Peruvian Adventure

I guess I need a life..anyway here is the story of my trip to Peru in April/May 2006.


April 21/22, 2006 - Well the day was finally here. My cousin Joanne drove me to the airport -the flights to Toronto and then on to Lima were uneventful. Arrived into Lima in the early hours and of course my luggage was one of the last off. The taxi I had booked through the hotel was there and took me to the Hotel Embajadores in Mira Flores (posh suburb of Lima). My room wasn’t ready and I had to wait about three hours. I chatted with a Canadian couple who had just finished the same tour so got lots of useful tips. When my room was ready I had a bit of a rest then headed out to a nearby shopping centre. Met Andrea, the tour guide - a 28 year old from Switzerland who used to be a flight attendant for Swiss Air and has traveled all over the world. I had dinner in the hotel dining room - steak with rice and French fries (rice & French fries together are popular there) with broccoli and carrots. A good meal. Then I went to bed.

April 23, 2006 - Got up at 7 a.m. and had a light breakfast and met the rest of the group. All Brits. Four single ladies and three couples. I picked up English expressions easily (except for “Brilliant” which I detest - I refuse to use that word. Andrea and I joked about it and at the end she said “you were a brilliant group” and looked at me and smirked.) and this report will be full of them. We met with Andrea and paid our local payment and tip money and exchanged some money for Peruvian soles. Then we were off to the airport to board our flight to Arequipa. After 20 minutes In the air we turned around - “weather problems” we were told which turned out to be engine problems. We were given a snack and shortly boarded another Air Condor flight. Our hotel in Arequipa was the Hotel El Conquistador and it was formally a mansion - very beautiful. My room was nothing special but the lobby area was amazing - lots of wrought iron & stone steps leading to nowhere! We went to dinner at Zig Zag which was wonderful. I had a sampler dinner of alpaca, beef & ostrich with quino (corn) on the side. I wasn’t too keen on the ostrich but the alpaca was very nice. Back to the room for an early night as we had a 2 a.m. wakeup call!

April 24, 2006 - The 2 a.m. wakeup call came after just three hours of sleep. It was dark and cold as we boarded the bus and very cold when we ascended to the highest point in Peru. One of our group, Rosie had to get off the bus to be sick. I was happy I had started taking the altitude sickness pills the first night in Lima. We stopped in the town of Chivay and walked over to the market to get some bread rolls which we shared with the local stray dogs. One got on the bus and wanted to come with us!! On towards Colca Canyon - the scenery was amazing with terraces (80% remaining had been built by the Incas) built into the mountains. Colca Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon - not as spectacular though as it is much more narrow and not the spectacular colours of the Grand Canyon. It wasn’t discovered by “outsiders” until 1970 when they were working on an irrigation system in the area. We were there to see the Andean Condor - and see it we did. In fact they did quite a show for us - Lin was convinced one looked at me as he glided by as if to say “aren’t I a handsome lad”. It is the second largest bird in the world after the Albatross. We then headed to the hot pools and had a quick soak then back on the bus to lunch in Chivay - a delicious buffet of ethnic Indian food. My personal favourite was the Sweet Potato fritters! We had a little walk around afterwards and of course had to pay to take pictures of an adorable little guy with his baby llama. Got back to Arequipa at around 5 p.m. It was an amazing day but an exhausting one. I headed right to bed as I was coming down with a cold

April 25, 2006 - A relaxing morning. I learned that in Peru you water the coffee down - add hot water to the thick brew. I still shudder thinking about that first sip I took “straight“ !! Most breakfasts in Peru consisted of lots of fresh fruit such as pineapple,& papaya, bread rolls, cheese, ham & freshly squeezed fruit juice. At 10 a.m. we met Andrea in front of the Cathedral in the town square and walked to the Santa Catalina convent. Very impressive with brightly colored walls - a photographer’s dream. I should have gone back and photographed it in the late afternoon light. After the tour a few of us went for a cold drink and sat on a balcony overlooking the town square. Afterwards we went to see the musuem Santuarios which houses the mummified remains of “Sarita”. She was discovered on a mountain in 1995 - intact and still had her hair & clothes. She was a young Inca girl sacrificed to appease the gods (likely after an earthquake)about 500 years ago. These children were chosen at birth and were treated with special care all their life until it was time to live with the gods. Five children have been found on the mountains near Arequipa - kept frozen and covered with ice until the earth shifted during an earthquake and they were discovered. Dinner that night was in a restaurant overlooking the square and several of us tried the local specialty - a red pepper with spicy beef inside topped with cheese and scrambled egg. It was good.

April 26, 2006 - At 9 a.m. we set off for Puno. Along the way we saw lots of alpacas and llamas ( as common as cows & horses here) and every tourist stop had the requisite Indians selling goods. I bought myself an “Alpaca” cardigan- well for 30 soles (about $10 US) I knew it wasn’t real but it was colourful and I knew I’d wear it a lot. The landscape leaving Arequipa was desert like but as we got closer to Puno it turned green and lush. We picked up Reuben, our local guide and stopped at a local farm house which was interesting. The daughter of the family was just 20 but looked at least 30 - it's a tough life. Then on to Sillustani to see the culpa. (funeral towers). The trek up was tough because of the altitude and I had just gotten a cold so it was hard going. In retrospect I should never have done it. We checked into the hotel in Puno which is on the shores of Lake Titicaca and then took a rickshaw to a restaurant in the square. I had a plain omelette as was definitely feeling unwell at this point - us three sickies took a taxi back to the hotel while the others walked back. (this detail is important later!)

April 27, 2006 - Today we went off to Taquile island. We got the boat & stopped at the Uros Islands which were so interesting and unique. The women of the island greeted us with hugs and kisses as we got off the boat and showed us around their island. These islands are made of reeds and have to be constantly rebuilt. It was very disconcerting to walk around with a bit of a bounce to your step from the reeds! Quite a few children drown by falling through the reeds. The women dressed very colourfully and so I ended up being dressed up in an outfit and having my picture taken. We were shown into their little huts complete with TV & stereos - then we noticed the solar panels!! The men work in Puno which is a 20 minute boat ride away. I bought a couple of pendants & some postcards. A few of us opted to take the gorgeous reed boat from one island to the other - what an experience. The second island we visited wasn’t as quaint or homey as the first and all they wanted to do was sell us things. We got back on the boat for another three hours to Taquile Island. We walked up the path from the boat and I gasped the whole way due to the altitude and my cold - the views were spectacular so I guess I gasped at that too. We weren’t told about our accommodations as they wanted to surprise us and they were delightful. A simple villa built overlooking Lake Titicaca. We all had our own rooms with a candle to light at night and the “loo” down the path. No electricity on this island. It was beautiful. Lunch was served - an omelette with chips in!! We rested until 3:30 when we walked to the town square. My lungs were burning so I let the rest go on ahead to watch the sunset (which turned out to be a non-event - too cloudy) and I hung out in the town square and gave local kid some postcards I had brought from home and looked in the handicraft store. I met the rest of the group in the restaurant and we had ginger chicken with rice which was nice. (specially prepared for us) Back to our abode in the dark with our torches - mine was a pathetic penlight so had to rely on Rosie’s light to help guide me. I was tucked into bed by 7:15!!! I had to pull out my little pen light to make a pilgrimage to the loo - let me tell you I've never had such a dangerous trek in my life to 'spend a penny'.

April 28, 2006 - Despite pure silence - such I’ve never experienced in my life - I did not sleep well and my cold was horrible the next morning. We had banana pancakes with honey drizzled on top - very nice - and coffee. The owner of our villa, Pedro came with his wife and gave us a weaving demonstration - his wife did the weaving while he did the embroidery - the men on Taquile Island do all the embroidery. I bought myself a Peruvian hat with ear flaps!! I opted out of the walk to the school as I felt so rough which was disappointing as I’d brought pencils and sharpeners, etc. from home - however I found out later the school was closed! Jackie was not in good shape at all so she slept while I wandered around the villa property taking photographs and sat on a bench enjoying the beauty of the lake. You could see the snow covered peaks of Bolivia across the water - with the blue sky and sunshine the lake sparkled and looked like the Mediterranean sea. Beautiful. It is the highest navigable lake in the world. Jackie and I walked to the town square and met the others for lunch. Dare I say it was omelet again - that or fish and I was not in the mood for that. Then we began the descent down the 525 steps to the boat. I was just grateful we had not come up this way! My knees did not like this descent one little bit and let me know. The views down were spectacular - we were so lucky with the weather. Back on the boat to Puno. However my excitement for the day wasn’t over. In a moment of great insanity I decided to take a rickshaw to the nearby market - only my driver did not understand English and we went all over the place - me shrieking at him to turn around. Well you had to be there. I kept yelling at people “speak English?“! I told someone who did speak English Hostal Lago only I pronounced Lago wrong and no one knew what I was talking about. The whole fiasco ended with a police officer taking me to the tourist office in a taxi then taking me back to my hotel. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see my tour group again!! I was lost a good 45 minutes. I learned my lesson - never leave the hotel without a map. Due to not walking around and being ill I was not familiar with the area around the hotel. I am sure the poor kid on the rickshaw still talks about the crazy lady to this day!!! I was never so glad to see my hotel - the group of us went out for pizza that night. I got a good razzing over my adventure.

April 29, 2006 - Today we boarded the train from Puno to Cusco which is one of the top train trips in the world. It was ten hours and beautiful scenery - mountains, lots of llamas & alpacas, lush greenery, etc. We stopped at the highest point of the trip - and surprise surprise there was a market. I had a lunch with me but decided to splurge on “afternoon tea” which was five dollars. Well…I got a cup of tea ¾ full (no refill) , two small vile cakes that they serve on Air Condor, a tiny finger sandwich. No one could believe it and all the group had to come and look at my afternoon tea and have a laugh. Oh well - Andrea said she would tell her future tours to avoid the “afternoon tea”. For one dollar more I could have had a huge sandwich which is what some of the others did. We arrived into Cusco and stayed at the El Puma hotel which was gorgeous - the hotel we had been supposed to be staying in was being renovated. I skipped dinner that night as I was exhausted.

April 30, 2006 - This morning we took a tour out to the Sacred Valley and visited Sacsayuaman (yes, it sound like “sexy woman”) which is an Incan fortress overlooking Cusco. It took 90 years to build! We had a great view of Cusco from the top. On to the Alpaca wool factory where I got myself another cardigan - real baby Alpaca wool this time. Then on to the Pisac market which was very touristy but interesting. I got myself some llama earrings, a leather tooled photo album for my trip pictures (several of us got one so got a good deal as of course it was all bargaining) & some multicolored gloves. The Sacred Valley is very lush and beautiful - it is named that because of the wonderful conditions for growing produce. As we left Pisac several of us stopped at a bakery and picked up some gorgeous hot buns filled with onions and cheese. Yum! I resisted the baked guinea pigs…poor little things. I had a wonderful little guinea pig named Jennifer so I could never ever eat a guinea pig however they are a great delicacy there. Back to the hotel and at 1 p.m. our guide came back to give us a walking tour of Cusco. Okay. We visited the Santa Domingo convent which was built within an Incan temple. Very unique and beautiful. Then our guide said okay he was done - goodbye. We all looked at one another - some guided walking tour! Anyway Brian, Jackie, Malcolm, Rosie & I went for a cappuccino (Jackie was addicted to cappuccino so it got to be a running joke) and cake at a cafĂ© overlooking the main square. Before dinner we had an orientation on our Jungle extension then we went out to dinner at a cozy little restaurant that only had two huge tables. You could see them making your meal. I had lasagna.

May 1, 2006 - Up early to get the train to Aguas Callentes at 6:15. It was interesting because as the train climbed up the mountain to leave Cusco we went back and forth on switch backs. We passed through a very poor area and I must confess it was the sight of the skinny stray dogs digging around for food that upset me. Once in Aguas Callentes we boarded a bus for a 20 minute ride on hairpin turns up the mountain to Machu Picchu (“old mountain“), the lost Incan city. Finally we arrived, stored our bags and got our tickets. And up we climbed - my knees were not happy. But what a sight awaited us. It is something you have to experience to appreciate. Absolutely beautiful. I will remember my first sight of Machu Picchu for as long as I live or until I lose my least. An abandoned ruin built on the top of a mountain - in a tropical region with lush green ferns and orchids. It was built in the 15th century sometime by the Incas but wasn’t discovered by the outside world until 1911. No one knows the full story of why the Incas built it there and what the true purpose was but there are lots of theories. Behind it is Wahnu Pichu (“new mountain”) which is such a gorgeous back drop. I sat for a while and just watched the clouds roll in and out - at 2280 meters (7500 feet) you are quite high! It started raining so we made our way back to the bus and to the hotel.

May 2, 2006- Woke up at 2 a.m. to the sound of torrential rain - not an encouraging sound. I fell back to sleep to be woken by a nearby rooster! At 5 a.m. I went downstairs for breakfast and woke up the staff. Breakfast was late needless to say - this hotel was my least favourite of the trip, a strange place. Off we went again on the bus and had a tour of Machu Picchu. I kept up with the tour until they did a higher climb and my knees said “STOP”. I walked around on my own - I was paranoid about falling down stairs and indeed I did fall. On flat ground - the ground was a bit slick from the mist overnight unknown to me and I slid and fell on my behind before I even knew what was going on. It is just lucky I wasn’t a few feet over near the side of the ruin as there was a sheer drop!!! I wandered around a bit and talked to the resident llamas then walked up to a look out and there was Andrea, our guide. So we sat together and watched the clouds go in and out for a couple of hours. I could never ever get tired of that view! The sun came out and I got quite a burn on my face as I hadn’t put on any sunscreen. I gave that beautiful spiritual place one last lingering look and then we walked down for a drink and met the others and headed back to get the train to Cusco.

May 3, 2006 - a rest day today and I took advantage of it. My cold had taken a turn for the worse so all I did was go to the main square to change some money and buy batteries and back to bed! That evening we walked to the same restaurant we had dinner in a few nights before and I had steak and chips. I placed my leftover steak in a quiet alley so one of the stray dogs could have a nice little meal. I am sure one of those hungry mouths would find it!

May 4, 2006 - We got an 8:30 bus to the airport. Our group was splitting up now - those heading back to Lima and then England and those of us who were going to the jungle. It was sad to see our little group down to seven. After a 30 minute flight we arrived in Puerto Maldonado. Rainforest Expeditions picked us up and drove us to their office where we stored the luggage. Then on to the dock to catch our boat. Tried not to get upset at the mangey skinny stray dogs hanging around the dock. Peruvian strays are adorable – like little Disney dogs - not like the dogs in Asia that all look the same. The trip on the boat up a tributary of the Amazon was about three and a half hours. On the way we saw a capybara - the largest rodent in the world. It was exciting for me as I love rodents. We arrived at the dock of the lodge and climbing up the hill was “interesting” to put it mildly. That hill was something I dreaded everything we had to go up and down. I was sure I would fall down and into the river every time! The lodge was brand new and our rooms were amazing. Open walls to the jungle - we had mosquito nets over our beds but otherwise we were open to the elements. Luckily no snakes around - that we saw anyway - I'd have died of heart failure on the spot as I am terrified of the horrid things. Even the littlest garter snakes gets a scream out of me. Before the lodge opened they killed a couple of bushmasters that were in the jungle nearby which are the one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. We went for a walk to see the sunset and were able to spot a toucan and several macaws through the powerful telescope our guide had. Back to the lodge for a dinner of rice, chicken and veggies. 9 p.m. was lights out - someone came along and blew out the kerosene lamps that were placed along the side of the rooms

May 5, 2006 - Today was exhausting. I was also very sad as it was one year since I lost my Sandy. After breakfast we went for a 45 minute walk to a hide (wearing rubber boots) but after waiting for an hour and nothing showing up our guide took us for a “short walk” which ended up back at the lodge! We headed back to the hide where we saw a beautiful butterfly and some birds. Then we walked down to the boat and had a short trip on the river to a farm. Another “fun” climb - oh my knees loved it. The farm was very interesting and we got to sample different fruit - some we’d never tasted before. Then back to the lodge for lunch and to rest for an hour. Then Carlo, our guide said we were going to a lake to see otters. So off we went on the boat and then about an hour hike (or seemed like it) through the jungle after another horrible climb!! What he neglected to tell us that we would be ON the lake. We all shrieked when we saw the ancient row boat we were going in with no life jackets!! Anyway we did it and it was lovely with macaws flying over head. No otters though. The lake was full of piranhas & caimans but we preferred not to think about that! As lovely and peaceful as it was I was glad to hit dry land - however by now it was dark and so out came our torches and we trudged through the jungle in the dark and had to navigate down a steep hill to our boat. From the boat we searched for caimans and were lucky to see a couple - one absolutely huge. Back for dinner and then bed. I was exhausted!!

May 6, 2006 - This morning I woke up to find my backpack had been tampered with. After some investigation I discovered some snacks were missing....we had been told to close everything..Anyway I had had a nocturnal visitor - probably a possum they thought who helped him/herself to my granola bars. Today was a quieter day and we were able to even stay in bed a bit later. Back to the hide after breakfast but nothing. We heard monkeys but didn’t see any - quite disappointing. I saw much more wildlife in Costa Rica. Back for lunch and a couple of hours relaxation - I flopped into a hammock and read. At 4 p.m. we went for a walk on the botanical trail and learned about various plants that are used for different illnesses & spells! Learned about shamans - good and bad. Then we propped up the bar for a while before having our last dinner there.

May 7, 2006 - It was time to bid goodbye to the jungle today - we got on the boat at 7 a.m. and flew back to Lima later that morning. That evening we went out for dinner at a traditional restaurant in a square about half a mile from our hotel - I had steak, rice, fried egg, chips & a fried banana!!!

May 8, 2006 - This morning we had a tour of Lima which was very interesting. We visited other parts of Miraflores as well as Barranco, another suburb plus central Lima. We walked around the main square Plaza Mayor - after years of neglect & being a dangerous spot for tourists and residents alike it was cleaned up in 1997 and is beautiful. Visited the Santa Domingo church and the San Francisco monastery with it’s catacombs filled with human remains. We had lunch at an outdoor patio of a restaurant - prawn and cheese lasagna which was a first for me - but it was very tasty. (there are lots of Italians in Peru hence the popularity of pizzas and Italian food) Four of us walked over to the Larcomar shopping centre and had a cappucino overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Then back to the hotel where everyone left but me. L I was very lonely after they left - and quite jealous that they were flying to London and not me!!! I consoled myself with a session in the hot tub!!

May 9, 2006 - Today was putting in time until my flight left. I walked along the ocean side paths & visited the Larcomar again. Finally it was time for me to go - the private taxi came to get me. Oh boy, what an exciting ride to the airport. The car kept dying every time he stopped which in Lima rush hour traffic was often. So he would keep changing lanes so he wouldn’t have to stop. I am sure my finger marks are still imbedded in the back seat!! We made it though - that was my most stressful time in Peru!! We had a slight delay due to fog (an ongoing problem in Lima) but were soon on our way and all too soon my wonderful holiday was over.