Peru Experiences

Crossing the border during the thunderstorm Arriving at the main square in Cusco

The general buzz and feel of Cusco, touristy but cool at the same time

Not quite getting the pork at pork alley when we accidentally ordered the “menus”

The “bus station” where we caught the bus to Pisac for 3 soles

Climbing up to see the Pisac ruins and having that feeling like we were discovering it

The excitement of getting on the train to Machu Picchu

The train ride itself especially going through the villages and then when the landscape turned into the jungle

The craziness and strangeness of Aguas Calientes

Looking out at the fireworks for Christmas Eve, the place looking like a scene from some war torn city

Our host coming to find us at the bus stop with our packed lunches

Getting on the first bus up to Machu Picchu

Beating the hikers up the mountain!

The first sight of Machu Picchu with the clouds parting on Christmas Day morning and getting the photos without anyone in the way

Climbing up the Mach Picchu mountain

The whole experience of Machu Picchu

The restaurant where we had our Christmas lunches and dinner

The streets around Ollantaytampu town

The Alpaca steak at Ollantaytampu just delicious

The taxi ride back to Cusco on my birthday, just a great drive especially when in turned into a sightseeing tour 

The tapas and pisco sours and watching the action at the restaurant for my b’day

The impressive interior of the cathedral on the main square in Cusco

The first bus in Peru complete with TVs in the seat backs, unfortunately a little too short in the leg space and a little winding in the driving. Lucky it was dark

Walking around the monestary in Arequipa 

The bus drive to the Colca Canyon, impressive altitude, views and a little scary

Arriving at Cabanaconde, a small town in the middle of nowhere

The hike through the Colca Canyon just spectacular

The feeling of accomplishment when we smashed out the hike out of the canyon

The taxi ride in the three wheeler from Ica to Huacachina. Amazing that we got the luggage in

The wine tour from Huacachina, back to basics definitely who needs fanciness!! Mind you who’s heard of Peruvian wine?

The sand boarding on the dunes, not the greatest success but definitely fun

The adrenaline pumping dune buggy tours now that was fun

The cerviche at Paracas on the sea front just delicious

The tour of the Isla Balletas just incredible to see that number of birds and sea lions

The tour of the Paracas national park.

The surprise of arriving at Miraflores in Lima and realizing that we had left South America without saying goodbye

The boardwalk and the people watching in the sea front in Miraflores 

Lima, Hello again to the western world

Lima has been long on the horizon as our final destination in this stint of the trip. While not really somewhere we had planned to go it was where our flight was departing from so we had to be there.
Early readings and research into the city weren’t entirely promising and there were plenty of warnings as to how dangerous the city center was and so with that in mind we decided to stay in Miraflores.
We had thought that we were going to enjoy a last couple of days enjoying things South American but we both realised that we had left South America when we arrived in Miraflores.
This area of Lima had plenty of security guards around on the streets and was kept pretty spotlessly clean. The shops lining the street could have been found on any high street around the world and the place had an air of affluence that we hadn’t seen elsewhere in our trip.
The highlight of Miraflores for us was the boardwalk down on the sea front. Or rather up on the sea front as the sea front is lined by cliffs but either way it was really nice walking along the boardwalk people watching with the rest of Miraflores. The “thing to do” was para sailing off the cliff tops. It was really great watching them all take off and land.
We don’t have much else to write about what we saw in Lima, as it turns out that our stomachs were only meant to last for 90 days in South America, and as we are on day 91 meant that we weren’t able to stray too far from our toilet!! A real shame really but not much we could do about it!! T

   
The sea front at Miraflores.

 
This seemed to be the thing to do in Lima

   
The coastline and on the left a shopping mall which has been built into the cliff face.

 
This being Peru there are of course some ruins about and these sit right in the middle of the city surrounded by modern buildings.

Paracas National Park

Today’s adventure was a tour to Paracas national park. We would have preferred to do this ourselves but it was way cheaper catching a tour bus out there. The national park is part of the Atacama desert and it ranges right to the coast. So we were privileged to see sand dunes and rocky cliffs plunge into the sea. It reminded me of parts of the coast line in Australia with its rugged landscape and clear blue water.
Our first stop was a rocky outcrop called the cathedral which would have been an impressive archway of rock connecting the mainland to a rock in the water, however the 2007 earthquake destroyed the archway so it is now just a rock in the ocean. Saying that it is still a very impressive landscape.
We then hit playa Roja or red beach and again just stunning with the red beach, yellow rocks and clear blue sea. Our tour then stopped at a random beach in the middle of nowhere that had a cluster of restaurants around it. Tim and I being the wily backpackers we are, had a packed lunch and sat on the beach and ate that while watching the pelicans sun themselves on a near by rock.
The day was really great but being able to see it at your own pace without a bus load of people would have been better. The other disappointing thing that must be mentioned is again the levels of rubbish in this national park. We did stop at an information centre and it did have a big display on rubbish and the environment which was good to see but I just don’t think it is getting through. Looking at the beautiful scenery and watching 20 Pelicans swimming in crystal clear water surrounded by plastic bags is a little disappointing and lying on the beach in a spot you think is clear of rubbish only to look up and see a dirty nappy 10 metres away turns your stomach. I just hope one day the problem is resolved before it is too late. S

   
Where the desert meets the ocean

 
What used to be an archway.  To be fair it’s just a rock in the water now, maybe time to change the route of the tour?

   
Spectacular coastlines

 
The red sand of the Playa Roja

   
The number of birds in this whole area is just phenomenal 

 
The spot where we stopped for lunch, it was a bit cold for a swim though.

  

Paracas and the Isla Balletas

It was pretty difficult to find out much information about places to stay on the coast on the way up to Lima but we had heard that the Isla Balletas were the poor man’s Galapagos so we thought we would give it a go.
The access to the islands was from a place called Paracas so we decided to stay there. The trip there was either going to involve two taxis and a bus but we did a deal with a taxi driver to take us straight there. It was only 60kms but looking at the taxi it was going to be touch and go as to whether we made it!!
We only had to stop once to check the water in the engine and for ice creams but otherwise it was a great journey.  
Paracas itself lies on the ocean where the desert meets the water and is exceptionally dry, only averaging 5mm of rainfall a year! It is mainly an access point to the Isla Balletas and the nearby national park but along with the tourism there were plenty of fishing boats. This meant cerviche and it wasn’t long after we arrived that we were sat outside a stall on the beach enjoying some absolutely delicious cerviche.  
I think there is always something really special about eating fish, not only when you can see the ocean but also when you can see the boats they were caught on too! Over the next few days we certainly ate our fill.
Paracas was just what we were looking for, a low key, relaxed place on the coast where the locals took their holidays. It was an eclectic mix of backpackers, low cost hotels and some of the smartest hotels we have seen in South America. The place itself was small with a short promenade on the beach and a couple of streets behind. All in all a fun place to enjoy for a couple of days.
We didn’t really know what to expect from our trip by boat out to Isla Balletas. After getting through all the usual mayhem at the beginning of most tours in South America we were eventually sat on a boat on the way to the islands.
The number of birds there was just incredible. We saw huge numbers of Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies, cormorants and a few penguins too. The other main attraction were the sea lions who use the area for their breeding and birthing and we were able to see a few young!! They really were huge and we could have sat there all day watching them but unfortunately we had to go back.
With the huge number of birds comes a huge amount of guano and it was actually the export of this guano that was Peru’s main export in the early 1900s. Unfortunately they were/are the number 1 supplier of anchovies and their over fishing of the anchovies, which is also the birds’ food of choice has meant a radical drop in bird numbers. Luckily times have changed and the area has been declared a national park and from what we saw there was plenty of wildlife.
I think this brief glimpse at the “poor man’s Galapagos” has just wetted our appetites for the real thing. T

   
The promenade at Paracas, a mixture of restaurants and stalls.

    
What our diet consisted of for the few days at Paracas

 
I just love seeing all the old boats in the harbour, I reckon it definitely makes the fish taste better

  

   
An abundance of sea lions and a few babies too!

 
There was no real explanation as to why this symbol was made in the side of this mountain, but for me the really incredible thing was that it remains undamaged.  This apparently is due to the low (almost zero) annual rainfall and a prevailing wind that never hits the symbol.

   
As the photo shows, the number of birds is just incredible.  It was great to see all the wildlife and would have been fantastic to have stayed there all day.

    
    
    
 

Dune Buggies

From the moment we decided to stay at Huacachina Sarah had decided that we were going to have a day relaxing by a pool. Since our hotel didn’t have one we went off in search of one. Soon enough we found a place which let us in and it was really superb relaxing all day reading books with the only interruptions being dips in the pool, beers and lunch.
After all this relaxation we felt pretty fantastic and were ready for our 4:30 activity which was to be the dune buggy sunset safari. With sand boarding thrown in.  
It was a truly remarkable experience and a fantastic adrenaline rush. The vehicle looked fairly basic but certainly sounded good and after we all got strapped in and finished queuing up to pay our sand tax we were off. It felt like we were going at 100 mph and the buggy had no problem at all getting up the hills.
We weren’t sure what to expect and suddenly we were being thrown about as the driver went through a series of turns up and down the sides of the huge sand dunes. There were more than a few screams from the buggy and certainly a lot of nervous laughter, it was great!!
The best bit was that you couldn’t tell what was on the other side of the top of the dunes, so as our driver approached one of the first ones it was pretty scary as the world seemed to disappear and we descended what felt like straight down for about 50m!!
The driving around was great but then at one of these peaks he just stopped the buggy and we all got out and were given sand boards. Unfortunately for us shoes would have been a good idea. So the boarding wasn’t the easiest when your feet kept falling out!! Still it made for some good wipeouts!
So we turned sand boarding into tobogganing with some pretty spectacular results! It was pretty steep and we got some impressive speed up and ended up with some good sand burns on our legs and arms. Great fun.
So in between the driving around and flinging ourselves down the sand dunes we all completely missed the sunset!! Still it was truly a great tour and we were both very excited when we got back.
The beers flowed pretty easily that night and we ended up having a few which was good as we hadn’t done it in a while. We met a whole host of people but the most amusing was bumping into some students from Edinburgh who had just finished their Anthropology degrees!! Very funny. T

   
The first half of the day relaxing in the pool

    
I was holding on so tight I couldn’t take any action shots but these give a bit of an idea as to what we were driving up and down

    
Sarah enjoying some sledging

    
 
The good thing about the bindings were that they were lightweight. The downside was that they didn’t actually cause me to be attached to the board.

   
Me going for a walk in the desert

 
Again it’s the shapes and the colours which make this landscape just so spectacular 

   
 

Huacachina 

We arrived in Ica at around 8am in the morning and had to get to Huacachina which is about 6 kms away. We walked outside to the taxi rank and the only taxis there were the bike taxis similar to tuktuks. After a few minutes of Tim trying to explain to the driver that our bags wouldn’t fit as well as us and the driver not taking no for an answer, we decided to throw caution to the wind and get in the back. It was a definite squeeze but quite a laugh. 
Huacachina is a tiny oasis surrounded by towering sand dunes. Think Sahara and you pretty much get the visual picture. It was apparently built as a holiday destination for the Peruvian elite so most of the buildings are old colonialist, built around a little lake. It’s really quite beautiful and you can walk around it in about 5 mins. The vibe is very laid back and fun.
Most things to do here revolve around the sand dunes, though there are vineyards as well in the area, producing sweet wine and Pisco. So off we went to sample the wares!
The vineyards were nothing like the others we have been to. Instead of fancy processes and procedures and sterilization. Here the wine is pressed by foot first and then a giant wooden press which is lowered by manually winding a crank. The juice then runs down little open air concrete channels into the next section, where it is poured into concrete vats to ferment. I mean the amount of foreign particles in this wine must mean that each bottle would be so different from the next! 
To make Pisco they then take the juice and put it in a still to produce the alcohol. We then got to try both the sweet wine and the Pisco quite thoroughly. We visited two vineyards and were nicely toasted by the time we got back.
By late afternoon we thought it would be a great idea to take the free sand boards from the hostel and climb one of the dunes and board down. By the time we made it up it was sunset and the dunes were magnificent. I wish we could say the same for our sand boarding! In our defense the boards were bits of wood with laminate surfaces and Velcro to attach to our feet that wouldn’t stay on. Whereas others had actual snowboard boots and proper bindings and boards. We still had fun trying and sand definitely doesn’t hurt as much as snow. Though it seems to get everywhere! S

   
A couple of views from around the Oasis, quite a surreal little place

    
The cellar doors at the vineyards, not much pretentiousness here at all

    

 Our walk around the first vineyard, not much temperature control or hygiene but it was cool to see the amphorae.  They used to use the amphorae to make the wine here but they lost the technique as it got passed down from generation to generation.
   
The still.

  
The second vineyard we visited used the amphora method and the guy was very liberal with his samples

 
It has to be one of the most unique wine cellars I have ever seen

   
 
The walk up the dunes for our sunset sand boarding

   
The views and the colours and the shapes are quite spectacular 

 
A couple of views from the top

  

The Climb Out

Having spent yesterday afternoon and evening with today’s prospect looming right above us we were both a little nervous when we woke up.
We decided to get up early and try and get most of the hike over before the sun started beating down too. We were told it would take three hours so we were going to be happy with four.
We had little option but to just get on with it. Well there were a few mules about for hire but I thought that would be more scary and Sarah thought it would be cheating.
So off we went and it was fairly gruelling but we have definitely done worse and in the end smashed it out in 2.5 hours!! We had ascended 1100m in constant switch backs. I think we might be getting fitter!!
Our reward was to catch the early bus and relax and enjoy the scenery on the way back to Ariquipa. It truly is a very beautiful place and we could have easily spent more time hiking around all the different villages. T

Unfortunately not many photos were taken today it was just one step after another.

 The view up in the morning 
    
Making some progress

 

Strange rock formation, looking more like a pile of logs
   
Something nice to look at while we caught our breath

 

   
Long way up

 

At the top!