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Peru – Highlights & Tips

All told, Peru engaged us for 23 days in September 2009. Our first stop on our world tour was a splendid ice breaker. We spent time with Peruvian families, imbibed on unique drinks, and saw much of what this proud country has to offer.

- See & Do

Lake Sandoval & Amazon Rainforest1) Amazon – the sights/sounds/smells were incredible!

2) Mach Picchu – 4 days of hiking makes you appreciate the remarkable Inca empire

3) If time permits – Lake Titicaca & Colca Canyon

4) Peru is not your “beach vacation” – activities are dominated by hiking and lots of walking.

- Transportation

1) Air – LAN Peru (impressive service & planes) covers much of the country and you can save big $$$ by using the Peru version of the site. Star Peru is a low cost carrier and has decent coverage.

2) Bus – You can go almost everywhere in Peru via bus if you have the patience and time. Opt for the “luxury” buses as they are more reliable, have sober drivers, and are quite comfortable. The extra money is well worth it… trust us.

3) Taxis – Negotiate cheap fares to/from bus terminals and airports. Also widely available in cities. Be sure to get a legit taxi as stories of baggage theft/robbery are rampant.

- Food

1) Greg enjoyed the saltado (alpaca, fries, onions, rice).

2) Ash became quite ill from something or other, so she relied on pasta, pizza, and wrapper type food much of the time.  A diet light on alpaca to be sure. 

3) Soup – they love their soups flavored with a bone, though it is quite bland.

4) Most Peruvian food is laced with salt, watch out!

5) Avoid buffets like the plague.

- Drink

Pisco Sours v11) Pisco Sour (the national drink) – tastes like a margarita, but made with egg white. Captain Ron would be proud!

2) Cusquena – this beer is everywhere and is usually served warm. Opt for the “grande” and share the $$$ saved with a friend. Greg enjoyed many of these.

3) Coca Tea – a classic in the higher elevations. It does wonders for symptoms of altitude sickness.

4) Chicha – consumed for hundreds of years in the Andes. It is a fermented maize drink that only the daring travelers will try… it will reek havoc on the weak’s stomach.

- Culture & Citizens

1) Attire – Regardless of tourism, the friendly people wear the traditional dress.  Women: a blouse with colorful accents, black shahs to cover their head, heavy/colorful skirts, a sash, thick tights, and sandals.  Men: colorful ponchos, dark pants,sandals, and a chullo (beautiful alpaca hats that tie under their neck).  Some men are transitioning to a look more familiar to the West. 

2) Mix of Spanish / Inca heritage– the celebration of these two cultures is equally celebrated.

3) Family – large family units with literate children (Spanish & English) and strong values.  Many young mothers and it seemed every family had a baby.

4) People – incredibly friendly, trusting, and welcoming.  We can’t say enough how much we enjoyed the Peruvians with which we interacted.

- Safety

1) Don’t be a fool – simple rules apply as petty crime is present. Don’t wear jewelery, stash your wallet, and be vigilant.

2) Lima – fly in, then get out! We spent 1 day here and that was plenty. One gets an uneasy feeling in the capital city for good reason. We met a German couple that was held up a gunpoint in broad daylight. Stay in well populated areas and never walk alone.

3) Cusco – the main tourist city (near Machu Picchu) had a fantastic vibe at night with a heavy police presence. We felt very safe here.

- Costs

1) Lodging – when in doubt, pick a hostel near the Plaza de Armas (main square in each city). Dorms range from $6 – $10 and privates from $8 – $12 per person.

2) Food – Breakfast is generally included with your hostel, lunch $4 – $6, and dinner (entre & beer) $7 – $9 per person. Cooking at the hostel will cost you about $4 per person + strange conversations.

3) Transportation – Flights between cities cost between $75 and $125 per person. Buses range from $8 for a “local” to $30 for a “luxury” liner for distances of 6 – 10 hours.

4) Excursions – The Inca Trail fills up months in advance and the price continues to climb. Most trekking operators charge between $450 and $550 for the 4 day / 3 night hike to Machu Picchu. Overnight Amazon tours run in the $130 – $190 range while excursions to Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon are about $20. Every excursion except for the Inca Trail is negotiable – don’t spend a penny more than you must!

Plaza de Armas Fountain & Peru FlagLooking back, we covered lots of climates, cities, and sights in just over 3 weeks. Perhaps we were giddy and traveled a bit fast as this was our first month. Only 2 days were spent to rest and that clearly is not sustainable. Peru is an inexpensive country for the necessities of life, but the costs add up quickly when embarking on the tantalizing excursions. Peru has so much to offer… incredible sights and even better people.

- Greg & Ash

Colca Canyon & Van of Tourists

Our last excursion in Peru… the Colca Canyon.

We departed from Arequipa early with yet another conversion van full of travelers. With 6 hours of driving, we hoped our destination would prove to be worthy of the ride… valleys reportedly twice as deep as America’s Grand Canyon. However, Peru’s version lacks the incredible vertical walls, thus not the same awesome sight. Regardless, we aimed to see more rural towns, hot springs, and the famed Andean Condor.

Grazing Llamas The first day was dominated by driving with the occasional stop to snap photos of the sleepy terrain. Wild llamas, alpacas, and large rodents dotted the barren landscape. For lunch we stopped at a touristy overpriced buffet (asking $7) and I negotiated a far simpler meal, freshly cooked, for $1.50. More driving and we found ourselves in Chivay for the night, supposedly home to fantastic hot springs.  Wind ErosionSuspicious, Ash and I decided to “tour” the hot springs rather than pay full admission. Good choice… the so-called hot springs were nothing more than warm bathtubs full of thong wearing tourist with too much back hair. Then more tourist fun – an “authentic dinner theater” able to hold 100+ of your closest friends from around the world. Oh, and our hostel was disgusting.

Andean Eagle & Blond BombshellExcited to put the second ½ of the prior day behind us, we woke to a screaming baby, quickly packed, then headed for the main event: Cruz del Condor. This made the whole trip worthwhile. Another two hours in the van and we found ourselves near the deepest gorge of the Colca Canyon. The view itself was stunning, but then deep below, a fast moving streak. Then two, three, five….

Wild Falcon (on a rope) Andean Mountains - Colca Canyon Below

 

 

 

 

 

Andean Condor SoaringRising like a thermometer in the early morning desert, the eight condors steadily rose with the air draft created by the Andes Mountains. Effortlessly, they glided in the brisk air closer and closer to the camera wielding spectators. Curiously, these lanky birds dine purely on carcasses, preferably the brains and stomach. Thankfully, I did not perish on this day. We watched the magnificent birds soar for 40 minutes and just as quickly as they appeared, the condors moved further along the abyss below.

After a six hour drive chatting with a close talking Belgian diplomat, we arrived back in Arequipa for some much need rest. Our last stop in Peru certainly had its positives and negatives. But the natural beauty coupled with the majestic birds outweighed the tourist fueled itinerary.

- Greg

Tips

  1. Book tours in small groups. We saw tour buses full of, well, tourists. At least our tour of 12 folks had a personal touch to it. Again, negotiate and haggle and NEVER pay full price.

  2. There are great hot springs in the Colca Canyon, just avoid Chivay. The hot springs in Yanque (near Chivay) are incredible.

Culture Abounds on Lake Titicaca

I’m baaaaaaaack! Thanks for all the well wishes the past week. Sickness was inevitable, but I didn’t think it would strike so suddenly. Let’s just say I will be much more careful when eating…no more buffets!

After our journey to Machu Pichhu, Greg and I boarded a bus early the next day to Puno, Peru. There isn’t much in Puno, but it is the launching point for adventures on Lake Titicaca. This lake interested us because it is the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 ft above sea level (and it has a hilarious name).  It is located on the Peru/Bolivia border. It also contains 41 different islands making it feel and look more like an ocean.  To give you an idea of Lake Titicaca’s size, here is a comparison to some familiar lakes (one acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre to a depth of one foot):

  • Lake Michigan - 3,987,456,000 acre-feet
  • Lake Titicaca - 723,148,586 acre-feet
  • Lake Wilson (Kansas) - 235,000 acre-feet
  • Lake Monroe (Indiana) - 182,250 acre-feet

Having arrived in Puno, we made plans for a 2 day / 1 night excursion on Lake Titicaca. I was still on a “wrapper food” diet and wasn’t feeling great the day of our scheduled departure. So we decided to take a day to relax before venturing out to the lake. Fully rested, we boarded a sleepy boat at 8am full of tourists from France and Spain. Our first stop were the much anticipated islands of Uros.

Floating Island of Uros  Authentic Uros Attire    

 

 

 

 

 

 There are 42 of these tiny artificial islands, only five prior to tourism. The inhabitants live on these islands made of ½ reeds and ½ their roots found in the shallow areas of Lake Titicaca, adding reeds as necessary. The original purpose of the islands was that of defense. They would move their floating homes whenever they felt a threat arise. Home on UrosThe people live, sleep, and cook in small reed huts about the size of a dorm room. By day, the men fish and gather reeds while the women cook, weave, and tend to the family. The islands are also self sustaining. They have a school through Junior High, barter with land dwelling people for grains, and drink potable water straight from frigid Lake Titicaca.

After Uros it was a two hour boat ride to Amantani, a volcanic island. Though not as impressive compared to Uros, we were able to closely interact with the local people. We were introduced to our host, Wecelia, then ushered to her family’s home for a unique lunch of lightly fried minnows, potatoes, and vegetables. Upon seeing the minnows, my stomach immediately churned while Greg gladly, then regretfully tried one. Our room for the night was made from mud-bricks and the door was miniature, only coming up to Greg’s chest. Nevertheless, we were thrilled for the opportunity to live like a local for one day.

Greg's Better Half Lake Titicaca

 

We hiked one hour to the pinnacle of Amantani then made our way back down just in time for dinner. Lacking electricity, we ate our dinner of fried potatoes and rice by candle light. We sipped some warm coca tea, then Wecelia and her husband dressed us in their traditional clothes so we could attend the native fiesta. With a flashlight guiding our way, we made our way through town just in time for the fiesta to begin. Mmmmm... Not so much According to Greg, it is the most sober fun one can have in a concrete bunker. For about 2 hours, the locals and tourists alike danced to authentic Peruvian music. Greg said it reminded him of the Wedding March my Miller family likes to perform at weddings… Miller’s, hopefully this frames the evening for you! After the fiesta, we made our way back to our little mud-brick room for the evening.

After an early morning breakfast we boarded the boat en route to another volcanic island, Taquile. In this case, Juan Carlos (guide) did not save the best for last. It had beautiful scenery similar to the previous islands, but lacked something unique. I was still not feeling 100%, so I was anxious to get back to Puno and a nice warm bed.

How the people lived on Lake Titicaca reminded me of the simple things we take for granted. Showers, lightswitches, flushing toilets, baking oven – none of these appeared in Wecelia’s humble abode. Though they must be doing something right… life expectancy on Lake Titicaca is rumored to be over 90 years old!

- Ash

Tips

  1. Visit 2 or 3 travel agencies before booking a group tour. Every agency offers similar excursions, so find one that will negotiate with you. Price, included meals, and lodging are all fair game for haggling.

  2. Multilingual guides can get scatterbrained and forget to translate important pieces of info. Before partaking in activities on any tour, make sure it is included, and if not, find out the cost. We took a 10 minutes boat ride around Uros we thought was included and $7 later we learned our lesson!

Machu Picchu – What A Spectacle (Part II of II)

I awoke early in the morning on Day 3, the cold mountain air filling my lungs. A friendly porter was quick to deliver warm cocoa tea to us as we packed our sleeping bags/pads and personal belongings. Then we hit the Inca Trail for the longest day yet, 16 kilometers.

Group ShotSun GateInca Subway

A steady uphill climb and we reached the circular ruins of Runkuracay where the fog slowly lifted from the depths of the Pacamayo valley below. The path beyond these ruins was particularly stunning with views over staggering cliffs. We enjoyed a warm lunch and a short siesta before embarking on a far easier stretch of the trail. The path hugs the mountain ridge within the cloudforest, full of brilliant orchids, meter thick moss, and tree ferns. We even passed through an “Inca subway” which was a cleverly carved tunnel into the rock. One last climb and we reached an impressive vista offering views of snow-capped Mount Salkantay. A few hours later, we reached the final camp after maneuvering hundreds of steep steps. A hot shower ($1.50) and a cold beer ($4.00) awaited us. I was able to speak briefly with Ash and was anxious to meet her at Machu Picchu the next day.

We indulged on plates of salty popcorn while waiting for Smitty and the Aussies to appear. Well past dark, Christina limped in donning a white bandage on her bloody forehead, a shredded right sleeve, and a red stained pant leg. The clasps on her boots became entwined and her momentum had taken her headfirst down the rocky steps of the Inca Trail. But Oz makes them tough – she had walked one more hour before two porters arrived to carry her to the camp. Myself and some fellow hikers indulged on a couple beers before saying our goodbyes to the helpful porters. Then off to sleep in anticipation of the Big Day!

High Above Machu PicchuWalking Stick Above MPMountain View

3:45am came fast. And all 200 sleep deprived hikers had an extra spring in their step on this morning. But that enthusiasm had to wait until the checkpoint opened at 5:30am. Then, like a pack of wolves, we all scurried for the famed Sun Gate – our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. The name is a misnomer, at least on this day. It should be called the Cloud Gate! We sat impatienly for over an hour as the fog suffocated any chance to witness the spectacle. We had had enough and descended into the cloud forest until the fog thinned and ruins took shape. And there it was: Machu Picchu!

Anxious to see Ash and check on her health myself, I went ahead of the group towards the main entrance. But my own battles with the food would delay our homecoming. Like an unstoppable rebel force, my stomach forced me to retreat to the forest surrounding Machu Picchu. Does a bear crap in the woods? Yes. Does Greg. You betcha ya. I entered the path once more with a group of Asian tourists staring strangely at me, so I motioned that I had been photographing butterflies.

Ash at Machu PicchuMP in BackgroundAriel Shot of MP

With that straightened out, I finally met up with Ash and thanked Hernan for taking great care of her. Low on energy and unable to eat, Ash was still able to see/touch/smell Machu Pichhu. We toured the impressive complex for 3+ hours – the temples, courtyards, terraced fields, and irrigation systems. A truly amazing sight. Well worth the rollercoaster ride!

Both worn out after four grueling days, Ash and I headed back to Cusco to get some sleep before departing the next day for Lake Titicaca, the birthplace of the Incas.

- Greg

Machu Picchu – Two Grueling Days (Part I of II)

Having decided Peru (cheapest one-way flight) would be our first stop on our global tour, I couldn’t wait to embark on the Inca Trail and spy Machu Picchu. We booked our spots in June 2009 as only 200 hikers are allowed on the trail each day. Finally, the day was here!

Before we departed, the omens of inclement health were gathering. I had spent an evening in the chilly hostel restroom the day prior and Ash began to have fits with her stomach. Nevertheless, we met our guide and fellow hikers the night before hitting the trail for a debriefing. What a diverse and exciting group we would be getting to know: newlywed physicians from Finland, a globetrotting tandem from Ireland & Germany, a Brazilian man on leave from his wife for 10 days, a Niece and her courageous Aunt from Australia, and a young couple from England wrapping up a 9 month world expedition.

We were under a sheet, two blankets, and a bedspread by 10pm, though neither of us felt up for dinner – not even a guinea pig (a delicacy in Peru).

Almost to Kilometer 82Pretty in PinkFinal Wishes Upon Departure

A newish blue van fetched us early the next morning and we were off to get final supplies (walking sticks, chocolate, water, ponchos) and headed for Kilometer 82 – the starting point of the Inca Trail. Day 1 on the route to Machu Picchu was characterized by a steep climb along the Vilcanota River then gradual inclines/declines until reaching the first campsite, 12 kilometers down the rocky trail. The terrain was not too difficult, but the inability to consume food/water, severe nausea, and an overall lack of energy were beginning to wreak havoc on Ashley’s frail body. We ate a simple dinner then Smitty (guide) taught Russ, Amelia (English couple), and me a classic Peruvian card game with the oh so clever name of “cards”.

Twas a LONG night for Ash. She was up and down every 30 minutes having to evacuate from either end of her suffering body. All told, she got about 2.5 hours of sleep… the night before the toughest day of hiking.

Already awake when the porters roused us with a warm cup of cocoa tea, Ash was in bad shape. She nibbled on 2 bites of a cold pancake and it was clear a decision was looming. The nine other hikers moved along to the first checkpoint, while Ash took frequent breaks. Our companions were resting when we arrived and Smitty was concerned. I forced Ash to eat one piece of chocolate after seeing she could hardly lift her arm over her head. The hikers went ahead as Smitty advised us about our choices. We heard his recommendation loud and clear: the next five hours of hiking are steep, we will gain altitude, and the campsite is frigid. Because Ashley had barely eaten in two days and couldn’t keep anything down, it would be foolish for her to continue. So the decision was made – Ash would go back to Ollantaytambo via horse with Hernan (2nd guide) and meet us at Machu Picchu on Day 4. Saddened, we said our goodbyes and I provided Hernan with a healthy tip to take good care of my beloved gal.

Typical Trail4,200 Meters Above Sea LevelDead Woman's Pass

With a heavy heart, I double-timed it with Smitty to catch up with the rest of the group. After a grueling 45 minutes uphill, we reached them at a river crossing. The next five hours offered some fantastic terrain coupled with the most difficult hiking of the Inca Trail. At first the sun was scorching, but as we reached the highest pass of the trail, the wind was fierce and the air cold. Having climbed 4,000 feet to Dead Woman’s Pass, the view was incredible. The physical drain of this hike validated our decision for Ash to head back… it really would have been Dead Woman’s Pass.

Day 2 CampStill ClimbingDice, A Game of Ambition

A two hour decent and we reached camp around 3pm and enjoyed a much needed siesta after hiking 11 kilometers. Claudio, the Brazilian fellow limped into camp later after falling and tweaked his knee. Ray (Irish man without red hair) had an infection on top of his right foot. Dutifully, the Finnish doctors were there to help them both. Smitty taught us a Peruvian dice game called Ambition then we dined on rice and chicken. I retired to my tent with Ashley on my mind, though I was happy to have her sleeping bag and pad on such a cold night!

Stay tuned for Day 3 & 4!

- Greg

Tips

1) Bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer – holes in the ground don’t have TP dispensers and it seems as if soap hasn’t been invented quite yet.

2) Other hikes leading to Machu Picchu are available – all cheaper than the Inca Trail.  These can be booked once in Cusco days before your adventure.  If your heart is set on the Inca Trail, book early.

Trek up the Old Peak

Ash and I are off on a 4 day / 3 night hike of Machu Picchu.  Along the ride to discover the Lost City of the Incas are 2 Brits, 1 Brazilian, 1 German, 1 Irish, 2 Finnish, and 2 Aussies.  We won’t let America down!

We will post about our success or failure soon.  So stay tuned…

Supposedly Higher Than Everest

Supposedly Higher Than Everest

Sacred Valley

Outside Cusco in the Andes Mountains lies the Sacred Valley. We spent from sun up to well past sun down exploring this historical area in Southeast Peru. We thought this would be a proper way to learn more about the Incas while also preparing for the physical demands of our four day Machu Picchu hike.

We started our day running late due to Greg being on the usual “Dietz Time”. So after briskly jogging to Naty’s Travel Agency, we boarded a bus full of tourists from Brazil, Ireland, New Zealand, Mexico, and France to find the last two separate seats available. We had an hour drive until our first stop though it felt like eternity. An impatient Peruvian child sitting in front of me was spending his time closing my curtain or reclining his chair so that I couldn’t move. I swear he was doing this to spite me. Our first stop was an artisan market filled with alpaca sweaters/hats, clay pottery, and dolls. Uninterested, Greg and I walked through the small shops then investigated a South Korean supported artisan workshop. Back to the bus… this time we got seats together… away from the obnoxious kid.

PisaqPisaq in the backgroundAndes Mountains

Our second stop were the ancient ruins of Pisaq. These ruins were set high atop the mountains and were an impressive spectacle. The Incas used the Pisaq area for three purposes: military, religion and agriculture. There are remains of numerous watchtowers built into the mountain that were used to protect the capital city of Cusco from rural invaders. The narrow walkways up Pisaq were a little nerve wracking so if heights aren’t your thing, the ground view ought to suffice.

Not so goodDuring this tour we met a Kiwi named Jonathan who was kind enough to instruct us on the capabilities of our Canon camera. We had a ball exchanging travel stories over a negotiated lunch and even made plans to spend some time in New Zealand with him and his wife, Haley, in December. We can’t wait!  Greg also tried some interesting Peruvian spirits.

The next stop was another Inca archaeological site, Ollantaytambo. At an altitude of 9,160 feet above sea level, this ruin was the most impressive so far. Inca Emperor Pachacuti utilized this spot as his royal estate. Alongside his wife, he would sit high above his kingdom and watch his fellow Incas work day and night. Ollantaytambo took over 100 years to construct and it would take between 50 and 80 men to move a one ton rock. To see and touch these ruins makes you truly appreciate the Inca’s ambition and wherewithal.

OllantaytamboThe Emporer's seatOllantaytambo

On our way back to Cusco, we stopped at the local market in Chinchero. Here we watched how local people make sweaters, hats, blankets, etc. from Alpaca fur. We couldn’t leave this place without purchasing something (teddy bear) after watching how long it takes to make each item. For example, one small rug takes over a month to make. While watching the process of cleaning the Alpaca hair, the local artisans provided some hot tea for us to enjoy on a chilly night. I took one sip and quickly realized my stomach would not handle it. Throwing caution to the wind, Greg joyfully imbibed. Two hours later he was paying homage to the porcelain God while I slept soundly. Always trust your instincts!

If Machu Picchu is what brings you to Cusco, the one day Sacred Valley tour is a real dandy to prepare yourself.

- Ash

Tips

  1. When booking a Sacred Valley tour, shy away from the lunch included option. If included in the package, lunch will run you $10, but upon arrival Greg was able to negotiate lunch for $7 and a free drink!

  2. Bring warms clothes along as it gets darn cold after sunset – this is true for all areas around Cusco.

Rock of the Owl

Cusco, capital of the Inca Empire for over 300 years beginning in the year 1200, is nestled in the Andes mountain range and attracts close to one million visitors each year. The sheer amount of hotels and hostels attest to that! Upon the Spaniards arrival in 1533, it was game-set-match for the Incas, though 3 years later over 100,000 Incas laid an ill-fated 10 month siege to recapture the historical city.

Plaza de ArmasCusco from High AboveLadrillos Alley

Despite the city’s contentious past, the culture and architecture pay homage to both occupiers. In fact, Inca foundations from temples and palaces were utilized for many of Cusco’s cathedrals and museums found today. Though a tourist’s nuevo sol (Peruvian currency) drives many locals to parade the streets dressed in traditional Inca garb with domesticated llamas, the Peruvian inhabitants of the Sacred Valley are immensely proud of their heritage.

Ash and I spent our first day wandering the alleys, markets, and plazas not knowing what we would find next. Hearing the sounds of drums and brass instruments, we found the Plaza de Armas (town center). A cultural celebration was in full swing.

Quarry - Muy GuapoOne of Three Tiers of Defence WallsSexyWoman in the Distance

Excited to see the ruins high atop Cusco, we arranged a guided tour on horseback ($10 each) for a few hours. Reminiscent of “Days of Thunder”, our horses vied for pole position without regard to terrain, grade, or physical exhaustion. The race between Quarry (my horse) and Pucapaya (Ash’s horse) was exactly the same as the NASCAR battle of Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns except for a few minor differences:

  1. 3mph vs. 180mph

  2. horse vs. racecar

  3. novice driver vs. professional

  4. mountain terrain vs. smooth asphalt

  5. time at stake vs. life at stake

We saw the ruins of Puka Pukara, Q’enqo, and Saqsaywaman. The first two were quite small yet interesting to see, but they stood in the shadow of SexyWoman – that is how it is pronounced. You guessed it, Saqsaywaman was named after Ashley Miller! We hiked around the ruins imagining how people lived here over 500 years ago. Despite our efforts, it was tough to wrap your brain around how much ingenuity the Incas really had to make these places come to be.

The Tiers of DefenceVistaPrecision Stone Cutting

Hiking Machu Picchu (4 days, 3 nights) initially drew us to Cusco, but there is much more to this ancient capital of the Inca Empire. It’s name is taken from the Inca’s Quechua language. The Quechua phrase of “qusqu wanka“ means “rock of the owl”. 

- Greg

 Tips:

  1. Most travel agents and guides will advise you to purchase the Cusco Tourist Ticket, allowing you entrance to over 16 venues including ruins and museums. The cost is 130 nuevos soles ($43). Don’t buy it unless you intend on doing most of the 16 spots! The included museums are not Cusco’s best and there aren’t too many employees checking admission tickets to the ruins.  The Sacred Valley can be done for 70 nuevos soles via its own ticket.  Don’t be like us, save your $43 and pay admission as you go if necessary.

  2. Don’t book tours from your hostel, there are much better deals if you stop into travel agencies. For example, we are doing an all day tour of the Sacred Valley for $10 each, Flying Dog Hostel was asking $20 each for the same tour.

Mosquitoes? Not This Girl!

The first day of our Amazon Rainforest experience blew me away. My entire life I have fantasized about experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the jungle. The actual experience was all that and more. Going to bed on the first night in our little bungalow made of bamboo and palm leaves, I anticipated what the second day in the Rainforest had in store.

Amazon hut

Greg standing outside our hut in the Amazon.

We awoke early the next day to the sounds of roosters, competing birds and a multitude of insects. Breakfast of fried egg, toast, and plantains awaited us. I had difficulty eating due to the lack of sanitation (soap was no where to be found), but Greg had no problem with this; finishing his meal in record time. Thunderstorms approaching, we hiked 5km back to the Madre de Dios River.

path into the Amazon

Greg walking over a swamp area in the Amazon.

We took another pekye-pekye (this time a much faster one) further dowillegal Gold Boatn the river. Along the way we passed numerous illegal gold boats. People live aboard these little boats, suck up the river silt, screen the large rocks out, then examine what is left for gold. It was fascinating to watch. After about 45 minutes on the pekye-pekye (they are called this because of the sound they make) we arrived at Taricaya Ecological Reserve which is a Projects Abroad program with about 10 volunteers from all over the world studying biodiversity, market value of young mahogany trees, animal habitats and rescuing native animals. The most fascinating part to me was watching and interacting with all the rescued animals which consisted of 4 different types of monkeys, parrots, toucans, macaws, otters, tapirs, jaguar, baby puma, and a cat that reminded me of the feline in Shrek (with those huge eyes…so cute.) The entire time here I thought of my sister Kiley and how this place is right up her alley. Kiley, if you ever want to take some time off, this is a place you should definitely look into. My favorite animals to interact with were of course the monkeys. They were so playful and we really got to get up close and personal. I fed them while Greg held hands with some of the spider monkeys. They seemed to enjoy our presence and didn’t seem frightened at all.

feeding monkeys

naughty monkeys

Greg getting friendly

 

 

 

 

 

After enjoying the rescued animals we hiked 30 minutes back into the Amazon, destination canopy bridge. Without machinery, the bridge was built in 6 months by volunteers 5 years ago and is an impressive thing to witness and experience. The first platform is 70 feet high and is connected to the second platform 150 feet above the jungle canopy via a 1,000 foot bridge. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous. If Herb Dietz was present, no way we would have been allowed to traverse the swaying span.

 With risk comes reward:

Canopy Bridge v5

Amazon Canopy v3

Canopy Bridge v11

 

 

 

 

 

Having experiencing the canopy bridge, we headed back to the Reserve for a lunch of rice, chicken, and potatoes while the skies opened and let out a fierce rain storm. Our time in the Amazon Rainforest was coming to an end as we boarded the pekye-pekye one last time headed back to Puerto Maldonaldo.

raining in the Taricaya Ecological Preserve

Watching the rain while eating lunch at Taricaya Ecological Reserve

For those of you who know me, you should know that bugs, especially the nasty mosquitoes seem to  flock to me wherever I go. I can have 100 bites after applying bug spray while those who are with me experience no bites. After drowning myself with Off, DEET 45% and soaking my clothes in permethrin, I am proud to report that after spending two whole days in the Amazon I came away with only one bite. I was one happy camper!

- Ash

Tips for the ladies or metro-sexual men:

1.  Overnighting in the Rainforest can be a bit rough.  Expect dirty showers with a tiny sheet protecting you from exposing yourself to the local men.  Needless to say, ALWAYS wear flip flops!

2.  Toilets (if there are any) are disgusting.  Like I mentioned earlier, soap is hard to come by.  Bring sanitizer.

3.  Don’t grow to accustomed to the chickens roaming the land.  More than likely they will be your dinner that night.

4.  All in all, just be prepared to rough it!

Lungs of the Earth

When Ash and I went about planning our destinations, the Amazon Rainforest was in each of our Top 5. I just couldn’t believe it would really be out first excursion!

Flying into Puerto Maldonaldo, we were giddy as school girls… well maybe just me. After being mobbed by tuk-tuk drivers at the landing strip, we were off to find a hostel. I cannot recommend Tambopata Hostel enough.

Tuk-Tuk and Away We GoLooking for Jungle RatsThey'll Float, Right?

We arranged a 1 night, 2 day adventure about 2 hours down the Tambopata River (eventually meets the mighty Amazon) deeper into the Peruvian Rainforest for the next day. Waking at 5am, we met our guide Esteban, and headed for an awaiting pekye-pekye. Slowly cruising down the river on the hot and humid morning, we reached the Tambopata National Reserve (near the Peru, Bolivia, Brazil border). We then proceeded on the slowest 5km hike ever recorded… stopping to look at every monster tree, strange insect, colorful bird, intricate web, and even catching a piranha.

After a lunch consisting of chicken and rice wrapped in a banana leaf, we rented a canoe and paddled onto Lake Sandoval. Esteban had been speaking of the endangered Giant Otter, which he hadn’t seen in 3 weeks. Jackpot! We spied the handsome family of four clear across the lake and we made haste to see them dining on huge piranhas. We shored the canoe and while hiking another 2km via a virgin trail, Esteban exclaimed, “we better walk faster”. Similar to a distant expressway, we could hear a hum… closer… closer… closer… and like a swarm of bees the heavy raindrops drenched us. As the skies opened up, we bailed some water from the canoe just in time to see a troop of squirrel monkeys making its way across the edge of the lake.

 Lunch is EarnedWhere's Waldo (he is blond)Yep, I'm cute

We recuperated by way of a cat nap then paddled onto Lake Sandoval around dusk. We visited the viewing tower (70 feet tall) then the Main Event: Black Caiman Searching. The incredible sunset proved to a precursor for the evening. Armed with a flashlight and headlamp, Ashley and I trained their beams at the palm tree swamp on Lake Sandoval’s NE shore. Every so often, our lights reflected the glowing orange eyes of the North American Alligator’s cousin, the Black Caiman (largest predator in the Amazon). Esteban rowed the canoe into a swampy area and edged himself to the rear of the rocky boat. Like a firecracker, he lurched his hand into the water and captured a 3 foot Black Caiman, losing his flashlight in the process (we reimbursed him). What a thrill it was to hold such a wild creature while Ash couldn’t find a spot far enough away in the canoe.

The Sunset is Prettier Than GregorioArachnophobiaNo Match

We celebrated the adventure with a candlelight dinner (no electricity in the huts) and a tarantula the size of a sand dollar was kind enough to join us, perched 8 feet directly above me. Again, Ash was not thrilled. We wrapped the mosquito nets tightly around our beds, wondering what the Amazon Basin had in store for us the next day.

My expectations of the Amazon had been high and they were exceeded. The biodiversity, medicinal attributes of the plants, incredible smells/sounds/sights all blew me away. 

- Greg

Tips

  1. Tambopata Hostel w/ Playful FrancoArranging a tour upon arrival will save you lots of $$$. This is true of anywhere in the Amazon Basin. You can have the same experience booking a trip from an Amazonian town as booking a room in a jungle lodge. Our trip was $175 per person including food, transportation, guide, and lodging. Similar packages can cost well over $300 by pre-booking.

  2. Before booking a 7 day excursion in the jungle, make sure you can really take the heat, humidity, and bugs galore – we planned for 6 days and 3 was plenty.

  3. There aren’t many hostels in Puerto Maldonado. But Tambopata Hostel is fantastic – friendly people, delicious breakfast, slow but free Internet, great location, and cool showers. Only $10 per person too… cheap and nice is what I’m talking about.

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