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Peru Part 5

The final installment of the Peru 2009 Saga!

After returning from Machu Picchu, we had a night and a day free in Cusco before flying back to Lima to complete our Peruvian circle. The first night, I treated Kunlun and Scott to a nice Inca Grill, including lamb, alpaca, guinea pig, and other meats at a restaurant on the Plaza de Armas recommended by the couple we met on the Machu Picchu trip. The food was much better prepared than our Cuy (Guinea Pig) experience in Arequipa, so I actually got to taste the Cuy this time. It was alright, but certainly not something I’m going to replace my normal American meats with. Alpaca, on the other hand, I could integrate into my normal diet.

That evening we met up with Ben back at the Hostel. Ben and Scott ended up going out clubbing with some people Ben met in his trip to Machu Picchu. I was way too tired to join them, but I did sleep very well.

The next day, we mostly went shopping, hitting up an artesan market we had discovered that had good prices earlier. I ended up with a few nice things, mostly made out of the remarkably soft Alpaca wool.

The next day at about 8:00 am, we were on board a Taca airlines flight back from Cusco to Lima. Our hopes for Lima were limited — we had heard there really wasn’t much to do. That was certainly true of where we had stayed previously, near the airport, but this time we hailed a cab to Miraflores, a much nicer neighborhood in Lima, and we were pleasantly surprised. Just off the oceanfront, sitting atop some stunning 100-foot cliffs, lies the most extravagant shopping mall we’d seen in Peru.

The mall boasts a large variety of US-based and native chains. After enjoying some ice cream we ended up watching Transformers 2, which was intense action with a still-hot female star and an even worse story than the first. Meh. I found it difficult at first to not read the subtitles (I guess I’m too used to always reading them from my film festival experiences).

Scott was feeling ill that night, so we kept a low profile. That first day back in Lima, however, ended up being the best weather, so we really should have done a tour then, if we had the chance.

The next day, Scott was feeling better, although not great, so we headed out to see what Lima had to offer. We found some markets where we made a few additional purchases, ate at a very nice Cibiche restaurant. Cibiche is a seafood dish, often Sole, that is “cooked” by citric acid. It is pretty good for a fish-eater like me, even if it is a bit harsh on the stomach (Ben’s later revolted). We also had our last shot at a cheesecake, and it still wasn’t very good, so Scott and I decided that Peru simply doesn’t do cheesecakes very well at all.

That night, we ate at a Pizza Hut (in Miraflores at least, it is a relatively upscale dining establishment with still-decent prices), and generally tooled around a lot.

Today, Scott and I headed to the beach (it is highly inaccessible from the cliff-side mall, but a nearby park offers access), so I could try out the South Pacific surf. The beaches we found were very rocky — or perhaps I should say pebbly — and I found it to be not as pleasant as sand beaches, except that sand tends to get stuck to everything, whereas rocks don’t. Also, the surf was quite harsh, so I never ended up actually swimming, settling instead for large swells that broke near the level of my head and tossed me around a bit. It was still fun.

We headed back, then took a cab to the mall where we hoped to find a tour bus, but there were none leaving in our time frame, so we grabbed lunch (yummy Fajitas at Chili’s) and ended up taking a cab to the Plaza de Armas, the traditional city center of every Peruvian city. From there, we wandered through some parks before heading back to the hostel area for dinner. We ate at a Chinese restaurant for dinner, then picked up our stuff and, eventually, headed for the airport.

Ben and Scott are now checked in and will soon be boarding; Kunlun and I are spending some time on the web before we catch a few Z’s and check in for our own flight.

Overall, its been a good trip; I’ve learned a good deal, had some very good, some mediocre, and some pretty bad food; I lost only a few items, but I’m bringing back more; and I think I got a lot of wonderful pictures, which will be posted before too long.

Peru Part 4

Coming soon. Outline:

  • The setup
  • The play
  • The reward
  • The fallout
  • The aftermath

Peru Part 3

This will be the last post until we return triumphantly from Machu Picchu in four days. Kunlun, Scott, and I are headed up the Inca Trail, while Ben will be taking the Santa Maria route which includes downhill mountain biking and hostel stays. The three of us are in a group of 5 — a couple is coming along — and then there is our guide and some porters who will be bringing along the camp, more or less.

We met with our guide tonight to go over the details. He gave us a map and pointed out the stops — the first day will be mostly light hiking without too much elevation gain; the second day will be more of an uphill grind as cross the highest pass of the trip; the third day is supposed to be the most memorable of the hike itself; finally on the fourth day we will arrive at Machu Picchu. What remains to be seen is where we will be sleeping on the third night — there are two possibilities. From the sound of it, our tour company messed up and didn’t book the closer camp site on time, so we are only guaranteed the campsite that is farther from Machu Picchu, which means, of course that we would arrive after the initial rush of people arrive, which would be unfortunate, because one of the main reasons to hike the Inca Trail is to be in the initial group of people who arrive at Machu Picchu. Although our guide said he would try to get the closer campsite, I am skeptical. Kiss his tip goodbye if we aren’t among the first to arrive — that much is for sure.

At any rate, we are able to store unneeded items at our hostel until we return, which nicely lightens all of our bags (unlike the Colca Canyon semi-disaster where we were all fully loaded). Regardless of arrival time at Machu Picchu, the trip should be a lot of fun. Scott and I are both bringing our SLRs — mine minus the main lens, the venerable EF 28-135 IS which doesn’t like zooming anymore, an early problem it had which is now recurring in a harsher form. The upshot of this is that I will probably be purchasing the EF 24-105 F/4L before my trip to Australia and New Zealand later this summer.

Until our return, buenos dias!

Peru Part 2

Well, here we are back at the bus station in Arequipa. First, an update since last time:

We made it to Puno without any problems — the bus ride out here wasn’t as luxurious, but it was still fine; there was time for two movies (the forgettable Norbitt and the surprisingly good 10,000 BC).  Puno, perched in the hills alongside Lake Titicaca, is a much smaller city than Arequipa or Lima, and the bus station is testament to this. Nevertheless, with some help of a local, we found a decent hostel near the city center, and spent some time around town that first night. Scott and I hiked up to a hill with a Condor Statue at the top to get some really nice pictures of the city at night.

The next day we meandered down to the docks to find a boat to take us to the islands on the lake. Most of the tourist boats leave around 7 am, and we didn’t arrive until 9, so we ended up taking a local boat to Taquille Island, home to some 2000 people, where we ate lunch. We then hit up Uros, one of the Floating Islands in the lake, basically a mass of reeds piled up that people actually live on. We then made it back to the city as night fell. That night I had what was for me the best food of the trip so far, a meat-stuffed chile whose name currently escapes me (sigh).

This brings us to today. For the last few days, we have been hearing reports of protests blocking the main road from Puno to Cusco, our next stop. This has caused almost all of the bus companies to cancel all of their Puno to Cusco routes. As we tried to figure out how to get to Cusco, we encountered a few options:

  1. Try to fly (unfortunately, all flgihts from Puno to Cusco were booked already by people quicker to the draw than us)
  2. Take a bus to Sicuani, hike around the roadblocks, and then take a Taxi or a local bus into Cusco (a travel agent reluctantly mentioned this option, which divided the group in terms of riskiness)
  3. Arrange our own buses around the long way — Back to Arequipa, back through Nasca, and then up to Cusco from there — a 28 hour trip plus whatever time it would take to find the next bus

We had all but decided to do the bus-hike option when we found out this morning that the protests have spread and that the bus we were planning to take the trip to Sicuani on had been cancelled. So, we started out on option three — first, we headed back to Arequipa. We had just purchased tickets to Nasca on one of the better bus lines when we heard about an entrepreneurial bus line that had set up a trip direct to Cusco via another less-travelled route. This option would get us to Cusco on time for our hostel reservation, and, assuming it works, takes away the possibility of us needing to find another bus in Nasca and paying additional money for a bus there. Despite already having tickets to Nasca in hand, we jumped on the opportunity to get to Cusco on time.

That bus leaves in about 50 minutes, and its packed with a bunch of people just like us, who until recently were scrambling to find out how to get themselves to Cusco before Inti Raymi on the 24th, so it should be a fun ride.

Peru Part 1

Hola from Peru! This will be just a quick update for all those back home.

In case you hadn’t heard, I am currently in Peru. The outline of the trip, so far:
Ben and Scott flew into Lima from Pittsburgh via Atlanta; Kunlun and I flew into Lima from Seattle via San Francisco and Miami. Scot and Ben arrived around midnight; Kunlun and I showed up about four hours later. We decided to wait until dawn to trek the mile or so to the Hostel where Ben and Scott were staying. Based on Scott and Ben’s experience, this proved to be the right choice. When they arrived, they set out for the hostel in the middle of the night. The hostel is a nice place near the hotel, but the neighborhood around the airport is a little rough looking. Although they basically made it to the hostel, they didn’t recognize it at first, and while they pondered where they had gone wrong, they were approached by what may or may not have been a police officer, who basically told them that they were in a dangerous area and might die. So they ended up walking back to the airport and getting a taxi, which took them right back to where they had been, but this time indicated the exact location of the hostel. Kunlun and I, on the other hand, had an uneventful walk to the hostel.

We freshened up while Ben and Scott got up, then we took a taxi into downtown Lima. The taxi ride was an exciting introduction to the art of driving in Peru — we had a couple close calls, but none closer than when we were cut off by a large truck and a bus. Our driver proved up to the challenge, though, and afer crossing himself we continued on, unharmed. The taxi dropped us off at the bus depot, where we purchased bus tickets to Arequipa for later in the day. We spent the rest of the day tooling around Lima, visiting a supermarket for food, eating lunch at a resturant in what appeared to be the financial district, taking pictures, and enjoying the thrill of being in a new country.

Initial thoughts were that Peru’s air isn’t as clean or nice to breathe as I am used to (due primarily to a wide array of vehicles producing all kinds of interesting fumes), everthing runs a little later (lunch doesn’t tend to start until 1:00, for example), and Peruvians drive crazy-cool, with most intersections being regulated by building up critical masses and pushing through rather than with stop lights (although there are a few).

The bus ride to Arequipa was ridiculously awesome — if busses were like this in the US, we think it would be a much more viable industry. The ride was 15 hours non-stop, but the awesomeness of the bus made it well worth it. There were three seats across the aisle, each more luxurious than a first class seat on an airplane (on US-based airlines at least). They reclined deeply, had nice footrests, and were very nice leather. The blankets were high quality and smelled nice; the food served was yummy, and basically the experience was about as good as a 15-hour bus ride can be.

We arrived in Arequipa around 9:30am, and headed to the Hostel we had looked up in Lima. It is just off the main town square, very convenient to all sorts of activities around the city. Once we had our rooms set up, we headed out to see the city. We ended up visiting some park around the city, eating some decent food in a ridiculously cheap ($1/person) resturant for lunch, and generally having a good time. We then decided to take the two-day trekking trip down the Colca Canyon, the world’s deepest canyon at over twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. We were to leave at 3:30 the next morning, so we grabbed a quick dinner and headed to sleep early.

The next morning, we were picked up by a large bus that, rather excitingly drove all around downtown Arequipa picking people up before heading out for the canyon, about a four hour drive. We didn’t plan it out very well, so we ended up bringing all of our stuff with us, when we only needed a fraction of it for the two-day hike we were signed up for. At any rate, the hike ended up being a little more than we had anticipated — the first day we descended 2100m (about 7000 feet) from the lip of the canyon down the the river at the base of the canyon. Ben, who has somewhat bad knees, had a particuparly rough time on the way down. We were one of the last groups to arrive at the camp, but truth be told, we were also the last group to start the hike. I handled the downhill pretty well compared to other in the group, but the next day was another story.

We slept well that night after the unexpectedly greuling decent, and awoke the next day at 5:00 am for the hike back out of the canyon — fortunately, to a different place than the start, and “only” a 1,200 meter ascent (about 4000 ft). We starting hiking around 5:45 am, but unfortunately, I didn’t have enough water, and ran out about half way up the hill. Up until that point, I was going pretty strong, but it got quickly worse for me after that. I ended up barely making it to the top, where a group that had made it up before us was kind enough to give me a bottle of water to drink, which helped me make it to the city where we ate breakfast and rendevoused with the van that was to take us back to Arequipa. It was a pretty rough morning for me, but the others fared better than I did.

On the bus, we met a nice kid from the UK who had just graduated from university in mathematics but had not found a job immediately, so we was spending the summer tooling around South America (not such a bas life!). Also in the van were a couple of American girls from New Mexico. Kimber had been studying abroad in Ecuador and decided to stay around for the rest of the summer. Her friend Drea joined her. We visited some hot springs and ate lunch with the two girls on the way back to Arequipa. Once back in the city, we said our goodbyes and then decided to splurge on dinner. We ended up eating at a place that served, among other items, guinea pig, which apparently is a local delicasy. This particular dining experience turned out quite poorly — the food was expensive, overcooked, undersized, and not very good. The restaurant claimed to be the “Most recommended Peruvian Restaurant in the world.” I would heartily NOT recommend them to anyone, so if you are ever in Arequipa and see that slogan, steer clear!

Today, we decided to take a day off to recover from the hike, so we slept in and then tooled around the city again, finding cheap eats and taking in the sights. We got some good sunset pictures of the city and El Misty, the large, well-shaped volcano that towers above the city, then we found a nice Mexican resturant for dinner. While we were eating, Drea and Kimber happened to walk in with another group, so it was fun to see them again. In a short chat after dinner,  I found that they are travelling to Puno, the town near Lake Titicaca, tomorrow, as are we, so our paths may end up crossing again.

Now it is time to find some sleep before a morning bus ride to Puno, our last stop before Cusco, where we will enjoy the Solstice festival Inti Raymi before departing on the central experience of this trip, which is the four-day hike on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Until next time!

Peru Trip Plans

My upcoming trip to Peru has been mostly planned. There are four of us going — myself, my former roommate Kunlun, my high school friend Scott, and Scott’s college roommate Ben. We leave on the 14th of June — a day after I officially graduate with my Masters degree in Computer Science. Kunlun and I are leaving from Seattle, while Scott and Ben will be flying out of Pittsburgh. We will meet in Lima early on the 15th, and then the adventure begins. Our plan is to jump on a bus that will take us from Lima through Arequipa to Lake Titicaca, finally stopping at Cusco, spending a few days at each destination. After the Inti Raymi festival in Cusco, we leave on a 4-day hiking expedition on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, returning by train, and then flying back to Lima to finish up the trip in the capital city. We fly out three weeks after we arrive on the 4th of July. If all goes well, I will be back in Seattle in time to watch some fireworks.

It should be a blast!