Friday, July 31, 2009

Back on Board in Ecuador

The LAN Checkout Counter in the Lima Airport
It's not as chaotic as it looks!

Well, we are back aboard Soggy Paws at Puerto Lucia Yacht Club, near Salinas, in Ecuador.

We flew back yesterday after about 6 weeks in Peru. We saw a lot of interesting stuff, but still only covered about 25% of what there is to see in Peru. We hope to do another trip to see parts of northern Peru in November or December.

A View of the Cordillera Blanca (White Mountains) from the Airplane

The boat is fine--this is a great place to leave the boat. Very secure, and a nice dry atmosphere. Usually when we come back, there is a green film (mold) on everything inside. But this time, hardly anything.

Our task this month is to get the bottom finished up, and hopefully start working on some of the other 'must do' projects.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Independence Day, Peruvian Style

The Darcourt Family and Friends

July 28th is the 'Dia del Patria'--the day that Peru celebrates its independence from Spain. We managed to show up on our friends, the Darcourts', doorstep for the weekend of Independence Day.

They invited us to join them at their 'summer house' in Chacalacayo, in the foothills outside of Lima. Ani and Edy have recently completed a major renovation that turned their summer house from a 2-room bungalo into a bungalo complex big enough to house all their kids (and a few friends).

Independence Day, Peruvian Style isn't much different than American Style... BBQ, Music, Friends, Kids, Drinking, Swimming, even a little Karaoke. We did it all.

Chickens in the Smoker

The 'Kids' Get into the Pisco (a Peruvian liquor)

Dogs and Old Friends

Our Gracious Hostess, Anamaria

One day during the long weekend, Eduardo cajoled everyone into making an expedition into the mountains. We loaded 3 cars full of people and set off up the unpaved roads. The destination is a small town on a mountain, where the main attraction is a place where people have seen UFO's. A favorite thing to do on weekends is go camping on the mountain to see the UFO's. (Personally, I think there must be a little loco-weed growing up on that mountain!).

Edy Checks the Communications Equipment

The Valley We Drove Up

Everyone except Edy and Ani (who had been there before) thought it would be a nice drive for a couple of hours. But after about 3 hours of driving on rough, one lane dirt roads hanging on a cliff on the side of a steep mountain... including several hilarious and dangerous 'two cars meeting on a one lane mountain road' episodes, we finally arrived at San Pedro de Casta, a small village way up in the mountains. It was totally unexpected... Being so remote, we expected a sleeply little town. But there were tons of backpacker/hiker type tourists, all trying to get up to the camping place (another 45 minutes hiking up the mountain).

The central square was filled with burro's and backpackers. The locals were hustling backpackers... They would load up burros full of camping gear, and the backpackers would walk... slowly... up the mountain, following the burros.

On Top of the World Again

Monday, July 27, 2009

21 Hour Bus Ride from Cusco to Lima

The 'Main Highway' between Cuzco and Lima

When we heard it was a 2 or 3 day trek on bad buses on bad roads to go the 'short' way back to Lima (according to the map), we looked at alternatives.

Alternative 1, used by most tourists on a short schedule, is to fly. The best price on the fly-by-night airline was $138 USD. LAN Airlines (the biggest airline in South America) would cost $150.

Alternative 2 was to take the bus on the good roads, the long way around. Cruz del Sur runs a luxury bus for the 21 hour trip, leaving Cusco at 6pm and arriving in Lima at 3pm the next day. This would only cost $62 each. So that's what we did.

We booked early and so got the upper front window seats on the double-decker bus. This bus has 'full cama' seats... wide seats, widely spaced, with a footrest. The very front seat has a little extra leg room so you can stretch out even more.

All in all, it wasn't too bad a trip. We spent most of the night sleeping while the bus driver wound his way around all the mountains between Cusco and the coast. Then we turned right at Nazca and followed the desert-like coast to Lima.

We drove right through the famous Nazca lines. Hard to get the famous perspective from a bus, though, even from a double-decker bus. But we did get a good picture of the sign :)

Road-level view of the Nazca Lines

What They Look Like from the Air (Photo Enhanced)

The Sign that Proves we were There

Here's a link that talks about the Nazca lines.

Our friends, the Darcourts, picked us up at the bus station for a weekend with their family, before we flew back to Ecuador.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Apurimac River Rafting, Peru

We got back safe and sound from our 3-day 2-night rafting trip. Here's a photo of our raft going thru the first set of Class 3 rapids. We did three Class 5's and many Class 4's on this trip (and lived to tell the tale).

More pictures of our rafting trip can be found here:

Apurimac Rafting Photo Album

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Few Quick Photos from Machu Picchu

Sherry with the ruins and Wyna Picchu in the background

Machu Picchu is one of the few Inca sites that the Spanish never found. Therefore it is pretty untouched, except for the ravages of time. The city is located about 1000 feet above a narrow ravine.

Two mountains tower over the ruins... Wyna Picchu (Young Mountain) and Machu Picchu (Old Mountain). Though the park now limits access to Wyna Picchu to only 400 people per day, we managed to be the last ones up Wyna Picchu for the day.

We took over 300 photos on our 4 days through the Sacred Valley and up to Machu Picchu. But we are off on another adventure, so here is just a few from our trip. Hopefully we'll catch up and post some more later.

The Ruins from Wyna Picchu

Dave got this great picture of a hummingbird

Dave in a Typical Inca Doorway

We are now off for a 3 day whitewater rafting trip on the Apurimac River.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Cusco, Peru for Two Weeks

We will be in Cusco for about 2 weeks. We have already booked a 4-day/3-night trip that covers the 'Sacred Valley', a train trip from Ollantantambo, 2 nights in Aguas Calientes, and a full day at Macchu Picchu. We leave tomorrow morning on this trip (and not taking the computer). We are NOT going to hike the Inca Trail (my knees are too bad for this trip, and Dave has already done it once).

When we come back from Macchu Picchu, we have one free day, and then set off on a 3-day/2-night whitewater rafting trip down the Class 3-4-5 rapids of the Apurimac River. They claim that this is one of the 10 best rafting trips in the world, and the best one in Peru.

The Inka Express from Puno to Cusco

We arrived in Cusco on Saturday after a really nice luxury bus ride from Puno. We opted to take the Inka Express bus, a tourist bus, from Puno. We paid $50 each for a really nice tour of the towns and Inca/pre-Inca sites between Puno and Cusco.

The Inka Express Luxury Tour Bus

Some Incan Music at Lunch

Yet Another Souvenier Stop

The Imposing Inca Ruins at Raqchi

Another Artisan Market

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Lousy Bus Trip

Our trip from Arequipa to Puno was unforgettable, in the worst sense.

Arequipa Bus Station

We would have normally booked with Cruz del Sur, but by the time we figured out when the strike was really going to be over in Puno, the Cruz del Sur bus had no seats left. So we booked on Cial, a 2nd tier company. It was on the top of the 2nd tier list.

The bus was OK--a shabbier version of the Cruz del Sur buses. But we knew we were in trouble when we started climbing the first hill out of town, and the bus was crawling along at 10 MPH. We knew we were REALLY in trouble when we we finally going DOWN hill and the bus was still crawling at 10 MPH. Finally, at the checkpoint just before the turnoff to Puno, the bus pulled over. This is the in the middle of a wasteland. A few hovels on the side of the road, and otherwise, miles of nothing. It was so much in the middle of nothing that our cell phones didn't have any signal. (But, fortunately, there was a wired phone at the tienda).

The bus driver told us that the radiator was blown, and a new bus would come from Arequipa in 2 hours.

We had already taken 2 hours to go only 1 hour of the 5 hour trip. 3 hours later... the replacement bus finally arrived. We finally got going again at about 3pm. (we were supposed to have been at our destination by then).

Most of the day was driving across Peruvian wilderness... dry and mountainous.

We got to the small town of Juliaca just at dark. We only had then about 30 KM to go... we figured a half an hour at most. But then we arrived at road under repair. In the dark, our bus driver couldn't see where exactly to go (no lighted signs or even reflective cones, and a momentary lull in traffic). So he pulled into the wrong track and promptly got stuck. After futzing around for about 10 minutes trying to get unstuck, they finally told everyone to get off the bus. With the load lightened, he finally rocked the bus free.

Getting the Bus Unstuck

The road continued as a rutted track for another mile or so... 15 more minutes...

Finally arrived in Puno at 7:30 pm, 11 hours later. (for a 5 hour trip). Yes, the bus ride from hell. (no lunch, either).

Friday, July 10, 2009

Waiting Out the Bus Strike in Arequipa

About 2 weeks ago, the transportation workers in Peru declared a strike to protest the new government laws that are going into effect to more tightly regulate driving activities. They have tighted rules for bus drivers and greatly increased fines for violating the rules.

Originally the strike was scheduled for 3 days, July 7-8-9, but some cities decided to strike only for 2 days. We debated whether to try to rush to Cusco before the strike started, but we decided that we liked Arequipa and La Case de Los Pinguinos (our hotel) so much that we'd stay here.

Though the outskirts of Arequipa are very poor and ugly looking, the tourist area downtown is very nice and safe. So we have spent the last few days resting up, enjoying the great internet here, walking around town, and watching the protests.

It turns out that the protests are only a little bit about the new transportation laws. Much of the rhetoric we heard was back on the old theme of the government giving away land rights to 'tribal lands' to foreign mining companies. This has been a simmering problem ever since the agreement was signed last year.

Unfortunately, though Arequipa is only on strike for 2 days, Puno, a city we have to go through to get to Cusco, is on strike for 3 days. We were going to leave yesterday afternoon, assuming they would get tired and go home at 5pm. But before we left the hotel, we heard from several sources in Puno that they were going to keep the barricades up until 10pm. So we decided to stay in Arequipa until this morning. Another

Monday, July 6, 2009

Awesome Condors!

The second day of our Colca Canon trip was mainly about seeing the Andean Condors. We left the hotel early. It was below freezing and everyone was bundled up. Our guide told us that the condors don't come out until the sun gets up high enough, so we stopped at some small towns along the way to burn up a little time.

Churches Built to Withstand Earthquakes!

The towns were typical tourist stops. Each town of course has a beautiful church, a square area, ladies selling local handicrafts, and a couple of people with local animals (llamas and hawks) that the tourists pay to photograph.

One town had girls in local dress dancing around the centerpiece of the square. They do this every morning, in the freezing (but sunny) weather. Several girls had on sandals. Brrr! There are 4-5 tourist vans, and everyone taking pictures. The locals are trying to get you to buy stuff or pay for a photo. I hate this side of tourism!

The rest of the town was usually pitiful... adobe houses, very poor people trying to scratch out a living in a pretty unforgiving environment. I once again blessed my heritage.

One amazing part of the landscape is the miles and miles and miles of terraced mountainside. Very little of it seemed like it was being actively cultivated now (but it IS in the middle of winter and dry season). But I assume a lot of it is still left over from the Inca empire 500 years ago.

The condor place is known as Cruz del Condor (Cross of the Condor). Just as promised, the condors were soaring... about 10 of them in all. But after a half an hour or so, they moved on down the cliff and out of sight. It doesn't look like it in the pictures, but its wingspan is 9-10 feet!!

I was feeling really bad... my bout of 'turistas' had come back unexpectedly, and the altitude was still giving me problems, and it was cold. When we got back on the bus for the trip back to Arequipa, I zonked out, even though we were on rough roads most of the way back!

Feeling Like Crap, I Bravely Smile for the Camera!