Next stop: LIMA!
With just our carry-on suitcases and small backpacks, we are ready for our 17-day Peruvian adventure to begin!
With just our carry-on suitcases and small backpacks, we are ready for our 17-day Peruvian adventure to begin!
Even at the departure gate for the Cusco flight, we know this will be a very different trip. It looks like a gathering of the United Nations with people and languages from all over the world.
We are met in Cusco by not one, not two, but THREE people to help us on our way to our Adventure-Life in Peru. There is a luggage porter, a driver, and our guide for the next week, Juan.
After lunch and a rest, Juan meets us for a tour of this lovely city -- to the main square; the open market (where there are hundreds of kinds and colors of potatoes on display-- there are reportedly over 3000 varieties in Peru -- along with every other kind of vegetable you can imagine); an Inca temple site/museum.
To be in this predominantly Catholic country during Easter week proves to be an unexpected delight.
We join the throngs to watch the big parade in the central plaza. Vendors are selling palms with crosses attached. It is the perfect venue for serious people watching and photographing women in their many styles of hats!
After the parade, we walk up to the Inca fortress, Saqsaywaman, on a hill just above the city. This is our first introduction to what we will see much more of in the week to come -- the intricacy of the stone work of the Incas!
Today we have FOUR people looking after us, ensuring our safety and enjoyment of the activities in store; our guide, Juan; a van driver; Willy, the rafting guide; and Rubio, our safety guide in his kayak (just in case we fall out of the raft :-) The rainy season has just ended thus the river is running high and fast and muddy. Lots of hoots and hollers as we blast through Class III and IV rapids!
At the take out, we have a shore-side lunch, complete with a screened tent, tablecloths, ceramic dishes (no paper plates here!) silverware, and a delicious spread of foods.
On our return to Cusco, we stop in the small village of Lucre where we happen upon a festival taking place. Filling the main street is the image of a dove, completely made of flower petals. The procession arrives from around the corner -- the priest, Jesus on the cross completely encased in flowers, a band, and all the town's folk. It was so special to witness this local tradition, and we were the ONLY tourists!
Back in Cusco, there is a similar festival taking place this evening, but here they estimate 100,000 people are in attendance!!! The crowds fill not only the main square, but all the side streets as well. We are in a small restaurant a block away from the square and are unable to leave until the festivities end -- people are packed against the doors!
While waiting, we chat with other diners and make new friends! Travel lesson: Often the things that seem problematic at the time are the things you remember and talk about to your friends upon your return.
Leaving Cusco with a van loaded with bikes. There is the van driver, of course, a bike guide/mechanic, our chef for the next few days, and Juan. We are definitely being well taken care of. The bike mechanic is a welcome part of the team as KT has two breakdowns along the route.
On the way, we stop at Chinchero, a splendid example of Inca architecture and terracing.
Bike around Lake Piuray, traveling by several small villages and many little farms growing quinoa and kiwicha, and of course, POTATOES!
We camped overnight at a small village at the base of the trail we will hike today. The sounds of the day beginning are what awakens us from a great night's sleep -- the braying of a donkey, chickens crowing, sheep bleating, birds chirping. So much nicer than an alarm clock!
Juan and we hit the trail after breakfast, carrying only our day packs. Aurelio our chef, Francisco and Andres the horse wranglers, come behind carrying all the gear.
To describe today's activity as a mere ''hike'' would be so not right. I could write a short book about the landscape, the local peoples and animals we encounter along the trail, and about the Inca trail itself.
At the barren summit, there is a stone carrion where we celebrate having arrived at 14,432 feet. Chef Aurelio has a thermos of hot tea and snacks waiting for us. ''Tea is served, madam.''
On the descent, the flora changes dramatically -- green, lush with vast fields of lupine.
Our camp for tonight is at the Inca ruins of Huchuy Cusco.
With our delectable dinner this evening, Aurelio produces a bottle of Peruvian wine! Much appreciated after a big day on the trail.
After breakfast, Juan and we tour the Inca ruins just below our campsite. The engineering of the area's water alone it a thing to behold.
And now we begin our downward climb to the Sacred Valley. 2,000 feet down and maybe 500 feet forward. The Inca builders of this trail didn't have the concept of ''gradual descent.'' Whew, I have never been on a trail like this one before. Between yesterday afternoon and this morning, we have dropped 5,000 feet! And all the while, we gaze down at the ribbon-like Urubamba River below.
The horses have passed us and when we arrive at the river, a hot lunch and a van is waiting for us. After the past days of this level of service, why are we surprised?
Next stop: Ollantaytambo train station and then on to Aguas Calientes where we spend the night at El Mapi Hotel. The shower is most welcome after two days on the trail.
It doesn't matter how many photographs of this place you may have seen, you MUST see it in person -- breathtaking! Again, I could write a book about the gradeur, the history, the sights, the vastness, the construction. WOW! Enough of my commentary . . . come see it for yourself!!
A bus ride takes us from the bustling Cusco to the vast high plains. Imagine Kansas with high snowcapped mountains in the distance. There are large herds of sheep, alpaca, llamas and cattle. We remind ourselves that everything on these ranches/farms is done by hand -- nothing is mechanized.
Several stops along the way to see Inca ruins, a local museum, and to have a great lunch.
At our hotel, we repack for our next three days on Lake Titicaca.
At breakfast, we try for the first time api, a warm drink made from purple corn powder, water, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. YUMMMM!
Marco, our guide for the next three days, meets us at the hotel and summarizes our itinerary. A big day lays ahead of us: a tour of the floating islands of Uros where I get a big, sincere hug from a young girl in exchange for a mango. Marco and we spend several hours learning about the making of the islands, the lifestyle of the residents, typical foods. As we chat, a girl sits nearby and munches the tender end of a reed.
KT and I love to kayak and do quite a lot of it at our home on Flathead Lake, Montana; Lake Titicaca continually reminds us of home. We paddle along the shores of the lake to a wonderful traditional lunch and then cruise three hours to Isla Tikonata. With the entire boat to ourselves, we stretch out , admire views, nap, catch up on journal writing, and learn new Spanish words from Carlos Antony.
Tikonata is a small island with only 30 inhabitants. Our room for tonight is a free-standing circular structure, made of mud bricks with a roof constructed of reeds, a bathroom located across the courtyard, beds covered with thick Peruvian wool blankets. A three-course dinner is served and for dessert -- traditional dances, in which we participate. At 12,000 feet, doing this lively dance takes our breath away.
I have been looking for the perfect Peruvian knit hat and here on this little island, I find just what I want -- colorful, soft as a kitten, beautifully handmade by the same lady that cooked our dinner, cleans the rooms, and who will launch our sailboat tomorrow!
Before leaving Tikonata, we stroll to the island's quaint museum which houses a small but amazing collection of mummies, all women, and all in the fetal position. As was the Inca tradition, each was wrapped in straw baskets or with straw ropes. They were found by this island's farmers.
We board our ''sailing vessel'' for a two-hour sail to the neighboring island of Amantani. Our small wooden boat has this huge sail held up on a mast made of two pieces of tree branches, skillfully fitted together, to allow for the mast to collapse.
Our capitan is Luciano and his second mate is 9-year old Carlos Antony who is the son of our cruise boat captain; he and I don't speak the same language but we become friends over these few days -- he teaches me Spanish words and spells them for me as I write in my journal.
In the afternoon, Marco and we hike up to the highest point on the island, Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) to watch a stunning sunset. Along the route to and fro, we pass small fields of potatoes, locals digging and transporting them down on their backs, on donkeys, and one fellow had a wheelbarrow -- he has a difficult time controlling it on these steep trails. We get out of his way quickly!
Our friendly boat captain, Narciso, and his son Carlos Antony are from the island of Taquile, and they are all dressed up in their customary costumes for today's arrival. At the island, Marco and we stroll the stone path that leads from the harbor to the main village, where we say ''adios'' to Carlos Antony, who has to go back to school tomorrow (he's been on Easter break and helping his father on the boat).
Taquile has a wonderful textiles shop/museum -- the styles of the knitted hats, I find, are quite different from island to island.
After our hike around this charming island where the people couldn't be friendlier, lots of smiles and ''buenos dias'' we are back on the boat and cruise back to Puno.
On this trip we don't have the boat all to ourselves, as we have agreed to take a few ''hitchhikers'' over to the mainland with us. One fellow is carrying a propane tank (the size we use on our barbecues at home) to have it filled. Ah, island life!
Depart Puno, fly to Puerto Maldonado where we are met by our guide, Pepe.
Our bodies aren't in shock, but they should be as we have just a few hours ago left 12,000-foot mountain climes and now we are in humid and hot weather.
As has been the standard on this Adventure, we have a guide, Pepe; our boat captain Pepe Sr.; and assistant Juan aka Jack. We cruise five hours down the Madre de Dios to the Heath River Lodge; it is almost dark when we arrive. The Lodge quite the pretty picture, all lit with only candles.
Tonight's dinner is catfish with rice and veggies (no more potatoes). Cheesecake for dessert. Rico! (''yummy'' a new word I learned from my buddy Carlos Antony :-)
An early morning departure to ensure our seeing birds at the mud cliffs. Our boat drops us off at a floating blind, where a full breakfast is served. Blue-headed parrots by the hundreds, peach-fronted parakeets, macaws, a bat falcon -- to name just a few of the species we spotted.
The boat picks us up and drops us at the trailhead for a 2 1/2 hour walk through the jungle. Highlights: a red howler monkey (their call sounds like a jet plane overhead!), massive ficus trees, the amazing leaf-cutter ants, and the Morpho butterfly (electric BLUE).
After lunch and a rest, we are back on the trail to the Savannah, a four-hour round trip. More amazing sights: the Brazil nut forest, cicada ''towers'', and then suddenly walking out of the dense jungle to the open grasslands of the savannah. Jaguar prints in the mud. Macaws heading from their evening roosts are everywhere!
While having coffee early this morning, the distinctive macaw call is nearby, and we see up close the Blue and Yellow Macaw! Minutes later, and our coffee getting cold, the lodge staff are all a twitter -- there are moneys all over the grounds eating fruit in nearby trees. The Brown Capuchin, Squirrel Monkeys, and many of the small Saddleback Tamarin who put on quite a show, making dare-devil leaps from tree to tree -- right over our heads!
After all the excitement before breakfast, we pack up and are heading to Sandoval Lake Lodge, the last stop in our Adventure Life.
At the lake, our wooden canoe is being paddled by one man, Alajo. Along the way, we see an Ogami Heron -- ''most beautiful'' says Pepe. And another monkey show from the Squirrels.
As the sun sets, with a glass of wine! The birds are unbelievably rackety as they roost for the night. Our favorite was the flock of Hoatzin (who look like chickens on a bad hair day!)
Another early start in order to see the resident family of giant otters -- and on cue, they put on a marvelous show, darting near our catamaran, catching fish, seemingly not the least disturbed by our presence.
Rewarding us for our 0-Dark-Hundred wake up call, the Squirrel monkeys are so cheerful, romping, jumping, chattering in the tree tops.
Take a jungle hike later in the day, learning about the trees and plants that are edible or medicinal. On the list is the plant from which they make Inka Cola, a Peruvian favorite; the Malorone tree from which the malaria cure is made; barks and plants that are boiled for teas for curing stomach ills, kidney problems, etc.; Palmetto, commonly used by men with prostrate problems.
We savor the evening -- chatting with guides and guests -- our last night in Peru!
A farewell paddle across Sandoval Lake. As we hike to the river, we hear that mournful sound of the Howler Monkey -- he's sad too that we have to bid adieu.
Cruise back to Puerto Maldonado, and now begins our trip back to reality -- tomorrow we will be home and telling and retelling all the stories of this trip.
On our flight to Cusco, KT and I make a list of the many modes of transportation we have experienced over these 16 action-packed days:
and miles and miles on foot!
So ends the PERFECT trip -- A gorgeous country; plenty of activity and excitement, which was our goal; delightfully hospitable people; only one day of rain (and that was on the day we rafted and would be wet anyway!); guides and staff who couldn't have been more wonderful, knowledgeable, and amusing. The food exceeded our expectations (we are vegans who eat a bit of fish). And, not one moment of altitude sickness or any other problems. Like we said, ''Perfect''.