Bribery Drivers in Perú are nuts! Utterly crazy! We have never seen anything like this: there are no lanes, there are no rules, the stop lights are not respected… and the list goes on an on. And the police are corrupt: while driving to Paracas we are pulled over for not having our headlights on — something that is not the law, or posted anywhere. The "policeman" first takes our license and registration, then produces a janky document, written in bad english, stating that he needs to fine us and send our documents to the US embassy! That is, unless we can pay him a hundred bucks right then and there! Not corrupt at all! Whatever. We pay the bribe and move on.
More than Machu Picchu Though we go to Perú primarily for going to Machu Picchu, we definitely see the rest of this amazingly diverse country: Sacred Valley, Lake Titicaca, the Amazon basin, and the South Coast. All dramatically different landscapes, and each with as much to offer. We return to Lima several times as we hop around the country. The amazing Hotel B, its restaurant, and heavenly deep fried cheese stuffed cornballs and the truffle-fries-made-to-perfection make up for the craziness of the city.
Guinea Pig Cusco is yet another old city ruined and ravaged by the Spaniards. This time they did keep the old Incan walls as foundation for their churches and buildings. As with many invaded South American cities, it has an adorable old town with narrow cobblestone streets, electric poles with a million miles of dangling wires, and way too many iglesias, cathedrals, churches, and other religious gaudy buildings. They do have a black Jesus and a Last Supper serving guinea pig! Photography is forbidden but we put those Watches to good use! Showed them!
Picchus After a car, a train, and a bus ride, we arrive the Sanctuary Lodge, right at the gates of Machu Picchu. Being 10 feet away from MP's entrance is the best part of our whole trip! That first day Machu Picchu is a postcard-quality sunny! Knowing how rare of an occasion this is, we peel ourselves from our amazing room and massive patio, head into the ruins and run around and take all the photos we can.
La Montaña The next day we have a 6:30am scheduled hike up to Machu Picchu Mountain, the tallest of the surrounding mountains. Turns out our many days of acclamation in Cusco and Urubamba in Sacred Valley hasn't prepared us for this extremely steep and difficult hike: over 3000' of elevation gain starting at above 8000', and uneven rocky trail comprised mostly of stairs that are at times 14" - 18" in rise and only 6"-8" deep. Nutty! But the views from the top are absolutely worth it. We sit around for the ever-present fog to clear the ruins, and though it never quite does, we get amazing glimpses of the whole city, including Huayna Picchu. The hike kicks our asses!
As we head down the mountain a light rain starts. We decide to wait it out while having lunch at the hotel, with every intention of returning to the park. But it starts to pour and as we glance at the poor tourist from our fabulous patio, soaking in the rain while either huddled at the park's gate, or waiting to catch the 30 minute bus ride back to Aguas Calientes, the spa calls to us. Our visit to MP is an amazing experience… all except for the fancy dinner barf-train ride back up to Cusco, which is great if you don't need to ear drums and are ok donating them to the horribly loud live band, and are cool barfing up your dinner while riding a bumpy super motiony train without shock absorbers!
Ruins Though we all know of Machu Picchu, we are surprised to learn that the whole country is covered with ruins. While in Cusco we take a ten-minute cab ride to Sacsayhuamán. In ways, these ruins are equally interesting: they are easy to drive to, hold a lot of intact original walls available for viewing, and there are virtually no crowds. And though Cusco is much higher in elevation than Machu Picchu, the flatness of these ruins makes them easily walkable.
O2 We anticipate that our altitude acclamation so far will help during our visit to Lake Titicaca, and it does for the most part. But turns out ascending another thousand feet doesn't go unnoticed on our bodies. What we don't anticipate is our hotel giving us a blood oxygen test before loading us up in the car! Yes, the driver measured our blood oxygen before leaving the airport... just in case he has to ship us back to Cusco. Fortunately we pass! Whew! There's a first time for everything!
Reeds The difference in geography — from lush mountains of Machu Picchu to this tree-less high plateau — is quite stark. So is the cultural aspect of the area. The floating islands and the history behind them is fascinating. The reeds the islanders live off of, the natural history of the lake, the political history of its fish, and its questionable future when it comes to global warming, all very interesting and quite different from any other part of Perú.
One of the highlights of our trip is meeting and hanging out with two couples at our fabulous hotel, Titilaka Hotel. Nick & Nessa from DC, Jan & John from the UK. We meet at the hotel's teeny bar as Nessa and Assana discuss the hospitality customs of Perú. We all hit it off...enough that we spend the next couple of days together, on excursions, meals, hikes, etc. Always so much fun to meet like-minded folks on travels.
Stick Bugs The Amazon basin, as one can imagine, is hot, muggy and buggy. We stay at a fancy-ass ecolodge with the price of a fancy-ass hotel but abysmal service and hospitality. This mediocrity is particularly hard to digest given that we are just rolling off many spectacular hotels. Though our cabin is nicely screened in and we have no bug issues, our hikes into the rainforest are anything but! We are discouraged from going to see the salt lick and the parrots — 7 hours away — only to discover in the evening that they were really just an hour away. We have no idea of the motivation behind giving us incorrect information… other than incompetence. Having said that, the walks in the forest are pleasant, though other than a few monkeys, we don't see any intereting birds or animals. We also do an amazing canopy hike which is interesting. And finally, our night hike is full of tarantulas, stick bugs and frogs. Stick bugs are pretty fun, but If you go and wanna save time, skip the Peruvian Amazon.
Lines And then there is the lonely South Coast, where it seldom rains! The drive down from Lima hugs the deserted coastline with occasional shanty villages. We are here to see the Nazca Lines, which we do on board a barfy teeny-plane ride. The lines? Meh. But what is amazing is the Paracas National Reserve. This beautiful reserve, like many parts of the country, virtually has no tourists. Actually, it is so dry that we don't see anything alive! There are empty red sand beaches, beautiful headlands and cliffs, and no one to obscure your views except for birds. We go from vista point to vista point, taking in the views and the emptiness. We share a can of Pringles on a beach with no one but seagulls. The air is so dry that Assana's hair remains completely flat and straight in the face of the wind coming off the ocean. The afternoon we spent in the reserve is one of our favorite parts of the trip.
Corn Balls Back to Lima — with our headlights ON — for another couple of days of being pampered by Hotel B, a few more orders of the amazing B cheese-stuffed corn balls, and another crazy cab ride to the airport. After almost three weeks of hopping around Perú with our llama companions, mostly with not much oxygen, we head home. No lost luggage despite the 11 legs of flight, no major glitches with our plans, great weather everywhere we go, and only one bribery session! Our 3-legged flight home goes well with both us and our luggage making the 15 minute connection in Salt Lake!