The beach was just what the doctor ordered for us.  Perfect temperatures, a divine place to stay (Casa Amelia), and amazing food.  Oh, and cremoladas - delicious shaved ices flavored with fruits.  My favorite combo was passion fruit and coconut.  Life changing.  All we did each day was eat and visit the beach while catching up on our leisure reading. 

Hiking in Huaraz

After two days a sea level (one of which, Eric was unfortunately sick), we headed back to the mountains again.  This time we were staying at 10,000 feet in Huaraz.  The trekking there is supposed to be other worldly and we were recommended to go there by a blog we follow, LivingIf.  Unfortunately this being the rainy seasons we didn't get quite the views we had seen online, but nonetheless, they were spectacular.  I can only imagine if all those other mountains were out how insanely beautiful it would have been.  This is definitely an area that we will visit again for longer trekking!

Our first hike to acclimate was to a lake called Wilcacococha.  We were assured the trail was well marked and we would find the lake easily.  Well... we did find the lake but never once saw a trail marker!  A trusty guide dog, whom we named Stella, came with us for the whole 2 hour hike up.  She even stuck with us when a group of 5 dogs surrounded us and Eric had to throw rocks at them to get them to retreat!  Here are some photos from the day!

Next we headed out for the most well-known day trek in the area, to Laguna 69.  We were told the colors of the lake were amazing and that the mountains would loom above us - meaningful since the lake was at 15,000 feet so the surrounding mountains would be 20,000!  We first stopped at these lakes to take some stunning photos.  (click to enlarge)

After the 3 hour car ride, it was time to hike!  The weather went from hot, to cold, to raining, more times than we could keep track of.  Jackets on.  Off.  Gloves.  More sunscreen.  The variable weather was worth the views or the lake.  Over the course of three hours we hiked up to 15,111 feet - the highest either of us has ever been! 

We returned back to Huaraz to enjoy some much-deserved beers before our overnight bus to Huanchaco. 

More photos from the Sacred Valley

We met up with two of our friends from Chalten, Argentina in Ollantaytambo, a small town about 2 hours outside of Cusco.  It was so fun to have friends in the area to share meals with and to hike together.  We had beautiful weather for this great hike together up to ruins that were Pre-Inka. 

Another day we explore the ruins of Ollantaytambo.  The views were pretty stunning and worth sharing!

Machu Picchu

As anyone who has traveled to Machu Picchu knows, it's a race to get in.  The first ones through the gates are rewarded with photos of an empty lost city and can experience the serene beauty with the birds chirping.  Just hours after our first photos were taken, some 2,000 people were inside the same walls.  The empty city we entered became filled with tourists taking the strangest photos.  Even so, the beauty of Machu Picchu cannot be denied and we loved our time there.  Here was our schedule for the day:

4:39 wake up
4:49 breakfast to quickly wrap up some bread and butter
5:00 leave hotel
5:06 in the line for bus
5:33 we are the 2nd on the 3rd bus headed to Machu Picchu
5:34 bus takes off!
6:01 arrive
6:11 in!
7:20 signed in to climb Waynapicchu
8:10 reached the summit for some breakfast and photos
9:50 signed out after spending a long time waiting for Sarah to take the stairs down
12:36 lunch break and breaking regulations
 2:12 bus ride back to Aguas Calientes to catch our train back to Ollantaytambo. 

Impressive Inkas

We aren't even in Machu Picchu yet, but have been spending the last few days around Cusco, Peru, exploring the Sacred Valley and what remains from when Inkas were here.  After meeting a new friend, Rae, at our hostal, and running into two other friends from Argentina, we had a great group of 5 to explore with.  The first day we headed to Saqsaywaman, Pukapukara, and Tambomachay.  We hopped on a collectivo bus that dropped us off at the last stop and then walked through each site and back into Cusco.  It was a great afternoon with beautiful vistas. 

Our next day in Cusco, Rae, Eric, and myself headed off for the town of Maras, and the remains of Moray.  Moray was an agricultural experiment, using terracing down a valley to try growing foods at different temperatures.  Pictures do not do this impressive place justice.  We couldn't stop saying how sad it was the Spaniards destroyed the Inkas as the Inkas were obviously on to something!

Our next day adventure was off to Pisac, a town about 35km outside of Cusco.  We were back to the 5 of us, and all met to board the collectivo for an hour ride (at $1 each!).  We paid for a cab to the top of the ruins and after being over run with tour buses full of tourists we headed to walk back through beautiful fields and ancient ruins.  The walk back was stunning and multiple stops were needed for all the stunning vistas.  The hike was completed with delicious street food (Eric's favorite lunch to date) and sliced watermelon.  A fantastic day!

Lake Titicaca

We spent 3 nights in Puno, a small city on Lake Titicaca.  We saw a lot here: endless VW bugs (and yes we play "slugbugs" with slapping), a beautiful lake that unfortunately has been polluted, a man going to the restroom near the lake, and little boys peeing on the streets.  As I list these I feel like I'm unfairly painting a picture of Puno because we actually really enjoyed our time there.  We stayed in a funky hostal, Casa Panqarani, played lots of cribbage, and did some trip research for our trip with Max and Kristin in a few months.  We also did a tour of the floating Islands, Uros, and one of the other main islands, Taquile.  The first floating island we visited was a bit awkward.  They preformed a song for us and showed us how they built their floating islands.  Eric compared it to being in a petting zoo.  They then made sad faces at us, wanting us to buy their kitschy souvenirs. 

We then spent 2 delightful hours on the boat napping and enjoying being on the water again.  As I closed my eyes for a nap I pretended I was on the boat coming home from Dinner Island :)

We arrived at Taquile for a short hike (this altitude: 12,503 feet) is no joke!  We had a delicious trout lunch and then walked around the island taking photos.  The people on this island live without animals for transport, motors of any kind, or electricity.  They grow the majority of their food besides rice.  They have cows for milk and sheep for wool.  No donkeys even because the stone is too rough for the hooves.  The island was only opened to outsiders a few years ago.  I think sadly they need the tourist money for infrastructure but none seemed too excited to see foreigners. 

Overall we were glad for the tour and to spend time on the Lake.  Our guide says they are trying to clean up the lake, which we hope to be true.  Next on to Cusco!

Monasterio de Santa Catalina

We went to a beautiful and interesting monastery this morning in Arequipa.  Here are some photos - with all the gorgeous colors it was impossible to take a bad photo!

We splurged on a guide for the tour and were so glad.  She explained about the monastery that it is a city within a city as these are Cloister nuns that once they enter the monastery will not leave again.  The city has roads, laundry, kitchens, orchards, houses, everything you'd need.  Family could only visit and talk through wooden screens - it's hard to imagine never hugging your parents again after the age of 12! 

Here's more of a detailed explanation from Wikipedia:

It was built in 1579 and was enlarged in the 17th century. The over 20,000-square-meter monastery was built predominantly in the Mudéjar style, and is characterized by its vividly painted walls. There are approximately 20 nuns currently living in the northern corner of the complex; the rest of the monastery is open to the public.[citation needed]

The foundress of the monastery was a rich widow, Maria de Guzman. The tradition of the time indicated that the second son or daughter of a family would enter a life of service in the Church, and the monastery accepted only women from upper class Spanish families. Each family paid a dowry at their daughter's admission to the monastery. The dowry expected of a woman who wished to enter as a choir nun--indicated by wearing a black veil—and who thereby accepted the duty of the daily recitation of the Divine Office, was 2,400 silver coins, equivalent to about $150,000 (U.S.) today. The nuns were also required to bring 25 listed items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. The wealthiest nuns may have brought fine English china and silk curtains and rugs. Although it was possible for poorer nuns to enter the convent without paying a dowry, it can be seen from the cells that most of the nuns were very wealthy.

In 1871 Sister Josefa Cadena, O.P., a strict Dominican nun, was sent by Pope Pius IX to reform the monastery. She sent the rich dowries back to Europe, and freed all the servants and slaves, giving them the choice of either remaining as nuns or leaving. In addition to the stories of outrageous wealth, there are tales of nuns becoming pregnant, and amazingly of the skeleton of a baby being discovered encased in a wall. This, in fact, did not happen in Santa Catalina, and there are rumors of the same story in the nearby Santa Rosa monastery, as well.

At its height,the monastery housed approximately 450 people (about a third of them nuns and the rest servants) in a cloistered community. In the 1960s, it was struck twice by earthquakes, severely damaging the structures, and forcing the nuns to build new accommodation next door. It was then restored in stages by groups including Promociones Turisticas del Sur S.A. and World Monuments Fund and opened to the public. This also helped pay for the installation of electricity and running water, as required by law.

Trying to see Machu Picchu

So you want to see one of the 7 wonders of the world, right?  Well we came thisclose to not going to Machu Picchu because of how RIDICULOUS it is to try to book tickets.  We spent the better part of a day on the government websites trying to get tickets for Machu Picchu and on the Inka Rail site trying to reserve our train tickets to get to Aguas Calientes.  The B&B owners where we are staying tried to help.  We read every Trip Advisor forum on the subject (and there are many, all reflecting the frustrations we were feeling).  A former coworker of Eric's tried to help us.  We logged into different internet browsers, tried different cards, and talked to each of our banks so they would help the "Verified by Visa" process go smoothly.

And after all of that it would be great to say we got tickets on our own.  But instead, we got to spend the day frustrated and then we got to pay some $100 for a travel agent to book our tickets for us.  And for tickets that are already making this our most expensive travel day to date ($286 for train tickets and $150 for Machu Picchu) it just makes us feel like we are getting taken for every dollar we have. 

Fingers crossed we will be printing out those tickets we worked so hard, and paid so much for, in the coming days. 

Rant over.

The white city: Arequipa

After VIP seating on our night bus from Ica to Arequipa, we arrived to beautiful city and hotel!  Searching Trip Advisor I emailed the #1 BnB, Beausejour, to see their rates and seeing as they are the nicest people ever, decided to have a soft spot for us, and give us an amazing rate for their new, lovely BnB.  Despite them only speaking French/Spanish, and our long-ago high school French and now elementary level Spanish, we have interesting conversations and seem to get along quite well.  Their breakfasts each morning have been incredible, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit juice, freshly cut fruit, coffee, and tea, all served on platters that would make my mom jealous.  It has been quite the treat!

When we finally muster up the energy to leave our lovely garden oasis we have been treated to what I remember as being a more typical Peruvian city.  The Plaza de Armas is packed with people, so much so there aren't enough benches for those searching to rest.  Packed with locals selling everything from bubbles to photos of themselves, one never tires of looking around.  Yesterday we did a free walking tour, finding it was free for a reason, but still got to see some pretty areas of Arequipa that we might have otherwise missed.  Click any photo below to enlarge.

The next day we ventured off to the Casa del Moral, an old traditional house in the center of the city that shows how the wealthy used to live.  However, what I enjoyed more than the stories of those who used to live there were the colors and shapes found around the house.  Such vibrant colors!

Photos from the market in Ica

Luis took us around the market one morning for breakfast.  Here were some of the scenes. Click to enlarge!

Ica, Peru

As I emailed to a friend, if we weren’t staying in the best AirBnB ever, we would have left this taxi filled, endless honking, and dirty town upon arrival. But since we are luckily staying with Luis we are having a blast and becoming gordo with all the delicious food.  After arriving in the afternoon by bus we spent the evening Pisco tasting and learning about the process at the distillery.  Eric and Luis enjoyed jars of pisco and I had one wine for myself.  The desert like climate lends itself to sweet grapes so the wines that come from this region are much sweeter.  We capped off the night going on a food tour of all the street food in Ica, enjoying soup, cow heart, sandwiches, Peruvian donuts (Eric’s favorite), and chocolate treats.  It was a blast.

The next morning we went hunting for mangos, trying some 10 different kinds right off the trees for breakfast.  A few streets over a woman sells cremolatas – delicious shaved ice covered with fresh fruit juice.  We sat there and enjoyed 1 after another!  No other flavor could compare to the passion fruit flavor.

That evening we went to a little chicken rotisserie that was filled with locals enjoying dinner together. We capped off dinner with ice cream, watching the kids around the town square.  It’s impressive that even in such a small town there’s a charming town square where families, singles, and elderly can all gather together.   Another favorite of the town square is delicious fruit ice cream that is less than a $1! 

Monday we headed further into the desert to see huge sand dunes and go sand boarding.   In our flip flops we opted for throwing ourselves face first off of the dunes, sliding, mouth filled with sand to the bottom.  Despite sand being everywhere afterwards it was a blast!  I’m not sure where else in the world we could have experienced something like this!

The poor man's Galapagos

Nicknamed the poor man's Galapagos by Lonely Planet, and us still uncertain about our funds to visit the real deal, we had to see the Islas Ballestas.  Our home base for this excursion happened to not be in the guide book, the AirBnB we found was a bit misleading but off we went in search for adventure.  Well, we found adventure!  The AirBnB happened to be in the bus terminal, yes we hear and see all the buses arriving and departing from this small town (which surprisingly there are a lot of buses) and on a pretty busy road.  Disappointed, we stumbled into town, chorused by taxis honking at us as soon as they saw us on the road and until they had long since passed us. 

Town is puzzling.  It looks like money was poured into this town to get it set up as a tourist destination but the town never quite got there.  Buildings aren't quite done.  The town center is a bit rundown with empty buildings and a lot of restaurants that look pretty much the same and all aggressively try to convince you to dine at their own restaurant.  That said it was surprising that down the boardwalk a little ways there are mansions, beautiful landscaped and complete with pools.  The mansions are set right off the Pacific, a beautiful setting but because of the putrid smell of rotting isn't that majestic.  Maybe that's why their windows were closed?  And where do they eat?

At any rate, the delicious street food we had for dinner had us liking the town a lot better and by the time we tasted the mangoes they produce here we were ready to forgive the AirBnB for it's location because at least it got us to this city.  While we had a good enough time here we are excited to move on to the next city today, Ica. 

Here are some photos from our morning at the Islas Ballestas.  We got to see the three-pronged Candelabra, way too many sea lions, cormorants, and pelicans.  Not present were the dolphins and penguins - the things I was most excited for. 

We have arrived in Lima, Peru!

We have landed safe in Peru! After an early 3:30AM wake-up, we found ourselves at the airport waiting for our 7:30a departure to Lima from Santiago.  We arrived in Lima 4 hours later, due to the time change though, it was only 9:30a and we set off to explore. 

One thing to note is how different the experience in Lima was from when I visited some 13 years ago with my family.  My family was on a Geographic Expeditions trip that visited the top cities in Peru while learning about the Inca civilization, hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, and then we went on an excursion through the jungle.  I had warned Eric about how dangerous and seedy Lima was and we planned to only stay one night to get out as quickly as possible.  However, what I described in detail to Eric was unlike the city we arrived.  The car we hired  went along the Pacific Ocean, not through the shanty towns I remembered.  There was blue sky and it was sunny.  People were out on the beach running, surfing, and tanning.  Walking around our neighborhood of Miraflores we felt completely safe and pretty much could always see one police in sight.  It’s always a welcome surprise to arrive somewhere and have your impression to be completely better than you thought! 

After spending some time watching all the cats (??? still trying to figure out why there were so many in this park!) in Parque Central we went off to see Huaca Pucllana, a pre-Inca site for ceremonial and mystical offerings.  The city now surrounds this historic site that is slowly being rebuilt to show how it looked in AD500.  It was pretty amazing to see these remains in the middle of such a bustling city!  Here are some photos from our day.

After a day of exploration we went to dinner with a former coworker of Eric’s that by huge coincidence happened to be in Lima at the same time we were. Bos, Eric’s counterpart in the Netherlands, took us out to a delicious cebiche (they don’t spell it with a “v”… adding to our confusion in Peru about the names of things!) dinner, complete with our first Pisco Sours.  The restaurant was right on the water with ocean mist spraying over our table.  I can’t help but feel a pang of nostalgia when smelling the Pacific Ocean!  It was a long but very fun day. 

We were up early with the time change and are now off to explore this morning before we head to the small town of Ica this afternoon.