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May 2006 - Peru
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Our 12 day tour in Peru / Lima / Machu Picchu / Ica / Nazca Lines / Cusco / Puno / Lake Titicaca

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Saturday, May 13th, 2006 – Said goodbye to the kitties and left the house at 5:45am.  Bs.As. was a little chilly, the driver kept gunning his engine at every light probably to keep it from stalling.  We use this one Remis (taxi) service which is pretty cheap, but sometimes when the car arrives, you wonder if you’ll make it to the airport as some of the cars are in less then perfect condition.  The price you pay for cheaper transportation.  My seatbelt didn’t even work, however, that’s better then when we first moved here in 2000, taxis didn’t even HAVE seatbelts before but luckily the government came out with a law that they have to have them, I guess this doesn’t meant that they have to work, just that they need to have them.

We had a nice 4:10 hour flight to Lima on LAN airlines to Lima.  Getting through customs took a long time and our guide, Ebba, was there to pick us up.  Ebba was very sweet and as we got into her car a young boy tried to help us with our luggage, probably hoping for a few coins.  She shooed him away calling “Seguridad?  Donde es seguridad?”  She locked the doors and we were off.  She unfolded a tourist map and started explaining the layout of the city, not looking up often enough to see where she was going.  It seems the driving technique is similar to Bs.As. as there is lots of weaving and horn blowing involved.  She used her horn more in the 30 minute ride to our hotel then I’ve used in my entire life.  For first impressions, the city looked pretty dismal with lots of barb wire and bars on all the windows, but areas near the airport are usually not very good.  She weaved through several neighborhoods mentioning some facts of the area, 27 million population of Peru, 8 million in Lima, lots of Chinese and Japanese, when I was in university in the early 90s they had a Japanese president for 10 years, Fujimori, which I thought was really bizarre for a South American country.  She said they like the Chinese but not the Japanese and when I asked her why that is, she shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”  It was clear she did know, but she probably didn’t want to give me her opinion, not wanting to offend me, so I didn’t press for an answer.  I did ask her about the current president, Alejandro Toledo, and what she thought of him, she mentioned they are currently going through the next elections.  When I asked her about the outcome, she said, “New faces, nothing changes, too much corruption!”  I asked her what the national drink was and she said “Pisco Sour”, I told her that is also the national drink of Chile and she kind of spat and made some comment about “Those people from Chile, Pisco is Peruvian, NOT Chilean!”

We arrived at our hotel, “Leon de Oro” www.leandeoroperu.com and checked in.  Nice hotel, 3 stars, new and clean but small.  Luckily the neighborhood we were in, “Miraflores” seemed nicer and safer then what we saw coming from the airport.  Traveling always involves getting out of your comfort zone, which at first doesn’t feels so good, but afterwards you realize it’s a good think to shake you out of your routine once in awhile and see how others live on this planet.

Sergio Sergio@perutourism.com showed up at 2pm from Peru Tourism www.perutourism.com , the company we booked our trip with and went over our trip itinerary with us.  He also mentioned taking something for altitude sickness, either diamox or sorochi.  We’ve heard some things about people being really sick because of the altitude so we thanked him for the advice.  He also asked where we would have dinner and suggested a restaurant his mother worked at, “La Huaca Pucllana”, and offered to call for reservations for us for 8:30pm.  I asked him what time dinner was usually, and he said 8:30 – 10 which is earlier then Bs.As. so I was pleased with that.  Sergio gave us a nice fanny pack with their logo on it as a gift.


We walked down Av. Larco to the pacific ocean and a place called “Larco Mar Shopping”, a touristy mall area next to the sea.  We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the sea, I noticed the exchange rate of the Peruvian “Sol” is similar to the Argentina Pesos, 3.07 Arg / 3.39 Peru = 1 USA$, but the prices here seemed much higher then Argentina, however, we were in a touristy place.  We ordered Pisco Sours, when the cute waitress asked “Doble?”, I said, “Seguro!”  A regular Pisco Sour was 12 Sols and a double was 20, what a deal!  We ordered asparagus soup for 21 Sols and a traditional Peruvian soup for 18, paella for 42 and Ron ordered sea bass for 41.  My “Peruvian” soup sounded add on the menu, with ground beef in it, angle hair pasta and a whole cooked egg, but turned out to be fantastic.  Our Pisco Sours didn’t last long but had a strong effect on us so I ordered 2 national beers as a follow-up.  The paella and fish were excellent but way too much food and we were stuffed.  Bill came to $166 Sols for lunch ($49 USA) 

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We took a nap after lunch and then headed off for “La Huaca Pucllana” for dinner.  The taxis here don’t have a meter so you have to ask before getting in, we asked the bellboy to get us a cab and ask how much for the ride before we got in, this cab wanted 5 Sols for the 10 minute ride.  We had a lovely dinner at La Huaca Pucllana, the seating was outside facing an archeological ruins that was illuminated at night but it was very cold, something I didn’t expect since we are at sea level and much closer to the equator then Bs.As.  Most everyone had sweaters and shawls on, we sat near a little urn filled with glowing embers for warmth.  The prices were again a little high, Ron had seared tuna for 42 and I had broiled bass for 54.  The wine list was very pricey, something I couldn’t figure out because they had Chilean wines which are usually very inexpensive, and here they were very expensive, there were also lots of Argentina wines at crazy prices.  We settled on a Canepa Chardonnay from Peru for 70 Sols, one of the cheapest wines they offered.  Total dinner bill was 206 Sols. 

There was a taxi driver waiting outside the restaurant and he wanted 12 Sols to take us home, considering that it only cost 5 to get there we asked about this, he made some kind of comment that we took a hotel taxi to get there and that’s why it was cheaper but we didn’t feel like fussing about it, even thought we had grabbed a taxi off the street and not used the hotel’s taxi.  He seemed to take the long way home back to our hotel, making a big circle, probably to make us feel like we got our money’s worth.

Sunday, May 14th, 2006 -  We had a nice breakfast and walked down again to Larco Mar Shopping, being Sunday morning lots of things were closed but Ron wanted to get some pictures.  It was just as foggy as the day before, Ron said it reminded him of growing up in Crescent City, California.  We strolled up Larco Av to “Parque Central” of Miraflores, a really nice park, it was still about noon and artists were just beginning to setup their easels with art. 

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These little buses were everywhere, usually with someone
screaming out the side where they where headed and you just flagged them down.

Our tour guide mentioned getting something for altitude sickness so we stopped in a pharmacy.  We showed the pharmacist the 2 drugs he mentioned, Diamox and Sorochi and also that Ron is taking blood pressure medicine since we obviously didn’t want any bad side affects with what Ron was taking.  The pharmacist read the instructions on something called Acetazolamida very thoroughly and said this should do the trick, she sold us 8 pills out of the box for 6.72.  This cracks me up when they do this, they also do that in Argentina, they will sell you 2 pills out of a box of medicine and just hand them to you, I guess this makes more sense as you only buy what you need and the rest of the medicine doesn’t go to waste but it still seems odd coming from the overprotective and paranoid culture of the USA. 

I spied something that looked like Pepto Bismol on the counter and had her throw that in, just in case, for 18.00.  I remember Ron getting really sick in Egypt and not having anything to give him, I heard you have to be careful here too so I thought it wise to pick some up, knowing if I had it I wouldn’t need it, but if I didn’t have it, well, you know how it works.

We had a 2pm city tour so we grabbed a quick lunch near the hotel.  We ordered a chicken sandwich $5.90 Sols, a chicken skewer 9.85, 2 waters 1.57 and a big piece of dry chocolate cake for 5.11, the bill with tax was 30.48, much more reasonable for a lunch.  A lot of the delivery bikes have funny shapes for the area where they stow the delivery, I saw them all over town, some in the shape of spark plugs, a wedding cake, the ones in this little restaurant were like an Inca statues.

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We started our city tour with Elisa, in a van with 6 others.  They took us through several neighborhoods describing sites and historical points of interest.  I was a little surprised in the areas, everything seemed heavily barred, barb wired and even electrified fenced.  I had heard Lima had a lot of poor and crime, but still was surprised to see everything so protected.  There didn’t seem to be any “nice” areas, usually city tours show only the best of a city, so what we saw was not too attractive. 

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The park of Love!

In the older part of the city there is a lot of magnificent architecture, I was really surprised how old some buildings where, going back to the 1600s. 

The “Main Square” had amazing buildings on all sides.  Being Sunday it was packed with families.

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We asked them to drop us off after the tour at Larco Mar Shopping again to grab a beer.  We sat outside and had 2 beers for $14 Sols but it was too cold and breezy to stay outside.  We weren’t that hungry so we moved inside to have something light for dinner, we ordered some excellent calamari for 10.85, a small pizza for 15.50 and a bottle of Gato Negro red wine for 23.26.

Monday May 15th, 2006 – A 6:15am pickup took us to a bus station for our trip to Nazca.  The bus took 4 hours and I wish I knew there was a toilet on board because I could have had a decent cup of coffee with breakfast before getting on board.  Our guide Ebba helped get us on the bus and off we went.  Once arriving at Ica, our guide told us it was another 2 hours to Nazca, this time in a van with 2 others.  I could not believe the geography, it was flat dessert with pulverized rocks covering it, I’ve never seen anything like it.  We stopped at the Maria Reiche museum, a woman who came to Peru in 1932 and never left, devoting her life studying the Nazca lines and people. 

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Next was a quick stop at the Mirador Tower to get our first glimpse of the Nazca lines. 

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I have always been intrigued by these figures since I was a little boy, I always loved UFO stuff and the mysterious origins of figures that can only be seen from the sky always fascinated me.  When I was a child I had an illustrated comic book of the lines, and the mysterious origins and possibilities they were built to worship beings from space who brought the Nazca people there. 

The first impression of the 2 figures visible from the tower were one of a slight disappointment, “The Hands” and “Tree” figures were rather small, only 45 meters and 97 meters.  However, because there is so little rain, the figures are amazingly preserved considering they are over 1400 years old. 

We then stopped at some ancient aqueducts that the Nazca people created to bring water from the mountains, quite an engineering feat.  It is here we got lots of bug bites and I wish we had the “OFF” that was stored in our luggage. 

Note to self: Keep bug repellant in your carry on luggage!

We then headed for our plane trip over the lines.  Ron went in a separate plane since they were just little 4 seater Cessna aircraft.  The lines from the air turned out to be everything I ever dreamed about as a boy.  Simply amazing! 

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               The tower in the left, "Hands" 45 meters                  My favorite, they call it a spider, but it sure looks like
                                                                                                                an ant to me.  46 meters

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                                Condor - 136 meters                                    Each figure is approx 135 meters large

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                           Humming Bird - 96 Meters                               "Owl head man" or "Astronaut"  I think
                                                                                            Astronaut is a bit of stretch of the imagination -32 meters

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                               Monkey - 110 meters                                                See Spider in upper left?
                                                                                                These lines go for kilometers, incredible!

We didn’t use this website: http://www.nctravelnasca.com/ for our excursion there, but they have some good info.

Afterwards they stopped at a ceramic making household for a demonstration of pottery making, this was actually very interesting but the inevitable pressure to buy something occurred afterwards.  Luckily the lady who was in our party bought something, taking the pressure off. 

Next was a stop at a rockery where a man demonstrated how they extract gold from rocks by pulverizing them and using mercury, again, very interesting, but no one bought anything here even after he pulled out a guitar and started singing songs.

A long 2 hour drive back to Ica and they dropped off at the Mossone hotel, a really beautiful old hotel in a kind of mission style with the rooms around a central open area, really beautiful. 

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We headed for dinner and some Pisco Sours.  We had eaten lunch late so I just had some asparagus ceviche $11 and some Criolla soup $18, Ron ordered a pork dish.  We ordered a wonderful wine called “Casillero del Diablo” which Ron thought was “Castle of the Devil”  Total for dinner $128 Sols.

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Tuesday May 16th, 2006 – Another early pickup at 6:30 am.  We drove for an hour to Paracas Hotel to board a boat to the Ballestas islands off the coast of the Paracas Reserve, Peru’s largest coastal wildlife sanctuary.  The day was perfect, no wind, and the sea was calm. 

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We were in an outdoor boat and I was thinking we were going to be freezing and wet, but we stayed warm and dry.  The first site carved in the side of a mountain is called the “Candelabrum” 200 meters large, they don’t really know anything about it, how old it is, or it’s purpose but it is very impressive.

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The guides explained when they discovered the islands that they were 36 meters thick with bird guano.  The fertilizer industry that spawned from this at one time was 80% of Peru’s GDP.  Now they harvest the guano every 7 years to get 1 meter of the organic fertilizer. 

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Next was a tour of the Paracas National Reserve that houses a nice small museum on the local mummies found in the area.

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As we drove to have lunch, we saw many “squatter” shacks of people living in basically grass or reed matt shacks.  It’s just hard to believe people actually live like this, I have no idea where they get fresh water.

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Then we had a quick lunch at Las Dunas hotel , the newest resort at Ica, a tropical paradise, 1 block from where we saw the squatter shacks.  What a dichotomy!

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Very enjoyable lunch but we only had 30 minutes to enjoy our Pisco Sours and lunch, $88 Sols, then another 4 hour bus trip back to Lima, very long day!

We checked back in to the Leon de Oro where we stayed before.  After getting cleaned up we headed for dinner.  We found a real nice local neighborhood placed called “La Tejas” at Jr. Diez Canseco #340.  The waiter was very nice as I said, “Dos Pisco Sours por favor!”  The cook tapped out a song on a bell to let the waiter know an order was up.  Ron wondered what the restaurant name meant and I had no idea so he wrote it down for us to look up later.  We ordered when the Pisco Sours arrived, I ordered ceviche at 21 and a fish cabob at 16, Ron ordered asparagus soup at 12 and some grilled chicken for 16 accompanied by a bottle of Gato Negro Blanco for 45 and we had a really wonderful dinner for $130

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006 -  We had an 8am pickup which seemed luxurious that we could actually sleep in until 7 and have an unrushed breakfast.  Driving through Lima to the airport at rush hour traffic the city actually looked inviting today.  Was I getting used to the barb wire and bars?  Or was I getting nostalgic knowing I was leaving?  We boarded a flight at 10am for Cusco.  As we were going through the airport I saw “Las Tejas” in an airport gift shop, this was the restaurant we ate in the night before and we wondered what the name meant, apparently a “tejas” is like a sweet candy, bonbon or chocolate treat.  During the flight we took our first of 4 altitude sickness pills. 

On arrival our guide Carlos was there to pick us up.  While waiting for our luggage there was a group of 6 musicians dressed in costume and playing.  They sounded really good, or maybe it was the 3,400 (10,000 foot) altitude and oxygen deprivation, whatever it was we bought one of their CDs for $10 USA.  The drive from the airport was short and I noticed the bright clear skies, compared to the fog in Lima, I also noticed a lack of barb wire.  The difference of an outskirt town vs. the capital.  Carlos pointed out a few sites on the way to our hotel, “The Prisma.”  Upon arrival they gave us some tea of cocoa which they say helps to get you used to the high altitude and help with digestion, several people mentioned that at such a high elevation your digestion slows down and you should really eat light.

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Carlos showed us a city map and some sites in short walking distance.  We had a light lunch, I had the traditional Criolle soup I came to really love and Ron had trout.  We relaxed for an hour before our city tour. 

Our tour started with a visit to a church, I remember my aunt Rosemary saying, “If I see one more church, I’ll SCREAM!”  I can never forget that!  Love you aunt Rose!

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Although I’m not big on churches or religious art the size of the church was staggering, besides the Vatican I don’t remember ever seeing a bigger church.  The other amazing thing was it was finished in 1672, I questioned our guide about this, “Why would there be such an enormous church at 3,400 meters altitude in this small city?”  He explained that in the 1600s Cusco was one of the most important cities for trade for all of south America.  The monastery next to the cathedral had 3 levels of catacombs with an estimated 25,000 people entombed there.  The catacombs included lots of eerie areas with low ceilings and 1,000s of bones they’re trying to categorize.

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We then drove outside the city to see some Inca ruins.  We stopped at a store that had wool, llama and alpaca items.  A woman gave us an explanation of the different grades and types of wool and blends.  We had tried to pack light and I really didn’t want to fill up my suitcase with a big wooly sweater but it was very nice stuff.  I saw a really nice scarf and thought of Martina, the woman who takes care of our cats when we travel, it was made of what she called baby alpaca which is their softest and most expensive blend (big surprise), it was $28 USA but was very nice and had some nice embroidery on it.  Ron found a baby alpaca sweater that was $110 USA and it really was soft and beautiful.

We got back to the hotel and wanted to walk back to photograph some things and stretch our legs.

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We stopped in a pizza place for a Pisco Sour.  It was about 6pm and we were the only ones in the place, after serving us the staff sat down and were eating their dinner before the night crowd.  It seems their dinner was just white rice and french fries.  They had a big clay stove oven in the corner of the room that they were stoking for the night, it warmed the place with the smell of the burning wood, but I wasn’t in the mood for pizza since they said we should eat light our first day.  We went next door to another small restaurant and ordered 2 more Pisco Sours.  The waiter was a real jokester and when Ron ordered only Criolle soup he rubbed Ron’s tummy and said, “You sure you don’t eat more then that?”

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I ordered something I had seen on many menus called “chichiron”, this turned out to be deep fried chicken nuggets, not very good.  After our 4 Pisco Sours I thought we should switch to beer so I ordered a big bottle of their local beer, Cusqueña, because I saw a display of it with the big bottle.  A local musician just walked in the door and a saw the waiter grab the warm bottle of beer off the display and I thought “He’s not going to give us that warm beer”, when I saw him hand it to the musician and push him out the door.  The musician returned a few minutes later with a big cold bottle of beer and I figured he sent the musician out to swap the warm bottle for a cold one. 

He started playing and it was actually pretty good, or maybe it was the 4 Pisco Sours and beer!  He had some CDs to sell so we bought two for about $10 USA each.

Thursday May 18th, 2006 – Today was the “Sacred Valley of the Incas” which was on a larger tour bus.  Ron wasn’t too pleased with this as he thought we had a private tour.  I told him, “Get over it!”  We stopped on the way to visit an institute for the preservation of national wildlife and culture, they raise and breed endangered versions of the local animals like alpacas and llamas, then demonstrated how they die the wool with natural ingredients as they did throughout history.  Of course you had the opportunity to buy items at hugely inflated prices.

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Pics of the Llamas, Alpacas and Cultural Center

We stopped in “Pisac” for an hour of shopping in an outdoor market area, although I vowed not to buy anything I really liked the bright colors the Peruvians use.  One of the first stalls I saw had a really great table runner, but I thought “It’s the first stall, there must be better stuff”, so we continued looking, then I saw a really bright and colorful sheet that would make a create table cloth.  Ron thought it was too bright but I loved it, it was pretty big but I bought it anyway.

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We continued walking around and I bought myself and my friend Alberto a Tshirt, then our time was running out and I really wanted that table runner that I first saw, I knew exactly where the stall was and bought it.  I learned a long time ago that when you see something you really like you should buy it because you never go back later to buy it, or if you do go back, it’s gone. 

We continued to an Inca fortress.  I really thought the guide was joking when he said earlier in the tour that we were going to climb it, it seemed so high.  We stopped 3 times for him to give us some history on the place and for us to catch our breadth. 

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As we left he stopped in an Inca structure that was being used as homes.  He explained that the people make a liquor out of corn called Chicha and people will place a red bulb on the end of a pole and hang it outside their door if they sell it, the place is then called a Chicheria.  This ancient woman came out and asked if he’d like some chicha, after saying “no” twice he finally said “ok.”  He passed around the large glass of the hot liquid for us to smell.  I really wanted to try it, but thought I’d better not, it looked really nasty and smelled like grain alcohol.

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         The flower which tells you it's a Chicheria

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We stopped at a beautiful hacienda for lunch, it was a buffet, which usually I don’t like but it was superb and the building and surrounding grounds were beautiful. 

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That night we ate at the “Inca Grill” that was recommended to us by our guide on our first day there.  We started with Pisco Sours (big surprise) and I ordered Alpaca and Ron ordered chicken breast.  The meal was really good $156.50.  There was some live music and the guy waved a CD at us on our way out the door, but we begged off this time.

Friday May 19th, 2006 – A 5:30 am pickup for our train to Machu Picchu.

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The rain ride took about 3:45 hours and we then jumped on a bus for a 20 minute ride up a VERY steep zig-zag road to the ruins.  It was about 11:30 am as we entered the park and had our first view of the site.  It is truly amazing and in fantastic condition, our guide said that it was discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1924 and it was covered by jungle, it took a few years to cut the jungle away but the stone structures have not been restored, when you see the perfection of the buildings and how perfectly they are aligned, it’s hard to believe it’s 400 years old. 

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Pics of Machu Picchu

We had an included buffet lunch then had some free time to visit the park again. 

We took the bus down to the town and checked into our hotel, which turned out to be fantastic, right in front of a rushing river.  It was still early and I wanted to check out the little town.  It was really a beautiful in a tiny town kind of way, hidden in a valley surrounded by mountains.  It only gets direct sunlight from about 9 am to 2 pm because of the tall peaks all around. 

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After all the stair climbing in Machu Picchu Ron didn’t last to long before we had to stop for a Pisco Sour.  The drinks were taking forever to make so I checked out the menu.  They had the “Casillero del Diablo” wine we had in Ica that was so good, but their English translation was “Cubbyhole of the Devil”, Ron thought it was “Castle of the Devil”, I guess I’ll have to ask some Argentine friends when I get back home what they think it means.  The drinks finally arrived and were the worst Pisco Sours we had ever tasted in our lives.  It’s not a good idea to give a lousy drink to a grumpy old man, Ron was not a happy camper.  He kept complaining so I thought it best to pay the bill and skeedaddle. 

We walked around a bit more to check out places for dinner, around the micro tiny town square we found several restaurants offering 2x1 happy hour so we stopped for another Pisco Sour.  This one wasn’t much better and got Ron in an even grumpier mood.  Luckily the alcohol started to kick in and he mellowed, but only slightly.

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Gag!

We showered then headed for dinner.  We found a nice place and before the waitress even arrived Ron started on a tirade that if the Pisco Sours are no good he’s not paying for them, I told him, “We’re ordering beers!”, I didn’t want to chance him getting another bad Pisco Sour.  Some places make things differently and maybe the town, “Aguas Caliente”, just doesn’t make Pisco Sour’s very good.  Our dinner was just so-so but the place had great ambiance.

Saturday May 6th, 2006 – We had a free morning to visit Machu Picchu, our guide the day before said we should get there on the first 5:30am bus to watch the sunrise, but I’d rather sleep in and get some rest, I told her, “Yeah, we’ll be sure to do that!”  Our hotel, “Hatuchay”, had the best breakfast so far on the trip.  We got to Machu Picchu around 9:30am and it was still way before the 11:30am crowd from the train, so we were able to enjoy the park with few people in it.  We wanted to hike up to the Inkapita / Sun Temple which is the last part of the Inca trail before reaching Machu Picchu. 

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There had been a land slide 3 weeks before and unfortunately wiped out 50 meters of the trail.  They said it will only take 12 days to repair it, I guess they don’t want to piss off too many tourists who wanted to hike the entire Inca trail only to be turned away the last ½ kilometer.  We hiked up as far as they allowed and it gave us a spectacular view. 

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         The slide, you can see the trail in the middle

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                           Ron, Sun Gawd

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We still had plenty of time so we also hiked to the Inca bridge, a very narrow path with a totally vertical drop off the narrow path.  Ron stumbled and fell forward and I almost had a heart attack.  I told him, “Be careful, no one would ever believe I didn’t push you off!”  Jajajajja! 

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                           Don't look down!

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                                                                                                  You can see the bridge in the distance

We boarded the bus to return to the hotel and on the way down this little 8 year old boy was frantically waving and screaming at us as the bus passed by him.  After several zig-zags of the road I noticed the kid, who was dressed in an authentic costume, would race to the next curve down the mountain side on some stairs and frantically wave and scream at the bus as we passed, it became very funny as more people noticed what the boy was doing.    I knew he would ask for a tip but if anyone deserved one this kid did, I couldn’t climb down those stairs in 20 minutes, when he was doing each set of stairs in less then 30 seconds.  Finally the bus stopped and the kid got on board and shouted “BYEEEEEEEEEEE” as he waved.  He came by and I could see he was really winded, the climb is 900 feet and the kid came down the same distance as a 90 story building in about 15 minutes.  I told him “Eres muy rapido!”, “You are very fast!”, as I dropped a 1 Sol coin in his pouch. 

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We collected our bags from the hotel and headed for a beer as we had 2 hours before the rain departed, we found a river balcony restaurant to sip a beer and people watch. 

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There was this old man with a sledge breading up river rocks, why??  I wasn’t so sure, he wasn’t putting them in a wheel barrel, just breaking them up and moving onto the next big rock, hmmmm???

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As I watched everyone around me, I could see that everything here is manual labor, everyone lifts, carries, uses a wheel barrel, it’s just amazing to see how hard everyone works. 

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We boarded the train at 3:30pm for the 3 hour trip back to Cusco.  We were too tired to go out so we sat in the hotel restaurant and had a nice dinner.  We ordered 2 Pisco Sours and luckily they were very good.

Sunday May 21st, 2006 – A slightly early 7 am pickup for our bus to Puna and Lake Titicaca on the Inka Express www.inkaexpress.com  The bus traveled away from Cusco, the land here appears fertile and green but the simple way people live is amazing.  You see outhouses in the back of many simple adobe brick homes.  People are washing clothes along the river banks, it is just so striking to see how people still live. 

The first stop was Andahuaylillas, a church considered as the “Sixtine Chapel of the Americas” because of the quality of the artworks inside.  This is kind of a stretch, but it was a nice church.

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We pass the highest point of today’s bus trip at 4,300 meters or 13,000 feet.  I’ve grown used to the high altitude and it doesn’t seem to be as laborious to breath as when we first arrived. 

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We stopped for a really nice buffet lunch. 

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Two bulls symbolize there is a married couple living there, they are placed on the roof peak for good luck.

Our last stop was Pucara a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.  There was a small museum we visited and then some vendors selling trinkets in the plaza.  There was a poor boy about 12 asking for coins with terrible burns on his face and arms.  I’m embarrassed to say I was too shocked by his condition to give him anything.  I was already overwhelmed by the desolate nature of the city, but then to think what it would be like to be disfigured like that and living in such a desolate place?  Wow!  What will his life be like? 

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We arrived in Puno and the town had the feel of “End of the world” written all over it.  Seemed pretty desolate but perched on the edge of Lake Titicaca at elevation 3,820 meters, an enormous lake 176 km long, said to be the highest elevation lake in the world. 

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These peddled bikes are a major form of taxi service, on the left you can see the seat in front,
on the right you can see it’s a vegetable cart and below a traveling kitchen!

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The girl who picked us up gave us a rundown on our next 2 days there and cautioned us to be careful with valuables while walking around the city.  This spooked me a little being in an unknown place, especially at the end of the world.  Our hotel was the “Balsa Inn”, supposedly a 3 star hotel, I guess we all have our definition of the star ratings!

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It was 6:30 pm and I figured little towns close up early so we could have an early dinner.  I told Ron to leave the cameras and his money in the hotel and I would carry 70 Sols.  Our hotel was near the city square “Plaza de Armas” and as soon as we walked around a bit I was much more relaxed.  I think the girl was being overly cautious, the city center area seemed fine.  We walked up and down the main drag, only 3 blocks long, twice, checking out places for a Pisco Sour.  We finally decided on a nice place and thought we might have dinner there also.  Ron ordered soup and I ordered Alpaca, since we only brought 70 Sols I had to keep track of what we were spending.  The Alpaca was excellent, with a cup of hot chocolate for Ron (it was cold here) and a glass of wine for me the bill came to 53 Sols.

Monday May 22nd, 2006 – Sebastian, our new guide, picked us up at 6:40am and we headed to the docks.  We ended up getting a boat that holds 30 people to ourselves.  As Sebastian told us about the lake, I was surprised how quiet it was, even though lots of men were getting their boats ready for the day, there was no car noise, engine noise, nothing, my ears were ringing at the lack of audio stimulation. 

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We headed out of the bay and our guide talked about our first stop, the people of Uros, who live on floating islands made of totora, a kind of water reed.  This was truly bizarre.  According to Sebastian, the Uros people took to the water in the 1200’s as a way of hiding from their enemies.  Today 3,500 people still live on these islands of floating reeds.  As you step onto the island you can feel it give and move, the reeds were damp with morning dew and frost.  The people wore no shoes and walked around as if they were on a tropical island.

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Uros People - Floating Reed Islands

Sebastian showed us a hole they have in the island, just to demonstrate to the tourists that the island is really floating.  He dropped a rock tied to a thin rope (also made of totora) through the hole, it kept dropping and dropping 15 meters deep (45 feet) before it hit the bottom.  When boats went by you could feel the island move with the waves.  He showed us inside one of the huts, (made of totora of course) and they have no beds, no tables, no chairs, and now that it’s almost winter, they sleep several families to one hut to preserve body heat.  He showed us how they cook small fish to live on, in pots using totora as fuel.  Of course they had things they make for sale, this one woman, Marta, was very cute and friendly.  She showed us many tapestries she crocheted by hand from Alpaca wool and Ron bought one as a gift for our friend Gustavo.  We then had a slow motored 3 hour trip to Amantani island.

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 We hiked to the top to see a temple, which is actually closed all year except for a festival on January 20th when they open it for a religious day. 

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We hiked back down the mountain and had lunch in the home of Francis and her son Hernán.  Sebastian explained there were no restaurants on the island of 4,000 farmers.  It was cool to sit in her kitchen as she made lunch, a wonderful soup followed by some pan fried fish, 2 kinds of potatoes (that were actually quite dry) and some salad.  I was a little worried about the salad, since it wasn’t cooked, but thought “What the hell?” and ate it.

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She made a nice tea from fresh thyme for after lunch, really delicious, just fresh thyme in hot water.  We then had a 3 hour trip back to Puno.

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                  Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Although the boat ride was very pleasant, and the hike was nice (but not for someone who is not in good shape, with the altitude and steep climb) the lunch in a traditional home was the highlight of the trip.  Overall I would not suggest this tour to Amantani as 6 hours on a boat was a little boring.

Certainly you must see the Uros people and the floating islands, but that is just 30 minutes from Puno, I’m sure they have other tours that go to the Uros islands, then do something else.

When we got back to the hotel it was almost dark and the temperature was dropping fast, I took a nice hot shower and all I could think about was those Uros people on that cold island of reeds, with no shoes, BRRRRRR!

We went out for a nice dinner, our last in Puno.

Tuesday May 23rd, 2006 – I had some time before our next tour so I took some snapshots in the plaza.

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                                                                                                  They were running the children through some marches.

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Our last tour was to visit the Sillustani tombs, some stone structures that held their dead.

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We then were taken to the airport and our flight back to Lima. 

Wednesday May 24th, 2006 – Back home and glad to see our kitty katz!  Gonzalita has grown quite a bit and is almost a regular sized cat now!

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