Late Monday night, my cousins and I arrived back in Bogotá after our two-week adventure in Peru. Since then, Elena and I have been sleeping lots (11 hours last night), and Carlos is already back at the airport getting on another plane for a family trip to Seattle, where his brother lives.
It was an exhausting last few days, but exciting! Our Inca Trail trek was incredible. We started on December 7th, giddy and curious for what was to come, and ended the trek four days later at Machu Picchu after lots of rain, fog, and challenging stairs. At least that’s where it officially ended – after exploring the ruins, my cousins and I walked about 5km more down countless stairs to get to Macchu Picchu Town a.k.a. Aguas Calientes. We preferred to use the bus fare of 41 soles for a good meal instead, so down we went. We’d already walked so much anyway, what was a little more!
There’s so much to tell about the Inca Trail, and I can’t wait to share our experience. I’ll be posting soon all about it! For now, here are some photo previews:
After taking a train and a bus to get back to Cusco, we spent one more half-day there, enjoying the sunny weather and shopping for some souvenirs. We then got onto a bus to Lima for a 20-hour bus ride. For some reason it felt shorter than the 17 hour bus ride from Ica to Lima – perhaps because we slept most of the time!
We hung out in Lima for a few hours, going for a delicious last lunch at a place called Mama Olla, outdoing ourselves with a ceviche appetizer, a two-course meal, and dessert. We rolled out of the restaurant to hang out in Kennedy Park for a while, a park at the heart of Miraflores filled with cats (aww!), with wifi, and with lots of people just hanging out. There were two groups of musicians just jamming in the centre so we could enjoy both of their music. It was a relaxing way to enjoy our last few hours in Peru.
Our flight left at 9:50pm, and I slept nearly the whole way to Bogotá, where Elena’s dad, my Tio Alfredo, was waiting for us. Crawling into bed and sleeping in until 11:30 the next morning was incredible. Once I’m over this continual exhaustion, I’ll be sure to post more!
Tomorrow, my cousins and I head out of Cusco for the main highlight of our trip – hiking the Inca Trail! It starts at a nearby town called Ollantaytambo and ends at the famous Macchu Picchu, four days later. It’s 45km in total, and involves quite a bit of summiting and descending mountain passes, our highest point being 4215m.
Altitude sickness is a bit of a threat, but we’re prepared. We’ve felt the effects of Cusco’s 3400m altitude the few days we’ve been here, with headaches, fatigue, and heavy breathing from little exercise. But, we walked a ton today, exploring archaeological sites nearby the city, going up and down plenty of stairs, so we’re hoping we’re a bit more acclimatized! We also have some “sorroche pills”- pills for altitude sickness – that a roommate in our hostel kindly gave us since she’s going home, along with an essence called “Agua de Florida.” We’ve used the latter quite a bit for our headaches – you put the water on your hands and inhale deeply three times. It sounds a bit witch-magic-y but it’s worked for us! It has a really strong fragrant smell that clears the nostrils and takes away altitude headaches pretty quickly.
Our guide for the trek came to give us a briefing yesterday and that’s what he recommended. We’re happy we followed his advice!
On our trek we’ll be eight people, plus porters and cooks who accompany all hikers of the Inca Trail. Day One is pretty relaxed, as we take a bus to Ollantaytambo and then walk only about four hours in the day. Our second day will be the toughest, climbing up to that 4215m pass steadily for about 8-9 hours. The third day is marked on our map as “unforgettable” – we’re hoping it’s for the incredible beauty and not for incredible difficulty! Finally on day four we are meant to head out of camp at 3am to get to Macchu Picchu around 8 or 9 in the morning. Fingers crossed it won’t be too rainy and we’ll get a nice view of the sunrise! After touring Macchu Picchu we’re planning to head to the nearby town, Aguas Calientes, to enjoy a good lunch and some hot springs for our achey muscles. We’ll then head back to Cusco to spend one more day here.
Cusco so far has been really enjoyable, although quite chilly at night. We did a free walking tour and saw some cool parts of the city, went to the Inca Museum, did some Alpaca wool sweater shopping (sooo soft!), and today explored four different nearby ruin sites before having a late lunch.
We spent our evening buying the last-minute things we need for the trail, packing, and mentally preparing. We’ve heard it’s pretty hard from a number of people, but we’re CRAZY excited. I’ll be sure to write about how it goes when we get back! Til then, wish us luck. 🙂
I’m sitting in the lounge area of our Cusco hostel using a public computer, huddled in a warm hoodie, leggings, and my coziest socks. Shivering and rubbing my hands together to stay warm, it’s hard to believe that just yesterday I was sitting poolside enjoying the breeze amid the 31 degree Celsius weather.
It’s a bittersweet reality. My cousins and I spent three hot, enjoyable days in the desert area of Peru, first in Paracas, and then in Huacachina, a desert oasis close to the town of Ica. Last night, we then got on a bus to take a seventeen-hour long trip to the high-altitude, much chillier Cusco. It was the longest bus I’ve ever been on, but we had fancy bed-style chairs so we could sleep more or less comfortably. The scenery was stunning as well: canyons, mountains, valleys, and even a large alpaca herd walking nearby right as we woke up. *Aww.*
It was cool to see the changing landscapes, going from the desert towards the Andes, the trees and shrub growth going from almost none, to some but dry, to green and lush. In a way the Cusco area is pretty similar to some parts of Colombia. The desert of the past few days however, although there are deserts in Colombia too, was something completely new to me and my cousins. I don’t think any of us realized just how “deserty” our stops would be. We soon realized.
Right after we got off the bus in Paracas and grabbed our bags, there were some staff there who asked us if we were interested in doing a tour to the Paracas National Reserve. It was leaving in twenty minutes so we had to think quickly. We were a bit skeptical, not sure how legitimate it was, but it seemed normal enough and the price was right so we decided to go for it. We were so glad we did! We were the only ones on the tour so we had our own personal guide, Luis. He was really passionate and knowledgable about the reserve, and he explained a lot of the science behind the unique landscape. We were blown away by the beauty and the desolation.
Luis encouraged us to reflect on what we were feeling: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, even tasting (he got us to lick some crystals so we could discover they were salt). He gave us what sounded like a riddle – “The hotter the temperature, the colder it feels,” which we were surprised to realize was true, feeling the cool breeze. He explained it in more scientific terms; the hot and cold air pressures mix to cause the strong wind we were feeling. I’m no scientist though, so can’t explain it much further than that!
Although we giggled at first at Luis’ hippie-esque approach, we soon found it to be meditative and humbling to open up all our senses to what we were experiencing in the moment. He made us appreciate it all the more. Afterwards, he took some funny photos of us and drove us around to other interesting spots with nice views onto the ocean.
After the tour, we headed to our hostel to spend the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and the beach, and enjoyed a delicious ceviche and seafood rice at a nearby restaurant near the seaside boulevard.
The next morning we went on what is probably the most popular adventure in Paracas – a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands. It’s about a half hour ride to the islands, where you then spend around an hour puttering slowly around the islands to see the amazing diversity of wildlife that live there. We saw lots of sea lions, Humboldt penguins (eee!), and uncountable numbers of birds. One section of the island seemed to be black but it was only because it was completely covered with birds!
With all those birds, of course, comes lots of bird poo. This soon became evident as the pungent odour hit our nostrils. Some people were already feeling a bit sea-sick, and I’m sure that smell didn’t help at all. Interesting though is that this bird poo coming from a diet of mainly fish, called guano, is highly sought after for use as a fertilizer, as it’s very rich in certain minerals needed for plant growth. In this way, the Ballestas Islands are very important for the production of this guano, desirable for agriculture around the world.
But enough about bird poo. As Luis had mentioned the day before, if you really think about what is going on in this part of Peru, it’s fascinating. There are penguins living within half an hour boat ride from a desert! The world never ceases to amaze me. Here are some photos from Islas Ballestas:
Another really cool thing about the Islas Ballestas tour is that the boats pass an enormous geoglyph in the sand that is known as “the candelabra.” Nobody knows who drew it there, or when, or how, or even how it has stayed intact all these years even with all the wind and waves that it is susceptible to. Some materials found in the area were carbon-dated to around 200 BC so it could be as far back as that. Or maybe it’s more recent. Aliens? Who knows. Yet another great mystery of this planet!
That night we took a bus to Ica, and a taxi to our hostel in Huacachina. Huacachina is a really neat little place that is principally touristic. There is a small lagoon surrounded by hotels and restaurants, which is then surrounded by desert. You can walk around the whole place in about ten minutes! We went dancing at night at a resto-bar funnily called “Huaca-F**king-China,” a popular place with the locals as well as with tourists. We downed some pisco sours and headed onto the dance floor, happy to be able to sleep in the next morning.
The main touristic draw of Huacachina, besides being the only oasis in South America, are the activities that you can do in the neighbouring desert: dune buggy tours and sandboarding. They were so fun! Some of the dunes we boarded down were really steep and launching yourself off the plateau, it kind of felt like you were offering yourself to the Incan gods, but luckily we all left in tact, giddy with the excitement. Carlos had a good taste of the sand when he wiped out on one run, and Elena was the pro of the starfish pose when going down on her belly. If you are ever in the area, definitely try it out, it’s a good laugh!
We finished off our day with a dip in the pool and then a hike up some dunes to see the sunset. We were a bit late for it, but it was a big workout to get there so we stayed a while and watched the moon get brighter and the nighttime dune buggies go by.
When it was time to leave for the bus station, we asked the guy at the front desk if he could call us a taxi. He said sure, went away from the desk, stuck his head out the main door and whistled. A taxi then showed up a few seconds later. We laughed our heads off; it gave a whole new meaning to “calling a taxi.” We then went a bit crazy in the bus station, waiting for an extra two hours due to an accident on the highway, and promptly passed out once we finally got on the bus. Seventeen hours later, here we are! We’re excited to explore Cusco tomorrow, and preparing mentally for the Inca Trail hike we will do in a few days. But first – sleep!
Have any tips on Cusco, the Inca Trail, or Macchu Picchu? We’d love to hear them. Comment here or send me a message if you do!