Hola from Peru!
We have been in Peru for a little over 2 weeks and are enjoying the country so far. Peru has similar landscape as Bolivia, but has the benefits of being on the coast, economically and otherwise. Although Peru remains a relatively poor country, it appears wealthier than Bolivia at first glance. We have seen less begging children, fewer people living on the streets, and the cities seem more developed in general. Most of the people do not wear traditional clothing and dress in western fashions. Other than Cuzco, most of the cities we have visited are at a lower elevation providing warmer temperatures. . .a very nice change.
Arequipa is 4-5 hour bus ride from the Bolivian border and was our first stop in Peru. It is beautiful colonial city with a Spanish/European feel surrounded by mountains. Arequipa is very clean and full of fun restaurants and interesting sights. Like many Latin American cities, the Plaza de Armes is at the center and is the focal point for the city. The Plaza, lined with tall palm trees, historical buildings and churches, was a buzz of constant activity. The city was especially lively during our visit because of Carnival. Carnival is a huge celebration that starts at the end of February and runs through the first week of March. The biggest party occurs in Rio(Brazil), but most other Latin American cities honor it as well. The celebrations mainly include parades, music, drinking large amounts of alcohol, and water and shaving cream fights. You cannot go on the streets without getting wet. Teenage girls and gringos are the the prime targets, needless to say we got wet, especially Tiff. We stayed at a brand new hostel and ended up being two of their first guests. The owners of the hostel threw us and 2 other travelers a grand opening party to celebrate complete with beer, wine, champagne, and coy (guinea pig), the local delicacy. Guinea pig was fun to try, however, it required a lot of work to find any meat and of course, tasted like chicken. During our stay in Arequipa, we visited several interesting sites including The Monastery of Santa Catalina, The Museum of Santurarios Andinos, and several beautiful churches. The monastery, which is actually a convent, was built in 1580 and for 400 years the nuns remained completely isolated from the outside world. It opened to the public in 1970 after city laws were imposed to install electricity and running water (the nuns needed money to complete the renovations). Today, 20 nuns reside in a small portion of the complex and the rest is open to the public. The convent has been beautifully restored and is filled with religious art and period furniture. It was a relaxing place to spend an afternoon and get a break from the city. The Museum of Santurarios Andinos was opened in 1998 to exhibit ¨Juanita, the ice princess¨, the frozen body of an Inca maiden sacrificed on the summit of Ampato (6380 m) over 500 years ago. The exhibit included a film made by National Geographic depicting the discovery of Juanita as well as other similar expeditions to find more mummies. It was a very fascinating presentation and we learned a lot about the Inca culture, especially relating to human sacrifices...Yikes!
Outside on Arequipa in the Colca Canyon, which is said to be deeper than the Grand Cannon. We did a three-day hike in and out of the canyon, which included swimming in an oasis at the bottom of the canyon, viewing soaring condors (huge birds of prey) at Cruz de la Condor, visiting the hot springs of Chivay, and spending a night in Cabanaconde, a small town known for traditional clothing. Fortunately, we had great weather during the trek and although the hike out was steep and exhausting, it was good training for the Inca trail.
We took the night bus from Arequipa to Cuzco. Cuzco is the archaeological capital of the Americas and the continent's oldest continuously inhabited city. Massive Inca-built stone walls line most of Cuzco's central streets and form the foundation of colonial and modern buildings. Cuzco is large with nearly 300,000 people and is 3326 m above sea level (cold!). The city is loaded with history and multiple sights of interest. We visited several churches and museums, the most interesting being the Cathedral, a church built in 1559, and the Inca Museum. The Incas had no written language and their oral history was passed through the generations. The museum was extremely informative and provided a historical timeline of the Andean people, including the Inca empire. We also visited several ruins outside of Cuzco including Qenko, Sacsayhuaman, and Tipon. About 30 minutes outside of Cuzco is the Sacred Valley of the Incas where we visited the Pisac market, Ollantaytambo ruins, and the village of Chinchero. The valley is spectacular with lush green fields surrounded by snow capped mountains, we hope the pictures do it justice, it really was gorgeous.
The highlight of Cuzco was, of course, the four-day hike to Machu Picchu. We signed up for a tour with an excellent company and they made camping about as luxurious as possible. The porters carried and set up our tents, three amazing meals and afternoon tea (popcorn included) were served daily, and we were woken up with coffee/tea delivered to our tent each morning! It was probably the most well catered trip either of us had ever been on. Our group consisted of 16 other travelers from England, Ireland, Australia, and the US. It was a fun group and combined with the nice weather, we had a fantastic time. A good portion of the trail is original Inca construction and the trail winds through several ruins and over three mountain passes, the highest being Dead Woman's Pass, at 4200 m. On the final day we arrived at Machu Picchu for sunrise and were fortunate to have a clear view. This is the one and only activity we officially planned before leaving Seattle and we were very pleased with the outcome; it was a truly memorable experience.
Back on the night bus, we headed up the coast to Nazca for the day. Nazca is known for it's huge geometric designs and lines drawn in the desert. There are over several dozen different figures representing triangles, rectangles, lines and animals. They are best seen from the air, but we were content seeing them from the observation tower. The lines were made by the Paracas and Nazca cultures during the period from 900 BC to 600 AD. Many theories and questions surround the lines, one theory being that the lines are an astronomical calendar for agricultural purposes. (another theory is that they were drawn by aliens!). After viewing the lines we went to Huacachina, a small lagoon town surrounded by huge sand dunes. We found a cheap place with a pool, played on the dunes and relaxed for two nights.
Close to Huacuchina is Pisco, a town that shares its' name with the white-grape brandy produced in this region. Peru's national drink is a Pisco Sour and tastes kind of like a margarita. It is made with sugar, lemon, Pisco and egg whites. We did a wine tour where we saw the traditional Pisco production (smashing grapes with feet) and toured Islas Ballestas and Pennisula de Paracas. These two areas are nicked named the ¨Poor Man's Galapagos¨ and are known for their enormous bird and marine life populations. We saw millions of birds and hundreds of sea lions and although smelly, it was a pretty impressive sight.
We arrived in Lima yesterday and are planning our last few excursions before flying home. Keep your eyes peeled for one last entry (thank god, huh?) and we look forward to seeing everyone soon.
Tiff and Brad
March 13, 2006