Sunday, April 29, 2012

Peru Part 5a: Cuzco, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu; April 8-14, 2012

On April 8, 2012 (Easter Sunday), we left Puno and started the trek to Cuzco to get ready for the Inca Trail! The drive to Cuzco took about 7 hours. On the way we stopped in a small town for lunch. We went to a tiny restaurant to try out the lamb. It turned out that the lamb had been cooked whole on spit and was sitting on the sidewalk of this small street cafĂ© all wrapped up in paper and clothes.  When we ordered our lunch the restaurant owner unwrapped the lamb, cut off chunks with a machete, pulled some roasted potatoes out of the lambs body cavity and put it all together in a basket for us to eat with our hands.  It seemed a little crude and questionable, but it was delicious! Once we arrived in Cusco we checked into our hotel and explored the main square and enjoyed a Starbucks coffee before meeting with our group for an Inca Trail briefing and a tasty dinner of gigantic hamburgers
Giant Burgers

Inca Ruins in Cusco
 The next day was a free day in Cusco to acclimatize and rest a bit before the hiking began. We spent the morning exploring the markets of Avenida del Sol, checking out the famous 12-sided stone in a local Inca wall in town and enjoying some super taste empanadas and milkshakes at a bakery near our hotel.
  After lunch we headed up to the Inca ruins in the hills above the town center, Sacsayhuman. We hired a guide and had a great tour of the ruins.  The blocks of stone used to build the ruins were huge. It was incredible! We also went for a walk and checked out a few more of the nearby ruins sites.  That evening we packed our bags for the Inca trail and went out for dinner where we learned how to make Pisco Sours!
12 sided Stone

 On Tuesday, April 10 we started the Inca Trail! After a 2.5 hr bus ride from Cusco to the trail head, known as Km 82, we passed off our gear to the porters, organized our day packs, signed in at the check point and were off! The pace for the day was slow and steady with breaks every hour or so.  We spent most of the day hiking through farm sites along the edge of the river through rolling hills .

There were also several little shops along the way with drinks and snacks to buy, which was nice. The weather was pretty decent, overcast and 15c, excellent fro hiking.  A couple hours into the hike we came across our first major Inca Ruin site, Llactapata. It was a fairly good sized city located across the river from us and was pretty cool to see. After a few hours of hiking we arrived at the lunch spot where our porters had a dining tent set up, washing water laid out and lunch ready to go.  
 We enjoyed an excellent lunch of grilled trout, rice and soup.  Some of the best food I’ve ever had on a backpacking trip! We got to our  camp at a place called Wayllabamba at around 4pm, after 11km of hiking,  where the tents were already set up for us. After an hour or so to enjoy a beer, get cleaned up and relax we had a tasty dinner of chicken and potatoes and then headed to bed for an early night.
Llactapata Ruins

Camp Site, Day 1

Stay tuned….Inca Trail blog to be continued…… Here for Photos

Monday, April 23, 2012

Peru Part 4 - Puno/Lake Titicaca - April 5 - 7

 On April 5 we checked out of Chivay and started our journey to Puno to explore Lake Titicaca, which is located at 3850m EL, the largest lake in the world above 2000m EL. We went back over the 4900m EL high pass on our way and this time we stopped to check it out.  There were great views of volcanoes from the pass and it was snowing, so of course we had to make a snowman before we headed on.  After a couple hours of driving we took said goodbye to the high plateau and the volcanoes and took the turn off to Puno.

Once we reached Puno we went for a buffet lunch and then went to local market to buy gifts for the host families that we will be staying with during the homestay. That night we explored the town a bit, the main square and the cathedral, before going out for a taste brick oven pizza.

 The next day after breakfast we took tuktuks down to the docks and loaded into a boat for our trip around Lake Titicaca. We started out by visiting the Uros Floating islands. They are made of layers of reeds that float on the lake; the islands are anchored to the lake bottom so they don’t float around and small villages are built on islands.  We explored the islands for a while and met some of the locals while having tours of their homes. Next, we took the boat over to Taquille Island to go for a hike and have lunch.
We hiked for about an hour to the top of a hill where there was a town square and small village and then we hiked to a local farm house where the family made us grilled trout for lunch which we ate overlooking the lake and surrounding farmland. Finally, we took the boat to a village called Amantini to meet our homestay families and spend the night. Mike and I stayed with a 15 year old girl named Lulu, her parents and her two older brother (but they lived in Puno to go to University).
 We started the evening by playing soccer with the locals and then we got dressed up in local clothing and learned some traditional dances.  We ended the evening by retiring to our families homes for dinner and a good night sleep. The home stay was interesting, it was good to experience the locals lifestyle, but it was a bit awkward duo to the language barrier.

The next morning we spent some time helping out our families. We helped Lulu take the pigs and sheep out to graze, feed the cows, dig potatoes and milk a cow. Once we were done with the farm chores we shared lunch with the families and then said good-bye, boarded the boats and headed back to Puno.
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Peru Part 3 - Colca Canyon & Chivay - April 3-4, 2012


Once we left Arequipa we headed even further into the highlands to continue with our acclimatization the town of Chivay, a couple hours away from the Colca Canyon. The trip from Arequipa to Chivay took the better part  of a day  with several stops and some exploring along the way. We started out checking out all of the Volcanoes in the area as we circled around them and climbed higher into the mountain. We also had our first glimpse of heavily terraced agricultural areas as we climbed higher into the Andean mountains. Along the way we saw numerous Llamas, Alpacas and Vicunas; very cute!

Weaving Woman
 About half way along our journey we stopped at a tea house to have some Coca Leaves and Coca Tea to help with acclimatization. The tea was good but chewing the leaves made my mouth numb and tasted weird. Along the way traveled through a high pass that was at 4910m EL, my highest elevation ever! That night we stayed in the town of Chivay at 3600m EL where we enjoyed a tasty Peruvian Buffet and relaxed in some hot springs just outside of town.
Little Peruvian Girl

The next day (April 4, 2012) we woke up to a cool morning of only 5c with fresh snow on the surrounding mountains. We headed into the Colca Canyon to explore the outdoors for the day and go for a bit of a hike.  We started with a 2hr drive to the Cruz del Condor where we saw the Condors catching thermals to lift them out of the canyon and over the surrounding hills. They were huge and amazing to watch.  The Canyon was also amazing, incredibly deep with little villages within it.  We spent about an hour hiking and exploring the canyon while we were there as well. 
Colca Canyon 


Once we left the Canyon we stopped at some view points and little towns on the way back to Chivay to explore the markets, villages and local Cathedrals. Once back in Chivay we hiked up a small hill in town to check out the pre-Inca burial tombs at the top. They were huge, tall cylinders and were pretty cool to see. There was also a great view of the town from the top of the hill. That night we went to a Pena for dinner and enjoyed some Peruvian Music and Dancing after dinner.

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Burial tower

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Peru, Part 2 - Nasca and Arequipa

Mummy in a burial tomb

Bones scattered on the desert floor
 Sunday April 1 was our 2nd day in Nasca and also the day of the infamous Nasca Line Flight! We started the morning off with a trip to the Chauchilla (Pre-Inca) Burial Site were we took a guided tour through the dessert and saw 1500 yr old tombs and mummies that had been discovered and unearthed.  It was very cool to see, but a bit creepy with random human bones strewn about the hiking path we were following.

 Once we left the cemetery we stopped in at a pottery studio where we learned about the traditional pottery making methods and checked out a some spectacular pottery pieces.

Ready for the Nasca Lines

                                                                                   That afternoon we headed to the airport for our flight over the Nasca Lines.  We divided into3 separate Cessnas and took off for a viewing of 15 of the enormous Nasca lines, including the Monkey, Astronaut and Hummingbird. The flight started out OK, but it was screaming hot in the plane and the banking left to right turned out to be too much for me.


 I spent the second half of the flight checking out the barf bags instead of the Nasca lines. Nothing like paying $100 to barf in a bag!  Seeing the Lines was still amazing though, so its all good. It still amazes me how they would have made the lines so perfectly without being able to see them from above. After the flight we headed back to our Hacienda to take a dip in the pool and relax before our overnight bus ride to Arequipa.

Santa Catalina Courtyard

Santa Catalina streets

Santa Catalina 

Arequipa is an awesome city located in the mountains in Peru at 2300m EL above sea level.  It is surrounded by 3 volcanoes, making it incredibly scenic.  It is one of my favourite cities so far on the Peru portion of the tour. We  arrived in Arequipa at 9am after and overnight bus trip and after a tasty breakfast at a little creperie, Crepismo, we headed out to explore the city.

Roof Top Cervazas

We started out at the Santa Catalina Monastery, which was absolutely beautiful with all the stone work, art, bright colours and architecture. There are even nuns still living there, just not in the section that we took a tour of. Next we headed to the Andean Sanctuary Museum, which houses the Mummy Juanita who was a young girl who was sacrificed to by the Inca’s high on a mountain top and who was discovered a few years back in the ice in a perfectly mummified state.  Unfortunately, Juanita was “on vacation” while we were there so we didn’t get to see her, but we did learn about her story and see another mummy that was almost as cool.

We ended our day with some cervazas on the hotel roof top  looking out at the surrounding volcanoes at sunset and with a crazy dinner of cuy!

Click here for Arequipa Pics

Click here for Nasca Pics