A Travellerspoint blog

Peru Hop

Eat, sleep, hop, repeat

Thomas and I had the pleasure to be joined on our travels by his mum, Erika, for almost three weeks in southern Peru! It was a very busy few weeks and we packed in as many places as we could to take advantage of her time with us. I think it is safe to say that we were all very tired by the end but we had such a great time with her and we hope she had a great time as well!

We started our 3 week adventure in Lima and to be honest, there was nothing special about it so we were happy to leave after a couple days. The one thing Lima for sure has to offer is delicious food. We took Erika out to a restaurant (after walking around for ages trying to find a couple that were recommended but they were closed) that was the best meal we had on our entire trip. She got a traditional Peruvian soup with fish that was amazing.

Mother and Son together again!

Mother and Son together again!


The coast of Lima

The coast of Lima


Best meal of the entire trip!

Best meal of the entire trip!

There is a new company in Peru called ‘Peru Hop’ that offers a ‘hop on, hop off’ service between Lima and Cusco, which is the exact route we had planned on taking so we decided to sign up! They beauty of Peru Hop is they always pick you up and drop you off at your hostels so you save taxi costs. We were picked up at 9am from our hostel and we were on our way.

The Peru Hop Bus

The Peru Hop Bus

The first day we made a couple stops in Lima:

Chorrillos Neighborhood:
Has had a reputation for being one of the poorest areas of the city but they have been trying really hard to make a new name for themselves, much like the entire country of Peru. For this reason, the new Brand of Peru was put up in this neighborhood, which symbolizes new beginnings and a country that all the people can be proud of.

The new Brand of Peru

The new Brand of Peru

Cristo Del Pacifico and the war monument on the hill:
One of the presidents of Peru had this Christ on the hill built as a gift. It was supposed to be the biggest in South America (bigger than Rio’s) but when he realized how much it would cost him he elected for a much smaller one.

Cristo del Pacifico right above the poorest slums of Lima

Cristo del Pacifico right above the poorest slums of Lima

The war monument was to honor those who fought in the battle that was truly between Bolivia and Chile but since Bolivia and Peru made a secret pact they too were dragged into the war. Guesses on what the war was over??

POOP!

Northern Chile, which used to be Bolivia, has tons and tons of guano that is harvested for fertilizers and the Chilean companies didn’t like that Bolivia started raising the taxes so they tried and were successful in taking over the area, leaving Bolivia in the land-locked state they currently hold.

The only real beach Erika got to see and it was frigid!

The only real beach Erika got to see and it was frigid!

Heading south from Lima, we stopped at a town called Chincha to see the Hacienda San Jose plantation. For those who have seen 12 Years Aslave, it was literally like walking into Candyland. The house was exactly the same and underneath the house there were kms of underground tunnels used to smuggle African slaves. The tunnels connected a couple of the neighbouring houses and stretched all the way to the ocean. We were able to go into some of the tunnels – it was so intense. There were still some bones down there. It was a very somber stop and to see all of it in person was horrifying. This plantation was particularly awful (like many I’m sure) because after the abolition of slavery, they just decided to not let anyone know they still had their slaves and they maintained their operation for many years after, not letting any of their slaves know that they were indeed free men.

Front Porch of the house

Front Porch of the house


In the tunnels

In the tunnels


Selection of tools (weapons)

Selection of tools (weapons)


The torture room - they would tie different limbs to the metal loops for days

The torture room - they would tie different limbs to the metal loops for days

From here, we went to a town called Paracas where we were able to take a tour of the Ballestas Islands. On the way out to the islands there is a huge marking in the sand that has been there for almost a thousand years and no one really knows what it means or who put it there. On the islands there were a ton of blue-footed boobies, sea lions and we even got to see a few penguins!

Erika checking out the islands

Erika checking out the islands


Marking in the sand for 1000s of years

Marking in the sand for 1000s of years


Blue-Footed Boobies

Blue-Footed Boobies


Sea Lions lounging

Sea Lions lounging


Penguins!!

Penguins!!


Fishermen catching octopi

Fishermen catching octopi

On our way out of Paracas we stopped a few times in the Paracas Natural Reserve. It was such a unique reserve because it was pure desert! Before coming to Peru, none of us really realized that the entire coast from north to south is desert. We went to the neck of the peninsula so we could see water on either side and we got to go to a really pretty beach (once you looked past the beached sea lions, penguins and birds).

The Peninsula in the Reserve

The Peninsula in the Reserve


Looking for rocks

Looking for rocks


Thomas and I climbed along this ridge

Thomas and I climbed along this ridge


...yeah...

...yeah...

Then we took a very long bus ride to Huacachina, the biggest desert oasis in South America. Although I am not sure if it’s cheating that they sometimes have to pump the water in. We really enjoyed Huacachina because we spent two nights here, bonding with all of our fellow Peru Hoppers. It was a lot of cards, food and sun. Our first night we decided that we wanted to watch the sunrise from the top of the dune behind our hostel. So around 2 am we started collecting wood for a fire and then 5 of us made the tough hike up the dune. The fire was very much appreciated and just as we ran out of wood the sun started to peek out. It was awesome but sleep was very much needed afterwards.

Our beautiful fire on the top of the dune

Our beautiful fire on the top of the dune


Waiting for the sun to rise

Waiting for the sun to rise


Beautiful

Beautiful


Our path

Our path

We also got to go dune buggying and sand boarding! It was such a fun experience! The boards weren’t in the best shape but it was still good fun and our driver was so insane. I thought for sure we were going to crash. Watching the sunset over the sand dunes was so beautiful!

Getting pumped for sandboarding!

Getting pumped for sandboarding!


tandum

tandum


Erika showing up all the 20-year-olds

Erika showing up all the 20-year-olds


So much fun!

So much fun!


Sun starting to set behind us

Sun starting to set behind us

Before leaving the Huacachina area, we stopped at an artisanal Pisco vineyard. Pisco is the national drink of Peru – it is 42% alcohol and quite delicious. We got to see the process of how they make their wines and piscos which was really old school and neat to see. Then we got to sample a bunch of different wines, piscos and creams. Peruvians like their wines way too sweet for our liking, but the piscos were good.

All the grapes go in here to stomp the juice out

All the grapes go in here to stomp the juice out


Fermentation tanks

Fermentation tanks


Biggest condenser I have ever seen!

Biggest condenser I have ever seen!

After the tour we hopped back on the bus to see the Nazca lines! You had the option to stay overnight in the town of Nazca in order to fly over the lines to get a good view of all of them but since we didn’t have $100 each to spare we decided to just go to the look-out point. They warn you before going that you can only see two of the Nazca lines and it isn’t the best view. But no warning could have prepared us for how pathetic the look-out point was. You could barely see them and there were so many tire tracks from years and years before that you weren’t really sure what you were looking at. Disappointing for sure.

The ride to Nazca

The ride to Nazca


Not sure what this is..?

Not sure what this is..?


It is probably pretty cool from above?

It is probably pretty cool from above?


On top of the look-out

On top of the look-out

After a quick stop in Nazca for dinner we started our overnight bus journey to a city farther south called Arequipa. It was a slow and uncomfortable ride which ended at 5:30 in the morning. We had a few hours to kill before we started a 2-day tour of the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. It is home to the condor birds, which are very special to the Andean people. The first day of the tour was getting into the Colca valley to a town called Chivay where we spent the night. We made quite a few stops along the way – nice views, little street markets and a place to drink some coca tea before we made the highest accent of the trip. We drove to almost 5000 meters! Coming from Lima only a few days before, we all felt a little sick from the huge elevation gain. We were a little worried about Erika for a while there but after a day we were all feeling much better. That night Thomas and I went for dinner that included a local singing and dancing show.

Some coca and munia tea for the altitude

Some coca and munia tea for the altitude


Cute little llamas on the way

Cute little llamas on the way


4910 masl!!!

4910 masl!!!


Chivay, the town in the valley

Chivay, the town in the valley


Women selling textiles on the side of the road

Women selling textiles on the side of the road


Our dinner entertainment

Our dinner entertainment

The next day we made our way to the canyon. We got there just in time to see a bunch of condors! They are so big and beautiful with a wing-span of up to 3 meters. The canyon was really beautiful and we spent a couple hours there watching the condors, looking at the views and walking around to see the different flora of the area. It was a really nice trip, but looking back we probably should have just done it in one day so that we had a day to rest and acclimatize to the altitude before we left.

Beautiful condor

Beautiful condor


taking it all in

taking it all in


The canyon drops down about 4000m in parts

The canyon drops down about 4000m in parts


Enjoying the sun <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Enjoying the sun :)

We decided to make a pit-stop on our way to Cusco to Lake Titicaca which meant we had to ‘hop off’ at a town called Juliaca and then take another bus to Puno, the town on the lake. This was one of our main highlights. We were a little hesitant to go to Lake Titicaca because we know that their culture has been influenced by tourism in a huge way but looking back it was a really unique and interesting experience. We did a two day tour, stopping off at the floating islands for an hour or two so that we could learn how they made their islands from the reeds and how they lived, etc. It was very interesting but I don’t think I could ever live like that. Having to put a new layer of reeds down every month so you don’t sink and having to anchor yourself down so you down float back to Puno sounds like a tiring way to live.

On the way to Juliaca

On the way to Juliaca


A floating island

A floating island


A demo of how they make the islands

A demo of how they make the islands


A woman selling her textiles

A woman selling her textiles


The boat we got to have a ride on

The boat we got to have a ride on


Making a reed boat

Making a reed boat

We spent the night on one of the natural islands on the Peru side of the lake called Isla Taquile. Seeing how the people on this island live was really cool and although they are being effected by tourism, they all still live their lives how they always have, ignoring the tourists that come to visit. We stayed at our guides family home and ate all of our meals with his grandparents (who were the cutest couple in the whole world) in their cute little adobe kitchen hut.

Welcome to Isla Taquile

Welcome to Isla Taquile


View of the lake from the island - the hills on the other side is Bolivia

View of the lake from the island - the hills on the other side is Bolivia


Our hosts - cutest couple in the world

Our hosts - cutest couple in the world

We got to help the family harvest lima beans while learning about their culture. The island consists of 6 communities and they work on a rotation system, so each community harvests something different and then each year they rotate. They even rotate who works in the restaurant and shops!

Harvesting the lima beans

Harvesting the lima beans

On our last day we got to watch how they made all of their textiles – scarves, hats, gloves, etc. A single scarf can take 1-2 weeks to make! We watched the woman do it for quite a while and we couldn’t figure it out.

Making an alpaca scarf

Making an alpaca scarf


The whole gang

The whole gang


Playing parachute on the boat ride back to Puno

Playing parachute on the boat ride back to Puno

That night we were actually able to take the Bolivia Hop (they go from Cusco to La Paz) bus from Puno to Cusco – another long night bus. We had a few days to kill in the area before we started our 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. We walked around the beautiful city of Cusco, drank coffee and got pestered like crazy on every street to buy different products.

Cathedral in the main square of Cusco

Cathedral in the main square of Cusco


Walking the streets of Cusco

Walking the streets of Cusco


Cusco

Cusco

One of the days we went on a tour of the Sacred Valley (Valle Segrado). We stopped at three different archaeological sites:

Sacred Valley

Sacred Valley

Pisac
Known for their agricultural terraces

Known for their agricultural terraces

Ollantaytambo – this was our favorite
Many, many steps

Many, many steps


Mountain opposite contained their storage houses

Mountain opposite contained their storage houses


Storage house close-up. The wind from the valley made it like a fridge

Storage house close-up. The wind from the valley made it like a fridge


Water fountains made by the incas - still running!

Water fountains made by the incas - still running!

Chinchero – we got here pretty late and it was getting so dark we couldn’t see much
The Spanish built this church on top of a Chinchero building

The Spanish built this church on top of a Chinchero building

Then we made one last stop at a textile shop. Here they showed up the different plants they use to die the wool and how they clean the wool. All of their products were so beautiful!

Coloring demonstration

Coloring demonstration

SALKANTAY TREK TO MACHU PICCHU

The trek, although really tough in portions, was so beautiful and we go to see so many different eco-zones in just a few days. We walked a total of 64 km over a 3 km elevation difference in just four days. It was the most luxurious camping any of us had ever experienced – great tents, thick sleeping pads, great sleeping bags with fleece second layers, AMAZING food and we didn’t have to do a thing – just hike.

Day 1 – 12 km + 6km for the lake
We were picked up at 4:15 am, stopped for breakfast at a town and then drove to the trailhead called Challacancha. It was a beautiful morning – the whole trek we had amazing weather – and we hiked 2.5 hours to our lunch spot and campsite (Soraypampa) for the night. After lunch we hiked up this very steep hill to Humantay Lake, which sits at the bottom of Tucarhuay Mountain.

Tucarhuay Mountain

Tucarhuay Mountain


This hill is called 'Condor's Beak'

This hill is called 'Condor's Beak'


Erika hiking along

Erika hiking along


Pretty nice view from our tents

Pretty nice view from our tents


Made it to the lake!

Made it to the lake!


Our group

Our group


The water looked freeeezing!

The water looked freeeezing!

Day 2 – 22 km
This was the hardest day of the trek by far. It was split into three sections, with the second being the toughest. We walked between Tucarhuay and Salkantay Mountain for most of the day, which was so beautiful but at times when you are hiking above 4500 masl it is hard to appreciate your surroundings! Thomas wanted to hire a mule for Erika for this portion of the day but she was determined to do it on her own! And she killed it! We were all struggling and we did it together, on our own. We were so proud of her since we were with a group of young and very fast walkers and she kept her stride. This day was really cool because after we reached the Salkantay pass (4680 masl) we started heading straight down and eventually we were in the high jungle with lush vegetation, waterfalls and mosquitos! It was a tough but beautiful day.

Chewing some coca leaves to help with the altitude

Chewing some coca leaves to help with the altitude


Heading up the Salkantay pass

Heading up the Salkantay pass


Taking a little break

Taking a little break


Making an offering to the mountain for a safe journey

Making an offering to the mountain for a safe journey


Salkantay_093.jpg
You look up and see snow...

You look up and see snow...


You look down and see jungle!

You look down and see jungle!

Day 3 – 15 km
The third day we hiked 6 hours before having lunch in a town called La Playa. The entire day was mostly downhill which meant we all got really sore feet and knees. But they call this day the nature walk because it is so beautiful – birds, flowers, fruits, coffee, etc. The three of us were always the ones trailing behind because no one in our group stopped to take a single photo! We didn’t care we were always last – we are only going to do this hike once and we wanted to actually enjoy our surroundings. After lunch we took a bus (there is no trail so we would have walked along the bus-filled, dusty road) to Santa Teresa. That night we went to some natural hot springs. It felt so good to soak our grubby, sore selves for a couple hours in the hot water. This was our last night camping on the trek so the cooks went all out for our food and it was incredible!

We stumbled upon this pretty waterfal

We stumbled upon this pretty waterfal


Taking a break by the river

Taking a break by the river


Our glorious 'last night feast'

Our glorious 'last night feast'



Day 4 – 15 km
We got to start this morning off a little differently! Instead of hiking the first 3 hours we had to choice of zip lining down! I had been wanting to zipline our whole trip so I was so excited! There were 6 different lines and we got to try going down a few different ways – sitting, upside down (spiderman) and on our bellies (superman). Thomas and I had a great time! Erika was able to wait for us at the bottom and take the bus with us to our trailhead. They dropped us off at the Hidroelectrica train station where there is a trail all the way to Aguas Calientes (the town at the bottom of Machu Picchu). It took about three hours to walk to the town and it was mostly flat which was nice to give our knees and toes a break. It was another beautiful day but the bugs were really bad and we all got quite a few bites. We got to stay in a hostel that night, which meant we were able to shower and sleep in a nice warm bed which felt great.

My first zip!

My first zip!


Quite the monkey my boyfriend is

Quite the monkey my boyfriend is


I'M FLYING!!!!

I'M FLYING!!!!


Walking alongside the tracks

Walking alongside the tracks


The train! We squished a few coins for keepsakes

The train! We squished a few coins for keepsakes



Day 5 – Machu Picchu!
The group lined up at 5am in order to get on an early bus, with the hope that we could see the ruins without a ton of tourists littering our view. Unfortunately it was super cloudy and a little rainy when we got there so we could barely see the ruins! But during our tour it would clear a bit and then cover again. The actual ruins were so fascinating and we had a good time exploring the urban area. Then Thomas and I left Erika to explore on her own while we climbed up Machu Picchu Mountain to get a great view of the site. Unfortunately the top of the mountain was in a cloud so all we could see in any direction was white. But it was a good hike, even though the stairs were pretty torturous. By the time we got kicked off the top (we waited as long as we could to see if it would clear) it was still white but by the time we reached the bottom of the mountain it had started to clear! Half an hour later the entire site, mountains and all were perfectly clear and it was a beautiful day. Unfortunate that we didn’t get to see it from the top of the mountain but it was still a perfect day. Then we went back down to the town, met up with Erika, had dinner and then met our group to take the train back to Cusco. By the time we were dropped off at our hostel it was midnight – a really long day but it was worth it!

Our first glimpse of cloudy Machu Picchu!

Our first glimpse of cloudy Machu Picchu!


The Sun Temple

The Sun Temple


The clouds made everything look super eerie

The clouds made everything look super eerie


Agricultural terraces

Agricultural terraces


The Urban zone

The Urban zone


The climb up Machu Picchu Mountain

The climb up Machu Picchu Mountain


We made it! Beautiful white-out view

We made it! Beautiful white-out view


View from the other side of the mountain

View from the other side of the mountain


Salkantay_288.jpg
Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Erika had the next day to rest, pack and walk around Cusco before her flight left at 7pm. Her time here went so fast but it was full of adventure and new experiences. We loved having her here with us!

We already miss you Erika
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Posted by tag.mrd 16:37 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Northern Peru

off the gringo trail

sunny 23 °C

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From the coast of Ecuador we started our journey into Peru. We decided to take a night bus from Guayaquil straight to Mancora, Peru, thinking it would be a smoother border crossing since the officers would just want to push us through. Well we were wrong. Since it was the middle of the night when we arrived at the border there were only three officers working and hundreds of people trying to cross. It was a nightmare. Two hours later we finally had our exit and entrance stamps and we were back on the hot, loud bus that stopped every 20 minutes. Needless to say we did not get any sleep. And our hostel in Mancora was at the top of a hill with very steep steps, which was a challenge at 6:30 am having just gotten off a 15 hour bus-ride. But it was so worth it! Our hostel had an amazing view of the town and the ocean. Each bungalow had its own private sitting area with sun chairs and hammocks – it was wonderful.

View from our bungalow

View from our bungalow


Thomas taking a nap in our hammock

Thomas taking a nap in our hammock


watching the sunset from our hostel on a hill

watching the sunset from our hostel on a hill

Thomas really wanted to surf some more but since I was still a little scared of surfing after the whole sting ray incident I decided to instead go snorkeling with the sea turtles! It was such an amazing experience. When I first entered the water and one of these big beautiful creatures swam up from under me I squealed so loud that the people still on the boat could hear it through my snorkel. I was just awe-stuck with how big and amazing they were (1.5 m long and 1 m wide on average)! We got to swim with them for over an hour. My favorite one was the smallest one who had a barnacle living right on the top of his nose. It was the cutest thing.

Face off with a turtle! He won

Face off with a turtle! He won

Our time in Mancora was super chill – just beach, sleep, sun, walking around, eating delicious ceviche and Thomas working on his medical school application. It was a nice time to organize our next couple of months.

My first coconut!

My first coconut!

After Mancora, we went to a city called Chiclayo, but it was really just a stop-over for us. We spent just one night there and then we headed to our true destination of Chachapoyas. Chachapoyas is in the Amazonas province of Peru. Again we arrived at 6:30 am but our hostel was so nice and they already had our room ready for us so we were able to have a little nap.

We didn’t do much on our first day but the day after we went to see the Chachapoyas ruins of Kuelap. Our drive out to the ruins took about 2 hours along these super windy roads cut out of the sides of these mountains. The site is really not that far from the town, however, you have to snake your way along to get through the pass. Kuelap, meaning ‘hill fortress’, is actually older and larger than Machu Picchu, but is virtually untouched in comparison. Inside the walls of Kuelap there are remains of 420 circular homes on the first level with the second level being only for the leaders and most important people. It took the Chachapoyans about 1000 years to build their fortress with 20m high walls. It was really cool to explore the ruins. On the way back from the trip we stopped to eat and Thomas decided to try cuy (guinea pig) – a delicacy in Peru.

The fortress of Kuelap

The fortress of Kuelap


20 meter high walls

20 meter high walls


Thomas at the gate

Thomas at the gate


Small circular homes looking over the best view

Small circular homes looking over the best view


A reconstructed house to see what they would have looked like

A reconstructed house to see what they would have looked like


Where it is thought they performed religious ceremonies

Where it is thought they performed religious ceremonies


CUY! smothered in peanut sauce

CUY! smothered in peanut sauce

The next day we went to see the Gotca waterfall, which is one of the tallest in the world, measuring over 700m high. We took another bus to a different town and then hiked the 2.5 hours to the waterfall. The hike was really hot and we sweat more than our body weight but it was so beautiful! We were able to catch glimpses of the waterfall as we climbed, which was really exciting. The waterfall didn’t have a lot of water since it isn’t the rainy season but I think that made it more beautiful. Since the water falls from so high by the time it reaches the bottom it has turned to mist. And since there was so little water, when the wind blew a different direction, the stream of fog-looking water would sway with it. It was the highest waterfall either of us had ever seen and we couldn’t even see it all from the bottom because it is so big and split into two sections. Both Kuelap and the Gotca waterfall were amazing experiences and the thing we liked most about them was that not a lot of people have gone or will go to see them.

Sneak peak of the waterfall

Sneak peak of the waterfall


It was a beautiful day

It was a beautiful day


Getting closer!

Getting closer!


Made it! So high!

Made it! So high!


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From Chachapoyas we went to a town farther south called Trujillo. We only spent a few days here as well, in order to check out some more archaeological sites. There is a lot of history on the coast of Peru and it would be impossible to see all the different ruins but the two that most interested us in the area were Chan Chan and Huacas del Sol and Huacas de la Luna.

HUACAS: The Moche people controlled this area of the coast from about 100 AC to 800 AC. They had two temples: the temple of the sun and the temple of the moon with a town of 20,000 inhabitants called the nucleus in-between the two temples. The religious leaders lived in the temple of the moon and the administrators lived in the temple of the sun. The people of the town were divided into their trades; the warriors, the pottery makers, the weapon makers, the textile makes, etc. Pottery was a huge part of their culture and it is thought that the pottery makers were of the highest standing amongst the townsmen and women. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take any pictures in the museum so we can’t show you the pottery, or ornaments. When the El Niño hit the coast of Peru around 600 AC, resources became scarce and the people no longer had faith that their religious leaders were true faces of the gods as they could no longer control the elements. At this time there was a shift in power, and the temple of the sun (administrators) took more control. Things were no longer being made for religious ceremonies but for trade and for sheer function. Eventually the moche people faded out and the Chimu people came in.

The sacred White Hill

The sacred White Hill


The inside of the temple of the moon

The inside of the temple of the moon


The constuction to withstand earthquakes

The constuction to withstand earthquakes


Beautiful walls

Beautiful walls


The nucleus and the Sun temple

The nucleus and the Sun temple


Typical Peruvian dog. The ugliest dog that lives

Typical Peruvian dog. The ugliest dog that lives

CHAN CHAN: The Chimu people created their empire just north of the Huacas along the coast. It took 400 years to build, but the city of Chan Chan was a grand feat, with adobe walls over 10 meters high, housing tens of thousands of people and covering approximately 20 square kilometers. A lot of the city has now weathered away but they have managed to preserve the main square where the religious ceremonies took place and where the most important people lived. It was fun to just walk around the city, walls crumbling around you. There was a museum for Chan Chan as well but it wasn’t as developed as the Huacas museum.

Great walls of Chan Chan

Great walls of Chan Chan


Each wall had a different design

Each wall had a different design


The Guards

The Guards


Walking around the town

Walking around the town

One night when we were walking around searching for a place to eat, we heard load music and saw a big crowd by the main plaza (Plaza de Armas). There was a big folklore dance show in the middle of the street with a live band and people sitting in lawn chairs watching the show. It was really cool and we ended up watching it for an hour, despite how hungry we were - the costume and dance was just incredible. We were sad not to have our cameras on us but at the same time it allowed us to just stand and enjoy the show!

We took another night bus (saves spending money on a hostel) from Trujillo to Lima. Here we awaited the lovely Erika (Thomas’ mum) to do our 20 day Southern Peru adventure! We are so excited to have someone join us on our trip and share some experiences with! We will be doing a bit of a circuit, starting in Lima and ending in Cusco with Machu Picchu! We went to this water park the night before Erika came in to take in a water and light show. There were so many fountains are they were all really beautiful. Some of them you could even go under, through, or across them!

Cruisin' in style

Cruisin' in style


Livin' large

Livin' large


Light show

Light show


So many fountains!

So many fountains!


WATER TUNNEL!!!

WATER TUNNEL!!!

Our time here is going to finish off so quickly! I hope I have time to write another post before leaving South America (2.5 months!) but it’s going to be tight! But just know that we are being safe and having a great time!

We love and miss you all!
Meredith and Thomas

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Posted by tag.mrd 13:24 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Coast of Ecuador

A tranquil couple of weeks

semi-overcast 22 °C

From Cuenca, we went to the coast of Ecuador for 1.5 weeks, spending most of our time just south of a town called Puerto Lopez. We discovered one of the best hostels in the whole world. It was just so chill, right on the beach and the owner is a really cool guy. At any time of the day, you would be the only person on the beach! The hostel had a nice look out over the beach where you could look at the waves and even watch for whales. I saw a pod of whales one morning of about 6 whales – they were far away but with binoculars you could see their fins sometimes.

Our wonderful hostel

Our wonderful hostel


Private beach

Private beach


Sweet look-out spot

Sweet look-out spot

The hostel also doubled as a surf school but since we are cheap and didn’t feel like paying for a surf lesson, Thomas convinced the owner to let us use his big inflatable board so that I could practice. The surf there wasn’t the most ideal for anyone, let alone for beginners but I was determined. I was able to stand up by the end of my first time which was a cool experience. On my second lesson, I stood up on my first go which made me feel so good and I was pumped. Then I flopped off my board and stomped down on a sting ray! That was a very painful and unfortunate experience. The pain was awful but eventually the swelling, burning, and fiery red color expanding on my foot went away. I was a little scared of the water after that though. I let Thomas do all the surfing after that!

A blury shot of my foot (I was in too much pain to be still)

A blury shot of my foot (I was in too much pain to be still)


Thomas showing me how to surf

Thomas showing me how to surf

Through the hostel we were able to book a tour of Isla de la Plata; aka ‘Poor man’s Galapagos’. They picked us up right from the hostel and took us to the port. We took this little boat out to the island. On the way out though, we spent about 45 mins whale watching. It was the first time we had ever seen whales so close and they were amazing! So big and so beautiful! All humpbacks. I think we saw about 15 different whales and they all jumped at least once for us. It was incredible! We found out days later that it is not very common for them to jump and we were really lucky. But the area between mainland Ecuador and the island is the main migration pattern for the whales so they are easily spotted.

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Our whale friends

Our whale friends

The island itself was pretty cool. We were surprised by how much of a desert it was though. It only rains there a couple times a year, and the plants don’t bloom unless it rains so it looked a little bleak when we first got there. Before we got out of the boat we were able to watch some green turtles swim around us which were pretty cool. It was the first time I had ever seen Green turtles so it was pretty sweet. The island is a breeding ground for the Blue Footed Boobie, so we got to see tons of them! They were quite beautiful but I think the Magnificent Frigatebirds were just as interesting. They are the birds with the big red pouch that they use for showing off to other sex. The weird thing is, when they find a mate the red pouch just goes away. There were a couple really cool tree species as well. One looks like blood runs through its xylem! When you make a little cut across a branch, red ‘blood’ drips down! It was so sweet. The ‘blood’ is used for making fabrics impermeable, for cuts/wounds and for bug bites. The other tree had a really strong scent and was used for a lot of perfumes, etc. When you cut off a piece of this tree it is supposed to smell for 30 years!

Green Turtle

Green Turtle


Thomas looking good <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Thomas looking good ;)


Blue-Footed Boobie!

Blue-Footed Boobie!


What a cute couple

What a cute couple


The island is literally cover in thousands of birds

The island is literally cover in thousands of birds


So strange

So strange

The only other notable thing we did on the coast was spend one night in Montanita, a party town just south of where we were. We thought it might be fun to see the beach come to life at night but from the moment we checked into our hostel we just had a bad vibe. We learned pretty quickly that this just wasn’t the place for us and that it may be fun but you can never escape the madness. So we very quickly returned to our quiet, friendly hostel 30 mins up the road. We did end up going back to Montanita a couple of times; once to go with the volunteers at our hostel because one of them had never been and the other time I went because I realized I forgot my Spanish notebook at the hostel!

Thomas applying for med school...

Thomas applying for med school...


Beautiful sunset outside the hostel

Beautiful sunset outside the hostel

Overall the coast treated us very well – I got to try surfing, Thomas got to surf, we got to eat some delicious food and we met some really great people!

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Our blog from Northern Peru will be coming shortly!
Miss you all! Love Thomas and Mere

Posted by tag.mrd 10:08 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

Cuenca, Ecuador

A beautiful, relaxing city

semi-overcast 15 °C

View of Cuenca from the top of over 500 steps.

View of Cuenca from the top of over 500 steps.

In another attempt to find a warmer place Thomas and I flew from Santiago, Chile to the beautiful city of Cuenca, Ecuador. It had been months since we took Spanish courses in Buenos Aires so we decided to take a month worth of classes at a small school called Yanapuma. Our school offered an immersion program where you get to take classes for half the day and volunteer during the other half.

Beautiful cathedral in the main square - we attended a service here and the inside is also very beautiful

Beautiful cathedral in the main square - we attended a service here and the inside is also very beautiful

We rented a beautiful loft from a local woman and her mother right in the city center, around the corner from our school. Maria, the woman we stayed with, provided us with breakfast each morning of tropical fruits, homemade yogurt, granola and bread. My favorite fruit was the chirimoya – it tastes similar to a feijoa but sweeter and had more fruit. Our view while eating breakfast every morning was the beautiful garden on the terrace or the clay rooftops that peppered the streets. Maria’s mother required a lot of extra care so there was always extra people and visitors in the house – each day I think we saw someone knew. We shared the kitchen so we were able to spend quite a bit of time with the helpers who were all very kind.

The beautiful home we stayed in for the month

The beautiful home we stayed in for the month


Our breakfast each morning

Our breakfast each morning


All the best fruits - Chirimoya on the right (white with black seeds) was my fav

All the best fruits - Chirimoya on the right (white with black seeds) was my fav

Our school was pretty small, which meant that Thomas and I had basically private lessons the whole time. For a couple weeks Thomas actually got one on one classes for the group class rate. All of our teachers were really great and our Spanish improved quite a bit while being there. One of my favorite things about the school was each week they had a little exposition with the whole school to teach us about local fruits, sweets, grains, etc. They were always super interesting and the food was always great.

Learning how to make a traditional soup at the school

Learning how to make a traditional soup at the school


the finished product

the finished product

Thomas and I both volunteered at a library in the San Joaquin neighborhood, which is where a lot of vegetables farms are located. Taking the bus out there was a good time all in itself as there was always something interesting to look at - markets, farms, traditional garb, etc. The woman who ran the library, Indaura, iss one of the sweetest ladies and she works so hard doing everything on her own. While we were there she was hosting vacation workshops for about 75 children while they were on break from school and for those who either can’t afford school or need to stay at home to help on the farm. We helped her prepare some handicrafts and English lessons for the kids. During our last week we got to teach English classes in the afternoon. I taught the 5-8 year olds and Thomas taught the older ones (9-12). It was our first time teaching English to kids and I must say, it is extremely difficult, especially when you aren’t fluent in their language! But they are so cute and on the last day we got to play a bunch of games with them outside which was great fun.

All of the kids at the workshop

All of the kids at the workshop


Me with my class and Indaura

Me with my class and Indaura


Indaura, the woman who ran everything

Indaura, the woman who ran everything

One of the teachers in our school is on a traditional dance team that competes throughout South America. His dance company hosted a show at the University of Cuenca and Estaban got us tickets for the show. It was a fantastic night! The show was incredible and the dancing was like none other we had seen before. They were dancing to a live band that was also incredible. There were so many costume changes, so many colors, so many different pieces, and they all told part of a story – they were recounting the history of Ecuador. To top it all off, once the show was over (2.5 hours later!) everyone was invited outside to have a canolazo (a traditional hot alcoholic beverage with Zhumur, cinnamon and fruit brewed together) and watch one last dance. During this dance they had this crazy paper mache cow that was shooting out firecrackers as they danced around with it! It was a little out of control and a tad bit dangerous but it was all in good fun. Best $5 ever spent.

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I managed to sneak a couple really bad shots of the dancing

I managed to sneak a couple really bad shots of the dancing

Immediately west of Cuenca is the Cajas National Park – its name is derived from a Quechua word that means cold. And the name doesn’t lie. We took an overly cramped bus out there and as soon as we arrived we wished we had brought more clothing. We sat in a little shelter for a few minutes to get warm and stir up enough courage to go back out there. Once we started walking though we were okay. We decided to hike ‘Ruta 1’, which was supposed to take about 4 hours. We were on the trail with about 8 other people but wanted to enjoy the beautiful hills and lakes in peace and quiet so we jumped ahead of them a little. We crossed this little bridge, rounded the side of a hill and then noticed that no one was behind us anymore… But we were still on the trail, or at least on A trail so we kept going. No one came and all of a sudden we were seeing blue trail markers instead of red ones. We don’t know where, but somewhere we went the wrong way. But we had gone so far so we pressed on. And on. And on. At one point we weren’t even on the trail and we only figured that out because we saw people about 100 m above us on the hill. The trail was not all that well marked just when you think you aren’t on a trail they present you with one. But then all of a sudden the trail actually looked like a proper trail and I felt so confident about it. At one point Thomas thought it was maybe too good to be true and he wanted to go back to double check – but this was the only time during our entire day I felt confident that we were on a trail and the right trail. So we kept going, for about an hour and a half, mostly downhill. Eventually we ran into a few people on horses and we asked how far until the park entrance. They looked at each other and at us with concern, and strongly advised us to turn around and go back where we came from or else the fog would overcome us and we would have to stay the night somewhere. So we had to hike back up this massive hill we have just descended and go all the way back. Eventually we found where we went wrong and found a park exit. We ended up hiking for 7.5 instead of 4. But it was the most beautiful park we had seen in a long time and the fog, although a little intimidating, was really neat to watch roll in and out of the hills. Getting lost ended up being a blessing as we came across this awe inspiring valley that was equally breathtaking and eerie.

This cute little guy greeted us at the beginning of our trail

This cute little guy greeted us at the beginning of our trail


There are hundreds of lakes in the park just like this one

There are hundreds of lakes in the park just like this one


A little mucky forest we got to climb through

A little mucky forest we got to climb through


So handsome..

So handsome..


The beautiful valley that I so confidently and courageously misled us to

The beautiful valley that I so confidently and courageously misled us to

One day, we took a two hour bus ride from Cuenca to see the Inca ruins of Ingapirca. The ruins themselves were nothing gigantic but the history behind them is unique compared to all others. This site originally belonged to a group called the Cañari and when the Incas swept through, they could not defeat them. They tried and tried but they could not defeat them. So instead they switched to compromising with them. The Cañari worshiped the moon and the Incas worshiped the sun and the architecture reflects this. They eventually lived in harmony together in this spot, worshiping both the sun and the moon and adapting and incorporating each other’s customs and rituals into their day-to-day. It’s because of this that the Ingapirca site is a special place. The temple of the sun, the most sacred place for the Incas, was a really cool circular building – blue/green washed square stones stacked right on top of another without anything holding them together. This is compared to the buildings of the Cañari that were always made of oval-shaped stones forming a large elliptic shaped building. Although a small site, it was cool to see a place where the Incas actually lived in harmony with another group. At least until the Spaniards came in and wiped them all out.

The temple of the sun and remnants of other buildings

The temple of the sun and remnants of other buildings


They think this rock was used as their calendar - 28 holes for 28 days in the moon cycle

They think this rock was used as their calendar - 28 holes for 28 days in the moon cycle


The temple of the sun was where the most important people would go and during the solstice, all the sunlight would enter the building and the leaders would take in all the energy from the sun and the walk outside to offer it up to their God

The temple of the sun was where the most important people would go and during the solstice, all the sunlight would enter the building and the leaders would take in all the energy from the sun and the walk outside to offer it up to their God


The Face of the Incas

The Face of the Incas


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We loved being able to spend a large amount of time in Cuenca because it is a beautiful city, but so many other gringos think the same thing and Cuenca has this strange retired expat culture so you see a lot of older white people wherever you go. After a month though, we were both quite eager to move on, as the reality that our trip is coming closer to the end is becoming more and more prominent. After leaving Cuenca we had about 3 months of our trip left, but now it is closer to 2.5 months left in South America! It’s going to go way too fast. But we are both excited about the idea of getting to see our family and friends soon!

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Miss you all!

Posted by tag.mrd 11:01 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Adios Argentina, Hola Chile!

Four months of Argentina ends in wine-country

After working on the ranch for 6 weeks we were pretty ready to head northward to find some warmer weather. But before we did, we just wanted to spend a few days relaxing in the town of El Bolson. We went back to the same hostel as before and it was like we hadn’t left – they were so kind and they even invited us for asado during the Argentina-Iran FIFA game. The asado was the best I have ever had and to top it off Argentina squeaked the win! Vamos Argentina (second place!)!!

Ready for the game!

Ready for the game!


DELISH ASADO

DELISH ASADO

We bought bus tickets to take us straight from El Bolson to Mendoza – the wine country capital! We were in pursuit of the best wine Argentina has to offer, which was going to be hard since we were both certain we had already tried the best wine in Buenos Aires (Angelica Zapata). We stayed at a really sweet hostel that arranged all sorts of wine tours in the area. We ended up doing two. The first one was a bike tour that we just did on our own with a few other people in the hostel, which was a little different from what we expected. Before arriving in Mendoza I think the two of us envisioned slightly more romantic tours of the countryside, with rolling hills and vineyards on either side. But when we got our bikes in the place we were told to go and started biking to the first bodega, it was very clear that we were not going to be leaving the city. I guess in Mendoza, since there are so many vineyards (thousands!), most are so small that they have their vineyard still within the city. A lot of them harvest the grapes in the hills/mountains but all of the processing happens within the city.

We biked to two different vineyards, both of which were very good but the first one – Carmelo Patti – was our favorite. Carmelo is an older man who has been making wine his whole life and because his production is so small, he personally checks and cares for each bottle that goes out. We wanted to get one of his Cabernet Sauvignon but he told us that he has a vender in Calgary, so we will look for it when we get home (even though it will be about 10x the cost). We also went to a liquer and dulce production shop. It was my favorite stop of the day. This woman makes her own dulce de leche (basically caramel sauce made with milk and is delish) with coconut, nuts, whisky, chocolate, coffee, you name it. She also makes her own oils and spreads – we bought a couple olive spreads with blue cheese and garlic. We each also got to try a couple house-made liquers. They were all pretty good except those that decided to get tobacco flavoured!

Carmelo Patti himself

Carmelo Patti himself


We got to try the wine right out of the fermentation tanks

We got to try the wine right out of the fermentation tanks


The biker gang

The biker gang

Our second tour was much better and we learned a lot more about the wine-making process and wine tasting. It was also on the edge of the city which was a plus. On the tour we actually only went to two wineries but both had great wine. The first, Vistandes, introduced us to a new wine! The Carménère. Neither of us had ever heard of this wine before. Apparently the Carménère grape originated in France and was exclusive to France but then a plague came over the Carménère plant and it wiped out the entire species. But what people found out years later was that a few plants had been transplanted in Chile. Now Carménère is almost exclusive to Chile, except a few vineyards in Argentina that have it. I couldn’t help myself and I had to buy a bottle. But I didn’t buy a young wine, no, I was stupid and I bought a grand reserve wine which means it can be in the bottle for 15-20 years and the longer it is in the bottle the better it is… so basically I now have a wine baby and she is wrapped in plastic wrap and will remain with me for the remainder of our trip and I will probably regret this many, many times throughout the trip. But one day, years down the road I will have a wicked bottle of wine to celebrate something awesome...

My Baby

My Baby


One of the vineyards we visited - not exactly growing season

One of the vineyards we visited - not exactly growing season


Tasting some amazing wines

Tasting some amazing wines

On this tour we also went to an olive oil factory. It was actually so amazing and super informative as neither of us knew anything about the olive oil making process. I won’t bore you with the details of it (but it’s pretty awesome…) but I will tell you one thing that blew my mind. Did you know that green, purple and black olives all come from the same plant, same tree, it’s just different ripeness!!?? Maybe everyone but me knew that but I just couldn’t get past it and it blows my mind still when I think about it. Anywho we got to try all their different olive oils and they were so delicious – our favorite was the unfiltered one, which apparently is super rare and they weren’t sure of any other places that sell their unfiltered product.

The olive oil before it goes into the distillers, before it is filtered and after filtration

The olive oil before it goes into the distillers, before it is filtered and after filtration

Anyways apart from that, we didn’t do a whole lot in Mendoza besides go to the gym and few times and hang out in our hostel. But as I mentioned before our hostel was sweet and every night they had a different activity going on. One night was wine tasting, next night asado, etc. One night we got to learn how to make our own homemade empanadas! This old lady taught us all and then we got to eat the ones we made and they turned out pretty good – we are excited to make them at home!

It's not McDonald's, it's Kingo...

It's not McDonald's, it's Kingo...


Stuffing the empanada

Stuffing the empanada


Thomas' looked super pro

Thomas' looked super pro


Fried and delicious! (Can also be baked)

Fried and delicious! (Can also be baked)

After a week in Mendoza and four months in Argentina, we decided it was probably time to move on to another country. So we bought tickets to go to Santiago, Chile!

Our time in Chile was extremely brief when compared to the four months that we spent in Argentina but Chile is a lot more expensive and their Spanish is a lot harder to understand, so we ended up only spending a week in the Santiago area.

I think our favorite part of our time in Chile was actually the journey there. We had great seats on the bus so we could see the landscape on all sides. Driving towards the mountains and the Chilean border we could see miles and miles of Argentine wineries and vineyards with the mountains in the background. Entering the Andes is always spectacular and the views we had were increadible. We saw some of the most interesting rock formations and beautiful mountain rivers and lakes with natural rock walls that looked like they were about 15m high. Then all of a sudden there was snow in the mountains and we had arrived at the border.

Approaching the Andes

Approaching the Andes


Beautiful lakes we passed

Beautiful lakes we passed


Cool formations

Cool formations


The 'wall' and braided river

The 'wall' and braided river


Let there be snow

Let there be snow


Meredith on the 6 hour ride

Meredith on the 6 hour ride


Bienvenidos a Chile!

Bienvenidos a Chile!

We have crossed from Argentina into Chile once before when we were going to do Torres del Paine in Patagonia and it was a smooth, 15 minute process. This time was a totally different story. We all went inside the emigration/immigration building to get our stamps (this would be our third and likely last time leaving Argentina) and the lines were huge and after a few minutes we realized that none of them had budged. It turns out that we had arrived about half way through the Chile-Brasil FIFA game. So literally everyone who was ‘working’ was watching the screen and not paying attention to the hundreds of people on the other side of the glass. This would have been totally fine except for the fact that none of the TVs on our side were on and there was only one small screen that none of us could see! We only knew if something happened based on the reaction of those working. It took us a little over an hour to get our stamps and then we were told to go back on the bus. We waited there for about 30-45 mins. Meanwhile, the extra time of the game finished and it would go to penalty shots. During this break they rushed us off the bus to go into the customs building with our bags. They didn’t quite get to our group before the penalty shots began so of course everything stopped and everyone huddled around this one screen to watch the game. It was actually really exciting to be there because everyone was so excited and was so loud. When Chile lost, the morale in the whole place just plummeted and I have never seen that many grown men and women look that crushed. They were so upset and distracted that as the bags started going through the scanners, not a single person looked at the scanner screen. Three hours after arriving at the border we were on Chilean soil.

The crowd during the penalty shots

The crowd during the penalty shots

To get out of the mountain range we had to take this crazy road that zig-zaged all the way down a mountain and looked like it would be a seriously sketchy road in the winter. There was even a ski hill that went down the mountain that crossed the road a couple of times.

The snake-like road

The snake-like road


The chair lift that goes right over this road

The chair lift that goes right over this road


And all of a sudden we are out of the snow

And all of a sudden we are out of the snow


Chilean vineyards

Chilean vineyards

Our time in Santiago was pretty chill. I was a little sick (a cold) so we spent a couple of the days on the couch with a girl who broke her foot a few days before. It was actually great – we watched a few movies, the show 'House of Cards', and or course FIFA! Our first day there was so gorgeous so we went for a walk around the center. We went to a museum of arts that had a marble exhibit with some of the most amazing pieces we had ever seen! There was also a huge market along one of the parks that we walked through and all in all it was a great day.

We took a few walks along the river in Santiago

We took a few walks along the river in Santiago


'Museo de Bellas Artes'

'Museo de Bellas Artes'


'El Descendimiento' by Virginio Arias (1887)

'El Descendimiento' by Virginio Arias (1887)

Another day we went on a ‘Free Tour’ that they recommend you pay about 5,000CP each which is about $10.. some free tour. But it was pretty great tour and it included a lot of the history of the city. Another day we went to go to the best icecream shop Santiago has to offer. They are apparently in the top 25 in the world – a pretty modest claim so I take it to be the truth. After trying it I think we both agree it’s top drawer. They had so many flavors that we couldn’t choose so the lady let us sample like 10 different sabores. Some of the main ones were: raspberry mint (delish!), honey, lemon basil, dulce de leche, passion fruit, different chocolate ones (banana, chili, orange) and so, so many more that I can’t remember. One day we were walking around and encountered a huge fish market. The whole interior was the fish market and along the edges were tons of tiny little restaurants and food stands - they all competed with each other for customers so at one point we had three different people talking to us about what their restaurant had (they all had the same thing). We also went to this beautiful park on the second highest hill (colina) in the city to soak in a good view of the city. Charles Darwin himself had been to the hill and there was a little plaque about his discoveries in Santiago area.

at the fish market

at the fish market


A beautiful building in the park

A beautiful building in the park


Contemplating life...

Contemplating life...


There were castles and beautiful pathways in the 'park'

There were castles and beautiful pathways in the 'park'


The cleanest view you can get of the mountains due to all the smog

The cleanest view you can get of the mountains due to all the smog

We took a day trip out of Santiago to a coastal city called Valparaiso with another girl in our hostel. Valparaiso used to be the biggest port in Chile but is now known as the art/cultural hub of the country. They are known for all of their street art, which is not only accepted but encouraged throughout the city. Because it is a world heritage site, the people of the city actually recieve money from the government to keep their houses painted with bright, different colours. No house is the same and you are literally aloud to paint or design anything you want on any of the buildings as long as it isn’t offensive (objective…) and you have the permission of the owner. It is a very interesting and unique city. The only downfall to it being a world heritage site is that if a building is destroyed (fire, age etc.) you have to reconstruct it to be the exact same way as it was before, which can cost a lot of money since a lot of the neighbourhoods have become increasingly popular and thus expensive, leaving some demolished buildings in ruins for years because they can’t afford to rebuild. The tour of the city we went on was great because they took us to little nooks of the city and views of the city that we would have otherwise never have found.

View of Valparaiso

View of Valparaiso


There are so many hills in the city they have these elevators in most neighbourhoods

There are so many hills in the city they have these elevators in most neighbourhoods


A sweet mosaic park bench

A sweet mosaic park bench


Every street is COVERED!

Every street is COVERED!


The harbour

The harbour

Some of our favorite works in the city:

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Close up

Close up


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Santiago is a really cool city and we probably could have spent a lot longer there seeing all of the museums and such but one thing that a little unfortunate is the pollution is pretty bad due to its proximity to the mountain chains. This made viewing the city extremely difficult most days, unless it had rained and precipitated the smog out.

Both Mendoza and Santiago were awesome places to visit and were warmer than Patagonia – but it wasn’t quite warm enough… so we decided to skip up to Ecuador! We are currently in a beautiful city called Cuenca. We are taking Spanish lessons and exploring all that the area has to offer!

For those of you who actually read all of this, thank you! I know it was long and probably had way more detail/information than you would care to read.
We both miss you all very, very much but we are now over half way through our trip (crazy!) so you will see us soon!!

Love,
Meredith y Thomas

Cheers!

Cheers!

Posted by tag.mrd 17:28 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

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