Tag Archives: South America Trip

Lima, Peru – Part 2

Finally, this post concludes our wonderful trip to South America!

We spent our last few days in the non-touristy but interesting capital of Peru: Lima. First things first…it was HOT there! I had to go to the store to buy shorts and a tank top (remember this is January). Second, since Lima is not a big tourist destination, we stood out, especially Joel. Some kids openly gawked at big blond Joel with his huge beard!

We took a highly-recommended private tour of the city, where we stopped at San Martin Square in the historic City Center.

In the middle of the plaza is the monument to San Martin, the liberator of Peru.

This is the front of the monument. Our guide told us a funny story: When the monument was being constructed, the sculptor was told to add a “llama” or flame to the top of the lady’s  head. The sculptor thought they meant llama, like the animal (which is very important in Peru), so he put the animal on her head (look closely). I’m glad they kept it.

We  saw the Lima Cathedral:

We toured the church of San Francisco and its catacombs, but you can’t take pictures inside:

This is Love Park in Miraflores, where there are lovely mosaic benches, reminiscent of Park Guell in Barcelona. The sculpture behind us (“The Kiss”) was done by Victor Delfin, the owner of the bed and breakfast where we stayed. Also right after we took this picture, some guys jumped out of a van, ran up and painted some white paint on the black part of the sculpture then ran away. We had no idea what that was about…unfortunately it seemed like vandalism.

Lima is not known for its beaches by any means, but we spent a little time at the one down below where we were staying (upper left corner). At one point, we started counting the unbelievable number of items vendors tried to sell us while we sat there. It was quite the variety.

Joel took some time and did a little mountain biking (kind of funny since we live in CO, but he loved it). Side note: Notice that Joel has no beard in this picture. He couldn’t handle the beard in the heat, so we bought clippers at a store, and he shaved it. At least we own clippers now.

We visited the Larco Museum, where we saw a large collection of Pre-Colombian art and had a lovely lunch at their cafe.

On our last night, we ventured to the very popular, almost locals-only Magic Water Circuit. This is an extremely cheap activity where you see maybe 20 large fountains lit up with different lights.  This was a fun night – a couple of girls asked to have their picture taken with us (you know, the gringos), and then later when we were looking at different areas, I found another girl getting her picture made with Joel. So funny…we figure we’re on someone’s facebook.

And thus concludes the amazing South American adventure. Special thanks to American Airlines for the free (plus taxes) flights and to Trip Advisor and random peoples’ blogs for helping us research. :)

Lima, Peru – Part 1

After spending New Years’ Eve in Cusco, we headed back to Lima for the duration of our trip. We stayed at a bed and breakfast called Second Home Peru. Lima is neither beautiful nor touristy, and one of our taxi drivers told us this was the best place to stay in Lima. The back of the home is on the cliff overlooking the ocean, so it was lovely to sit out on the deck or in the yard to see the sunset.

Second Home is the former home of artist Victor Delfin, so the home is full of paintings and sculptures by Delfin. It is run by his daughters, but I believe his quarters are adjacent to the b&b. Following are many pictures of the home, inside and out.

And finally, the view from the beach back up at the house (center):

Machu Picchu, Peru

History lesson: Why is Machu Picchu such a big deal? It’s a big deal because it was basically the only Inca site that wasn’t ever found/damaged by the Spanish and is therefore much more intact. It was “discovered” by non-locals in 1911, so they were wrapping up the 100 year anniversary while we were there.

We knew we’d get the best pictures if we took the first bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu in the morning, so we lined up in the rain at 5:30 to ride the 3.7 switchbacked miles up. Along the way, we passed several extremely miserable-looking people walking up. Although the walk is strenuous, it looked horrible in the rain. Several people tried in vain to flag down the bus, which seems to stop for no one.

When we arrived, hoping to grab that iconic postcard photo before the throngs of tourists descended into the ruins, we were disappointed to be able to see only part of the clouded site.

As we proceeded through the day, the fog gradually lifted, revealing the unbelievable sight before us.

Temple of the Sun – look at that construction!:

Several llamas make their homes at Machu Picchu.

How did they move that huge rock??

When we arrived in Aguas Calientes the day before, we went immediately to the ticket office to pay for our Machu Picchu reservations. Somehow, the man couldn’t find our reservations, which had included a hike up Huayna Picchu. We were SO thankful we weren’t there in the high season, because there is no way we would have gotten tickets. When we got a new reservation, we were unable to hike Huayna Picchu, but we did get tickets to hike up Cerro Machu Picchu, which has a view of Huayna Picchu. Cerro Machu Picchu is a hike straight up about a million stairs, which are actual stairs the Incas used to gain the top of the mountain. The bronchitis I mentioned in an earlier post made this hike very uncomfortable for me, but I finally finished.

From the top, after I recovered enough to muster a smile. Look for tiny Machu Picchu down below.

And finally, our most grand view of Machu Picchu:

 

 

Aguas Calientes, Peru

Augas Calientes is the gateway to Machu Picchu, an expensive train/bus ride away from Cusco. We took a car that had windows in the roof so you can get a better view of the surrounding terrain, including some ruins and terraces.

While in Aguas, we attempted a hike up Putucusi, but were turned away because the crucial ladders near the beginning had been washed out.  However, we were able to pick up an unfortunate amount of trash along the way and gain this nice view of the town and the raging Urubamba River. We were also reminded of the misery of hiking in extreme humidity, which I made sure to complain about during the 20 minutes or so we actually got to hike.

Because we wanted to get to Machu Picchu early in the morning, we needed to spend a night in Aguas. We stayed at Gringo Bill’s and enjoyed a nice meal in the surprisingly deserted Tree House restaurant. At the Tree House, we decided to go for it: trying the traditional Peruvian delicacy of “cuy” (prounounced ‘quee’). It’s guinea pig if you didn’t know. We found it a bit greasy but were glad we tried it, despite the obviously non-traditional presentation.

Sacred Valley, Peru

While in Cusco, we took a tour of the Sacred Valley to see more Inca sites. Unfortunately our tour guide was absolutely horrible, making the day long and miserable. Luckily the price was worth the bus trip alone, as it would be extremely difficult to see all these sites without an organized tour.

We began the day at a tourist-trap handicraft market featuring fake alpaca items among other things. We then moved to the Pisaq ruins, which featured terraces formerly used for farming, hillside tombs that had been unfortunately raided, and village ruins.

Below the ruins is the current village of Pisaq which has a regionally famous market (especially with tourists from Cusco). It was raining the day we went, but we were able to see most of it anyway. The picture below is an example of the ubiquitous handicraft stall, found literally everywhere in Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Aguas Calientes.

This lady is in her regular clothes, as far as we know. This isn’t the pay for picture costume!

We then went to lunch at a place that had a buffet, tons of tourists, and the animals below. It was a strange and beautiful place, but it provided a much-needed break from our tour guide.

After lunch, we traveled on to Ollantaytambo, another Inca town, where our guide proceeded to over-pronounce the name dozens of times, just to make sure we knew what it was called. To add insult to injury, at this site we couldn’t help our longing as we were near the great tour guide we had the day before while he led a Spanish-speaking group this day. I do think the ruins at Ollantaytambo were the most interesting on on the tour.

We finished our tour in Chinchero, where we watched a demonstration by girls in traditional costume about how to dye wool. I bought a scarf at their dimly lit market after they made such a big deal about everything being alpaca. When I got it out later, in full light, I noticed the telltale shiny threads of acrylic. At least I wondered how they could sell it for a good price if it was really alpaca!

 

 

Cusco, Peru

Oh Cusco, the land of handicrafts. By the time we left, I thought I’d die if I was offered another handicraft (I’ll have a picture of handicrafts in the next post).

We stayed at the Hotel Rumi Punku, which had nice rooms and a beautiful courtyard. With the exception of one weird interaction with a staff member regarding a dinner reservation, our stay there was great. We stayed before and after our visit to Machu Picchu, and they let us keep extra luggage there as well as pay for both stays at the end.

While in Cusco, we inquired about a city tour and took the one our hotel recommended. We had a fabulous tour guide and really enjoyed it. The tour was a great way to get slightly outside the city easily to see sites such as Sacsayhuamán.

We started in the city center at the Cusco Cathedral (you can’t take pictures inside):

Next, we walked to the Qorikancha, a temple from the Inca Empire. Inca construction is full of super smooth, perfectly interlocking stones, as seen below at the Temple of the Sun, the most important place in the Qorikancha.

We then moved to the outskirts of the city to see Sacsayhuamán, the former capital of the Inca empire, which featured more amazing stone work.

There was a beautiful overlook of Cusco at Sacsayhuaman:

At Sacsayhuaman was a common site – woman with llama dressed in traditional costume who asks you for $5 after you take your picture with her. We knew this and captured this picture from far away. I fully intended to go for it and pay for a picture at some point, but we somehow never got around to it.

We continued on to Qenqo, Tambomachay, and Pukapukara. While at Pukapukara, I snagged some “cholo con queso” which is an ear of huge-kerneled corn with a piece of cheese. It seems to be a popular street food, so we went for it. Mmm…

Finally we ended the tour at an expensive shop featuring alpaca fur items.

 

Peru

After a money-saving but sleepless night in the Punta Arenas airport, we began our journey to Peru. We flew from P.A. to Santiago, touching down in Puerto Montt along the way. As we flew, we saw many volcanoes out the plane window! We then flew from Santiago to Lima. The flight arrives too late in Lima to fly to Cusco, so we had to wait a night.

We were swindled into a rip-off taxi and made our way to the only reasonable hotel we could find that wasn’t an hour away from the airport. The taxi driver made the trip take much longer than necessary, with his “value-added” site-seeing. As we drove, I was alarmed at the fumes coming in the car. Apparently Lima has the worst pollution of the South American capitals, and I developed a lovely case of bronchitis that day that would linger through the rest of our trip.

We finally arrived at a special place, the Hotel Gran Mundo. Through an adjoining door to the right was a casino. Through an adjoining door to the left was a Chinese/Peruvian restaurant. We ate there, as it was the only place around, but the experience was much more memorable than the food. I found out later that “chifa” is a style of food that is a mix of Chinese and Peruvian, a relic of immigration from 100 years ago resulting from the lack of availability of Chinese ingredients in Peru.

Thus began our time in Peru, followed by a flight the next morning to Cusco.

Here’s the lobby of the Hotel Gran Mundo. From left to right: Chinese calendar (?) and urn, stuffed deer with fake tree, casino games. Awesome.

Punta Arenas, Chile (Penguin Alert!)

Our last stop in Chile was heading back to Punta Arenas, where our flight landed around 10 days before. We stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast called Tragaluz and spent some time checking out the city.

The big event of our time in Punta Arenas was visiting the Isla Magdalena National Park to view the penguin colony, where I believe they said 150,000 penguins live! You’ll see below that one of them was very interested in my shoe and nibbled on my shoelaces. It was really hard to obey the strict “do not touch” rule! Also, see the baby penguins below – their fur is soft and fuzzy when they’re born.

Bernardo O’Higgins National Park

After finishing our trek, we decided to stay another day in Puerto Natales. Wanting to see something else interesting, we took a boat into Bernardo O’Higgins National Park to see some glaciers. This was a pricey excursion, and we probably would have enjoyed something else more if we had done more planning from home. Instead, we went in a travel agency, asked what was available for the next day, and made the most of it!

We started out on a big boat in the sound which floated by the Balmaceda Glacier.

Then our boat docked at the entrance of Bernardo O’Higgins National Park so we could walk out to view the Serrano Glacier. The guide gave us some information on how the glacier has receded over time. When they started doing the tours, the glacier was out past the observation deck where we’re standing!

At this point, we started the second part of our day – the zodiac tour. We donned our fat suits to prepare for the chilly journey and rode the zodiac up through the areas that are too narrow for the boat. The goal is to get a beautiful view of the cuernos at Torres del Paine National Park. Unfortunately, it was a bad weather day, so we never had a clear view. We did have a nice lunch stop at an estancia with another zodiac full of Japanese tourists.

 

Torres del Paine National Park, Day 5

Day 5 was the final day of our hike, completing the right/east side of the W by viewing the park’s namesake, the Torres del Paine. Torres means “towers” in Spanish, and Paine means “blue” in the Tehuelche Indian language. We began our day about 3:30 AM to arrive at the towers in time for sunrise. It was quite chilly up there, but it was well worth our time!

We were glad we took a sleeping bag up there.

Here are a few phases of the sunrise:

After the sun was up, we headed down to pack up our camp and leave the park. On the way out, we passed a group on horseback.

At then end, we collapsed on the grass to wait for the bus with our new friends from Baltimore, with whom we had been with on and off for all 5 days.

I don’t really need to do that long of a backpacking trip again, but I am so glad we did this. We would recommend it to anyone…after you save up your frequent flyer miles of course! Next up: A couple of days in Punta Arenas before heading to Peru.