Why we didn't make it to Colca Canyon (Or: When things don't go as planned)

by Colleen Morrow in

So where were we... Right - touring Lake Titicaca.  

Our boat tour took us out to the floating islands of Uros, which are these islands made of reeds. They are a bit spongy, for lack of a better description but really fascinating.  Our tour guide, Franz, gave us a really good overview of the history of how the islands came to be and how they are made. I was surprised at how many islands there are - I thought there would be just a few but there were a lot. It was quite the community, with schools and churches and all sorts of stuff.  

After that, it was on to Taquile. We had quite the hike up to the main plaza but once there, we were rewarded with amazing views of the lake and the mountains in both Peru and Bolivia. There was a wedding taking place while we were there and we got to see the exit of the bride and the groom from the church with the important people of the community. From there, we went to lunch, overlooking the lake where Franz told us about the various woven bags, knitted hats and other things that make up the local customs around single people and married life. Different styles of hats or pompoms tell you whether or not somone is married, how good a knitter someone is tells you how good of a husband he'll be, etc. Then it was back onto the boat for the trip back to Puno and an early bed before catching a bus to Arequipa.

Our bus arrived without a problem and we were soon on our way. We expected a long bus ride - we weren't scheduled to be in Arequipa until at least 12:30 even with a 6:00 start. We were told we'd get into Arequipa a bit later than expected since we would have to take a back road. There were some protests going on in the city around a copper mine being opened and the protestors were at the main road into the city. At one of our stopping points, we parted ways with the folks heading on the Colca Canyon and we transferred to a van for our back way into Arequipa. Well, when they said back way... The road was sandy and often very narrow with lots of rocks and wound all around a mountain. Our van didn't seem to really enjoy it's off-roading adventure and at one point, our driver struggled to get the van up the road. So, we all piled out and walked a bit ahead for him to try without our weight. No dice. In the end, it took all five of the gentlemen on board to push the van up the road. I don't think it's what anyone was expecting for the ride. Luckily, that was pretty much at the highest point we needed to go. Then it was literally all downhill from there. And harrowing. The road was so narrow and bumpy, I was quite convinced there would be news reports of a van full of tourists that went over the side of the mountain. I've never been so happy to see a paved road in my life. From there, we had to make our way to our hotel.

The protests were going on in the main plaza, which our hotel was very near to. Because of all the people - and because the protests were getting a little less than peaceful - we had to walk to our hotel instead of being dropped off right by it. The girl accompanying us from the bus company had us wait for a little bit while some of the people marching moved away from the part of the square we were heading through. Soon we were at the hotel - but much later than expected. With the road blockages, we decided it was best to not try to get out of the city so we canceled our hike and explored the city today instead.

We visited Santa Catalina monestary, which was like a city within the city, sitting on five acres. The streets and cloisters were beautiful with such interesting architectal aspects, like stairs leading nowhere all over the place. After that, we stopped for a hot chocolate before making our way to Plaza San Francisco for a free walking tour of the city. Our guide, Carlos, took us all around, telling us about the history of the city and then taking us for a few food tastings - chocolate, potatoes and Pisco sours. It was a great way to see the city and something we hadn't planned on doing. After the tour, we stopped at Casa de Moray, a mansion that was quite lovely before heading off to dinner at a restaurant owned by a Peruvian celebrity chef. Now, we can't move. It was an amazing meal - one of the best of all our travels (and not just this trip!)

Tomorrow, it's an early flight to Lima to spend one more day there before flying back home tomorrow night. Vacations always seem to go by too quickly.   

What a couple of days...

by Colleen Morrow in

We survived our Inca Trail hike! We were up before the birds to meet our guide, Hector, for our trek and soon were on our way to catch the train to take us to the start of our hike.  It was so cool in the morning, we were all shivering at breakfast and through the wait for our delayed train. Once on the train, we had a very scenic trip before the train stopped in the middle of nowhere and we got going!

After going down a little path and over a bridge, we got to our starting point Where we got our passports stamped, stopped for a bathroom break and headed off.  We came across our first Incan ruins almost right away, which was a nice way to start the hike. Hector pointed out where we'd be having breakfast and off we went.  We seemed to make pretty good time despite stopping frequently to make sure we were hydrated and to capture all the scenery.  We had blazing sun for most of the pre-lunch portion but did get a bit of rain right before lunch.  The trail was both easier and harder than expected.  We were hiking up more than I would have preferred (but to be fair, we were climbing a mountain) but the trail itself wasn't as uneven or rugged as I thought it would be.  We quickly learned the difference between flat and "Inca flat" and let me tell you - there wasn't a lot of flat.  There were a couple of shelters built along the way which made great places for snacks and longer breaks out of the sun. We certainly earned our lunch, climbing from about 2200m to 2600m in just over three hours. Lunch was right after reaching Winay Wayna and man, it was the best lunch ever.

After that, it was fairly flat for another hour or so to reach Sun Gate where we got our first view Machu Picchu. It was pretty spectacular.  Then, we got to start heading downhill into Machu Picchu which was a nice change from climbing but challenging in its own way. Once at Machu Picchu, we hiked down to Aguas Calientes, reaching the town just after the sun went down. Then it was over to our hotel for hot showers, dinner and bedtime. 

It rained through the night which meant our morning was pretty dreary. We went back up to Machu Picchu for our tour and our hike up Huayna Picchu. Hector guided us around and we watched the fog roll in and out of the mountains.  It burned off in time for our hike Huayna Picchu, which we did in just under an hour. It was no Inca Trail - rough, steep steps that would have been near impossible without the cables that had been bolted into the mountain.  It was totally worth it though. The view from 200m above Machu Picchu and over the entire valley from the top of the mountain was in-freaking-credible. 

Then, it was back down the mountain and back to Aguas Calientes to have lunch and catch our train and bus back to Cusco.  Once back, we had time for dinner before heading to the bus station for our overnight bus to Puno where we are now waiting for our tour to start for Lake Titicaca. 


Adventures in Cusco

by Colleen Morrow in

Oh, Cusco has been an adventure! We had no troubles getting to our plane on time, the flight was smooth and we arrived in Cusco around 9:30 yesterday.  

Since then, it's been non-stop. Well, mostly. Upon arrival, we dropped bags at the hotel, paid for the rest of our Inca Trail trek and then took off to see the big sights.  

We started with Cusco's cathedral where we had audio guides to take us around. It was really beautiful. The Peruvians are very big on their intricate carved altars and choirs. The outside of the building is also very impressive with so much detail in the facade. From there, it was on to Qorikancha, which is a church and convent built on the site of an Incan temple. The Spanish actually destroyed the temple to build their church on its foundation. Kinda rude, if you ask me. We enjoyed the outside the most, I think - where you could see what was left of the Incan temple and see over a good part of the city. 

Then, it was on to Sacsayhuaman. We walked up to the site from the main plaza. And when I say walked up, I mean UP. There were lots of stairs and then some more and then a hill. And then we reached the entrance which was at the base of more stairs. It was worth it, though. It's the remains of an Incan citadel. There's not much left now but we wandered as much as we had the energy for, getting amazing views of the city and mountains. Then it was down all the steps we came up, which was much easier than going up. We stopped for some lunch and discovered why second floor patios are so popular here. We must have had two dozen people come up to our table over the course of lunch and try to sell us stuff. We'be learned our lesson. 

After attempting a nap and having a briefing with our guide for our zip lining and Sacred Valley tour, we ventured out for some dinner. I was starting to think I was going to get waylaid with altitude sickness - my sister and I both had headaches during the day (expected) but I suddenly felt absolutely awful. But, some fresh air seemed to have helped and I've been fine since. I have chalked it up to the paint fumes in our hotel (which deserves its own post...)

Today, we had our Sacred Valley and zip lining tour. We started in Chinchero where we had a demonstration of how the alpaca textiles are made. We got to see some alpacas up-close-and-personal, which I loved. Then, it was on to the church and the Incan ruins it sits at. We had fantastic views of mountains and valleys, seeing more alpacas and Incan terraces used for potato growing. Once we were done there, we spent some time in the Sunday market, which was a nice bonus. 

The next stop was our zip lining - totally, fantastically amazing. It's about 2km long and you can get up to speeds of 120km/h but I couldn't get myself to go very fast. I was definitely the slowest of the bunch. You go right over the valley, dropping a total of about 400m. It was so awesome! 

After stopping at a viewpoint for photos and at a delicious buffet for lunch, we moved on to Ollantaytambo, where we ascended almost to the very top of a set of terraces to what remains of the temple. It was a bit tough going in a few places but the views were worth every minute of huffing and puffing. 

Our final stop for the day was Pisac's ruins. We climbed to the very top of the mountain to view them. The bus took us most of the way up the mountain, to be fair, but once inside, we got to the top and had the most incredible views of the valley and the towns and the mountains. It was breathtaking. Literally. We were at 3400m so even though it was slow and steady going up, we were still breathing very heavily once we made it. 

Then it was back to Cusco for dinner and our briefing for tomorrow's hike on the Inca Trail. We are doing the last 10km and are leaving at 5am for it so I'd better get the alarm set and get some sleep!