Sunday, 8 June 2014

If You Go

I would highly recommend using Alpaca Tours. They were very responsive to our many questions before the trip, and with the exception of Chivay, there was always someone to pick us up when we arrived at each destination. They created an individualized itinerary for us based on how much time we had, how much money we wanted to spend, and what we wanted to see and do. We were more than satisfied with the variety of activities and tours, and felt that we got excellent value for the money. All of the tours were very good, and every tour guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their material.

This was the first tour that I have ever taken, and it felt so good to have everything taken care of. We were so spoiled being picked up at every destination, that we started to fully rely on our various drivers. However, when we returned to Puno from our homestay experience, the driver asked us the name of our hotel. Both of us went blank, but between us were able to figure out the name. Little did we know that there were two hotels by that name in the city, and of course, the driver dropped us off at the wrong one! We went into a short state of panic, as we had left our luggage at the hotel, and only taken our daypacks to Lake Titicaca. Fortunately, the staff was able to guide us to the correct hotel, but we realized the importance of ALWAYS getting the hotel card before going off on even the smallest excursion, in case you get lost!

We also didn't realize that we would be expected to pay for small charges, like a bus tax of 2.50 solaces in Arequipa, and 3.80 solaces tax for the dune buggy ride. It is a good idea to always have some small change for situations such as these.

Given that we were extremely tired, we would have given ourselves at least one and better yet, two days to recover in Cusco.

We also would have stayed overnight in Ollyantaytambo before going on the trek, as we had taken a tour to this area the day before, and then went back to Cusco to sleep, only to wake up very early to drive all the way back to Ollyantaytambo the next day. This was about two hours each way, so it would have been nice to have avoided this.

If we had know how beautiful the lodge at Colca Canyon was, we would have opted to stay an extra day, and flown from Arequipa to Nazca rather than taking the overnight bus.

Packing list: we were surprised at how cold it is in Peru. While daytime temperatures climbed to around 70 degrees most days, once the sun went down, it was COLD! We had taken several pairs of shorts and tank tops that we never wore. One of each is lots for this trip, but you might want to pack a change of cold weather clothes, as we found ourselves wearing the same long sleeved top, fleece and jacket every single day of the trip! However, if you like shopping, there are lots of "alpaca" products for sale that will do a great job of keeping you warm. Beware that the cheap "alpaca" products sold in the markets and roadside vendors are likely synthetic blends. A good alpaca sweater will cost around $60 - $70 American dollars. (Still a bargain in my books!)

Don't bother bringing a scarf, as there are so many lovely ones to buy along the way.

Last day - Sea Lions and Penguins

We woke to a beautiful sunny day. Yeah, we got to wear shorts! It has been so cool that we have only worn long pants for most of the trip, so this was a big deal! Fortunately, we thought to bring our jackets along for the boat ride, as it was quite cool.

Paracas is a lovely little seaside town, with the standard handicraft stands and restaurants. Our favourite activity while waiting for the boat was watching the birds. The pelicans were enormous, and the seagull type birds were the most interesting divebombers, tucking in their wings and going straight down into the water like bullets.

One the boat, we stopped to look at this design drawn into one of the islands. It has been there for hundreds of years, and according to our guide, so no one is sure where it came from, or what it means. Is it a candelabra, is it a cactus? Our guide offered several theories, including that the Nazcas came from 300 kilometers away and left it as a record of their journey.

If you look real hard, you can see a pair of penguins in the middle of the rock. Amazing! I thought that they only lived where there is ice!
This is guano island where they used to have slaves collect guano and ship it to England to be used for fertilizer. There are a lot of birds and most of the island is white, so it must have been a lucrative trade.
There are lots of natural caves on the islands.
...and sea lions!
We had a special thrill, as a pod of dolphins swam alongside our boat for quite awhile, but it was impossible to get a good picture on the ipad.

It was an excellent end to an awesome holiday! We had a bit of time to relax back at our hotel, but the wind kept blowing tornado strength sandstorms, so we gave up. This is an amazing hotel, though, with a fantastic lap pool!
After a four hour bus ride, we arrived in Lima, where we went to the airport to wait for our flight home. We have a five hour wait, so we are sitting in a coffee shop that has wifi while we wait until we are allowed to check our bags. (Two hours before departure) We are both looking forward to seeing our family and friends, and to sleeping in our own beds. The best part about travelling is ALWAYS coming home!



Nazca Lines and Ica

If you're twenty and travelling around the country with your backpack, the overnight bus, including a meal is a great option, especially because it saves the price of a hotel. However, if you're in your sixties, and feel absolutely miserable running on only a few hours sleep, not so much. We were by far the oldest people travelling this way, and now I understand why!

Arriving at the bus station was mad chaos when our driver dropped us off and pointed us in the direction of what looked like the right check in counter. There was no sense of a line, and people were approaching the check in only to be turned away. I used a trick that Bryce and I figured out when navigating the train and subway system in China; approach someone who looks like they know what they are doing and ask them to help. Thus we met Ingrid from Holland and Pierre from France. They were a young couple in their twenties who are Peruvian bus pros, and they helped guide us through the check in process, then shared stories of their months long adventures in Peru while we waited for our bus.

The bus was lovely, a double decker, with fully reclining seats, blanket and pillow. We left Arequipa at 9:30 pm and I fell asleep as soon as I closed my eyes. However, a few hours later, I needed to use the bathroom, but the door to our compartment was closed tight. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not open it, so I went back to my seat and prayed for someone else to feel the urge soon. I must have dozed off, because I was sure that I heard Marianne crawl across me and go out to the bathroom. When she came back, I was standing at the door, ready to pounce. "I was locked in!" I whispered in distress to my good buddy, only it wasn't Marianne at all, just some very confused looking woman who was half asleep looking at me like I was crazy. She just blinked her eyes and continued to her seat. As I stepped through the open doorway and the door closed tight behind me, it occurred to me that I better try the door to see if I could get back in! Oh no, that darned door was closed tight! I knocked lightly on the door, hoping that the woman I had just accosted would come to my rescue, but no luck! Hmmm, I was standing in a little hallway in the middle of the night, locked out of the main carriage, I might as well use the bathroom.

Once in the bathroom, I needed to figure out how to get out. I said a little prayer for help, as I definitely did NOT want to spend the rest of the night in there! It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps after unlocking the door and turning the doorknob, maybe I just had to push real hard. I gave the door a hard shoulder shove, and sure enough, it popped open! I did the same thing to get into our sleeping compartment, and presto, I was in! I'm sure that the woman that I accosted is still wondering who the midnight wanderer she met on the bus was all about, though!

We finally arrived in Nazca at 7:15 am, excited to see the lines, but feeling like a couple of old dishrags.

We were met by Louise, who took us straight to the tour office to get organized to fly over the Nazca lines. We headed off to the airport, but had to wait for a couple hours for the low cloud to lift.
Thankfully, the cloud did finally lift, making way for a perfectly clear blue sky.

There were lots of other great designs that we saw in the desert, but they were too far away to capture with my ipad. Here's a picture of one of the designs that I copied out of my Lonely Planet guidebook. This design is almost one kilometer long!
The Nazca lines took over 800 years to create, using rudimentary surveying principles, and incredible hours of labour to move rocks out of the path of the lines, and then to etch these lines into the desert in such a way that they are still standing! Even more amazing, the etchings cover 400 square miles. Unbelievable!
We hopped back on another bus for a two hour bus ride to Ica to play in the sand dunes. Before our dune buggy ride, we had some time to explore the town. It has such a fun beachy kind of vibe, with a little lake in the middle, and the entire town encircled by dunes that go for miles.
The dune buggy ride was so much fun, it might even be my favourite part of the whole trip!
But wait, there was more to this than just a dune buggy ride. Our driver stopped at the crest of a huge hill and asked us if we wanted to go down on a sand board. "Gulp, sure", I said. I laid down on my stomache on the board with my heart pounding in my chest, and started screaming even before he pushed me over the edge. "This is just like the tobogganing I did as a kid," said Marianne, but she screamed all the way down, too. Those hills in Alberta were nothing compared to these!











Saturday, 7 June 2014


Arequipa is a big cosmopolitan city of a million people. We were grateful to be staying in a lovely old hotel, the Plaza Residence right on the main square. This hotel was apparently an old spanish castle, and they have kept much of the old furniture and decor.

We took it pretty easy for the day, doing some last minute shopping, enjoying some funky coffee shops, and relaxing in the square.

We even got to watch a parade of seniors carrying banners. It looked like they were protesting something but we couldn't tell what.
Every square has a beautiful old church, and this one is no exception.
Relaxing in the square

After supper we explored a little further, enjoying some of the beautiful colonial buildings. According to one of our guides, the high doors are because they used to let the horses and carriages into the courtyard this way.

The church at beautiful!


Thursday, 5 June 2014

Colca Canyon Day 2

Yippee! We were up at 5:00 am to set off to see more of the canyon. If we were planning this trip again, we would have definitely have stayed for another day in this beautiful place. I would highly recommend the Colca Canyon Lodge, especially for a honeymoon or a romantic getaway. Since Marianne and I left our partners at home, we will have to come back another day, so off we went in search of more adventures!

On the way, we stopped at Yunque, where the vendors were already set up, and the dancers were putting on a wonderful show.

How could you not buy from this lovely lady?

A liitle further down the road, we stopped at another little village called Acholma village, which was named after a plant. Note the terraces on the mountain, these are from from the time of the Incas, and are typical throughout the mountainous regions of Peru. The upper terraces are for growing such things as potatoes, the middle terrace for quinua and corn, and the bottom terrace for avocados, oranges and melons.

Our next stop was a little village called Maca, which means "beautiful girl" in spanish. An earthquake destroyed the village in 1991, but most of the church was left standing.

I love the clothing in the different villages. Different styles of hats, colours, and decoration such as embroidery, lace or pompons indicate which village people are from.

Our next stop was at the overlook to Magical Lake. It is called this because it changes colour from morning to afternoon to evening.

After about 45 minutes on a very bumpy dirt road, we arrived at the condor viewing area. According to our guide, condors live for about 50 years. There are two two different types of condors. The Andean condor is found in the Colca Canyon, with a wing span of up to three meters.

And of course, handicraft stands! Note the lovely embroidery on this lady's clothing.

After a four hour bus ride, we finally arrived in Arequipa. Yippee, we have a day off tomorrow. Sleep in, rest, explore the city, do some shopping. We are really looking forward to it!



Off to Colca Canyon!

Guess what? We had a 5:30 am wakeup call! Awe inspiring vacation, yes. Relaxing, no! Fortunately there were only six of us on the bus, so were able to stretch out and have a good sleep!

After a few hours of driving, we stopped at a viewpoint over Lake Lagunillas. This is a beautiful lake, very high up in the mountains, with sheep and llamas grazing, as well as, yes, you guessed it, craft stands!

Baby alpaca...too cute!
Five minutes down the road we stopped at another lake to see flamingos, but they were too far away to get a good picture. There were lots of alpacas, though!
Before long, we came upon an the Chicura volcano, which was erupting. Fortunately, it was far off in the distance so we were safe. Unfortunately, it was too far away to get a good picture!
We stopped for lunch at a quaint (!) little restaurant for lunch before heading off to Chivay.
Shortly after leaving the restaurant, we came upon a herd of picuñas. These are protected in Peru, as they were being overhunted for their fine coats.
We made a quick stop at another overlook to look at a whole series of volcanoes and.... to shop at the craft stands! This is pretty desolate country, with little vegetation except for low scrub, and volcanic rocks that were spewed hundreds of years ago.

The high mountain vistas are spectacular, though, and we are ever so grateful to be riding instead of hiking!

We arrived in Chivay, but there was no one to pick us up. We have been so spoiled on this trip that we didn't quite know what to do! After about half an hour, a man who worked for the bus company offered to drive us out to our hotel, the Colca Canyon Lodge. It was worth the wait, because this is an amazing place!

Our room
The view from our room
We got into our bathing suits right away and headed over to the hot springs.
The walk to the hot springs
The hot springs come out of the mountain at 80 degrees centigrade, and have to be cooled to a lovely 38 degrees. Since we were on a roll, we decided to finish off our afternoon by going for a hot stone massage in the spa. We both fell asleep on the table. This is such a beautiful place, we might never leave! Ahh, so relaxing!