by Nancy Kivlen
I recently returned from an amazing travel adventure, two weeks in Peru. Let me start by saying this trip is not for everyone. Those who wish to experience a true travel adventure can rest assured, Peru offers this and so much more.
We started our adventure in Lima as all tourists do. Our United flight was delayed by five hours so our arrival was around 3 am. Fortunately, we booked a room at the Lima airport hotel and simply walked across the street and we were there. Unfortunately, we booked a tour of the Lines of Nazca and had a 5 am pick up time.
The drive via private car to the town of Ica where the flight departed took us along the coast for about 2 hours out of Lima and then headed inland. We watched the landscape quickly change to desert. We were struck by the immense poverty we saw in the local villages. People living in small shacks with no water or sanitation. Eventually we came to the Ica Airport and saw the very small planes (6 seats) take off and land. After we checked in, we boarded our small Cessna. The pilots did not speak English and I was a bit taken aback when he made the sign of the cross over each of us (Maggie & I plus the two young girls sitting behind us), as well as over himself, the co-pilot and the plane. He then said the word “bumpy” in English to us.
As we took off I was immediately reminded of the ride at California Adventure Park called Tower of Terror – where you free fall several hundred feet because that’s exactly what it felt like in this plane!! As we approached the Lines of Nazca, the pilots had to make quick turns moving the plane sideways so we could see the Nazca figures and snap photos. As we zig-zagged back and forth the two girls behind us were sicker than dogs, throwing up over and over. I felt sorry for them, but chose to sing a tune in my head to avoid listening for fear I may do the same.
As we glided over the “Astronaut” pointing to the sky, the “Condor”, the “Monkey” and other objects carved into the landscape, one can’t help but wonder how these got here and how they have remained here considering the dusty, sandy landscape and potential erosion of the land. The Lines of Nazca are geological wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The official history of the Lines is that they were created by the Nazca culture between 400-650 AD. However, they have astrological significance and many believe they were created by aliens. At this point in time, we simply don’t know.
Later that evening, we met up with our group of 8 family and friends back in Lima. The next day we boarded an early flight to Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu. Landing in Cusco at 11,200 feet, you immediately feel the altitude. Even though we were taking Diamox (prescription drug recommended for altitude sickness), you can’t help but notice a shortness of breath and a light headed feeling. We stayed at the Novotel right in the center of town, a perfect location and great hotel with good service and food. Later in the day, we met our tour guide Ernesto, a true historian buff and know-it-all in Incan Culture and history. We wondered around Cusco, over to the main Plaza de Armas and then headed up to the Incan Ruins of Sacsayhuaman which are amazing.
Our stay in Cusco included another day trip to the Sacred Valley and the ruins of Ollaytaytambo as well as the Sunday Markets of Chinchero and Pisac.
The next day we took the train to kilometer 104 just before the last stop which is Machu Picchu town (or Aquas Caliente). Km 104 is where we began a 10 mile (straight up) hike along the Inca Trail. The actual Inca Trail is a 4 day hike, but if you are short on time and just want to get a sense of it, you can do the last day which includes the ruins of Winay Wayna (perched on the side of a mountain) and finally arrive at the Sun Gate entrance to Machu Picchu. This is a memory of a lifetime that you are guaranteed to never forget. The hike itself was difficult and probably the hardest I’ve ever done, mainly because of the altitude – but the view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate was worth all the struggles.
Machu Picchu is one of the wonders of the world, a UNESCO world heritage site and when you are there, seeing it live, you quickly understand why. The Incan culture was rich with knowledge about construction, acqueducts, and astronomy. The buildings have survived 4 major earthquakes in Peru (which cannot be said for the structures built by the Spainards).
We spent the night in the town of Aquas Caliente at the bottom of Machu Picchu. Our hotel was very basic, but we enjoyed the town with it’s spirited flavor and excellent cuisine (The Treehouse restaurant is fabulous).
After heading back to Cusco and enjoying our final night altogether, two of our friends headed back home while the rest of us caught a flight to the Amazon rainforest. We struggled with the overwhelming heat and humidity, not to mention the rustic conditions of our lodge. However, after a couple of days, we started to get use to it and accept our rather sparse living quarters. Our guides, three young girls, were fun, spoke good english, had a sense of adventure and knowledge of the environment around us. We ziplined, spent an afternoon with a Shaman, visited some villages, met Dorilla the wooly monkey, hiked in the forest, saw Pink Dolphins frolicking in the river and spent a night at the Research Center Lodge (owned by biologists studying the rainforest).
Our trip ended as only an adventure could, our 4 hour boat ride back to Iquitos was met with a torrential thunderstorm; lightening all around us and there we were all in a small METAL boat!!! But we made it to the airport and eventually home, taking with us some lasting memories of a place that can only be imagined if it weren’t real.
A few notes of surprise – the food was outstanding, pretty much everywhere. We ate Alpaca, Guinea Pig and other local cuisine – all of it was delicious. And who knew that Peru had it’s own wine? They don’t export it because they can’t “compete” with Chile & Argentina, but it was excellent.
Mostly what I will remember about this trip are the people – warm, friendly, sweet; they have very little, yet seem very happy. A reminder that we could all use.
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