Eat, sleep, hop, repeat
25.08.2014 - 13.09.2014
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.
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 first day we made a couple stops in Lima:
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.
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.
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??
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
One of the days we went on a tour of the Sacred Valley (Valle Segrado). We stopped at three different archaeological sites:
Ollantaytambo – this was our favorite
Chinchero – we got here pretty late and it was getting so dark we couldn’t see much
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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