Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Colca Canyon

First off, Eric is indeed still on this trek despite his lack of posts. He has been using his internet time to buy parts for the Rwanda hydro project, while I, lacking such a noble task, wile away the time writing these posts and reading the New York Times.

We got back yesterday afternoon from a three-day, two-night trip to the Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. When I hear the word "canyon," I immediately conjure images of one of the jewels of the National Park Service, the majestic Grand Canyon. As Eric and I were somewhat disappointed to find out (although I think Eric had a more realistic notion to begin with), the actual physical manifestation of the word "canyon" can apparently vary widely. The Colca Canyon, while beautiful, might be better described as a deep valley, no matter how it was geologically formed. Therefore, having seen and walked through quite a few valleys on our previous trek, the scenery wasn't particularly novel and when combined with four hours of sleep before hiking down dusty switchbacks for four hours, we were a little grumpy the first day. However, our spirits quickly rose when we reached our first night's lodgings, a remote colony of huts run by an extremely amiable man named Claudio. While basic, the bed was comfortable and the view overlooking the confluence of two rivers was spectacular. Oh, and did I mention the hot springs? We also met a guided group and quickly became friends with a father and son pair of French Canadians, so by evening we were excited for the next day.

The next day began at 9:30 as we hiked up the far side of the canyon and then back down into the valley to a little set of huts and swimming pools called the Oasis. The 11 hours of sleep from the previous night (it's amazing what happens without electricity) made this trek pretty enjoyable. However the highlight was definitely lounging by the naturally filled pools in the afternoon while playing cards and reading. The only bummer of the day was that Eric developed a rash under his lip which we soon determined to be caused by the sap of a cactus he had played with the day before. The white, milky sap became sticky as he pinched his fingers together, which was cool, but he must have accidentally wiped his face with those same fingers, causing the rash. It's healing quickly though and is even a little amusing since it mostly just looks like he has jam on his face.

The final day was pretty rough as it began at 4am and ended three hours and 1100 meters straight up later. Although cursing under my breath most of the way up, I did feel quite a sense of accomplishment as I looked back down into the canyon. We had thought we might be able to catch the private bus back to Arequipa which our French Canadian friends had come on, but once in town we were bummed to learn that it was full. However, we eventually made it back to Arequipa on a public bus (after close to 7 hours of enduring Peruvian Synth Pop Music) and were both quite happy to have done the trek, despte our initial disappointment with it's "canyonness."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Trek, Machu Picchu, and Arequipa

Well this post has been delayed for a while. I began it a couple of days ago and was able to add a few more pictures of our early exploits, but then became too fed up with the slow internet connection to continue. Therefore, there are still no pictures of Mach Picchu, for which I apologize, but I will post them as soon as I get back to the States on Saturday and don´t have to share bandwith with 20 other people!

Here begins the original post, above will be an update:



We visited this Inca site (pronounced very similarly to ¨Sexy Woman¨ the same day as Pisac. It´s about a 30 minute walk outside of Cusco and was one of the last strongholds of the Inca. They used it as a base from which to attack the Spanish in Cusco. After the Inca were finally defeated, some of the stones from the site were removed to use for new Spanish buildings in Cusco. The last photos is sunset over Cusco as we walked home.


As I said, the trek was awesome: great guide, beautiful views, and friendly locals. Unfortunately my camera also took a bath in the hotsprings where we began our trip, so it was out of commission for the first two days. Luckily, it dried out just in time for an adorable song from the local school children in the second night´s village. Our tour company donates 5% of its profits to support local causes, one of which is providing a school teacher for the children in this village. In return for their song and their patience at our desire to take pictures of them, we gave them oranges and bananas since fruit isn´t particularly common in the highlands.


W e made it into Arequipa early Saturday morning (5:30am) after another pleasant experience on a night bus. The seats reclined even further than on our bus from Lima to Cusco and even more valuable, this company decided NOT to play movies the entire night. We have one more long bus ride from Arequipa to Lima before we fly home and I have to say, I´m almost looking forward to it.

After trying three separate hostels, we found one in our price range and with an open double. We then proceeded to crash for about two and a half hours (no matter how comfortable the bus, you don´t sleep well) before rallying to see the two biggest tourist sites in Arequipa: the Monastery de Santa Catalina and Juanita, the Ice Princess. Eric was not a fan of the monastery, which was actually a convent, but I thought it was rather beautiful in its simplicity. There were tons of different colors and beautiful plants throughout the city-block complex and although somewhat repetitive, I thought it was interesting to see how these women lived for about 400 years. Apparently, back in the day, they threw parties and generally kept up the noble lifestyles of their pre-nun days until some party-pooper of a bishop decided to crack down. Oh well, at least they still had God I guess.

We then headed to see Juanita, a girl of 12-14 who was sacrificed to the Gods by the Inca about 500 years ago on top of Mt. Ampato. She was discovered about 15 years ago when the ash of a nearby volcano melted the snow of Mt. Ampato, uncovering several burial sites. It was one of the best-run attractions we´ve been to in Peru and we both found the history of the discovery and the archaeological extrapolations about the sacrifice fascinating. The guide was also informative and took us through all of the different items found with Juanita and the two other children found on the mountain including the small replicas of everyday items like pots and llamas to the amazingly well preserved weavings and Juanita herself.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Short Update and PICTURES

I don´t have much time to write because Eric and I need to head for our night bus to Arequipa shortly, but we finally have the ability to add some pictures! Therefore, most of this post will be pictures with a few captions (hopefully they´ll line up with the correct picture).

We just got back late last night from a fantastic four-day trip that went through high altitude mountains and valleys near Cusco and ended in an all-day visit to Machu Picchu. I kind of chose our company on instinct and it turned out to be a great choice. The company really understood what we were looking for on our tour - an alternative to the highly-commercialized and heavily-trafficked "Inca Trail." We began at some wonderful hot springs and then walked for about four and a half hours through the mountains, camping in a small village. As I mentioned in my last post, we were considering renting an extra mule to carry our stuff. However, we were delighted to find out at our pre-trek briefing that we were only expected to carry a day bag with water and an extra layer anyway, so the mule was unnecessary. Furthermore, our tents and things were all ready for us everyday when we arrived at camp, which was followed by a sit down meal of really good, simple food. Although not particularly hard-core, even Eric admitted that it was a pretty nice way to camp!

Being the only tourist around for two of the four days of our trek, we also got a very real perspective on the life of the Peruvians living in the highlands. We saw tons of llamas and alpacas and were offered more beautiful weavings than we could justify buying (although we did pick up a few!). Overall the people were really friendly and seemed to be completely self-sufficient. They farmed on these amazing terraces where it would seem impossible to grow things and managed pretty large herds of animals which provided clothing, meat, and fertilizer (I´ve never seen so much poop!). On our third day we hiked for half of the day and then spent the afternoon at an amazing Incan site called Ollantaytambo. The masonry was absolutely spectacular. They fit the rocks together like puzzles in order to provide greater resistance to the large earthquakes that occasionally rock Peru, and given that the Inca didn´t even have iron tools, it was absurdly impressive. Pictures below.

In the evening of the third day we took a train to Aguas Calientes, which is the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. We only slept for about 5 hours because we all wanted to get there as early as possible, with the hope of seeing the sunrise. Although clouds foiled any chance of seeing the sunrise, it worked out well because there was SO much to explore. I think I can safely say that it surpassed both of our expectations, both in craftsmanship and scale. It was also really nice to have a guide to explain what we were looking at. Eric and I also decided to climb up to the top of Machu Picchu mountain, roundtrip 3 hours but well worth it. The view was spectacular and we saw a lot of really interesting flora and fauna (it´s a completely different environment than even an hour away). I´m going to stop writing now so that I have time to upload the pictures, but Eric will probably contribute more soon.


Eric stooping to buying a McFlurry.

Eric looking rather hesitant as he faces another bite of one of Peru´s national specialties, ceviche. Although the first bites were delicious, an entire meal of super limey fish became pretty unappealing.

Traffic mimes. Enough said.


A squished avocado during our LONG bus ride from Lima to Cusco. What at first seemed like a tragedy turned into a tasty treat as we squeezed avocado onto chips.

The Plaza de Armas (central Cusco)

A view over Cusco from our budget hotel.


The market which Eric unfairly criticized in his last post.

The ruins at Pisac. They spread over quite a large area and thanks to some adventurous trail blazing by Eric, we ended up finding an Inca tunnel (below)!

Cactus flower and the Inca terraces in the distance.

And a guinea pig castle in the market. Guinea pig is another Peruvian specialty, although we´ve yet to try it.

Ahhh, I´m out of time so we´ll have to post the most recent pictures when we get back on! Sorry for the tease - I´m sure most of you just wanted to see the photos of Machu Picchu. Stay tuned.

Hope everyone is well! Love, Alix and Eric

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pisac Ruins

We set out this morning to make the most of our Boleto Turistico (see everything within 100 miles for one price) we purchased yesterday. Sunk costs be damned, we were going to make the most of these things, and set off early in the morning to find a collectivo taxi to get us to Pisac.

The town is about an hour north of Cusco, and we were going not only to see stunning ruins and the remains of some ridiculous terraced farming, but also to shop the nauseatingly touristy market in town. We rolled up to a street corner with 70 people waiting for rides, and got in a taxi with a couple from California. They turned out to be awesome, and we spent the rest of the day wandering the ruins with them.

We began in the markets, driving a hard bargain for alpaca wool products and brightly painted objects. We were expecting everything to be fairly expensive but were surprised to find $8 felt fedoras and 80 cent ceramic phallus statues.

We met back up with John and Anneka and drove up to the top of the ruins, perched 1500´ feet above town. The ruins were typically incredible, with small clusters of buildings perched in absolutely ridiculous clifftop locations, overlooking many acres of what used to be terraced farming. We explored the ruins for a while on our own, having little clue what we were actually looking at or the history behind it. We´re looking forward to having a guide for the next leg of the trip to provide some historical context.

We soon stumbled upon a lightly-traveled path from the top of the ruins down the hill. this took us through a tiny squeeze of a rock tunnel through the side of the cliff, which spit us out on the other side of the peak. At the opening of the tunnel, there were several traditionally dressed Peruvians with flutes. They sounded worse than my sister when she was first learning recorder, which I had previously thought was impossible. A big industry here is the ´person carrying around a baby llama and wearing a woven poncho to charge tourists 1 Sol.´ Alix is still waiting for the exact one that she wants to take a picture of.

We´re off to meet back up with John and Anneka for dinner at a place called Victor Victoria. Apparently it has absolutely amazing local and traditional bacon cheeseburgers. Photos are coming soon, we promise.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

20 hours and 13,000 feet to Cusco

After the longest bus ride of our lives at 20 hours, Eric and I made it safely to Cusco. It was definitely the nicest bus I have ever been on, complete with endless American movies in Spanish (and some with English subtitles), deeply reclining seats, and a free dinner! The dinner was probably the highlight of the trip for me because one, it´s always nice to get something unexected, and two, it´s even better when that surprise is delicious and hearty. It was a simple meal of braised beef, potatoes, and rice but it really hit the spot, and Eric even dove into the mysterious dark red, gelatinous, syrupy stuff that was presented as dessert. We had also stocked up on food before we left Lima, thinking we would need to provide our own, so much of the otherwise uneventful bus ride was occupied by casual snacking. I had also been a little concerned that I might get car sick given that the trip climbs to about 13,000 feet over snaking switchback turns, but with a little help from my old friend Dramamine and about 2 liters of water, I was fine. I´m feeling the altitude a little bit now that we´re in Cusco, but so far both of us are holding up okay and have been told that most people acclimate in a day or so. We are seriously considering the idea of renting a donkey to carry our things on our trek though. At about $5 more a day, it seems like a pretty sweet´s more whether Eric´s manhood can withstand such a show of pansiness.

We just dropped our things off at a nice littel hotel near the Plaza de Armas in Cusco and are going to head out to explore in the afternoon. I expect to be looking at Eric´s back the majority of the time as he outpaces me, but I´ll manage. Then we´ll probably get some dinner, stroll around some more and hit the sack relatively early so we can get up to go to the big Sunday market in Pisac tomorrow. One of our couch surfing aquaintances in Lima told me that I could find tons of cheap gems and stones there, so I´m excited to see what they have. Then on Monday morning, we begin our hike to Machu Picchu.

We are taking tons of pictures and will be sure to post them as soon as we find someplace to upload them!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ni Hao

I'd like to say hi to all of our two readers, we really appreciate the implicit support that you are socially obligated to give in situations such as this.

We don't have a computer, so updating this blog (who reads a travel blog anyway?) will be difficult. Stay tuned for photos of the two of us smiling with aviators.

Love, Eric


After much debate, Eric and I agreed that creating a blog for our trip through Peru would be a good idea. So, welcome to the 15 of you who might actually care enough about us to read it! Endless Debate also describes the general state of our interactions, as not only are we both prone to arguing positions we can't factually support, but we also have very different attitudes toward travel. Eric's tolerance for risk is much higher than mine, and as he himself said, "I have a natural aversion to over-preparing." I, on the other hand, prefer to think as far ahead as possible. However, I think that we'll end up balancing each other out in that I'll prevent Eric from doing anything unnecessarily dangerous and he'll force me out of my comfort zone a bit.

We are leaving for the airport in about an hour and from there we will fly to Lima on a direct flight. Much to our surprise (and mild embarrassment for our ignorance), Lima turns out to be only one hour behind NYC. As you will discover if you look at a map, the west coast of South America is pretty much in line with the east coast of the U.S., meaning that we will not have to worry about jet lag. Therefore, we're planning to basically get off the plane, drop our bags at the South American Explorers Club, and then sight see with the help of a local Peruvian whom we met via For those of you unfamiliar with couch surfing, it is a website that was created to facilitate international exchange by connecting people around the world and allowing them to sleep on each other's couches or spare beds. I considered trying this out when I was in Paris, but was a little wary doing it by myself. However, with Eric, and the assurance gained from reading reviews from other travellers, we're excited to try it out and meet some locals.

Alright, that's it for now. We will do our best to regularly update this and to make it somewhat interesting to read!