Posted on July 17th, 2010 at 12:47 PM by admin

          Upon returning to Cusco from our Machu Picchu trip, we promptly packed up our things and headed on yet another night bus to Puno. We had the choice between first class and economy (please note the difference between the two was only about $3.50). Figuring that we didn´t NEED first class, we stupidly, chose economy. I wish I had checked the temperature in Puno before reserving this bus but after so much traveling many details managed to fall through the cracks, such as this one. I was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with my nice warm fleece but it wasn´t nearly enough. The company gave us a paper thin fleece blanket but a couple hours into the trip I woke up freezing my &%$ off. Sitting next to the window was also a pretty bad call. I pulled back the window curtain at one point and saw that the windows were covered in frost. It was like Michigan in the winter in this bus minus proper clothing and heating. When we finally showed up at 6:30 in the morning we checked into our hotel and slept for another 4-5 hours. The hotel was cold too but at least had ample blankets. I must say that I´ve never been somewhere this cold that didn´t have heating. We checked the internet the next day and found that the overnight temperature traveling from Cusco to Puno was about minus 26 degrees!!!

          That day Wendy and I were both tired and hungry and had difficulty making decisions. We weren´t crazy about our hotel but decided to stay for purposes of convenience. We then planned to have breakfast/lunch in Puno, watch the world cup final and then go do a short hike to a nice lookout. After lunch, though, I was feeling less than stellar and needed to relax the rest of the afternoon. We hit up a few shops, made tour plans for the next day, ate dinner at a pretty good restaurant then called it a day.

          The next day our tour bus came to pick us up at 6:40am and of course we were running late with breakfast. The bus picked up about 15 of us and took us to a port. Before we knew it we were on a boat in Lake Titicaca, headed to the floating islands of Uros. We were greated in the Aymara language but I responded in Spanish anyhow not remembering how the guide had told us to respond. The boat ride was pretty but nothing truly exceptional until we reached the islands. We were given a presentation as to how the islands were and continue to be built of reeds. The locals must be continually building the island as the reeds rot from the bottom. We even got to taste the reeds before they were dried – apparently they are very good for your teeth. Who knew? Standing on the islands was comparable to either a trampoline or a waterbed – take your pick. Either way it was a bit surreal to think that people live that way. The winter nights in Puno, as you may have gleened from my earlier comments in this post, are pretty harsh, making life on these islands all the more impressive.

Approaching Uros Island

Presentation - How to Build Island out of Reeds

Eating reeds - yummmmmmm

          After the islands we headed to a Taquile. Here we walked from the dock up many stops to the highest point where the city was. There was a decent view and we had lunch at a local restaurant. There we learned that every restaurant serves the same lunch menu for the day and also about the customs of the area. The people there dress in a very particular way and the men even wear hats that signify whether they are single or married (much easier than the ring business I must admit).
During the tour Wendy and I met some Brasilians and also a couple from eastern Germany (yay!) I spoke some German with them of course but was embarassed by my pauses as I couldn´t remember all the words as quickly as I would´ve liked! The night was unremarkable as we went back to pack up and take off for the next stop: Arequipa.

View of Lake Titicaca from Taquile

Wendy and I leaving Taquile

Posted on July 11th, 2010 at 7:41 PM by admin

         After our tour of the Sacred Valley we hopped on a train to head to Aguas Calientes (the closest city to Machu Picchu). I met a nice Argentinian family on the train and briefly enjoyed the nice view we had of the Urabamba River before it got too dark to see. Upon arriving at our Hostal we did have a slight misunderstanding about the plans for the following day as we were told that someone would stand in line for us in the morning to get into Huana Picchu so we didn´t have to get up too early.  After a bit of discussion all was cleared up, or at least, so I thought.

          The next morning we were running late. We were supposed to catch a bus at 5:30 but didn´t make it out til about 5:37.  We started to really get nervous though when we saw the girl who was supposed to be waiting in line for us in the hostal that morning.  Apparently she was only waiting in the bus line for us and not the line at Machu Picchu. We then rushed out of the hotel to try and catch the next bus. Since the girls had been waiting in line for us we were able to cut in front of the huge line of people waiting.  The bus we finally got on was the 5th bus! We weren´t sure if we were going to make it because there is a limit of 200 people who get to climb Huana Picchu in the morning.

         At the entrance we luckily received our ticket for Huana Picchu. There were, in fact, more than 200 people in front of us but most of them opted to climb it at 10 am instead of first thing in the morning. This worked out perfect for us because we had a tour of Machu Picchu scheduled at 10 am and wouldn´t have been able to do it then anyways.

          We aimlessly found our way through the ruins to the entrance of Huana Picchu and climbed for a little over an hour more or less straight up (7875 ft at the top – note Machu Picchu is surprisingly much lower in altitude than the city of Cusco itself). We did stop several times to take pictures of the steep and windy trail up this mountain and of course to catch our breath.  While climbing we realized why everyone wanted to climb it at 10 instead of 7 am.  We couldn´t see a thing because it was completely foggy around us.  When we got to the top we were a bit disappointed with the lack of the view but we popped a squat and had a well deserved snack. As we headed down to meet our guide, the clouds did start to drift away and the beatiful view was revealed to us.  It was not the view of Machu Picchu that you see on most post cards but rather the view of Machu Picchu from the mountain that is usually in the post card view. The mountain accross from us is where most of the classic pictures of Machu Picchu are taken and apparently is also a much easier hike.  It´s now officially on my list of things to do on my NEXT visit to Machu Picchu. That´s right – I will come back!

The way up Huana Picchu

View of Machu Picchu from Huana Picchu

          The view on the way down is so nice that I we stopped even more often to take pictures and ended up having to run through some of the ruins to get back to our guide by 10am but we did make it. We´re just THAT good – sometimes. The tour itself of Machu Picchu was interesting. We visited all of the identified temples and discussed their likely uses as well as how the Incas may have lived, why the city was most probably abandoned, etc. This place definitely takes you back activating the power of your imagination. I was also fascinated by this lifestyle because anyone who knows me knows that if I were to decide where to build a residence it would most definitely be high up in the mountains – just like the Incas!

          After our tour we were again in a rush to eat, buy a souvenir and catch our train back. This time we sat with some fellow americans and definitely welcomed this familiarness that we haven´t really had much of on our trip. They were a bit older than us, traveling with kids and definitely liked the bottle a lot.  We didn´t talk much with the wives, but the husbands, who were sitting next to us, were both business owners and I found myself feeling even more comfortable since I´m apart of a very similar family.

          My final words on Machu Picchu are that there is that it lives up to the hype.  And although you will be admist hundreds and thousands of others in visiting this place, you will not be disappointed. It is so unique and refreshing that you will fork out the cash and the time and feel good about it – I promise!

Posted on July 11th, 2010 at 7:39 PM by admin

          The flight from Lima to Cusco was not at all bad but upon disembarking the plane and entering the airport I felt a little funny.  Despite taking altitude medication (thanks Wendy!) and sucking on coca candy, I was still feeling the 10,912 ft of elevation in Cusco. Luckily it didn´t seem to last much longer than the taxi drive to our hostal – Teatro Inca.  This was one of the more expensive places we stayed at about $35/night for a double room (2 beds), but I actually quite enjoyed it.  It was a little chilly at night as there was no heat but the heavy blankets seemed to compensate. I especially enjoyed the friendly service and the 24/7 coca tea and internet availability. The hostal also arranged our Machu Picchu tour, which was overall very good in spite of a few hick ups here and there.

          Our first day in Cusco was a short one after arriving late due to a delay in our flight. We really only had time to check in to the hostal, make our arrangements for our tour of the sacred valley and machu picchu, eat and sleep but it is noteworthy to mention that we had dinner at a delightful restaurant in town and although we ate very little due to the recent altitude change, we did get a birthday serenade with dessert for Wendy´s 28th.

Wendy´s 28th!

          The next day we explored Cusco on our own hitting up a couple of important historical sites such as Qorikancha and Sacsayhauman.  Qorikancha highly resembled some of the religious temples i´ve seen in Europe but upon closer examination you can see the Inca architecture in the walls.  I suppose this makes sense since the Spaniards came in and either destroyed or tried to convert from the former beliefs held by the Incas and earlier peoples in this region. Nothing against the Spaniards of course – the did just win the World Cup after all and quite deservingly!

Inside Qorikancha

Puma paw built into a wall of Sacsayhauman

          The following day was to be our big tour day and we started out early in the morning of our tour of the Sacred Valley including Pisaq, Urabamba and Ollantaytambo.  Urabamba was merely a middle ground for lunch but both Pisaq and Ollantaytambo involved quite a bit of climbing but the ruins and views of the surrounding mountains were breath-taking. For this tour we had a very good bilingual guide, which was a bit surprising to me as I thought it might take away from the tour.  But what actually happened was quite a blessing for my ADD. That is, I got to hear everything twice so whenever I spaced out during the first version I knew I didn´t have to worry because I was going to hear it again!  It was also good listening practice for my spanish-something I really don´t get enough of.

Pisaq - before climbing up!

Posted on July 8th, 2010 at 12:23 AM by admin

          The first thing I saw when I got to Lima were clouds, clouds and more clouds. I know it´s winter and all but Lima´s winter is right up there, or should I say down there, with good ´ole Detroit. I arrived in the morning and decided to go to the hostal and then into the city center for a bit before meeting Wendy at the airport. Not being entirely sure about the mark up on taxi costs in Lima, I got completely ripped off on the ride to the hostal. I did, however, have more luck once I reached the hostal. The nice lady at the reception gave me several maps and verbal directions into the city and told me where I could change those pesky chilean pesos that I´m still carrying around.

          I don´t know if I was already put off by the taxi situation and the weather but I didn´t feel very comfortable in Lima. People not only looked at me but rather starred invasively and one woman started trying to talk to me in horrible broken English (and she wasn´t even selling anything!) I just gave her a dirty look and continued on. I was able to exchange my money but got lost multiple times searching for a supposedly nearby museum afterwards. Lima by far has the worst organization of streets and addresses Í´ve ever seen. Every street sign has two names on it but don´t be fooled there are usually at least a couple more that the locals use to describe the streets. In any case, when I finally made it there I only had about 50 minutes to rush through the Museo Banco Central de Reserva del Peru but I do recall some stunning peruvian art and a few artifacts. The best part though was that I didn´t pay a cent to enter!

          Afterwards I went and picked up Wendy from the airport and we spent the night at our hostal near the airport as we were to leave the next morning for Iquitos. We had some descent chinese food that night. I honestly didn´t know before coming to Peru that the Chifa´s (what they call chinese restaurants) were so popular here. To read about the Iquitos jungle trip check out it´s blog entry.

          After a few days in the jungle and a day and a half in Iquitos we were ready to head back to Lima. First I had to make another pit stop to change more money but afterwards we ventured out to find some of the sites listed in Lonely Planet. I wanted to find the really neat sounding water and light show but not only were there no shows on the day we went but it was also too early in the day. To top that off the gaurd standing at the gate also told me that they were completely closed for maintenance for another week and a half. Well…that was a triple bust I guess but we did stumble upon an amazing restaurant for lunch afterwards which made the whole mess up worth it. There was no sign outside but the restaurant was called El Senor Pallar. Another amazing lunch ¨menu¨for about $3.50 and the dessert blew me away. It resembled rice pudding but was made from Quinoa. All smiles from me!

          After eating our large and wonderful peruvian food we called Wendy´s friend´s peruvian cousin who happened to be in Peru although he now lives in Italy. We agreed to meet up with him after a trip to Museo Larco. Inca pottery and sculptures galore at this place. I could´ve spent days in there but found myself having to rush after reading everything in the first two rooms and realizing that I was almost out of time. Also not to be missed is the separate erotic art section. Wow! It is one thing to imagine how the Inca´s lived it is another to imagine how they procreated and and…stuff.  I´m going to leave it there I think!

Erotic Inca Pottery - nuff said!

          To top off the night Rolan, the peruvian, met us at the museum and took us into Barranco – the hip drinking part of town.  He showed us a neat area with many cute restaurants along side each other leading up the ocean. We had a few drinks and talked as well and despite our best efforts he managed to pay for everything – even our cabs!  Upon saying our good-byes Wendy and I picked up our laundry and then caught another cab to an upscale cliffside mall in Mireflores (the touristy area we decided to stay in). There we perused the mall, remeniscent of Somerset in Michigan and had a very good dinner with an even better dessert.  Lava cake (I ate the lava mostly) with fruit and vanilla ice cream.  It was a heavenly end to our time in Lima.

Amazing lava cake dessert at Mango´s in Mall LarcoMar

Posted on July 6th, 2010 at 9:09 AM by admin

After meeting up with Wendy in Lima we took off the next day for Iquitos to get our first taste of The Amazon. Having no real plan going in we asked around about tours and accomodations. The city was pretty full and many places were already fully booked.  We were eventually referred to a travel agency across the street from a local americanized diner and a friendly young gentleman came to the diner to explain to us what our tour would consist of. After finishing our drinks we followed him back to the office to look at some pictures and discuss the details. It quickly became apparent that this was an inexpensive yet equally rugged type of tour.  Obviously there were things to be seen on this tour but i´m not sure either of us were really looking forward to roughing it in cabins with poor ventilation and beds with mosquito nets BUT time was a tickin´ so we decided to go for it.

Our campsite

Day 1, or more accurately, night 1 was spent getting to our campsite. We had to take a bus from Iquitos to Nauta (southwest of Iquitos) to board a small motorboat.  Once on the motorboat the sun was setting and we begun to wonder how on earth we were going to find our way in the dark.  What was to come was one of the most impressive light directing systems I´ve ever seen.  It consisted of a man in the front of the boat directed the one in the back with a small flash light. He ocasionally spanned the horizontal waterline in front of us and then directed with quick vertical shakes.  Words really don´t do it justice – it was truly amazing. Upon arrival we were welcomed by a friendly tarantula and served a dinner plate of fresh fish and plantain (by our guides – not the tarantula!). We ate up and headed straight to bed after an exhausting day of travel.

Tarantula crawling on my arm!

Fishing for piranha!

Day 2 started with pirana fishing and in our group of 4 people Wendy and I were the ones that didn´t catch any!  I was a bit disappointed until we saw a hawk overhead. One of the guys threw out one of the dead pirana and I was able to snap a photo of the hook swooping down to retrieve it.  Technically it´s not one of my best photos but it sure was a site to see!

Hawk swooping in for dead piranha

In the afternoon I wasn´t feeling so hot (ok I was feeling HOT but not so well) so I sat out of the afternoon excursion but I know that Wendy redeemed herself by finally catching a piranha. A bat encounter was also apart of this excursion i´m told. I spent the whole time in a hammock that I had deemed too smelly to lay in the day before, but by this time I was so damn smelly that I no longer cared! I did manage to get up briefly to hold an anaconda that our guides had caught but that was about it until after dinner.

Holding the anaconda

At night we went out on another excursion to look for snakes in the wild. We were, unfortunately, unsucessful but we did see a baby bird and a bull frog up close.  Regardless, I actually quite enjoyed the rustic canoo rides in the dark scanning the riverside with our head lights.

Bull frog spotting at night

Day 3 was our last day in the jungle and after watching a demonstration on how to build a rat trap in the jungle, we decided to go to see the pink dolfins that gather near river crossings. Unfortunately these babies were much too fast even for my high speed multiple shot mode but they were the most beautiful underwater giants I had ever seen by far.  Afterwards we headed to a local village to visit a boy who had a pet sloth named Anita. On the way in we were introduced to a plant that is used as red dye but of course I cannot remember what it´s called!  The slot was cute as can be be his claws were challenging to separate from my shirt after our little cuddle session.

Holding Anita the sloth

Building a rat trap in the jungle

After the village visit we hopped back in our canoo and headed back to the campsite for lunch where we would say our good-byes.  There was still much more of the jungle to explore but our adventure was coming to an end. I won´t lie we were just a little excited for enclosed rooms, beds without mosquito netting and hot showers but there was a bit of sadness not having seen all the wonders of the jungle!

We spent our last night and next morning in the city of Iquitos.  We walked around the town (which takes all of about 15 minutes) and down to the village of Belen where there is a local market and many clothing stores.  We snapped a quick photo of the area where the people actually live but were warned by several people not to walk through there due to the danger of being robbed.  That was all I needed to hear!  Getting robbed one time in South America was plenty for me!

Posted on July 4th, 2010 at 11:22 PM by admin

          After a few days in Vilcabamba the truth is that I really did not want to leave but having to make it all the way to Lima in a matter of a few days to meet Wendy procluded me from extending my time.  So I first took a bus back to Loja and then boarded an overnight bus to Piura (a coastal city in Peru near the border of Ecuador and Peru). This bus was indeed quite a bit more comfortable than the one I took previously from Guayaquil to Loja.  I slept fairly well until I was awoken at about 3:30 in the morning to go through customs/immigration in order to enter Peru. Of course I got back on the bus after about 45 minutes to go back to bed as quickly as possible.

          Upon arriving in Piura I had only two tasks to accomplish. Get some peruvian soles from an ATM and get on another bus to Chiclayo. Fortunately something rare happened when I got off the bus: a friendly taxi driver advised me where I needed to go to catch the next bus, offered to drive me there and stop at an ATM on the way AND he only charged me 10 soles for everything (like $3.25 US).  I was pleasantly surprised to say the least after experiencing so many greedy taxi cab drivers that make a living off of ripping off the tourists.

          It took about 2 hours to get to Chiclayo at which point I had a new set of objectives: find a hostel and buy a peruvian chip for my cell phone. It turns out that my luck was to continue.  As I was getting off the bus I saw a Movistar store right across the street.  I lugged my backpacks across the street and left a swarm of eager taxi cab drivers bewildered as I confidently told them that I did not need a taxi at that moment.  Card in hand I headed  to one of the hostals that lonely planet had recommended and met one of the nicest hostal owners. He not only gave me advice on where to go to lunch, but also personally walked me into town to see if I could exchange chilean pesos into soles.  It turns out that I couldn´t but I really appreciated his efforts and kindness.  Such things do NOT happen enough when traveling alone.

          For lunch I had a uniquely flavored fish-stuffed zucchini along with soup, appetizer, juice and dessert -all for $3.50 US.  I think the large, yet cheap and delicious lunch ¨menus¨are my favorite part of multiple countries in South America.  Afterwards I went to an internet cafe to check if my only contact in Chiclayo, Diego, would be available to meet up for dinner.  Poor guy so graciously offered to host me in his house but due to my horrible scheduling and inability to call him before I had the peruvian chip, I wasn´t able to call him in time.

          Since it was my lucky day (overall) Diego was, in fact, able to meet up with me. I took a few pictures (literally only a few) of the main square in Chiclayo which was somehow both peaceful and lively while waiting for Diego to meet me for dinner. We got to know each other a bit over a nice dinner and even moreso over a few drinks afterwards. I tried a very refreshing drink called a chicha morada, which I believe is made from corn, sugar and some herbs.  It was delicious!

The main square in Chiclayo

          Unfortunately I had to catch a flight the next day to Lima to meet up with my friend Wendy but I really do wish I could´ve stayed a bit longer in northern Peru.  The people were kind, the atmosphere welcoming and the climate quite comfortable. Maybe I will find my way back some day and Diego – you´ll have a chance to host me after all! Thanks for everything – I will not soon forget such a pleasant experience.

Posted on July 1st, 2010 at 10:46 PM by admin

          From the Galapagos Islands I flew to Guayaquil (a bit further south in Ecuador).  After spending a day in the bus terminal I took a night bus to Loja and promptly hopped on another bus to Vilcabamba.  Although completely exhausted after all the busing and lack of sleep, I perked right up to the green mountainous landscape surrounding all sides of this beautiful little town. all I can say!

The most cooperative stick bug you´ll ever meet!

          Upon arriving I met a fellow traveler and made some collective plans for the day. After sharing breakfast with my new travel buddy I met my soon-to-be second travel buddy who was my roommate.  We all ended up going into town together and afterwards a refreshing hike and lunch. Afterwards I rushed back to th hostal for a much needed 75 minute $18 massage.  God I want to live in this place!!!  That night I had a  drink with Danny and Annabelle and hit the hay.

          What happened the next day I was in no way prepared for but that is nothing new for what has become an impromptu mad dash of a trip through South America. The three of us wanted to go zip lining in the mountains and off we went for several hours on horseback to reach our  lunch destination. Once again I got the crazy fast horse which was fun a first but down right scary at times. My leg muscles and knees were already killing me after th horserid but then we took off on foot to find the zip lines. The trail was rough to say the least – Annabelle lost hr balance on a tre trunk bridge and was told by the guide that she was lucky the tiny mettal wire she used to catch her balance actually held. This was crtainly not th only accidebt/injury of the trip, but I wont bore you will the details.  After hiking for about an hour we arrived at a very disappointing display of 2 small zip lines.  It was hardly worth the hike and on the way back my tendonitis was killing me from such a demanding day.  After all that my two friends decided not to say the two extra days in the mountains as they´d planned and returned that night with me. I was more than a little perturbed that we had to ride the horses back down for another 2.5 hours much of which was in th dark and the guide left many of us on our own and when we finally arrived it was 2 hours later than planned.  Having said all that, it wasn´t all bad- just hard to focus on the good due to poor planning and execution of the tour overall.  I still am in lov with this town and am grateful to have bonded with two great people.  Until we meet again Annabelle, Danny and VILCABAMBA!

Me and my new friends at our ¨highest¨point