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Day 8: Sand Surfing

We flew out of Arequipa to Lima. We were on a tight time schedule so settled for a drive through of Lima. Our guide pointed out the important landmarks in Lima. The current campaign that is popular in Lima is the anti-Pizarro movement. The conquistador’s statue has been removed from the city center and placed at a park behind the Government Palace.

On our drive to Huacachina, what do we see?! In every color, autoriskshaws from Hamara Bajaj :)

We drove 200 miles in 6- 7 hours to reach Huacachina, an oasis in the middle of a desert. A sand buggy was waiting for us. It was an adrenaline pumping roller coaster like ride up and down the sand dunes. We stopped at some sand dunes that were 50 – 100 meters tall and surfed down the dunes lying tummy down on the surf board. The kids piggy backed down with us and requested for faster, taller dunes! Sand surfing rocks.

We took a trip to the supermarket to pick up some chips, water and yogurt for dinner. I was expecting to see a small store and what do I find?! A huge monstrosity of a shopping mall that can give any Walmart superstore run for its money. People were flocking to it like there is no tomorrow. Whether they can afford it? Do these people really need 300 varieties of shampoo that are sold at such a huge over head? Are people’s incomes going to come up to match the rising cost of living? Is this growth? If so is it sustainable? Peru seems to be caught up in the same bubble that exists in all developing countries.

Day 9: Nazca Lines

The next day we departed early to catch our 12 seater plane over the Nazca lines. Nazca culture is dated at 400AD – 650AD. In the desert, etched on the ground are these lines that range from simple straight lines to closed shapes to figures such as humming bird, tree, whale etc. What these lines signify and why they were made still remains a mystery. The geoglyphs are enormous, some the size of a football field! So the Nazca culture must have had some kind of scaling model and technique to construct these figures. Remember, they didn’t have a script!

The children heard the, ‘We are going to take a small plane to see the Nazca lines’ prep talk so much that they were wondering among themselves, ‘Why just lions in Nazca? What happened to the other animals? Are the Nazca lions better than the African lions?’

Flight above Nazca lines is not for the weak hearted/stomach(ed). The whole ride is approximately 15 – 20 min long and you reach 3200 feet in the first five minutes. As is the flight coined a new definition for ‘bumpy’. To add to this, they tilt the flight 15 – 20 degrees side ways on both side to make sure that the people get a good view of the lines. Before you board the plane, they weigh you and make you sit in a way that the weight is well balanced inside the plane. Unfortunately Chula has to sit by herself on a single seat. She was scared, but managed quite well. Of the 12 people in the plane, two youngest children fell asleep, one adult gave up and closed her eyes, one adult threw up, one about to throw up and the others barely managed. I found that sniffing Purell helped. But I had to sniff so much Purell to not throw up, that I was wobbly from all the alcohol that went to my head! Next to Machu Pichu, Nazca was a fantasy of mine and I am quite happy that I could do this.

After the first few figures, R gave up taking pictures and settled for keeping his stomach together. The astronaut in picture below is taken from an elevation of 3000 feet and is approximately 100 feet long. So you get the idea of the size of these things!

On our ride back to Lima we stopped at Chauchilla to see the excavated tombs. There are around 12 tombs and if you have seen one, you have seen it all. On a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being the best, I would rate it at 3. May be with interesting history and facts it can be a 4.5, but that is about it.

Lunch break was at a winery at Chincha. We were given a personalized tour of the Pisco making at this winery. They still make Pisco the old fashioned way – four women dance on about three tonnes of grapes the whole night :)

From this point onwards it was a race against time for us to make it back to Lima in time to catch our flight.

Misc

If you have children 8 years or younger in your group, check child rates. Though it is not specified, they are charged a different rate for bus/train/entrance tickets.

They have clean restrooms in most public places. You have to pay to use the restrooms. Pick up toilet paper where you pay. There are no toilet papers inside many public restrooms.

All the women in Peru seem to know Sharukh Khan.

In Machu Pichu my friend totally terrified our guide by asking, ‘Did they shoot the Indian movie here?’ The poor guy quickly replied, ‘No, no, no. No shooting. No Indians.’

The most common term used by Peruvian people – ‘No problem-no’.

I was pleased as punch that I was able to observe my special friday fasts in Peru too. It made me realize that if mentally prepared, all the fuel my body needs is two bananas, one avacado and a bottle of water over a 12 hour period of time.

If you don’t mind alcohol, try the Pisco sour with the raw eggs. R tried it with and without eggs and declared that with eggs is mucho delicioso.

I salivated over the super size corn they have. Finally tasted some and wasn’t that impressed.

When you go to small restaurants and if you are a big group, remember that they go out and purchase ingredients only after you order. Fresh food, but it takes a couple of hours.

Papas a.k.a potatoes. A member of our group gave specific verbal and non verbal instructions to cook the potatoes with onions, picante and voila potato curry that went well with our chapathis.

Italian food is quite popular, especially Fettucine and  pesto. But they kill you with the cheese over dose.

So folks, if any one is going to Peru, drop a line and I would be more than happy to chat. Ta! Happy new year and all that.




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    From Cusco we took a overnight bus to Arequipa. The bus was top of the line with seats that incline to 135 degrees, temperature controlled, food service, restrooms etc. But I will not do it again.

    Cruz Del Sur bus reservations can be done online. Bigger groups be aware that one can make only five reservations at a time. Two of us did the reservations for our group of ten and forgot to get the print outs for the second group. The thing is, their software is set up to search by the booking reservation number. We had our reservations, we had passports to prove our ID, but they couldn’t look up our names in the roster. Add the language barrier and time constraint, the situation was explosive. The lady checking the reservations wanted us to go to a browsing center and get our reservation number. It was 7.45PM, the moon was out, a new city and our bus leaves in 15 min. We had the good sense to refuse to do any such thing. Finally the lady offered to come with us to a browsing center. YaadaYaada and I jumped in a taxi with her and went to a browsing center. Problem solved? No. One realizes how spoiled one tends to be with the high speed internet and stuff like that! We type mail.yahoo.com and literally stared at the screen for what seemed like eternity for the sign in screen to appear. Meanwhile the rest of the group waiting at the bus station was wondering where we disappeared. 10 min for our bus to leave, finally we pulled out the reservation number and the lady who came with us called the bus station to start the boarding. But the rest of the group refused to step in to the bus till they see that Yaadayaada and I have landed in the bus station! Aren’t we all cute?! All drama aside we boarded the bus and traveled through the Andes to get in to Arequipa. Though we were sleeping the altitude was bothersome and I had to fight the urge to throw up.

    Day 5: Arequipa

    Arequipa is the second biggest town in Peru. Spanish colonists constructed most of the buildings with a white colored volcanic rock called the sillar and hence the name ‘white city’.

    The plaza de armas or the city center is typical of the Spanish colonial period.

    The basilica is framed by the volcano El Misti and looks impressive. The two other volcanoes in the region are Chachani and Pichu Pichu. The locals believe that El Misti is the husband and Chachani and Pichu Pichu are the wives.

    Some from our group took the full loop bus tour that included the city and country tour. The rest of the group, read my friend and moi, popped paracetamol and slept off the sickness.

    The bus tour is typical open roof top bus with a guide. Entrance to places like Santa Catalina monastery, Arequipa founder’s mansion,  Sabandia mill need to be purchased separately and are not included in the bus tour ticket price.

    Day 6: Colca Canyon

    We took a two day, one night bus trip to the Colca Canyon. Once you reach the outskirts of Arequipa, we saw, what was described by our tour guide as, ‘No running water-no? So people have this black tanks-no? A truck-no, fills it with water once a week’ and we all went, ‘Ada- namma SINTEX tank-no?! Same in India too-no?! We know all about the water trucks and no running water.’

    It was dry dry dry that my nose was bleeding in and out of Colca.

    We spotted lots of Vicuna in the wild. Very graceful, doe-eyed, petite creatures. Apparently baby vicunia fur is the most expensive and a jacket made of baby vicuna fur costs about $3000.

    Colca Canyon is twice as deep as Grand Canyon, but not as dramatic as Grand Canyon because the slope is gradual. Though dry, dusty and arid  the Incans built agriculture terraces through out the canyon. The bottom half of the terraces were irrigated by the Colca river and the terraces at top half were watered by the glaciers that existed long time ago.

    Peru is still very much an agriculture based society. Copper mining is also big.

    There are more than 3000 types f documented varieties of potatoes cultivated in Peru.

    Through out the lower walls of the canyon, dug out in the rock face are little caves or colcas where the produce was stored before being traded. How the Incans and pre-Incans reached these colcas which are only a few feet above the river, on almost vertical rock faces with huge loads of produce on their back is a wonder.

    The natives in the Colca canyon still live the old fashion way. In and out of the canyon is by foot only.

    In Colca, we stayed almost in the middle of no where is this beautiful lodge cabin with beautiful hammocks in open space. The children loved the hammock.

    YaadaYaada, her husband and R went for a three hour hike across the canyon, got a close glimpse of the colcas. I was told that they crossed a old rickety rope bridge, so old and fragile that the guide said only one person on the bridge at a time. I turned green with envy and cursed my sickness. On this hike they also visited hot springs.


    Day 7: Condor watching and back to Arequipa.
    We left early in the morning to watch condors. Andean condors are the world’s largest flying birds. End of Nov is not the best time for condor watching because it is nesting time for the condors. We were dropped off at the Condor cross over look. We waited for almost 90 min with no condor in sight. Finally one, almost bored looking condor appeared, glided up and down, sat down for 10 min and posed for the pictures and flew away. My guess is that was sent by the condor mommies who figured that the noisy humans will never leave without watching at least one condor.

    The rest of the day was spent in driving back to Arequipa. It takes 6 hours one way from Arequipa to Colca canyon. The road only reminded me of the Thanksgiving song my girls sing.

    This old road is hard and bumpy
    Aren’t turkeys are wild and jumpy
    Driver, driver not so jerky
    Or you will make us lose our turkey.

    Only replace turkeys with throw up!

    We were in Arequipa and still had a good couple of hours of day light and I wanted to catch at least a small bit of the city. So YaadaYaada, her husband and I took a taxi to see Santa Catalina monastery and Juanita museum. Singing songs from Sound of music in my head, we reached the Santa Catalina monastery, but it was closed. Bummer. But we did the Juanita(Ice Maiden) museum and I enjoyed it. No cameras allowed in the museum. They have a small collection of well organized exhibits and the guide was very knowledgeable.

    Juanita was a young girl of 13 or 14 offered by the Incans as a sacrifice to appease their gods. The museum contains collection of objects from 5 different human sacrifices and the guide explained the significance of each object. It offers a good insight in to how the Incans kept statistics, maps, data etc. One amazing detail – the Incans preserved the umbilical cord of the baby in chincha(corn alcohol), because they believed that the umbilical cord has high medicinal properties. When the child falls sick, they gave the child a small portion of the chincha. That is cord blood ans stem cell theory for you folks.

    While we were out the other two husbands, mine and the other friend’s cooked dinner for us in the hotel’s kitchen. Simple Maggie noodles, but the hotel staff were super kicked about the men cooking. The minute we got back from sightseeing they burst out to tell us with pride and joy about the men cooking in the kitchen :)

    Day 8,9 follows and we are all done.




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    Day 3: Machu Pichu

    To reach Machu Pichu from Cusco there are 2 options – by foot or by train.

    Trains go all the way up to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Pichu. From Aguas Calientes it is a 15 minute bus ride to the ruins.

    You can take a train from Cusco or from Sacred Valley(Ollantay), which is kind of mid way point between Cusco and Aguas Calientes.

    Cusco to Ollantay can be done by bus, train or private taxi. But Ollantay to Aguas Calientes is by train or foot only.

    Hiram Bingam is the most expensive train and Backpacker is the least. We took Vistadome, simply because that is the earliest train out of Cusco, and it is the second expensive to Hiram Bingam. We were told that scenic experience wise there isn’t much difference between the trains. In the luxury trains they provide food and ambience.

    Perurail.com lists the different train options, schedule and online reservations. Research fine print to understand the baggage limit and restrictions. They have a 11 pound restriction on the Vistadome, but one never knows about it till they pay and print the ticket or, as in our case, till we actually landed on the train station with our 7 small suitcases+ 4 big suitcases + 6 backpacks and misc. The train staff were shocked but were nice enough to fit our bags in to another kaboose.

    They serve breakfast on Vistadome, but if you are vegetarian, carry basic butter/jam/cheese sandwiches.

    The train ride is very scenic. The Urubamba river flows with you throughout the train ride. Colorful adobe houses with thatched/mud tile roofs, vast stretch of agriculture land, farmers tilling the land with old fashion plow and cows, graffiti on the house walls, it was typical rural India to me. Keep an eye out for the beautiful snow covered peaks that look down on you. Snow covered peaks this close to the equators was a surreal experience for me. Logic says that it is not the latitude, but the altitude, but ever time I saw snow, I couldn’t help but be awestruck.

    By foot – Hike starts from Sacred Valley. Only 500 permits issued for a day. The classic Inca trail is walking 42 km over 4 days. The challenge is not the distance or the bags you will be carrying, for you will have porters to carry bags, pitch camps and cook food, but the challenge is to stay consistent at that altitude. Alternately you can do the 2 day hike walking 13 km on the first day and visiting Machu Pichu on day two. Remember that the Inca trail is one way and the only way out of Machu Pichu/Aguas Calientes is by train, you cannot hike back.

    Every 10-15 min a bus departs from Aguas Calientes to Machu Pichu. You have to pick up Machu Pichu entrance tickets at Aguas Calientes. Carry water and a power bar inside. It takes 4 hours to see Machu Pichu fully. Be ready to climb numerous flights of steps. Guides are available right outside the entrance.

    Machu Pichu – Location, climate, clouds, history, expectation….all this combined and makes it a  truly mystic location. MP was a resort for royalty. When the Spaniyards came, the selected few moved here with all their riches. The idea was to isolate themselves to persevere till they won over the Spaniyards. So they severed all communication with the rest of the world. But after the Incan empire fell, the exodus happened. It is said that the people left with all important artifacts to the town of Vilcabamba.

    Coming from a Spanish occupied town (Cusco), one can spot the difference in city planning. Unlike the European style where there is a city center with a church and everything radiating from that center, Incan cities are planned as sectors – upper agricultural, lower agricultural, sacred sector, residence for nobility, residence for common people, gathering places and so on.  Leaving you with some pictures, because one cannot do justice to the site in one post.

    Aguas Calientes means hot water. There are hot springs in the city. Pack you bathing suits if you plan on visiting one.

    Day 4: Train to Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, local markets.

    Ollantaytambo – Though plundered and modified by the Spanish, this truly is an impressive fortress. Sitting in the lush and fertile Scared Valley, this ruin is a must see. It takes anywhere bewteen 2-3 hours to see this ruins. One understands how the Incans were not only master masons but also experts in constructing waterways, aqua ducts and irrigation channels. A simple example – all water is tapped from under ground springs, but the inlet and outlet are not a straight line. The outlet from the underground source and the outlet through which the water flows out is offset by a few inches in such a way that water gushes out, circles around a few times before it flows out, thus creating a centrifuge to filter the floating impurities. Picture here.

    During the golden period of the Incas, Ollantay served as a trading outpost. People from all around Cusco bought their wares and bartered it here. The fortress has numerous granaries high in the rock face. The altitude and dry air preserves the stored vegetables and grains.

    By design or by nature the rock face contains shapes. Tell me what you can see :)

    There is a cool surgery table constructed on a rock, outlet to drain blood, niche where the body fits with the head at an elevation et al.

    Local Markets: We stopped at the Pisac local market and Cusco artisan center before we had a nail biting, action packed episode at the Cruz Del Sur bus station. Stay tuned.

    To read YaadaYaada’s version read this and this.




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    This link has comprehensive information about the best time to visit Peru. In my opinion, if you are not doing the Inca trail, for that matter any major hiking/mountain climbing, the time of the year does not matter. Just take in to account that it rains in the highlands(Cusco, Machu Pichu, Sacred Valley) and add an extra day when you do the itinerary.

    Day1: SFO – Lima.
    LAN flies non stop from select US cities. They give good deals to major South American destinations.

    Giving your credit card information and clicking  on the ‘BOOK THIS FLIGHT’ is not the same as booking the flight. First your credit card company goes on alert, few hours later LAN comes back and asks you to confirm first name+last name+passport#+frequent flier number/passenger/ 4-6 hours. Few hours later, they ask you to send fax/jpeg of your passport picture page and credit card. After this they ask you to submit a written request for your reservation, which essentially consists of all the data you have given online, on phone, over email, again on phone over the past  36 hours. They are extremely polite and ask you very nicely, but it takes time for the wheels to move.

    LAN’s in flight entertainment system is very good. Food not so much.

    Day2: Lima to Cusco. Sacsayhuaman ruins, Tambomachay ruins and shopping in Cusco’s artisan district.

    The well kept secret is Peru’s airport fees/tax. Every time you fly out of an airport in Peru, be it domestic or international, you are expected to pay airport tax/fee. They use it for maintaining the airport. You can pay it in dollars or soles. Just be sure to check twice or thrice if the amount quoted is in dollars or soles because of the language barrier.

    We flew Peruvian airlines from Lima to Cusco. In general early morning flights are to Cusco are good in terms of departing in time, flying conditions etc.

    99% of the time, the hotels you have booked with provide airport to hotel transfer. Just state the number of people and bags and they will bring suitable vehicles. Also check twice where they will be picking you up from. If they say OUTSIDE the airport, a person will be OUTSIDE holding a board with your name. Porters who meet you inside the airport calling your name and the hotel you have booked with are just people who have made their rounds outside and memorized names from the boards and have no connection what so ever with the hotel. Creative huh?!! :)

    Cusco is at an altitude of 3400m, which means that there is a good chance that the altitude will affect you. If so, do not fear the Sarochi pills are there. Stop by any pharmacy and pick up five for five soles and pop one every 12 hours. Plenty of water, hot tea and low physical activity helps in the first couple of days. If you have been in high altitude before and if you think you can handle it…well you cannot. It is what your body is used to in the present and not how and what you did in teh past.

    Cusco has exactly one family from UP, India. They run an Indian restaurant very close to the city center.

    In the middle of the city of Cusco is the statue of emperor Pachacuti, which to me is such a tamil name!

    Factoring in altitude, jet lag, kids etc, we spent 4 hours site seeing around Cusco. We rented a taxi and visited the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachay and finished off our day in Cusco’s local market. If we had a day to spare, I would have loved to visit Qoricancha, one of the museums housing pre columbian artifacts and spent some in the Plaza de Armas. San Blas also came in highly recommended, but we didn’t do because we ran out of time.

    Sacsayhuman ruins is another 300m climb from Cusco. So if it is your first day allow yourself 60 – 90 min to go around the ruins. If you push yourself you will feel the lack of oxygen.  From the top of Sacsayhuman you can see the whole city of Cusco.

    They say that the fortress is built in the shape of a puma. The construction is awesome, I mean huge stones just fitted without any kind of mortar, earth quake durable construction with wide door ways and the walls naturally built at a 15 degree inclination…. all this by a civilization which had no written script! How they would have planned for these buildings is a constant source of wonder to me!

    The above picture shows the biggest stone in Sacsayhuaman, it weighs about 300 tonnes and is more than 8 meters tall.

    The Incans believed in the puma (the present), the condor(the higher life) and the snake (the underworld). So they incorporated these shapes in to their structures. According to R, the snake in the picture below is more like seeing their child’s ultrasound pictures. Once the doctor says that it is a head, you try and see a head. But that is purely the husband’s POV :)

    Tambomachay ruins is a fancy bath house. It is built in three levels, powered by underground spring water. The spring water is still flowing. Again how the Incas found consistent source of underground water and used it to their advantage is another thing I wonder about. It is said that Tambomachay was used by royalty, for ritual bathing.

    If you love haggling, you will never leave the Cusco local market. We went crazy, buying just for the sake of buying. I just loved the colors. I kind of pushed every one in our group and squeezed in the Cusco local market again on day four :)

    More soon…..




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  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles

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    would be a fitting title for our vacation to Peru. We traveled using all modes of transportation.

    I first planned this vacation in 2002 Dec, didn’t happen for many reasons. Since then hiking the Inca trail to see Machu Pichu had always been at the back of my mind. It finally happened this Thanksgiving break, with some changes to the original plan. Hiking was thrown out of the window, skipped Puno and Lake Titicaca, two other friends and their families joined us, the end result couldn’t have been any more perfect, wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    We were a group of 10 – 6 adults and 4 kids. The children in our group were the true superstars. Peru is not a place for children younger than 10 years of age. The only reason this worked for us was because the children cooperated. They sat by themselves, played by themselves, watched imaginary TV, played imaginary card games, read books, colored, fought and made up without any adult interference, walked, climbed, slept when asked to and ate what was put on their plate. The adults took turns watching the children and doing steep arduous (short)hikes.

    Many package deals are available, but planning on your own is much cheaper. Having said that, though most of the hotels and transportation companies we used had a web presence, it was hard to line up things. It took us approximately 4 man hours to book round trip airline tickets from SFO to Lima through LAN.com, and that is just the tip of the iceberg :) Time Vs money, you pick where you want to compromise.

    Trip advisor and andeantravelweb.com/peru were our bibles.

    I went to Peru fantasizing about Machu Pichu, but was completely won over by Peruvian people.  They go the extra mile to help tourists.

    Peru reminded me of a less crowded, friendlier, much cleaner, rural India from 20 years back.

    If you are a vegetarian, and if you are not ready to make do with pasta for lunch and dinner for all ten days or at times with plain white rice, you are screwed. People are more than willing to cook something that is not in the menu, but it is hard for a culture that eats red meat three times a day and for snack to completely understand the concept of vegetarianism.

    12 packets of Parle-G, four giant packets of Marie biscuit, 4 packets of murukku, 2 packets boondhi, 2 packets of omapodi, 12 maggie packets, 18 cartons of chocolate milk, 100 chapathis, 100 theplas, corriander thokku, cranberry thokku, instant beaten rice upma, 2 packets trail mix, 1 packet of multi-grain cheerios, 36 breakfast bars, one packet mixture, peanut candy, ginger chews, juice boxes…….we carried all this to the southern hemisphere. Our snack bags were bigger than the rest of all our other stuff combined. We had enough stuff to open our own convenience store in Peru and we still starved at times.

    The vegetarian food from LAN airlines is by far the worst I have E.V.E.R had in my life.

    We did not stay in the same place for more than one night. We had to pack and vacate every morning and travel with all our suitcases every day. Peru is used to lot of Europeans with knapsacks, so family of ten with ten suitcases raised quite a few eyebrows. On the Vistadome train towards Machu Pichu, people were literally pointing to our suitcases heaped on the platform.

    I work with kids, which means that I have been sneezed, thrown up, peed and pooed on. In the past three years I  have seriously gotten sick only two times, I am pretty resilient that way. But I was sick as a dog on my dream vacation.

    Last but not the least. If you go on vacation and if you see a guy from your group pet a parrot in the resort you are staying, never follow the lead. Chances are that, it might bite you. Even if you joke that you look so delicious that even a parrot cannot resist, you will still worry if the tetanus and hepatitis booster shots that you neglected 6 months back was wise.




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