November 14, 2013
13 Days in Peru
Remember those friends we went to Alaska with before heading out to Paraguay? Well, we did it again, this time in Peru. And then in my normal timely fashion, it took me over two months to tell you about it.
Meeting up or having friends and family visit us are always highlights during our service, and this trip was no exception. The trip started off with one night in Lima, Peru. Jon and I got there in the early morning so we were able to explore Miraflores, the hip suburb of Lima. We visited the chocolate museum, perused the plazas, visited the coast with its surfers, ate sushi, and then ate some more at the very popular “sangucheria” La Lucha where the sandwiches are over the top and the smoothies extra delicious. I shall owe you the pictures.
Then we patiently awaited the arrival of our friends. I practically jumped from my chair when their taxi pulled up to the hotel; the real fun and adventure truly was about to begin.
That next morning we headed to Cusco, where we stayed for four days. Cusco is an endearing town, with its winding cobblestone streets and red tiled roofs. It was also once the heart of the Incan empire, so walking down narrow alleyways you are flanked on both sides by original Incan walls.
A little side story: I would have completely missed the cute girl below, if it weren’t for the fact that she was reading her magazine out loud to herself and I heard her. I just had to snatch the camera out of Jon’s hand and capture the moment.
Peru’s artisan culture is very rich, with beautiful bright textiles, hand-crafted silver jewelry, and woodcarvings. I had a little too much fun picking out souvenirs to bring back to my Paraguayan friends. From Cusco we did several day excursions to nearby sights. Our first included a drive through the sacred valley and exploring the ruins at Ollantaytambo. The terracing, done by the Incans, is quite awe inspiring. Just as impressive is the complex irrigation that they built, which still works today.
Our second excursion, to Moray and Maras, was one I was looking forward to after seeing Amy’s pictures. Moray consists of concentric circular agricultural terraces; the idea is that the lower the terraces are the cooler the temperature, so the Incans were able to plant a great variety of crops in one place.
From there we visited the salt flats at Maras. It had rained the day before so the flats weren’t quite as white as they usually are, but, in my eyes, were still quite the sight. A different family owns each small parcel, and the salt they harvest is a supplement to their family income. From a single parcel they are able to harvest three different qualities of salt, one of which is for animals. I felt silly for not knowing that animals crave salt as much as we, okay, as I do. I loved watching the men and women working, and I am sure it is a much tougher and labor-intensive job than one would expect.
After Cusco we headed to Machu Picchu. There are two ways to get to Machu Picchu, one is to do a cozy picturesque train ride, and the other is to hike 45km over the course of four days on the Inca Trail. Ok, that was a gross over simplification on my part, there are several hiking options, some shorter than 4 days, other longer ones, but the most popular/famous hike is the Inca Trail.
We chose the long/more difficult route, because adventure and a little ruggedness always trump air conditioning. Man, I keep telling lies, because I do love air conditioning and dream of having one during the 100 degree summers in Paraguay. Back to hiking, and in the name of full disclosure, this was the most upscale “hiking/camping” any of us had ever done. To be able to do the hike you have to go with an outfitter, which means you have a full team of porters that carry everything, cook everything, set up your tents, and the dining room tent. All you have to do is move your two little legs. We had 12 porters and a guide for the six of us.
And oh, since I am little bit into the food, our cook was amazing, for every dinner we would have a scrumptious 4 course meal and our last night they somehow even made us cake. Plus, the cook had a chef’s hat, how cute is that?
Along the trail you come across many Incan sites, perfect times to explore and take a break. And Nalena loves breaks. The views every which way were quite spectacular as well. Though, with the view also comes the high elevation; you start at 9,100 feet, and reach 12, 100 feet at the highest pass. I had never done a multi day hiking trip of this sort and, uh, because of my lack of daily exercise, every ounce of me ached and was exhausted, but in a it’s-worth-it, sort of way.
The best part of the hike is that there is quite the reward when you reach the end, the site of Machu Picchu at sunrise. From there we got to explore the ruins, admiring the prowess of the Incans.
An optional hike you can do at Machu Picchu is to go up to Huayna Picchu. This is that very emblematic peak that is behind the ruins. You need to purchase tickets beforehand, and they only allow visitors to go up two scheduled times per day. We had pre-purchased tickets for the peak, so up the peak we went. In hindsight, this was a poor decision, as our bodies were exhausted and tired from finishing the Inca Trail two hours before. If you are planning a trip to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail and consider yourself superman/woman, then go for it, do both. But if you’re more like me, a little flabby, then, stay at the ruins and explore those instead. On the bright side, the view is incredible up there and you get to see Machu Picchu from a very different angle. (Picture below)
From Machu Picchu we headed back to Cusco, via a well-deserved train ride, and stayed a night there. We then left the next morning to the Amazon rain forest through the town of Puerto Maldonado. We stayed at the Inkaterra Jungle Lodge, which was a perfect way to end our trip. Each couple had their own cabin, the daily excursions were fun but low key, and the food was delicious. We got to see alligators, or it might have been crocodiles, capybaras, many types of birds, all out in their natural habitat. There was also canopy walking and a visit to a sustainable jungle farm.
Peru was amazing, the company we had was more amazing, and even more amazing was that I finally hunkered down and told you about it.