Perú: July 23-August 3

Route: Puno, Arequipa, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lima

Route: Puno, Arequipa, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Lima

Fortunately, the Bolivia/Perú border crossing was much calmer than the Argentina/Bolivia border crossing. In fact, it was the most relaxing border crossing in my life. Our bus stopped, we go out, went to an office on the Bolivian side and got an exit stamp, walked a few hundred feet, saw this:

At the Bolivia/Perú border

At the Bolivia/Perú border

Then we walked into an office in Perú, got an entry stamp, and then changed over our currency. A few hours later we were in Puno. I have always, always wanted to see the Uros floating islands but she wanted to get to Arequipa, so we parted ways. I am so, so glad I went. We got there late afternoon just as the sun was starting to go down.

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The islands are made of reeds that are sitting on top of big blocks of mud. When you walk, your feet kind of sink into the reeds with each step. They get around from island to island by boat.

We got to spend about an hour there — walking around one of the islands, learning about how they float, about how they get electricity (solar panels), etc. They speak Aymara, an indigenous language, so unfortunately communication was kept to a minimum. Nonetheless, I totally enjoyed the experience:

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Being at the Uros Islands at sunset was an experience I will never forget.

I spent the night in Puno and the next morning I went to Arequipa. I was excited to go, because one of my Rotarians in Milwaukee, Richard, did the Peace Corps in Arequipa and spends a lot of time there every year. I fell in love with the city, and felt like it was an authentic, unique “Perú” — Cuzco is so overrun by tourists and Lima is like any enormous city.

I was in Arequipa the day before the “Fiestas Patrias,” so the entire town was decorated with Peruvian flags.

The plaza in Arequipa

The plaza in Arequipa

Sunset in front of the cathedral in the plaza

I saw two really cool things while in Arequipa. First, the Santa Catalina de Siena Monastery. 1579 and kept expanding it over time — it now covers an entire square city block and is literally a city within a city. Apparently in the 1970s, civic authorities insisted the monastery install electricity and running water. So the now poor community of nuns  decided to open the greater portion of the monastery to the public in order to pay for the work. The few remaining nuns retreated to a corner of their community. (From About.com)

The monastery in Arequipa -- it's literally an entire city behind brick walls

The monastery in Arequipa — it’s literally an entire city behind brick walls

Looking down into the monastery from a lookout point

Looking down into the monastery from a lookout point

I also visited Museo Santuarios Andinos,  run by one of the universities in Arequipa, and they have Mummy Juanita, AKA Inca Ice Maiden, on display. They are SO strict with cameras, etc. so I couldn’t take a picture. But here’s one from Wikipedia.

Inca Ice Maiden Juanita

We have a similar thing in a museum in Salta, and the museums have actually worked together because they are the only museums in the world that have such well-preserved mummies from Incan times. There’s something just so fascinating to me about ancient empires and the evidence we have about them today.

So, I soaked up the history and also indulged in the present… I had Starbucks for the first time since mid-January. Also they forgot to charge me for the pastry I ordered, so it was an especially exciting moment after I shelled out more than $4 USD for a coffee.

STARBUCKS!

STARBUCKS!

My time in Arequipa came to an end and I managed to find a flight to Cuzco for just a little more than the price of an overnight bus. Worth it! Somehow I got a free upgrade to first class, which came with my own TV screen, episodes of Modern Family and 2 Broke Girls, free drinks and snacks, and a place to charge my iPod… during the 33-minute flight. But trust me, I made the most of it.

Flying over the Colca Canyon on my way to Cuzco

Flying over the Colca Canyon on my way to Cuzco

After arriving in Cuzco I met up with the guide for our Machu Picchu tour. Loni took the overnight bus and there was a ton of miscommunication, so she spent the morning wandering around the city trying to find the tour guide and she also got hit by a car… right before starting our 5-day hike. I didn’t know where she was and after sending her a Facebook message and leaving a note at our Cuzco hostel, I took advantage of the 5 hours before our tour started to visit Cuzco.

The Plaza de Armas in Cuzco

The Plaza de Armas in Cuzco

The lookout over Cuzco from San Blas

The lookout over Cuzco from San Blas

My Rotarian, Richard, warned me to leave time in Cuzco to enjoy the city in addition to doing the tour, and I didn’t listen to him… huge regret. I LOVED Cuzco, but will definitely be making a trip back to Perú in the future and will spend many days in the city. It’s gorgeous, Colonial, the people are lovely, and the weather was incredible.

Unfortunately I had to leave the lovely city to go off on a 5-day Machu Picchu hiking trek adventure. Loni and I went with our particular guide/his company on the recommendation of a friend. I regret this decision immensely. Yes, we did see Machu Picchu, and we did some of the things outlined to us on the itinerary. But it was literally the most disorganized, absent-minded 5 days of my life and our guide did not stick to his word at all. The biggest problem? He told us we would be at Machu Picchu to see the sunrise, and we got there about 1.5 hours after the sun rose, completely ruining the moment and taking an experience I really wanted to have away from me. Despite a lot of the horrible things and being frustrated for 5 days, we did see amazing things and I am proud of myself for doing the hike instead of taking the train or the bus.

Stopping and resting at a beautiful lookout point on the 2nd day of the hike

Stopping and resting at a beautiful lookout point on the 2nd day of the hike

Much of the hike on day 2 was like this -- straight jungle.

Much of the hike on day 2 was like this — straight jungle.

Walking along the railroad tracks on day 3.

Walking along the railroad tracks on day 3.

In the bottom left, look hard. There's a bridge. That's where we started our hike the day we made it to MP. The busses go on the road that weaves up the mountain. We climbed stairs that go straight up the side of the mountain, and cross the road several times. It took more than an hour.

In the bottom left, look hard. There’s a bridge. That’s where we started our hike the day we made it to MP. The busses go on the road that weaves up the mountain. We climbed stairs that go straight up the side of the mountain, and cross the road several times. It took more than an hour.

This is the glorious sight at the top

This is the glorious sight at the top that makes the hike worth it all

On top of the world

On top of the world

So well-designed and beautiful!

So well-designed and beautiful!

On the way out of Machu Picchu

On the way out of Machu Picchu

To me, the best thing about Machu Picchu is that no one knows what it was actually used for. We spent about 8 hours there, just walking around and taking it all in. The worst thing is that there are so many tourists that it actually ruins the experience, because you are constantly trying to get away from other people and huge guided groups. It’s funny, too, because you hear 3 different stories about what each part of Machu Picchu was used for if you stand in the same place long enough. No one knows what anything was for, so everyone just makes up their own version based on “research” and “history.”

At Machu Picchu, I also was dealing with a staph infection on my left calf… a bug bite (could’ve been spider, mosquito, who knows) got infected during the trek because, well, you’re sleeping in tents and have very limited access to clean anything. By the time I got to the top of Machu Picchu I was in tears because my leg hurt that bad. There’s a clinic at the entrance, however, that gave me some incredibly strong antibiotics, anti-inflamatory meds, and painkillers, so by that night I was feeling a lot better. The rest of the trip I kept a close eye on it and cleaned it many times a day, and I’m happy to say that my leg is totally fine and no one will have to amputate my leg. Thank god I didn’t have access to WebMD at the time, I totally would’ve freaked out that much more… haha.

After getting back to Cuzco, Loni and I boarded a plane to Lima to avoid a 20-24 hour bus ride to the Peruvian capital city. Waiting for us were Christina, a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar 2013-2014 studying public nutrition, and her boyfriend Alfredo. He drove us into Lima and immediately I was overwhelmed with the chaos of the enormous city… I was reminded why I chose to live somewhere small and calm like Salta. We got lunch and then headed to Felix and Elena’s home where we would stay for the next 2 nights. They are Rotarians and Christina’s “Peruvian parents” and she lived with them when she first got to Lima. They took great care of us. Here they are (photo stolen from  Christina’s Facebook):

Elena and Felix

Elena and Felix

The next day we set off to explore the touristy part of Lima — Miraflores district (where we had Starbucks) and the center.

Another plaza in Lima

A plaza in Lima

Loni in one of the plazas in Lima

Loni in another one of the plazas in Lima

Felix and Elena live down the street from a mall that had (I’m not even kidding): Zara, Mango, Coach, Chanel, Armani, a store with all major designer cosmetics, Cinnabon, TGI Friday’s, Chili’s, and Pinkberry froyo. I may have gone there all 3 days we were in Lima… haha. Besides the amazing mall, they also have a grocery store called Wong that sells SO many imported food products. I bought all of this stuff while in Lima and let me tell you, it was totally worth lugging everything back in my backpack.

American food :)

American food 🙂

Felix and Elena took great care of us, and it was awesome to meet more Rotarians! The last day of the trip Loni had to leave early for the airport, but my flight wasn’t until nighttime. Their kids came over for lunch, we enjoyed a big Peruvian meal, and their son drove me to the airport. I left Peru with memories of amazingly warm and caring people, gorgeous sights, and a desire to return someday and spend more time exploring the lovely country.

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