Saturday, February 28, 2009

Looking Back

This was a fast and furious trip, but one to be remembered. The bucket list was whittled down a bit; a new country and continent were added to our list of places visited. It was nice to have traveling companions, Jeanne and Gray, to share the experiences with, especially at mealtimes when we could rehash our day’s experiences. Latinamerica4less did a nice job arranging our journey and allowed us to tailor the tour to our needs.

We plan to return to South America in the near future; Ecuador and Chile are the gateways to the Galapagos and Easter Island, two other places we want to see.

We welcome your comments and hope to add more pictures in the near future. New Zealand and Australia beckon next winter; we plan to be on two-wheelers then, getting back to our favorite mode of transportation.


Leaving Lima


Thankfully the hotel began breakfast service at 0500 so we could put something in our stomachs before our 0545 pick-up for the flight to Lima. We did get the mini-hoagie ham and cheese sandwich that we’ve had previously on flights, bus trips, and train journeys.

We found lockers at the airport in Lima, stashed our luggage and took a cab to a fabric shop that RA and Jeanne had scouted out. After the shop, we took a leisurely stroll to the cliffs/parks in Miraflores overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The fog still hanging over the coast line was welcome as the temps were rapidly heading to 90+.

After a nice lunch at one of the cliff top restaurants, we decided to head back to the airport and find a comfortable place to relax until our 2350 flight to Miami. We camped out in the food court for about three hours, retrieved our luggage, and then did an early check-in with American for the flight home.

The plane left shortly after midnight and we were in Miami about 0530. We didn’t get a lot of sleep as the hot meal served shortly after take-off along with the movie kept us up until about 0330. We caught the 0700 shuttle from the hotel and we were back to our car a few minutes later. The trip was over and parts of it seemed like a dream as it happened so fast in such a short span of time.

Hanging in Aguas


Since we had a good day in Machu Picchu yesterday, this back-up day became one to spend as we wished; we just had to be on the 1555 train to begin our trip back to Cuzco.

The new and impressive Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon is about 2km out of town along the road to the ruins so we hoofed it after breakfast in the hotel. Being on foot let us appreciate the deep valley we were in and gave us a chance to hear the roaring river and the birds singing. The museum is small, but very well done and definitely worth the time we spend to visit it. There is also a small botanical garden there populated with many varieties of orchids and other tropical flowers.

We returned to the Indio Feliz for a very nice lunch before walking to the train station. Our train this time consisted of only one Vistadome car and as before it was completely full. After our light lunch, the music started on the PA system and we were entertained by a masked dancer with his “pet” llama. After he was finished we were treated to a fashion show by the remaining staff; it was all very entertaining and helped the time on the train pass quickly.

At one point as were rolling along, there were some young boys standing by the side of the tracks with a water hose going full-tilt. Any open window attracted the water and we were soon wiping the wayward drops from our glasses.

By the time we reached Cuzco on the bus it was dark and the lights of the city up and down the mountain sides were quite impressive. None of us felt like eating, so RA and Jeanne did their final Cuzco shopping and we packed up in anticipation of our 0545 pick-up to go the airport. All day in Lima tomorrow and then our Passage will have come to an end.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Machu Picchu Gained


Breakfast starts at 0500 at the hotel, but we were in the bus and on the way to the train at 0445, so no breakfast for us! The bus ride seemed to take forever as we rode for about 90 minutes to Ollantaytambo before boarding our two car Vistadome train about 30 km from Machu Picchu. We had assigned seats and were served a cheese sandwich, small piece of cake and beverage. Each car had large windows on the sides and, as Vistadome implies, windows cut into the edges of the top of the car so we could look straight up to see the tops of the steep mountains from the bottom of the narrow valley. Ninety minutes later we pulled into the station at Aguas Calientes also known as Machupicchu Pueblo. We handed off our luggage to a representative from the Inti Inn and were soon seated on a very new and clean Mercedes-Benz bus for the trip up the mountain. The dirt road climbs very steeply through several switchbacks (visible on Google Earth) before arriving at the entrance to this incredible World Heritage Site.

Guido, our guide, did a very good job of steering us around the ruins for over three hours; we climbed and descended through the ruins giving our lungs and legs a good workout. We had a small group of eight, so the guided tour thing was easy to take. It is the rainy season now in the mountains of Peru and we were worried about the weather, but the rain held off until near the end of the tour and then was light and short-lived.

After the tour, we headed back to catch the shuttle to the village for our buffet lunch at Toto's House. The rain did return in earnest after we returned to the hotel, so RA and I relaxed in our quaint little room, while Jeanne and Gray did a little exploring of this outpost in the mountains.

The Indio Feliz restaurant, French/Peruvian owners, served up some excellent food for dinner and instantly became the best restaurant on the tour to date.

Tomorrow is a free day we built into the schedule to give us a second chance to visit the ruins if the weather was too awful on the first day. We will be staying in the valley and will visit the small museum and botanic garden before boarding the Vistadome train back to Cuzco.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Free in Cuzco


Our first free day of the trip and we took advantage of it by sleeping in and then heading out to the main square, Plaza des Armas. We wanted to find the 12- sided stone located along a very narrow cobblestone street off the Plaza. We easily found this masterpiece of Inca craftsmanship and then slowly slogged up the steep street to the San Blas area of Cuzco. San Blas is an area full of artisan shops that delighted Jeanne and RA, but held less interest for Gray and I. They shopped and we wandered the narrow back streets before joining up in the Plazoleta de San Blas in front of the small church.

I must take some time here to compare the street vendors in India to those of Peru. In India, “no” meant nothing and the vendor might follow you for blocks trying to make a sale. Here in Peru if you are on the move answering with “no gracias” two or three times would end the confrontation. If you were sitting on a park bench or church steps they had more of a captive audience and would continue showing you hand-woven belt after hand-woven belt until they realized that you were not going to buy a hand-woven belt. Then came out the small, but nicely decorated gourds and the whole process would start over again. The vendors were usually women often accompanied by a llama or lamb or goat in order to earn a few extra soles the photo session would generate.

We had a very nice lunch at the Inka Grill--an upscale but friendly place. Our waiter, Roosevelt, knew his trade and was rewarded for it. My meal concluded with an excellent coca de crème brule. After lunch, the ladies went shopping, Gray did some banking, and I headed back to the hotel for some sleep. I was fighting a nasty cold and needed to get some rest.

When dinner time rolled around I passed, but the other passengers hiked up to a funky restaurant, The Fallen Angel/Fire and Ice. The table was an old bathtub filled with water and all the trimmings for a fish tank minus the fish. RA sat on a stool, while Jeanne and Gray sat on a brass bed with lots of pillows. They said the lighting, music, and ambience were “different”, but they enjoyed their meal. Meanwhile, back at the hotel I was consuming cup after cup of mate de coca to try to kill my cold!

Tomorrow comes the raison d’etre for this trip: Machu Picchu. An 0445 pick-up at the hotel will begin our big day.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Into the Andes


Wake up at 0200. Airport pick-up at 0300. Check-in and pay domestic airport tax of $6 each by 0440. Board Taca flight #007 (Airbus A320 like the one that went swimming in the Hudson River about a month ago) at 0540. Land in Cuzco (10976’ above sea level) a little after 0800 and transfer to the hotel. We are given a cup of mate de coca (coca tea--yes, the same stuff that cocaine is made from) which is supposed to help in warding off altitude sickness. We jumped straight from sea level to nearly 11000’ so acclimatization was not possible. We have been taking acetazolamide (Diamox) and have felt the side effects of tingling fingers and toes; Ibuprofen helped calm down the dull headaches. It was only 0900 and we felt we had already put in a hard days labor; but, we had a four tour of Cuzco and its environs in the afternoon so no time to rest and make up for the sleep we had lost the previous night.

Our excellent guide said that he was 75-80% pure Inca and he had the features to prove it. He communicated his philosophy of life and religion with sincerity; it would be fun to sit down to a meal and discuss “things” with him. After a tour of La Catedral with its painting of The Last Supper featuring roast cuy (guinea pig--an Inca specialty appearing on almost every menu in town) and the black crucifix, Adriel took us on an itinerary of tongue twisting places: Qorikancha, Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Pukapukara, and Tambomachay.

It was a long day and we finished it off with pizza at Chez Maggy just down the street from the hotel.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sunday in Paracas


We had to find the Sunday morning staff at the hotel in order to get breakfast before the bus picked us up to take us to the port for our boat trip to the Ballestas Islands. No one was at the front desk when we were ready to leave; a call from the tour host finally brought one of our breakfast guys out to say that our bill was taken care of and we were free to go!

We were soon in line with several hundred others to board a boat to the Ballestas Islands and the promise of seeing lots of birds and sea lions about 22 km off shore. Our very new 39 passenger boat, the Pinguino III, soon pulled along side the dock and we were loaded, life-jacketed and on our way.

As we passed the end of the Peninsula de Paracas, the boat stopped dead in the water for us to take pictures of the Candelabra geoglyph (150mx50m). Another one of those “who dunnits” we have been encountering in Peru.

The Ballestas Islands are covered in guano (used for fertilizer) which is mined very 7-10 years. The most common birds we saw were: the guano cormorants, the Peruvian booby, and the Peruvian pelican. We also saw Humboldt penguins, other species of cormorants and pelicans and large groups of boisterous sea lions.

After our return to the port we had about four hours before leaving for Lima; we spent most of it in the shade of an outdoor restaurant avoiding the brutal sun and temps in the 90s. We did tour the small beach watching the Peruvians very much enjoy their Sunday by the ocean. One man had a plastic bag full of small fish and was followed by his five “pet” pelicans and for a few soles would feed them while you took a picture.

Back on the bus for our four hour trip to Lima, we were served a small ham and cheese sandwich and a box of delicious peach juice. To amuse the passengers, the bus attendant hosted a little game of bingo; someone else won the bottle of Pisco (a grape brandy made guessed it, Pisco!). As we neared Lima we got caught up in the Sunday afternoon traffic. At one point all four lanes were being used for traffic in the direction towards Lima--those going the opposite direction were shunted off on an access road. A note here about the security measures taken on our bus journeys: the name on the ticket must match the one on your passport, all carry-on bags are searched, you are “wanded”, and one of the staff comes through the bus taking a video of every passengers face.

We decided to skip dinner and do a little “in room” snacking instead as we had to get up at 0200 on Monday morning to go to the airport for our flight to Cuzco.