Category Archives: Peru

Lake Titicaca

Tourist Bus to Puno
Our ride to Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca, took all day. After five days of hiking, we were glad to sit still. The seats were comfortable and we made several stops along the way:

Andahuaylillas – I wandered around the plaza while others toured a church referred to as the Sistine Chapel of the Andes – lots of frescos in its cold, dark interior

Raqchi – ruins of a major Inka city with many round granaries. A key point in the Incan road system. The two-story Temple of Wiracocha is believed to have been the largest single roofed building in the empire.

Sicuani – we had lunch and took pictures of native girls with their alpaca

La Raya – our highest point at 4325 meters with a great view. When I heard that we would be traveling over a high mountain pass, I pictured snow-capped peaks and windy roads, instead we found a wide plateau and a well maintained road

Pukara – I skipped the museum tour and instead photographed the adobe church and numerous ceramic bulls. (I only have so much patience for bilingual tours, especially when the English half is only have comprehensible).

To celebrate Joanne’s birthday, we went out for a delicious dinner in Puno with musicians and dancers as entertainment. I was especially impressed with the pan flute player.

Uros Floating Islands
This was our first, and favorite, stop on our two-day tour of Lake Titicaca. It was a magical place. The natives fled on reed boats to avoid the Inka’s, and later the Spaniards, and established a whole community on the lake, current population about 2000. Everything is made of reeds – the islands, the houses, and the boats. The “land” felt soft and spongy. We saw a demonstration about how the islands are made, using a mass of floating reed roots as their base. New layers of dried reeds are constantly added on top. An island can last for decades before it becomes too waterlogged to float.

Amantani Island
After a thee hour boat ride, we were met by our native hosts. I was lucky to room with Nancy, who speaks a little Spanish. Karen and Joanne were placed with a different family. The walk up from the port was steep. We had to duck through the door to our low-ceiling bedroom. We were served quinoa soup for lunch and then shown a collection of colorful knitted hats. We each bought one. after a brief rest, we were led to the plaza for a short talk by our guide. About 4000 people live on this terraced island, growing potatoes, quinoa, and other grains. We learned that the black skirt worn by the mother of our household indicated the she is a leader in the community, elected for a one year term.

Afterwards, the majority of our tour group took a steep walk up to the top of the island. We stayed behind and took a walk along a perimeter path, enjoyed beer and hot cocoa at a cafe, and watched the sunset. The lake is so big, it looks like the sea.

Our hosts returned for us and led us back to their homes. We had potato soup plus rice and potatoes for dinner. The are ten people living in our adobe compound: Severo, his wife Ana, their three children (two girls and a baby boy wrapped up on his mother’s back), plus a set of parents, a brother, and a couple others whose relationship was not clear. The girls were thrilled with the coloring books that Nancy brought and Ana thanked us for the fresh fruit we brought with us from the mainland.

Nancy was still breathless from our walks (Lake Titicaca is above 12,000′) and I had a bit of a headache, so we skipped the fiesta arranged for our group and went to bed early. Karen and Joanne attended in native garb and had a good time dancing to native music.

After breakfast the next morning, our hostess led us back to the port.

Taquile Island
Though it looked much closer, it took an hour to get to Taquile Island. The walk up to the main plaza was very scenic, but at about 13,000′, Nancy was challenged. It was easier for me, now that I’ve been at high altitude for a week and a half, but still noticeable. Though they are close to Amantani and share a language, Quechua, their customs and dress are quite different. They are known for their handicrafts; the men knit and the woman weave. I bought a couple soft alpaca hats (and hope my boys like them).

We saw a demo of soap making from plants and ate yummy trout for lunch (from the lake, non-native). Then it was down 500 steps to the port and a three hour ride back to Puno.

We ate dinner and then took a van to Juliaca for a late flight to Lima. The roads near the airport were the worst we’ve seen in Peru and we were a bit worried about where we were. Fortunately we caught our flight and it went smoothly. I can’t say the same for our hotel. It was quite seedy.

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Salkantay Trek – Day 5 (Machu Picchu)

This Inka city is the reason we’re down in South America. It was wonderful to finally be here, after hearing about it and seeing pictures for years.

We got in the bus line at 5:30 a.m. and reached M.P. about an hour later. We immediately headed uphill; Nancy was breathing heavily. We stopped at an overlook and enjoyed the view as Carlos gave us an overview of this amazing place. So far, this is the highlight of our trip, watching the sun rise over the mountains, first hitting Huayna Picchu, the mountain we had tickets to climb later that morning. Seeing it in the distance, I wasn’t at all sure I’d make it to the top.

Machu Picchu, and many of the stones and walls within it, are aligned with the June and December solstices. We saw many amazing things, e.g. a sacristy that acted as a sound chamber, mirrors of water which fill with light at the solstices and could be used for indirectly viewing the sun, and a stone aligned with the compass and shaped like the southern cross (which we saw one evening). We heard about both the Inka Reign and the Inka Empire. In the later, virgin girls were sacrificed to the mother cosmos. We saw leaning walls designed to survive earthquakes. This royal city was decimated by disease, probably brought by couriers from Cusco after the Spaniards arrived, and abandoned in the 1400’s.

At 10:00, we bid farewell to Carlos and headed over to Huayna Picchu. Only a few hundred tickets are issued for this climb each day. I made it up in about an hour and 15 minutes. The cables were very useful for navigating the steep steps. I caught up with Karen and Joanne at the top. We finished our bag lunches, resting and soaking in the view, then headed back down on shaky legs. We met Nancy at the bottom and learned that she made it all the way up to the tunnel-like passageway between rock walls, where I had to crawl on my hands and knees to fit through with my backpack on.

Exhausted, but ecstatic, we caught the bus back to Aguas Calientes where we enjoyed beers on a deck overlooking the river. We had an early dinner, then caught the 6:00 train to Ollantaytambo where we were met by a van which transported us back to Cusco. We reached our hotel around 10 p.m., tired, but happy.

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Salkantay Trek – Days 2-4

As you may have gathered from the photos in my last post, I have been reunited with my iPad card reader. (Thank you Nicole for FedEx’ing it to me). We’ve been on the go since our trek, with limited access to WiFi, so it’s going to take a while to catch up on blog posts, though I’m getting faster with one finger typing. I haven’t yet figured out how to place photos within the text, so for now they will all be placed at the end.

Now comes the wonderful part of the trek.

Day 2
Though we saw stars before bed, it rained much of the night and it was still raining in the morning. I slept until the first rooster crowed, then drifted back to sleep. I was deep in dreamland when my Coca de Matte tea was delivered shortly after first light, around 6:00 a.m.

My belongings were just as damp as the day before, so I put my feet in plastic bags before putting on my boots in a feable attempt to keep my feet dry. We had a cramped breakfast in Costina’s home/shop, then pulled on our wet gloves and headed into the rain.

Fortunately our trail was mostly downhill and not too steep. I can keep up with Karen and Joanne on level ground or downhill, but on the uphill stretches they left me in the dust, or in this case, mud. We only hiked for about four hours. When we reached Colcapampa, we were happy to see a table set out for us on a second floor deck – the perfect spot to spend a leisurely afternoon. After lunch, with a delicious tarwi ceviche (lupine beans), we purchased a bottle of Pisco, a local beverage made from grapes with 2-3 times the alcohol content of wine. The cook fixed us a Peruvian version of hot toddies, perfect for the cool weather. We chatted with Carlos and learned more about his life growing up in a small village; his first language is Quecha, the language of the Inka’s. I also talked with an Aussie traveling with another group and grilled him with questions about Oz, making notes for a future trip. When the sun came out in mid-afternoon, we laid our wet clothes on a tin roof, but there wasn’t enough daylight left to dry them out.

Day 3
We were unanimous in our decision to skip Llactapata, a mountain that would have provided a distant view of Machu Picchu. It would have been steeper and muddier that our trail over the pass. Instead, we hiked about 8-9 miles downhill, now in a tropical forest with butterflies flitting about. The sun was shining and we quickly got down to one layer. ( Hard to believe we were worried about frostbite two days ago).

When we reached La Playa, we ate lunch then took a van to the hot springs just past Santa Teresa. On the way we stopped for a tour of a small coffee plantation. Freddy showed us different type of plants and explained how the bananas and buckeyes shade them; Carlos neglected to translate some of his obviously dirty jokes. We then participated in the process of coffee making, from picking the red berries to drinking the coffee. Karen and Joanne were in caffeine bliss.

I closed my eyes a few times as our drive continued, trying not to notice how close to the edge we were in spots. When we reached the hot springs, we had a luxurious soak while our crew set up camp. Afterward we sat at tables set out by the ever present vendors and enjoyed Cosquena, a local beer, while listening to the river.

Day 4
After breakfast, porridge and yucca today, we got back in the van and headed out for zip-lining, a new experience for me but not my travel companions. We had been looking forward to a hike-free day, but once we geared up, we headed up a steep hill to reach the first of six zip lines. I was pretty nervous for the first two. After that, the view back and forth across the river and tree canopy was mesmerizing enough for me to suspend my fear. Karen was brave or crazy enough to hang upside down on one segment. I finally figured out how to take a movie in motion, so there may be a short video in my slide show.

Another van took us down to Hidroelectric, a way-stop that’s just what it sounds like, a hydroelectric plant that provides electricity to much of Peru. The ride down the narrow mountain road was as scary as the zip-line. We had lunch on a deck shared by other tour groups. We nixed our initial plan to walk to Aguas Calientes and instead enjoyed cold beverages while waiting for the train. The Vistadome was very comfortable and provided us with nice views of the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu.

While Carlos found an open laundry service for us, we took the showers we had been fantasizing about. If it weren’t for the trek t-shirt, I wouldn’t have had anything clean to wear to dinner. When I got back from dropping off our laundry (3 soles/kilo), Nancy had arrived. Nancy is my best friend from high school and we’ve kept in touch all these years. She arrived in Cusco yesterday, took a half day city tour, and then toured the Sacred Valley on her way to joining us in Aguas Calientes. We went to dinner with Carlos. My avocado vinaigrette and Pisco Sour were the best I’ve had yet.

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Salkantay Trek- Day 1

We survived the Salkantay trek, a wonderful and miserable adventure.

Day 1 – Salkantay Pass (May 22)
This was one of the toughest hikes I’ve ever done, thanks to the altitude and weather. I had anticipated taking photos of snow-capped peaks, instead the snow was falling on me during the “dry” season (climate change strikes again).

We were picked up from our hotel by IntiSunTrek at 5:00 a.m., then driven three hours to Soray Pampa. We started out, after tea and bread, under overcast skies. Soon it began to drizzle, then to rain. It became harder and harder to breathe and I soon fell behind. The rain turned to snow and the wind picked up. I struggled to catch my breath, and had more difficulty than I’ve ever had at high altitude. I took an extra Diamox and slogged on, at times wondering whether I’d need a horse to get over the pass. The weather worsened and I packed away my camera to protect it from the elements.

We stopped for lunch after a series of switchbacks known to tourists as the “Seven Snakes”. We shivered under the overhang of a small building while our crew set up a dining tent. The cook kept his cool and fixed us an amazing meal while the three us trekkers were getting changed into warmer clothes, modesty be damned, periodically grabbing onto poles to prevent the tent from blowing away.

Somehow we dragged ourselves back into the blizzard and made it to the pass. Our guide, Carlos, took our picture under the elevation sign at 15,200′ (4630 meters). I was ecstatic to start heading down, except for the icy wet snow stinging my face. Head down, I kept focused on the trail, one step at a time.

As we descended, the snow changed to rain. We reached what we thought was our campsite, and enjoyed a hot cup of of tea. Then we were informed that a big group was coming in and we needed to move to another camp, 25 minutes down the mountain. An hour later we arrived, in the rain and dark. I couldn’t find my headlamp, so I walked between Karen and Joanne, sharing their light.

We headed towards a light, thinking it was our camp, but reached the home of Costina, a local woman instead, We huddled around the fire in her small hut while Carlos found the crew and set up our tents. Costina held our cold hands in her warm ones and helped warm us up. We ate our dinner in there as well.

Though I had “waterproof” boots, pants, and jacket, everything I was wearing was wet, along with most of the items in my backpack, in spite of the rain cover. My small camera was swimming in a pool of water. I’ve packed it in rice, but fear I won’t be able to take underwater pictures in the Galapagos (it’s the one I purchased an underwater housing for) ūüė¶

My feet were still cold a half hour after I climbed into my sleeping bag, so I fixed a hand warmer sandwich – sock, hand warmer, sock on each foot – that did the trick and I finally fell asleep.

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Sacred Valley

Looks like I wasn’t meant to travel with a cell phone, since I lost mine and they are too costly to replace down here. Also, Leanna wasn’t destined to see Machu Picchu; she flew to Lima yesterday with altitude sickness and is heading home today (good thing we bought trip insurance).

Otherwise, Karen, Joanne and I are having a great time in the Sacred Valley. The positive energy here overweighs our mishaps. We’ve toured many Inka ruins, admiring their architecture and learning a bit about their history and culture. They were definitely aligned with the sun and nature and used knowledge we’ve since lost. Too bad the Spaniards destroyed so many of their buildings.

We also got to see a condor fly and feed various camel speices at a rescue center (llama, vicu√Īa, etc). Below is a picture Karen took of one of the baby alpaca munching greens.

My favorite meal so far was a quinoa risotta with veggies. We also discovered a delicious ice cream place with a yummy delicate cone (worth eating gluten for). We sampled alpaca and guinea pig, the former tastes better than the later. Today we had a free day in Cusco, which we mostly spent shopping, eating, and in my case taking photos that I can’t yet post. I took the top photo with my iPad, from the window of our hostel.

We’re getting picked up at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow for our trek, so I’ll be off-line for a while.

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Cusco with a Technical Glitch

We arrived in Cusco yesterday, tired after three flights, including a red eye from Miami to Lima on a plane with some of the narrowest and hardest seats I’ve experience (a gel pack would have been nice). After a short nap in our hotel room, Karen, Joanne, and I met up with Leanna and had lunch on Plaza de Armas. Leanna has already been down here for a week, so she didn’t join us for our afternoon tour.

I have no photos to show of La Cathedral, Saqsayhuaman (a ancient Inka site which our guide referred to as Sexy Woman, to help us Gringas with pronunciation), and various other sites, because I somehow managed not to get the card reader I purchased for my iPad into my suitcase. I’m hopeful that I can get it delivered via FedEx and will be able to post images within a week or so.

In the meantime, here is one Karen took of me receiving a weaving lesson today in the mountains above Ollantaytambo. We were close to 13,000 and I definitely felt the altitude. We’re taking Diamox plus I’m drinking Matte de Coca tea and chewing coca leaves (fortunately I’m not worried about drug testing).

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