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Cruising Independence
  • Writer's pictureRick D.

Touring Peru – Part 1, Nov 1st – Nov 9th

We left Guayaquil, Ecuador for Lima Peru and had a 6 hour layover in a hotel to get some sleep, having arrived at 3am. The bus was a huge double deck tour bus with a head (#1 only) and the trip lasted 28 hours! Luckily they stop occasionally and did serve some food and snacks. Much like an plane, they had movies (in Spanish) USB charge plugs and fully reclining seats – pretty good for such a long ride. About two hours from Lima the bus threw a fan belt and we were trapped along the desert-like coastline waiting for a replacement bus. Luckily there was one nearby and, after transferring all of our luggage from one hold to another, we were underway in less than an hour.

The coastline was desert like, arid and little growth, with huge sand dunes just in from the highway that ran adjacent to the coast. It was not what we expected! Lima, set along the coast, is large and modern and we took a day to explore, starting with a free walking tour. The old city was beautiful!

The next morning we were on a early Peru Hop tour bus heading to Paracas to see sites in the surrounding areas. We visited an old hacienda and learned of life on a farm with 2000 slaves some 500 years ago. Now a guest house, it has it’s own chapel and underground catacombs. We arrived in Paracas, a fishing and tourist village, in the late afternoon and enjoyed the waterfront and excellent ceviche with cold beers. The following day we took a boat tour to the Ballestas Islands, also known as the “poor man’s Galapagos”. Only a few miles off the coast, it offered almost 60% of the species found only on the Galapagos Islands. (It was also great to be out on salt water again!) The surrounding area had high cliffs and breathtaking views of the rugged coast.

Our next adventure was a trip to Huacachina, a desert oasis town of 100 people with a fresh water lagoon in the middle ringed by small hostels, hotels and restaurants. The big draw of the area were the surrounding HUGE sand dunes, as this location was one of the few in the world to have dunes as big as the Sahara desert. Of course large dunes attract dune buggies and sand boarding, and we had to try! The buggies are semi-custom (Non OSHA or NTSB approved) crazy machines straight out of Mad Max which seat 10 or 15 passengers. The drivers roar up and down, sometimes sideways through the huge dunes with much screaming and yelling by the passengers. Twice we stopped to plunge down the huge dunes lying on a snowboard on our belly. Some brave folks actually did ski or snowboard down the slopes. That evening the whole tour group met at a hostel/bar/restaurant for a wild BBQ complete with dancing around and on the bar! Though we were old enough to be their parents, the revelers didn’t seem to mind!

With no time to recover, we were off the next morning for Nazca, home of the amazing Nazca Lines, huge designs scraped into the desert depicting a hummingbird, monkey, condor, dog and a man (seemingly in a space suit) on a hillside pointing up to the sky and many, many more. The huge geoglyphs date back between 500BC – 500 AD. We took a small Cessna 6 seater up to 2500 feet and toured the major Nazca lines for about 30 minutes…. Truly amazing!

Another overnight 10 hour bus ride took us to Arequipa and then to Colca Canyon. At 15,000 feet, Arequipa is a natural reserves where we saw native dancing and sampled indigenous food including Alpaca and Guinea pig. We were invited to dance and had a wonderful time. We saw the huge volcano, Sabancaya, billowing plumes of smoke as young school girls in traditional dress danced around the fountain in the town plaza. Later we saw Tapay canyon, much larger than the Grand Canyon, with some magnificent Condors soaring in the updrafts.

We met some fellow travelers and had a great dinner overlooking the beautiful Basilica as the sun set. A great end to another amazing day.

We endured another seven hour bus ride to Puno, on our way to Lake Titicaca and back up to 12,000 feet. The beautiful old city contained a number of churches and a we especially enjoyed the Carlos Dreyer Museum, a private collection of Pre-Inca and Inca art, pottery and gold jewelry. (Not much jewelry or gold seems to have survived the Spanish conquest in the 1500’s) The locals in their traditional attire through the town were extremely photogenic.

Another early morning tour bus took us to our Lake Titicaca homestay tour. Starting with a boat trip to the floating islands of Uros, we learned how the natives have sustained their lifestyle, living in straw huts and traveling in large straw catamarans. Our homestay was much further out in the lake, on Isa Amantani, where we and six others were introduced to our hosts for the night, Josue and Damiana. They have enlarged their house to include 4 guest rooms, each with beds and a chair. There was no hot running water, nor heat in the house and the head required a bucket of water to flush… rustic at best, but a warm and genuine welcome from our hosts. They are offering homestays outside of the commercial program: Puerto Ocosuyo, Tel: +51 994-774609. Candy hiked the 1000 ft mountain and found the views from the top of the island to be spectacular and the mountains of Bolivia visible in the distance.

Our evening included dressing up in the local attire and hiking up to the common house, where we danced with the locals to a traditional Peruvian Band. (Note: We also learned Paul Simon took ‘El Cóndor Pasa’, a traditional Andean song and adapted it with new lyrics, renaming it “If I Could”… you hear it everywhere!). The islanders still live their pre-Incan lifestyle, herding goats, farming on terraced plots, making handy crafts and knitting clothing. The whole homestay business has added a new income stream which some seem to be uncomfortable with.

On the way back to Puno the launch took us to Isla Taquille, an extremely picturesque island that has not embraced homestay, instead offering cliffside restaurants with indigenous food. It was truly like walking back in time. Back in Puno we had dinner with German travelers Nadia & Christoph, both engineers for Ford – Nadia is working on self parking cars… very cool.

We left Puno, Peru on a very bumpy overnight 7 hour bus trip to Cusco, planning to acclimate at it’s 3,400 metre (11,200 ft) altitude prior to hiking Machu Picchu. We stayed in a wonderful 280 year old castle like hacienda that had been changed into a hotel, with restaurants and a hot chocolate / cacao tea shop in the patio area. Truly amazing. We headed out to see the town and were swallowed up in the city’s central plaza as thousands of soccer fans (who could not squeeze into the city’s stadium) gathered to watch the Cusco / Nazca final match on a huge projection screen. We enjoyed lunch from a balcony overlooking the plaza, enjoying the crowd scream “Scoooooooooore!!”

Local touring on foot brought us to The Saint Catalina Monastery and convent of La Merced, who’s museum included handmade vestments of gold and silver and oil paintings dating back to the 15 and 1600’s. The associated church was equally overwhelming with it’s intricate ornamentation. We learned how Cusco was a central city of the pre-Inca and Inca civilizations and learned about the renown Incan stonework which was so precise as to require no cement or grout between the joints – an amazing display of engineering and craftsmanship. When the Spanish conquered the Incan cities, they tore down the elaborate temples and religious sites and re-purposed the foundations to support churches, cathedrals and basilicas, 17 in the city of Cusco alone.

The city of Cusco is surrounded by Incan ruins and stonework. We took an organized tour to see three of the well know ruins; Saqsayaman (pronounced “Sexy Woman”), Qenqo and Tambomachay. Their incredible stonework included foundations, terraces and aqueducts that have survived hundreds of years and earthquakes. Some of them are also huge, bringing home the scale of their society and the supporting systems required to construct such elaborate structures.

We toured the Basilica san Pedro, which had 11 chapels off the huge main sanctuary. No pictures or videos were allowed, which isn’t surprising after seeing all the gold and silver ornamentation. The sad fact was that the silver & gold came from the Incan temples.

Always looking for a challenge, Candy signed up for a Peruvian cooking class and learned her way around the huge city central marketplace finding ingredients. The group produced “Cause” a mashed potato/trout dish with olive sauce, trout ceviche and chicken relleno. Soon it was time to meet our Inca Trail Guide, Marco, and pack for the four day / three night hike.

Next up….. Hiking Machu Picchu!

We made it to Peru!

Peruvian desert around the highway to Lima

Can you see what is missing??
Welcome to Lima, Peru!

Beautiful Church in Lima

Guards at the Presidential Palace

National Library

500 year old Hacienda, complete with chapel

Paracas fishing fleet and tourist boardwalk

Boat ride out to the Ballestas Islands

Ballestas Islands, the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”

Beautiful cliffs above Paracas, Peru

Huacachina desert oasis

Huacachina desert dune buggy rides on the HUGE dunes!

Flying over the famous Nazca Lines in the Peruvian desert

Sabancaya Volcano and colorful inhabitants of the town of Chivray

Taxi Que and terraced valley

Condor Crossing in Tapay Canyon

Beautiful statues and old world craftsmanship

Condor Crossing in Tapay Canyon

The beautiful city of Arequipa

Lake Titicaca and the floating islands of Uros

Our Homestay hosts and guests

Our Homestay Casa

Our Homestay island of Isa Amantani

Ready to Party!

Soccer championship in Cusco

View of Cusco from the San Blas Plaza

Saqsayaman (pronounced “Sexy Woman”), Qenqo and Tambomachay Inca Ruins outside of Cusco

Our Inn and enjoying a Pisco sour at the 180 Eco Bar, high above the city of Cusco

Old world craftsmanship still exists!

Puccara Bulls on the roof of houses: It’s believed by the locals that they keep the house safe with a blessing to the “Apus” (the Inca mountain gods) and ensure health, wealth, and unity

Saint Catalina Monastery and convent of La Merced

Peruvian Cooking Class.... Yum!

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