright and clear. It was a bit eerie, but there are also hundreds of holes in the cliff walls which served as Incan tombs. Overall, the valley and gorge are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and with this trip I’ve visited 6 continents so I can say I have seen a few things! Pictures won’t do the area justice, and I wish I was a great writer who could describe how beautiful the drive was, but I can’t think of words that would describe how pretty it was/is either!

There were so many animals – just laying out in people’s front yards – cows, donkeys, chickens, pigs…And on more than one occasion we had to stop to let the animals cross the road in front of us. It is definitely a rural farming community. The towns all seemed to be fairly small and poor, but the homes seemed to be well built. There were quite a few little towns that we drove through, all unique in their own way. And the people waved at us as we drove by – it was like being in Texas!

So on the way to the Sacred Valley, after I made a stop at the top of the city to take pictures, it was on to a camel farm. More Llamas, Vicunas, Alpacas and the elusive Guanaco, the fourth camel I had yet to see.(Ray – thx for the spelling!) Even though it was in captivity, it was still neat to see.

Another Peruvian tidbit – the Sacred Valley is supposed to be the longest in the world and is also rich in Copper, Silver, Gold and Tin (or so the driver said, I haven’t been able to verify…)

After the camel farm, on to a local market in Pisac. The market had pretty much the same tourist “stuff” that all the other craft booths had but on a much bigger scale. I’d say there were at least two hundred different booths. I am not one for shopping… I know, I am a girl, but I just don’t like shopping! But I walked through the market and looked at most of the different booths and their crafts. The jewelry was pretty impressive and I saw a lot of pretty things, but it appears I have expensive taste so I kept on walking. There were traditionally dressed locals in colorful native dress in addition to all the crafts. I also grabbed lunch at the market and I am pretty proud of myself for thus far having eaten only local dishes and delicacies, but I had a piece of pizza and it was YUMMY! I couldn’t eat it all, so I gave the rest of it to a little boy who was begging in the market. Sad, such sad, deep, dark eyes, but my pizza made him smile.

AND, then I ran into 5 Aggies. One of the guys was wearing a Texas A&M sweatshirt so that was an easy conversation starter. It was fun to meet them and then of course, there was the required smack talk about whose alma mater was better! Still, it was great fun to chat, in the middle of Peru, with people who said “y’all"!!!

Pisac is also home to a colonial village and an Inca Fortress but I didn’t have time to see much because I wanted to push on to a larger fortress deeper in the valley.

Makes sense that a river runs through the valley - I was supposed to go white water rafting tomorrow, but that was before I saw the river…!! I cancelled the trip. The river was really shallow and GROSS. Apparently, the sewage of the local towns runs into the same river I would have been rafting on. I didn’t bring enough antibacterial soap to make that trip! ICK! They didn’t mention THAT in the guide book! I was really, really disappointed because I REALLY want to go whitewater rafting. I’ve never been and it looks like so much fun – guess I’ll save that for another trip! Anyone wanna go whitewater rafting?

So after scouting out the river, we kept driving into the Sacred Valley. The next stop was Ollantaytambo (I still can’t pronounce it and I’ve been practicing all day!) to see the Inca Fortress the city is known for. Apparently, it is the best maintained example of Inca city planning with narrow cobblestone streets and town layout. According to the guide book, the city has been continuously maintained since the 13th century. That is a LONG time!

The ruins are, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. The Incas never finished the fortress/temple, because it was started close to the decline of the Incan Empire and the arrival of the Spaniards, but the structure is still very impressive. The Incas hauled the stones for the terracing and the temple from over 10 miles away. I hired a guide, Jose, to help with the history and although, he was knowledgeable, he wasn’t in such good shape. The ruins were steep and even though we were at 9,000ft, I wanted to climb to the very, very top. But… he had to keep stopping and catching his breath. It was driving me nuts! I wanted to climb! But in fairness, Jose did give me a few tidbits about the Incan empire. We eventually made it to the very top and the views of the valley, as well as the fortress below were memorable. I am sure I’ll be able to call up that picture in my mind’s eye for years to come. I was looking at the pictures I took that day and… none of them really do Ollantaytambo justice…

Thankfully, heading down didn’t take as long as climbing up. Sadly though, there was plenty of evidence of human erosion. Such a shame.

After leaving the ruins, we headed into the center of town to get a feel for the way the Incans laid out their cities. More interesting than the layout was the way they channeled water through the city to serve as the town’s water supply. The town’s buildings are mostly Incan and much of the original architecture is still intact. We walked the cobblestone paths and were even invited into one of the houses. I felt very awkward and didn’t take any pictures, but the houses were very small and cold. And they had about 20 guinea pigs running around the floor for upcoming meals – THAT was a bit disconcerting but only because it is a different way of life.

After walking through the town, I made my way to the Lodge. I’ll be here for two nights – a record breaker since for most of the trip I’ll be in a different hotel EVERY night. Since I am not rafting tomorrow, I’ll most likely walk into town and explore, do a little shopping (I need postcards), laundry and possibly treat myself to a spa treatment. If the weather holds, I’ll make time to lay out by the pool! The grounds here are really nice. Again, I have my own bungalow; there are horses on the grounds and a fitness center. This will be a nice place to relax before I leave for Machu Picchu bright and early on Thursday morning!

Before bed, I walked outside to look at the sky – no city lights to take away from the stars and the hotel does a bit of a constellation show. It was a beautiful night and a full moon. The groundskeeper/security guard pointed out the Milky Way, a Cross constellation and Mars? I don’t know any better so for all I know he was right. I just thought that it was a pretty night with pretty stars, but I think that I’ll read up on astronomy when I get back home!

I didn’t stay outside too long – lots of bugs! Made me glad that my shots were all up-to-date!

I hope you enjoy the pictures! I am taking, on average, about 150 per day so I am only sharing a few or you’d die of boredom! Thank goodness for this little laptop – it is tiny, but it allows me to journal my trip, download pictures and then use the internet! What did people do before computers?!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 – Urubamba, Peru – Sol y Luna Lodge

So today, the plan was to sleep in and I did – until about 7. But that is later than I have been sleeping the last few days. I did go for a little bird walk – the hummingbirds here are fantastic and so are… other birds. (Sorry Judy, I didn’t catch half the names, but they were pretty!) And… the rest of the day was spent by the pool – (Simone, thanks for the valuable advice to ALWAYS travel with a bathing suit no matter where you are going!) I enjoyed reading and chatting with other hotel guests. I was so excited to meet two American couples and they let me TALK to them! I was starved for human conversation! It was fun getting to know them. I did get a little laundry done so (with a little bottle of Fabreze, another Simone tip, I should be able to make it the rest of the trip!) I decided to pass on the spa, but I did take a nap after lunch and finish up two books I had started. I also read my Peru guide book so I knew what to expect over the next few days.

The staff here is really nice, but the hotel is fairly remote. I was warned against walking the highway into town, for safety reasons, so I was pretty much confined to the hotel. It was just as well – gave me chance to rest up a bit and since this is a “vacation” I wasn’t averse to resting! NO internet or TV so I had to keep myself entertained.

Dinner was quite entertaining. They had local musicians visit and demostrate their talents on ethnic instruments, including a stirring rendition of "Pop, goes the Weasel" :)

After dinner, I started to pack. The train for Machu Picchu leaves early in the morning and I can only take one small bag. I’ll leave my bag here and stuff a change of clothes into my backpack and hit the road early in the morning. Machu Picchu is the whole reason for this trip so I am very excited about the next two days!


Peru - Day 4, Supplement

I noticed in re-reading the blog from Day 4 that I left off the return tour of Arequipa! I included the pictures, but forgot to talk about exploring the town. So in case you were losing sleep over my oversight:

We explored Arequipa a bit. I took some great pictures of the city from the city “balconies”. We also visited a garden and a guinea pig "farm." The town has some amazing churches, one in particular, La Catedral, was stunning and had the most beautiful pipe organ. I couldn’t get over how big it was, apparently imported from Belgium. The city also has a beautiful town square – Plaza de Armas.

But one of my favorite parts was the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. It is a beautiful convent, still in use today, but a majority of the “compound” is for tourists. It was/is a city within the walls. Now, it only houses 28 nuns, but the grounds are a neat glimpse into colonial Peru. It is a bit disorienting with its narrow streets, hidden staircases, and tiny living quarters. I took a tour and the tour guide had only been speaking English for two months and her English was flawless…

It was interesting to note that much of the city of Arequipa lies in the valley below El Misti, an active volcano. I wonder what their property insurance costs…? Apparently you can also hike to the top of El Misti, but robberies are common, you need an ice ax and it is 19K ft high! Chachani is also a local Volcano that many people climb, but it is 800ft higher. But both are “active” volcanoes, won’t catch me climbing them!


Monday, May 19, 2008

Peru - Day 3 & 4

Sunday, May 18, 2008 – Colca Canyon/Chivay, Peru – Casa Andina

First off – I think I am going to have to move to Peru. The men call me “beautiful” and the women tell me I am “too skinny!” Do you think they need a Johnstone Branch in Lima?

So today got off to a great start – I was up bright and early – mostly because I was excited about the day ahead. NO headache so the altitude hasn’t been a hassle…yet. Of course, we are going to double the altitude by the time the day is done. I just haven’t spent much time at higher elevations so I am not sure how I’ll react. The only time I can recall was climbing Mt. Fuji and I remember being really tired and crying at more than one point, but I am not sure if that was because I was 12 years old, out of shape, cold, scared, fighting the altitude or… all of the above?

So I grabbed breakfast in the restaurant and met a lovely couple from Germany. Thankfully they spoke English because my German, in spite of my heritage, is non-existent! They had taken six months off of their jobs and were driving the Pan-American Highway – quite ambitious and they had fun stories to tell.

Jorge picked me up and we headed out of Arequipa to Colca Canyon, which is in a National Reserve. The city is surrounded by Volcanoes – we are smack dab in the middle of the Andes! The most famous volcano here is El Misti and it peaks at 21,000 ft! But the views, even from the city were amazing. El Misti is where the “Ice Maiden” was found – apparently the Incas believed in sacrificing children to the gods – and this 12-year-old girl had been frozen and was found in amazing condition. Still a bit sad…. Apparently (thankfully?), they only sacrifice Alpacas and Llamas now.

But as we drove out of town, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the views were spectacular! The plant life is pretty colorful and unique. Apparently there are 4 types of Peruvian Camels, of which the Llama is one. Besides the Llama, we saw the Alpaca and the Vicuna. They are actually pretty easy to tell apart now that I know what to look for. (It is just as well that we didn’t see the fourth type because I have NO idea how to spell it…)

While we were driving, Jorge also gave me a history lesson which I very much appreciated (since I already confessed to not having done much research before the trip). We stopped occasionally to take pictures of the animals and plants and took a break at 12,000ft for a bit of shopping. More coca tea and I learned how to chew Coca leaves – not something I loved or care to repeat, but had to try it once. Apparently, the leaves have healing qualities before they are processed into Cocaine. I bought a few local crafts but mostly because they had two adorable kids selling them (I know, B… I am an easy target) and so a few dollars made them happy and I have a purse that I will never, ever use again...:)

Surprisingly, the roads were in really good condition, but there were parts that were really bumpy. A bunch of switchbacks as we worked our way up to 16,000ft. So get this… I worried for nothing. NO headache or any other issues. Jorge said my soul was happy and that a happy soul helps with altitude sickness. But, I think lots of fluids, coca tea, sweets and the breathing exercises Kevin D. taught me – were more of a factor! We did a little hiking but I didn’t want to overdo it and push my luck. Our driver, Felix, had a very good eye and pointed out all sorts of animals that I wouldn’t have seen on my own!

So after goofing off at 16K, we pushed on towards the Canyon itself and although the Grand Canyon is pretty spectacular, Colca Canyon is impressive in its own way. It is actually twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and the 2nd deepest canyon in the world. Again, more pictures and more history. It was actually quite chilly – there was snow on the ground and ice covered some of the rocks. By this time, we were getting hungry so Felix drove us down into the bottom of the Canyon to the town to Chivay, a town at 11,000ft, where we checked into our hotel and had lunch.

Lunch – I tried Alpaca. It was “okay” – it tasted like lamb. I was hungry enough to eat it in spite of having just seen a bunch of them and commenting on their cute faces! I am a horrible person, but I was hungry…

Then in the interest of not overdoing it, I was “ordered” to take a two-hour nap, which I did and woke up refreshed, but with a bit of a headache, which is apparently pretty normal. But off we went to explore the city!

The city of Chivay is very primitive, but the people are very friendly. Amazingly, I have great cell phone reception here in the canyon. I am not lonely or homesick, but when traveling alone it is nice to feel in touch with everyone via text messages - gotta love modern technology!

We drove around and admired some of the architecture, which has a very obvious Spanish influence. Spent quite a bit of time walking the streets and looking at the markets. Found myself getting easily winded (duh!) but enjoyed seeing what the city was about. Jorge let me explore on my own and so I walked through the meat and fruit market – got some interesting pictures…. And if you can believe it – there is a McElroy’s Pub – Irish pubs really ARE everywhere! And then also explored a local Catholic church which was unique in its own way – most certainly not what you’d find in the United States.

Then I found a group of local women and girls in traditional dress walking their Alpacas back from the countryside so, using my pitiful Spanish, I asked for their permission to take their pictures. They were so excited; of course, I knew they would expect a tip so I am not sure that it was just the picture they were excited about! I took lots of pictures. I am kicking myself that I didn’t think to actually get IN the picture with them, but I was just so focused on watching them, I didn’t think to. Their dresses are beautiful and the hats indicate their marital status. One flower means single, two flowers means married and a single black flower means widowed. I really enjoyed *trying* to talk with them – it was fun and they had contagious smiles! Then I ended up helping two other groups of tourists take their pictures and pay the tip – just being helpful :)

So then it was back to the hotel for dinner. In the lobby, two local ladies were weaving and one was apparently a local fortune teller. I passed on the fortune teller, but watched the ladies before I went into dinner. I played it safe with Chicken and wasn't at all tempted by the local guinea pig, which is apparently yummy? It is very, very cold here – it is supposed to get down to 0 degrees tonight and it feels that cold to me already! I have two heaters in my room and layers of blankets. I am actually thinking of foregoing a shower because it’ll be really, really cold when I get out. So now it is off to bed, we need to leave the hotel at 6am to make the trek back up to 16K to see the Condors! Tomorrow is going to be another exciting day!

Monday, May 19, 2008 – Chivay, Peru – Casa Andina

Up bright and early! I just *thought* it was cold last night because this morning – even colder! But I managed to get moving, grab breakfast and meet Jorge at the van by 6:15.

We took off towards Condors’ Cross, but made a stop at a neighboring town square to check out the local arts and crafts – they are out EARLY! There was also a kids' group doing a native dance and that was neat to watch. Then it was back in the van for another 2 hours as we headed to the Condors. We drove along the Canyon so the views were different from the day before – more farmland. But there were a lot of tourists and buses so it was slow going as we ALL made our way to the top of the Canyon to see the Condors.

Thankfully by the time we got there, it had warmed up a bit – and I found a nice warm spot in the sun – and we waited for the Condors to start flying. We saw 2 young males and 2 adult males. They were pretty spectacular to watch! I was so caught up in watching them that I didn’t take that many pictures! But I am sure that pictures wouldn’t have done them justice anyway. We also saw Falcons, Hawks and Finches flying around, too. All in all, it was pretty spectacular.

So then after the birds were done flying, we headed back to Arequipa. I have to be honest, I am not sure I would recommend this part of the trip to anyone else. The Canyon and the Condors were pretty neat, but it took a LOT of driving to see them. We were in the car another 5 hours, via the same route, to get back to Arequipa. The advantage was getting acclimated to the higher altitude since the next few days won’t find me below 8K and as high as 14K. But otherwise… Maybe they could do a helicopter tour of the Canyon, if someone hasn't already thought of that!

So here I am back at the same hotel – El Liberatador - getting ready for tomorrow. It was nice to get two days worth of dust and dirt cleaned off! I enjoy being outside, but I sure do like to pamper myself a bit, too! Had a nice bath and thendinner with a few French travelers who had just arrived from Cusco, which is where I am headed tomorrow morning. And since 5am will be here very early, that is it for now!


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Peru - Day 1 & 2

Friday, May 16 - LAX

So this trip snuck up on me – I didn’t really get as much done as I wanted to before I left. So today, the day of departure, I *think* everything has gone way too smoothly…. I am now relaxing at the gate at LAX with my Snickers bar :)

**** Lima, Peru. Costa del Sol Ramada

Okay, so get this – they speak Spanish NOT English here… My first clue, when I got on the plane and the stewardesses, err flight attendants, said “a la derecha” – holy mackerel! So apparently 4 years of high school Spanish and two years of College Spanish WERE going to come in handy (Calculus has yet to prove useful…). So far everyone automatically assumes I am a native-speaker and approaches me in Spanish, and then I open my mouth and butcher the language - but I appear to get points for trying and smiling!

Granted, I feel ill prepared for this trip – I got bogged down trying to get ahead at work and that took priority so I just didn’t do as much pre-trip legwork. I didn't read as many books about the country as I normally do. I didn’t even know the exchange rate (or the name of the Peruvian currency – Nuevo Sol) until I was AT the airport - that is so NOT like me. At the very least. I should have brought my Spanish/English Dictionary!

So I get to Lima, the flight was 9 hours and I read books and I practiced my Spanish on the nice gentleman sitting next to me, who was very accommodating. And then the best part - my seat turned into a bed and I had a nice, down blanket to snuggle with – I loved it! So I slept a few hours of the flight as well. Gotta love American Airlines and frequent flyer miles which got me the business class ticket – it was amazing and I have now decided it is the only way to fly.

So the adventure has begun – and it has been fun so far. I am in the hotel in Lima. Thankfully, under pressure, 6 years of Spanish came back to me and I was able to navigate immigration, get my bag (yup, bag is singular – I only packed 1 bag for 13 days!), clear customs and get to the hotel with NO drama. But, in the interest of full disclosure, the airport and the hotel… right across the street from each other. I walked out the terminal, took about 40 steps and was at the front desk of the hotel.

Tomorrow, I’ll get to sleep in a bit, hit the gym, find breakfast, and then walk 40 steps back across the street and catch a flight to Arequipa.

Saturday, May 17, 2008 – Lima to Arequipa

I woke up ahead of my wake-up call to an overcast and dreary day. I threw on my running stuff and went in search of the gym – no luck, but I did meet a bunch of guys in the hallway from Northern California carrying a surf board. Apparently Peru is well known for surfing? Who knew? Anyway, it has only been 24 hours, but it was fun to hear “dude” in conversation – it made me smile.

Then it was off to the airport for Arequipa – 40 steps back across the street. NO problem getting checked in and figuring out how to pay my airport departure tax. But when I tried to clear security… apparently they weren’t happy I had prescription antibiotics. I was pulled aside and asked a lot of personal questions – thankfully, by someone who spoke English! But after about 30 minutes they decided I wasn’t a drug trafficker? Honestly, there were maybe 6 pills left in the bottle. Do I look like a bad guy?

Anyway, so finally made it on the plane. It was a beautiful, clear day so my first exposure to the Andes Mountain Range was spectacular. It didn’t seem as though we were flying very high at all because it appeared we were barely skimming the tops of the mountains, but I think that just proves how HIGH the mountains are. The views were honestly breathtaking. The flight was only about an hour and I looked out the window the entire time!

**** Arequipa, Peru – Liberatador Cuidad Blanca Hotel

I met my guide, Jorge, at the airport in Arequipa. He is going to be with me the next few days while we explore Colca Valley/Canyon. But today, he picked me up at the airport and brought me to the hotel, which is very, very, very nice.

Before he left, he gave me advice on how to best acclimatize. We are at 7,000ft here in Arequipa and over the next few days will get to 16,000ft. Then we’ll end up back in Arequipa, then I am off to Cuzco (11,000ft) then to Machu Picchu (8,500ft) and then to Lake Titicaca (14,000ft). So coming from sea level, I listened very carefully and took his advice! Basically, he wanted me to rest up for the remainder of the afternoon, drink lots of water and enjoy the local “coca tea” which is supposed to help with the flow of oxygen. He also recommended no alcohol and a light dinner. I did as I was told!

I didn’t really seem to have an issue with the altitude today here at 8K, but it is a bit depressing to walk a flight of stairs and have your heart pounding at the top! I walked the grounds of the hotel – there are llamas on the property – and then forced myself to sit still and do nothing, which takes Herculean effort on my part!

The next few days should be pretty amazing. Jorge is a professor at the local university and really seems to enjoy showing off his country. He is very smart and very animated so it is fun to listen to him speak. We will leave bright and early and drive through the Aguada Blanca National Reserve and visit a few local towns with a focus on the history, the animals and the culture. We’ll do a little hiking and we’ll also get to see Colca Canyon with is over 9,800 feet deep! The last day we are going to end up at “Condors’ Cross” where we will hopefully get to see Condors with an impressive wing span of 10 feet! The next few days should be pretty amazing. Then we’ll end up back in Arequipa where I’ll get to see a bit of the city before heading out the Cuzco.

I posted a few pictures (click on the word bubble for captions), but there really hasn't been much to see so far and when there was, as we were flying over the Andes, my camera was stowed away (Grrrrr...) So… stay tuned for more. I think the next few days will be amazing. Not sure that I’ll have much internet or cell access in the remote parts of Peru we’ll be in, but I’ll check back in when I can!


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Indianapolis to Portland to Peru

I just got back from a trip to Portland and before that I was in Indianapolis. Now I am scrambling to get ready to leave for a trip to Peru... I know, life is rough, huh :)

The trip to Indianapolis was for training, as was the trip to Portland. I wasn't able to take much time to explore in Indianapolis, but I did explore a bit while in Portland! The slideshow above shows is of Portland and all the great waterfalls we were able to see while we were there! What an AMAZing time I had - thanks to all my Portland tour guides!

So I'll be sure to check in once I get back from Peru to let you know how I spent 12 days exploring the southern part of the country!