Wow. Peru has been an incredible surprise with the vast diversity of it’s landscapes.
We started off with two solid days of bus travel from Ecuador with a short pit stop in Piura. The town was ocean side and had a lot of parks and plazas, but the highlight for us was trying our first cremolada. From there we overnighted to the capital of Lima. Lima is a beautiful city and very reminicent of LA or Santa Monica with its water front, surfer packed ocean, overlooking cliffs… and prices. Quite a shock to our budgets from all of Ecuador. We ran through the many beautiful parks overlooking the ocean each morning and surfed for two days. The only downside of this experience was the multiple faceplants into the rocky beaches (all rocks, no sand) due to the rough waves we had one day and the fact that Meg lost her water shoes. We met some cool people and attended ArtJam which was a live art competition in a super hip bar.
From Lima we went to a coastal desert town called Paracas. There are only 2 streets in the entire town and our room was made out of something resembling balsa wood. We could see the sky through the ceiling and thought we might break it everytime we closed the door. BUT, from there, we took a boat tour to the “poor man´s” Galapagos Island where we saw an Incan mystery inscribed in a sand dune, sea lions, penguins, vultures, and a ton of other birds. It was a pretty incredible experience if you ask Rachelle. It was a ¨very poor man´s¨Galapagos if you ask Meg.
Next we went to another small town with only 2 roads called Huacachina. We stayed along a desert oasis lagoon surrounded by enormous sand dunes. We skipped the dune buggy and sandboarding tour and simply took in the scenery. We ventured to the middle of nowhere with two great Australian gals we met and received, possibly the best tour of a vineyard. The vineyard has been around since the 1500s and we were served large helpings of the wine and Pisco.
Next up was Cuzco. Our arrival was possibly the worst overnight bus experience yet. To spare you the gory details, we got sick…Rachelle especially sick. The next few days were not much better. We think the altitude may have had something to do with that, but luckily we had a whole week to acclimatize before hiking the Inca Trail. Cuzco is a gorgeous city and home to the only plaza with two cathedrals…imagine that. Our first day we ran into a celebration with traditional clothing, music and dance and got to enjoy the festivities in the plaza under the sun. Everyday was sunny and flesh burning hot and each night required multiple layers to stay warm. It was a tricky town to dress for, but the scenery more than made up for it. The majority of Cuzco is elevated and due to getting winded at every step (altitude) we got to really take our time and soak it all in! There were handicraft markets, llamas, alpacas, and mystery street food everywhere! There was also an abundance of rainbow flags…but not due to their tolerance of diversity as much as it is the city flag. We both got killer handmade hats and ate quail eggs from the street AND Rachelle ate both cuy (guinea pig) and alpaca meat!
Our entire travel timeline was building up to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu since it had to be booked 6 months in advance and it was worth it! We hiked 43 kilometers over 4 days with 30 pounds on our backs, reaching 4215 meters above sea level at one point! We slept in tents, ate three 3 course meals, didn´t shower, and had a great family along the way. In fact, we met more Americans on the trail than anywhere else. Along the trail we got to see several Incan ruins and we learned a lot. We both agreed that had we not seen Machu Picchu, we would have been more than satisfied with the hike alone. One day we hiked for 9 hours and arrived to our site in the dark! We saw many types of flora and fauna along the trail, climbed over rickety ¨bridges¨ down thousands of steps (called the gringo killers) through ancient sites and had an amazing time doing it. We also discovered our love for multi-day treks! Although the people, our incredible guide and the 19 porters that were there to set up camp and make us food certainly helped. Words really can´t describe Machu Picchu, so we´ll just have to post some of Rachelle´s awesome photos.
We returned to Cuzco by way of 3 buses and a train and went straight to bed since we had gotten up at 3:30am that morning to hike into Machu Picchu through the sun gate. We spent much of the next day trying to enjoy our last few hours in Cuzco since we were leaving for Puno on Lake Titicaca that evening on a night bus. We arrived in Puno at 5am and again went straight to bed since its nearly impossible to sleep on a freezing cold nauseating night bus. The highlight of Puno is visiting the islands of Lake Titicaca, so we booked a boat to Uros, the ¨floating islands.¨ Its about 45 minutes by slow (read cheaper) motor boat to the closest islands. We were on a 30 person vessel that took about 10 minutes to even get the motor started and then once it did start we were pretty sure the motor was actually a blender. We puttered along at a snails pace, but luckily we got to be 2 of the 6 people allowed to sit on the upper deck (of course evenly distributed on the port and starboard sides to avoid capsize per the capitàn). Yet another questionably seaworthy barge. Anyway, we eventually got there. Uros is actually a group of small islands that indigenous tribes constructed from floating reeds in order to escape conquering tribes. Anywhere from 5-10 families live on each island an they continually have to replace the reeds because they start to degrade and fall away. Its pretty squishy underfoot, but the yellow reeds contrast beautifully against the blue lake and sky. As part of the ¨hard sell¨to buy handicrafts on the islands, we were invited into the reed constructed home of one of the inhabitants. It was a tight squeeze to get 5 people inside. A bed took up about half of the square footage, but there was enough space for a small TV powered by solar panels on the roof. Overall, it was an awkward, though enjoyable experience.
After talking to many other travelers, we decided to change course a bit and travel south by way of Bolivia and cut out Brazil. Both countries require visas for American tourists, but Bolivia´s was both cheaper and easier to obtain. Additionally, Bolivia is just cheaper in general. We heard tell of luxury hotels for $2USD per night, of course this turns out to be false, but our interest was peaked. Next stop? Copacabana, Brazil…I mean, Bolivia.