Peru – Sand Dunes, Llamas and Machu Picchu

Lima

Our arrival in Lima was mostly uneventful. Our taxi drove us to our hostel. It didn’t look like a hostel at first – it looked like any other house on the dark street, ha. But a young couple approached and opened the outer door and then I was more confident that we were in the right place. Ha.

We arrived late in the evening and so we went right to bed.

The next day was a chill day we just relaxed in our room only venturing out to get food for a bed picnic. Cheese and bread and fruit and wine. Europe in Peru. Ha.

The next morning we were up early for a 530 am pickup by Peru Hop  -the bus service we would use to travel through Peru

I chose this method of travel because it allowed complete freedom of schedule and activities while providing safe and reliable transportation  -plus help with booking accommodations and activities. Plus discounts!!!

Paracas

The first stop on the bus route was Paracas. The main activity there is a boat ride around Ballestas Island – otherwise known as Poor Mans Galapagos. We stayed in a very nice hostel and enjoyed some local food. We also had a nice walk around and met a cool artist who made a boat and other artwork from bones and also made some beautiful jewelry and cool bookmarks. Most were made from a metal they call alpaca. It is a combination of copper, nickel, and zinc or iron – and looks a bit like silver or aluminum.

Our hostel in Paracas was beautiful – at least outside. In the room, as is typical for us, it was a complete mess. HA. I find that putting things ‘away’ for a night or two stay isn’t worth it – and for a longer stay, it just increases the risk of leaving something behind. I like things out and in plain sight, as you can see.

 

 

Huacachina

The next day we hopped back on a Peru Hop bus and arrived in Huacachina. Truly an oasis in the desert. A natural lake among enormous and expansive sand dunes. A population of only about 100 supports about 10,000 tourists per year and this local community city has created some fun ways to experience their town. We enjoyed a dune buggy ride and some sandboarding on the dunes. As well as some lovely meals and drinks around the lake.

Restaurant on the lake

 

Front, and engine of the dune buggy

The lake

Catching some rays…

The dune buggy, held about 10-12 people. Ours was mostly filled with a group of exchange students who go to a school in St Louis, but are studying for several weeks in Lima during summer break. This was lucky for us, as the instructions for sandboarding were only in Spanish and we didn’t understand hardly any of it. These students, of course, were becoming more and more fluent by the day, so we had free translators. HA. Not that the instructions were all that complicated.

Check out my desert-wear. HA.

We saw a beautiful sunset over the dunes.

The sand and dunes went on for MILES!!

 

 

The only downside here was I apparently missed some fine print about the hostel and so we were subject to some very loud club music from about midnight to 5 or 6 am. Ha. Ah well. Not a great night sleep but we survived. Lane actually slept through most of it.

Upon leaving Huacachina, the bus stopped for a Pisco tour and tasting. Well, what a nice surprice!

Tiny tasting cups of wine and pisco. The pisco was pretty rough, straight-up – HA. It is made from grapes and fermented like wine but also distilled like a liquor. It’s 40% alcohol so more ‘vodka’ than ‘wine’. HA.

 

Traditionally, pisco is fermented in these clay vessels.

Nazca

Next up in the adventure was Nazca.  We stayed at a beautiful hotel and prepared for a morning flight over the Nazca lines. While waiting for the plane, we enjoyed watching Peru play Australia in the World Cup. It was really great. Yes, Peru won!

The flight was so cool and so wobbly! I’m not normally prone to motion sickness but I had that airsickness bag in my hand a few times. Ha. We made it without anyone getting sick but it was definitely touch-and-go for a while.

You can see below that the flight pattern itself is back and forth. In addition, the pilot tips the plane one way, then the other, so each side of the plane can get a good view. VERY wobbly. On PURPOSE!. HA

 

 

 

 

 

The views from the plane were beautiful.

 

On the side of that mountain is ‘the astronaut’.

The monkey. This monkey is 190′ tall and 330′ long! . The lines are formed by removing dirt and rocks from the area, and have been preserved due to the weather in Nazca.

The tree and hands

The spider.

 

These are the potholes.

Scientists believe that the majority of lines were made by the Nasca people, who flourished from around A.D. 1 to 700.  Read a quick description by National Geographic here.

Arequipa

The white city. A beautiful historic center with a gorgeous square and perfect weather. We stayed in a lovely hostel with some resident dogs and cats and an adorable bar.

Kitty!

 

 

Breakfast area at the hostel.

As usual, on the first day, I  explored on my own. I saw some beautiful buildings, had a lovely beer in a courtyard, and I met this character Javier.

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That night I went to a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant. I was given the table by the window and enjoyed a great dinner, including lamb, beef, and alpaca. 🙂 When in Rome… or Arequipa in this case.

So many buildings had arched ceilings, and they were all so beautiful.

My lovely dinner

My beautiful view over the park across the street. It’s hard to see in the photo but the purple flowers in the trees were just gorgeous.

 

The next day at breakfast, we met a lovely woman from  Texas, who had just finished a two week holiday with her daughter in South America. We went on a walking tour together. Saw some beautiful white buildings. Learned a little history. And visited the local market. Always an experience. I enjoyed a fruit smoothie made from 3 fruits, two of which I had never had before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A birds-eye view of the market.

If you look closely, on that table on the right, in front, is a leg/hoof. Of what, I have no idea.

I had one of these drinks. I can’t recall which one. I just know it had a couple fruits I’d never eaten. Plus orange I think. HA

Lane and I explored one evening – had dinner, where we ran into Javier and I introduced them. Ha. Then saw some of the buildings lit up at night. Even more stunning.

 

Full moon too! Or nearly.

Drinking alcohol in excess is bad.

 

But this is religious beer – so it’s OK? HA

Cusco

Leaving Arequipa we had a long bus ride to Cusco via Puno – most people visit Puno to see Lake Titicaca and to go to the Bolivian towns of La Paz and Copacabana. Yes that’s where it is. HA. Not us. I feared the lakes would be too touristy. I’m not a fan of ‘recreate what used to be’ – it just comes off too false to me. To each his own. And Bolivia, I have heard is lovely, but the visa is annoying and expensive and well, you can’t do it all. HA

The bus ride went through some beautiful rocky landscapes and also some very vast spaces where you would see an 8’x10’ hut made of bamboo or palm leaves where clearly a family lived (kids toys outside etc). About one every half mile. Nothing else around. Who are these people and why do they live here? I think this has stuck with Laney more than any other symbol of poverty we have seen.

Unfortunately, photos weren’t really feasible on the bus, not good ones anyway.

 

We also met a friend along the way. Laney did, actually, while I was off snapping photos at a scenery/bathroom stop. Ria was of Indian descent and lives in Australia. Lovely girl with whom I spent some time wandering Cusco.

We stayed in a two bedroom Airbnb in Cusco because we planned to be there more than a couple of nights. I was looking forward to some space and a kitchen. Ha.

Here’s me, in the kitchen, scrambling eggs in a – goblet?  because there were no decent sized bowls in the house. HA. never stop improvising. this is travel.

Originally we had planned and booked the Inca Trek to Machu  Picchu. Which was to be the main thing for us in Cusco and in Peru. However, shortly after we started traveling last June, I realized Lane wasn’t much of a fan of hiking. Ha. Yeah, let’s not do a 5-day grueling hike in altitude then. So that was canceled and I planned to book our Machu Picchu as a day trip and once we arrived in Cusco. Last minute booking of a key site is something that makes me nervous. Especially since when I checked online the reasonable tours that I liked looked booked. I kept reading there was no reason to book ahead so I waited and it all worked out OK.

In fact, this was one thing Ria and I accomplished together on our first day exploring the city. After a gluttonous western breakfast, we wandered to the Plaza de Armas and found some booking agents. We educated ourselves a bit then ended up booking with our friends at the Peru Hop office.

Then, Ria and I spent the day wandering the city, checking out markets, doing a bit of shopping. Ria bought this adorable poncho. Wish I had one but space is so tight and shipping home gets annoying in foreign-speaking countries and expensive too!!

Beautiful archways in a church Ria and I toured.

Plaza de Armas square in Cusco

These crazy statues were on display in a nearby square.

 

I bought this assortment of dried fruit from the local market. My usual, 1 of each. HA

 

Ria and I shared a decadent western breakfast at Jack’s Cafe in Cusco. HIGHLY recommend. I went back a few days later and enjoyed good conversation with a US/Canadian guy who has been living in Cusco for 3 years. below


 

Ria and I met at Paddy’s one night for a beer and a quick bite before our trip to Machu Picchu. Supposedly the highest Irish pub.

Speaking of which, YES Cusco is at elevation and YES you definitely feel it. HA. Even regular walking around can get you (me) out of breath. One evening, Ria and I met for a drink at a ‘bar/restaurant with a view’. Well, I should have known, if it was going to have a view, it was going to be VERY HIGH. Climbing those steps nearly killed me. I think the doorman, waiting at the top of the steps, got a good laugh at how many times I had to pause to catch my breath. HA.

Women wander the streets in traditional Peruvian outfits with llamas/alpacas for photos. Taking whatever you want to give in exchange for the opportunity to get the photo and hold the baby. I have seen these women carry the larger-sized animals in makeshift backpacks. Hmm. I guess the animal got tired?

 

Anyway, it was a lovely day. I just love the weather in Cusco. Although I would love it more with central heating. Ha. It’s sunny and warm in the sun. Cool and chilly in the shade. And downright cold at night!!  Great sleeping weather!! So dry too.

Our Airbnb was on the fringe of the tourist area and had a few ADORABLE little restaurants. At this point in the trip, our ‘going home date’ was looming in the not-too-distant future. My perspective was changing. Although annoying at times, I took a moment to embrace the fact that I was ordering food from a TINY restaurant with a wood-fired stove, and the fact that, once home, this would no longer be available to me.

Not in the place pictured, but when Lane and I stopped for food when returning from our Machu Picchu trip, we found ourselves in a tiny little place where only one woman was working. Her cat peeked from around the corner, presumably her residence. We watched as she rolled the dough, sliced the tomatoes and cheese, and fired up the oven. It was amazing pizza, and an awesome experience.

 

 

The three animals that represent the Incas. The puma (strenth), the snake (wisdom and knowledge) and the condor (soul, connection to the heavens).

Unfortunately, Lane didn’t join us on our exploring day, she was feeling crappy. We both believed it to be altitude sickness, which I had a touch of the next day, but later in the week she got really genuinely fever sick so who knows.

A couple of days later we headed off on our trip, to Machu Picchu. We stopped in a few towns in the sacred valley on the way to see some other ruins, have lunch and do some shopping.

Inca corn, served with a slab of cheese –  and fresh squeezed OJ

 

Sacred Valley ruins

Sacred Valley views

 

 

Many houses in this area have bulls on the roof.   The two bulls side by side (male and female) are said to signify various things; they keep the house safe with a blessing to the “Apus” (the Inca mountain gods) and ensure wealth, health and unity of the occupants. The bulls may be combined with a ladder and a cross allowing an easy passage to heaven when the time comes. This is a curious mixture of Inca and Catholic symbology, but one that is typical of many things Peruvian.

My photo of the bulls wasn’t very good – too far away, so I borrowed this one 🙂 from my friend google.

beautiful flowers where we stopped for lunch

Adorable bulls can be found everywhere. This small one was in a jewelry shop we stopped (and shopped). HA. The colors of the rainbow are representative of the Incas.

Watching them make jewelry

 

This large one was outside a shop in Cusco

Soft and fuzzy llamas/alpacas are also EVERYWHERE. They are so so soft, some made from real alpaca fur. I so wanted to take one home. This is a particularly large and dense selection. HA.

Upon completion of our bus journey to the Sacred Valley, we were left in a small town, from which  e took the train to the town closest to Machu Picchu and spent the night (barely 6 hours) in a hostel there. (Am I the only one who wants to get some normal rest while traveling??? These schedules are greulling!) We got up around 4 am to wait in the VERY LONG LINE of people waiting for the bus up. Yes, you can walk but it’s very steep. And well I already mentioned Lane’s aversion to hiking. Ha.

We met up with our day-tour group at the entrance and did a fair climb even after that. We were exhausted and bundled up for the cold weather, which would turn hot (in the sun) by afternoon.

Well, Machu Picchu was amazing. It does not disappoint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred places were made from stones with no mud or mortar between. They are notched, similar to legos to keep them together. Pretty darn cool.

 

 

Sundial

 

 

 

In all honesty, I’m not sure I understand the sunrise thing. It’s not all that. But maybe it’s more when you’ve hiked it. We saw the sunrise over the adjacent mountains to light up the ruins. Perhaps the real sunrise experience is sunrise at the horizon? (Which you can’t see from MP – you are surrounded by mountains). I also think that might be the best light for certain photos at MP. Namely, that classic shot.

We spent a couple hours with the tour group learning about the Incas and the discovery of Machu Picchu and then spent the remainder of the day relaxing in the peace and beauty around us. We found a shady spot to sit and listen to music, meditating and just soaking it all in. It was a truly glorious afternoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We headed back on a late-ish train. Where we once again enjoyed seeing our French friends from the ride up. Ha. We barely made it back to our room without falling asleep. And crashed. Well, Lane didn’t really get up, the next day. She was terribly congested and had a fever. Yikes. We need to travel in a day or two!. And it’s not an easy day. 4 flights!

Good decongestant medicine isn’t available OTC in Peru. I got what I could and when we got to Lima (via a rather painful and scary flight for Lane) we got the good stuff.  I was prepared to pay any amount, beg. Whatever. But it was quite easy at the airport pharmacy. I have no idea why. We were still in Peru – but because it was a guy in a white coat? Or because it was an international airport? Either way, we got through the next 3 flights (one big one to Costa Rica then two small hops in a 12 passenger plane) without TOO much trouble. It was still a little rough for Lane. But she pushed through, didn’t want to stop, stay or drive.

That was Peru folks. Overall I really liked what we did there. It was fun and laid back, although busy. Cusco was a lovely city. No water nearby so not a place I could live but I would definitely visit again!!

Off to Costa Rica!

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