> How it all began...
In autumn 2005 we started, like always, looking forward to the summer holidays of the next year. We thought it would be fun to travel around by car and we'd seen many beautiful pictures of Norway on the internet. After a quick check on the climate of this country it was obvious that we had to look further for another destination. We didn't feel like going to southern Europe, so that's why we started looking for nice countries outside our own continent anyway. We'd leave the car home then...
> The Plan
Our first contact with Asia was marvellous, but it would also be fun to try something new. That's how we ended up in South-America and Peru was the country that seemed to offer the most variety in both culture and landscape. It might be a bit to exciting to just go at a venture and we decided to book our flights, the transport and hotels with Outsight travel agency. Like that we'd still have the chance to do some spontaneous activities during the holiday itself, but we were sure to see all the places we definately wanted to see. What we'd put on our list? Lima (you can't skip this one), Pisco (on our way to the south), Nazca (the lines), Arequipa (for the Colca Canyon and Santa Catalina), Puno with its Titicaca Lake and of course the surroundings of Cusco, city of the Incas, with Machu Picchu so close. From now on our roundtrip through the southern part of Peru was something to look forward to.
> Journey to Peru
After a long time of waiting and going through the Rough Guide again and again, finally the moment is there: we're leaving! After a night in the Ibis-hotel Amsterdam-airport a lady at the desk of Delta airlines tells us that our connecting flight can't be checked in yet. We have to arrange this by ourselves in Atlanta, during our 4-hour stopover. After a 9 hour flight we have to pass a couple of extended and long-winded securitychecks, first to enter the United States and right after that to leave the country again. More than two hours before departure of our second flight (to Lima) we arrive at the boarding desk of Delta. They don't have seats for us yet, but if we'll wait patiently everything will be ok, so we are told. After almost an hour of patience we try again, but we really should wait, we will be called to the desk. But not today. An employee of Delta starts to request for volunteers through the microphone instead. The flight is overbooked and they are looking for people who want to stay an extra night in Atlanta and receive a $400,- flightvoucher from Delta Airlines. To make a long story short: Peter and Yvonne have to stay in Atlanta together with 40 other people as the plane leaves and they are send from desk to desk to cash the $200,- cheque they got offered as compensation. The promised hotel is full and we have to find our own in this dark, unknown city. Our luggage stays right where it is: in the deposit, even after a request and 4 hours of waiting amidst other peoples luggage. To make this short story somewhat longer: click here.
Completely exhausted we arrive at theSuper 8 Motel, where our day is made up for by the kingsize bed. The next day we first go out to see Atlanta. The most exciting thing to see here is the "As-Seen-On-TV-etc.-SHOP", where you can buy all the junk you normally see on TV-commerials. At 17.00 hours it's a madhouse at the Delta desk again, as another 40 people have to spend an extra night in Atlanta today. We are lucky to have our seatnumbers now and those of our flights back home. Late in the evening we arrive in a dark Lima, where we soon spot a man waving with a piece of paper with our names on it. It's exactly midnight when he drops us off at the Santa Cruz hotel in Miraflores.
> Peru: Lima
We don't get much to see from Lima, but in the few hours we have to spend there we notice that we don't miss much. The sky is grey and everything is dirty, ugly and noisy. We visit Huaca Pucllana, a pre-Inca temple close to our hotel and by noon we take a cab to the Ormeño busstation, the company that brings us to Pisco. The bus follows the coastline through a dry and sandy area and we see many huts and unfinished houses covered with names in paint for the next elections. Everything is grey and old. Except for the road, which looks like it's hardly one year old.
> Peru: Pisco
As soon as we arrive in Pisco we book a tour to the Ballestas islands and the Paracas National Reserve for the next day. Soon the sun goes down and we find a place to eat before we try to sleep in our noisy San Jorge hotel. At 4 a.m. we can't sleep no longer, because of the dogs who are barking continuesly and the crowing roosters in the distance, but we have to get up early anyway. At 7 they pick us up to go to the harbour at Playa El Chaco Wharf, from where our captain navigates to the Ballestas Islands in a speedboat. When we just left the harbour there are a few dolfins swimming around the boat and on the islands we see penguins, sea lions, thousands of birds, a special kind of little crabs and starfish and many pelicans. When we go to the Paracas reserve in the afternoon we see the Peruvian sun for the first time. After the flamingo spotting (oh, those tiny pink dots are flamingos...?) we go to "the cathedral", a natural rock on the border of the desert and the ocean. Late in the afternoon we're back in Pisco, where we visit the two most interesting buildings of the village in no time: the town hall and the Compañia church.
The next day we have the time to relax for the first time this holiday, but after an afternoon walk to the old pier we find it time to move on: there really is nothing else to do here and we have the feeling that we still haven't arrived in the real Peru yet. Our bus arrives 2 hours behind schedule in Nazca and we're surprised that there is someone to transfer us to the Alegriá hotel in a luxurious van.
> Peru: Nazca
When the mist is gone the sun warms us up quickly. This morning we go to the Chauchilla cemetery, an ancient burial place, where the Nazcas used to burry their dead. Unfortunately the graves have all been robbed and only 12 of them were saved and are now open for visitors. Many things have been in the sunshine and wind of the desert for several years before they were found and exposed like this, but it all still looks very good. Some of the mummies have extremely long hair: the sjamans. The longer the hair, the wiser and more important a man was during his life. A very impressive exhibition. Next stop on our tour is a visit at a potter, still making, baking and painting his pots in a traditional way, like the Nazcas did in earlier times. We also go to a company processing gold and silver, but both of those last activities taste a bit like a sales-trick.
Back in Nazca we walk to Los Paredones, once a commercial city of the incas. For the first time we feel like we're in Peru now. People look less western and for a big part life takes place on the streets. We book an overflight over the famous Nazca lines for tomorrow.
The next morning, however, there is too much fog to fly and we have to wait untill the afternoon before the sun shows up and we are transported to the Nazca Airport. Here we have to wait for 3 more hours before we finally take off, to see the mysterious lines from the sky. The first figures are not very impressive and after the third one Peter is getting a little pale. Our pilot is still making several circles around every figure and a few minutes later Yvonne is feeling a bit sick too. The Hummingbird, the Condor and the Spider are very beautiful though, but we're still glad to be down on earth 30 minutes later. It takes a long time before we start feeling better from this adventure again, but luckily we have to wait untill late tonight for our bus to Arequipa to leave. Another delayed bus and eventually it's after midnight when we leave Nazca.
> Peru: Arequipa and Colca Canyon
After a rough night in the bus with almost no sleep at all, we arrive in Arequipa around 9. We get a room next to the garden with swimming pool, in a cosy hotel. Around 10 o' clock we walk into the city to first visit the Santa Catalina monastery , a beautiful monastery painted in bright red and blue colors. Later we go for a short walk in the city centre to end on the Plaza de Armas, where we almost fall asleep in the nice and warm sunshine. It's time to find our beds, even though it's only 4 in the afternoon.
The next morning Giardino Tours is picking us up, to go to the Colca Canyon, together with 2 English ladies and 2 Peruvians. On the road our guide Gina gives us lots of information about the country, like all about the different climate zones we pass during this upgoing drive. After a while we stop to see alpacas, vicuñas and lamas and we also stop for some stands of locals selling their homemade cloths. We both buy some gloves and a hat of alpaca wool, really nice and soft, but a very funny sight too. Right now we don't need the new clothing yet, even on the highest pass we rather feel dizzy than cold. You really have to get used to an altitude of 5000 meters, and even simply walking around costs more efford than climbing the stairs at home. Soon we descend to 3800 meters, to have lunch with the group in Coparaque and to explore Chivay on our own afterwards. All the people wear colorful costumes here and they all want you to take a picture of them for some change, that's how they still make a small living in this poor area.
In the evening we do feel a bit sick because of the altitude, especially Peter. We don't feel hungry and go to bed early, a bed with 4 blankets. As soon as the sun is gone it's freezing here.
The next morning, when we get up at 5.20, we feel slightly better and we even like to eat some of the bread. The sunrise is breathtaking. With our company we go to Yanque, where we get to see a very special "love-dance". In Maca we visit the church and then we continue our tour to the Cruz del Condor. The last part of the trip we walk on the edge of the canyon. What an extraordinary view! Then we see the first condors coming and soon there arrive more, 9 in total. After lunch in Chivay we travel back to Arequipa, where we spend another night in La Casa de mi Abuela, to take the morning bus ro Puno.
> Peru: Puno and Titicaca
Unfortunately, I (Yvonne) feel too sick to participate in the "On-board-Bingo" during the journey with Cruz del Sur. They also play some very bad movies again, and they are louder than ever and can't be shut off. This makes travelling in Peru an unequalled attraction. We swing at topspeed on high, winding roads through the most wonderfull landscapes, but I don't see a lot of it. I am now really suffering from the height and the large and relaxing room in hotel Ferrocarril is a pleasant welcome to Puno. After some Coca-tea and a small dish together with Joep and Femke, whom we met in the bus, we continue our trend of going to bed early.
The next morning we visit the Uros reed-island in a mixed group with Edgar Tours. On the islands we get some background-information about the history of those unique Indians. In one of their reedboats we sail to the next island, where the commerce is even worse. We are glad to move on to Amantani, a 3 hour trip on the highest navigatable lake on earth: Titicaca.
Women in traditional costumes wait for us in the harbour of Amantani. They wear a colorful skirt, a white blouse with flowers and a black scarf to cover their head. While they wait for us they are spinning and knitting. We can go home with a granny who is about 60 years old, she's the oldest of them all and, as we will find out when we have to follow her on the mountain, she is also the fastest of them all. We're glad that we got a crib with Quechua words on the boat, now we can ask her to slow down a bit. In her small and close kitchen she starts cooking for us. She's making potato soup with vegetables, potatoes and fish on dry rot. For a minute we feel a bit anxious when a door opens to a small cabin next to the kitchen, where we see at least 30 guinea-pigs, but luckily they save those for special occasions. On the entire island there is no electricity or running water. The toilet is outside, on the back of the house, and you have to flush with a bucket of water. We expect the worst for the next cold night. After the lunch we follow our granny further up on the mountain, to the foorball field of the island, where the Amantani teach the tourists football. Then we climb to the highest top, where we see the sunset from the PachaPapa temple, with nothing than the endless lake and the sky around us: amazing! When we're back at the football field granddad is there to pick us up and we sit down in the kitchen again, where the daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren are also eating now. After diner we get some traditional costumes to wear to the party in the village, where granny and granddad swing around with us over the entire dancefloor. When we walk home after the party the silence on the island is deafening and there is no light to see anywhere at all. The cold during the night is not too bad, although there is ice on the water next morning.
We say goodbye to our granny (this really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience) and continue our trip to Taquile island, less than an hour by boat. During a wonderful hike, with great blue views over the lake, we run into a few children who are spinning an knitting while they look after a herd of sheep. Extraordinary. This island is best known for its knitting men, they learn how to knit when they are still very young children. The girls make some extra money by selling homemade bracelets. Later that day we sail back to Puno, where we don't see a representative of Edgar Tours yet. We decide to take a cab back to our hotel, but this makes Edgar panic as they are "so worried for you". Because they didn't arrange our bustickets well in advance we are travelling to Cusco in a luxurious touringcar the next day instead of travelling by local bus.
> Peru: Cusco
The tour through the Peruvian highlands by bus is extremely beautiful, the landscapes are very extensive and remind us of Mongolia. We also see many poor little huts, making us wonder how people can ever live in there. By the end of the afternoon we check in at hotel Niños and when we come back from our exploration tour through Cusco we have to get rid of a mad Rossie from CAT-adventures, who keeps stalking us by phone to try selling us even more than only the bus- and train tickets we've already bought. The next day she even comes to the hotel in person, but she leaves when we tell her that we've already arranged our excursions for the next week (the only way to make her go away and stay away). We now go to a Peruvian Traditions show on our first night here.
The next morning the weather is cloudy for the first time this holiday, from time to time we even feel some raindrops. That's why we first go to the Central Market, where we find some amazing products on our way. After a nice and fresh glass of juice and some small sandwiches we decide to go to the Inca-museum: very interesting. Next we visit Koricancha, thé former Inca-temple, used by the Spaniards to build their Santo Domingo church. The Inca remains are still clearly present. When we get outside a little later the sun is shining again and we stroll through the city center. At Puma's Trek Peru we book a tour to the Sacred Vally for the day after tomorrow and we have an excellent diner at the Blueberry Lounge.
In the morning there's a lovely sunshine and we climb to the ticket-check for Sacsayhuaman. Here we eat breakfast, which we bought before, with a lovely view over Cusco. Santos, an employee from Tawantinsuyo Ranch, is at the ticketcheck too and with him we arrange a horseride for later, but right now we definately want to see the sun-gate and the holey Sacsayhuaman temple. The stones, which they used for the temple, perfectly fit into each other. On the back of a horse we go on to the temple of the moon, Puca Pucara and Tambo Machay. The expedition is really impressive, as the mountain-paths here are so high. Too bad that our horses get kicked by our companion and that they are not allowed to drink any water at all. To his dissatisfaction we find it no problem at all to stop from time to time to let them drink a bit water. Unfortunately we don't go to all places Santos promised us to see on the back of our horses. The next day we'll find out that Peruvians and agreements or promises are a very special combination anyway. Back at the ranch we walk to Qenco in 5 more minutes. Qenco is a huge and holey piece of rock where there have been created stairs, seats, a snake, a puma, tunnels and many more. Down in Cusco again we enjoy the last sunshine of the day at the Plaza de Armas.
The next day we soon find out that Cesar from Puma's Trek Peru didn't give us very realistic details of the tour. It turns out that we only have 30 minutes on the Pisac market, according to him we should stay here about 90 minutes. When we ask our guide we find out that the other stops will also be shorter than he told us. Too bad, now we don't see so much of the Pisac market. We do eat lovely empanadas here and at the Pisac ruins we leave the group and our guide to explore the entire site by ourselves. Now we still see all of it in the 90 minutes we've got here, in contrast to the other lambs in the herd. After the lunch with the group we do the same again at the Ollantaytambo ruins, where we're also able to see everything and afterwards we ask our guide a few last questions. She calls us Speedy Conzalez. From the ruins you have an excellent view over the entire valley, which is in an extraordinary kind of light in this late afternoon. OllantaytamboThe light gets better and better and the entire region looks magical, especially when we drive over the highlands, in the middle of huge, snowy peaks, to Chinchero. We just have time to quickly walk through the picturesque alleys and to gaze to the colonial church, built on Inca-foundations, before the sun disappears behind the mountains. Back in the bus we have a new adventure waiting for us: a fellow-tourist lost her discman and after asearching the entire bus with our flashlight she decides that she wants to have a look in all the other passengers' bags. When we refuse to let her do this with our bags and we explain that in Holland only the police looks in other people's bags, and that we kept our belongings close to us the whole day, in contrast with her, it is decided that the police will search the bus at the arrival in Cusco. With our bags open and a flashlight helpfull in our hands we're the first ones to get off the bus a bit later, while the rest is sill busy for a while. We're very curious whether the discman is found or not, it would be so funny if it was in her own bag the whole time.
> Peru: Machu Picchu
At 4.40 our alarmclock rings and through the still dark mountains we're taken to Urubamba with terrifying high speed. When it's finally light we're there and we're right on time to catch our train that leaves at 6.10 to Aguas Calientes, which we still refuse to call Machu Picchu Pueblo. Those springs really were there much earlier! The trainride absolutely is a superb one, in a very short time you see the landscape change completely and soon we're surrounded by green peaks, in a moisty jungle. At 8.30 we arrive under an incredibly blue sky and as we prefer to first see Machu Picchu early in the morning (preferably at sunrise) we try to climb the Putukusi, the holy mountain, today. Unfortunately the Rough Guide forgot to write about the 40 metre high ladder we soon encounter, but we encourage each other and we start climbing the ladder anyway. And upstairs? There we meet the twin brother of the first one and we decide to go back and follow the rails into the jungle for a while. We hear and see (sometimes) colorful birds and mainly feel interesting insects. In the evening we go buy the bustickets for Machu Picchu and go to bed early.
After a quick breakfast we're in line for the first bus at 5.30, when we hear that there are no entrance tickets for sale up on the mountain and that you first have to get them in the village. First we think it's a joke, but when we ask someone it seems to be true. After running to the cultural centre and spending many dollars we're back in line, with two entrance tickets, but now we're much further to the back of the line. We can only get into the fifth bus and by the time we're up on the mountain we see the first sunrays on the surrounding peaks. A very impressive sight, but there are clouds above the holy city of the Incas and the further sunrise is a bit of a disappointment. Only in the afternoon the sky opens up again, when we're just coming down from our hike on Huayna Picchu, that offers a completely different view on machu picchu than the standard picture you always get. We check out the temples, the houses and the fields and even the remote Inca-bridge and conclude: great to be here and to see this once, but definately not the most interesting we saw on this trip.
The train brings us back to Ollantaytambo and in our taxi to Cusco we meet Henk, with whom we have diner in Cusco. (we had a good time, Henk)
> Peru: Cusco 2
After a huge breakfast at Jack's Café and a small museum (Koricancha, not of much interest) we decide to visit the Sacred Valley once again, but this time on our own. We would like to see the acres of Moray and just as we're on our way to the public bus, we are offered a cheap taxi: a man drives to his work and takes tourists with him as compensation for the tavel expenses. We are dropped off in Ramal at a deserted crossing, because Moray is not on his route. We have to get a taxi here, eventually we're in it with twelve people, including us. Via some festivities in the fields we are taken to the next village for one sol. Here we arrange a taxi that takes us to Moray, back to the festival (we really want to take a look around there) and to Chinchero, where we can take the bus or collectivo back to Cusco. Moray is not what we expected it to be, but the festival makes up for this: there's table-soccer being played, there is a Peruvian band (that yells "hello, hello" at us through the microphones), mothers are cooking meat and potatoes on stones and fire and you can throw rings around candy for just 10 centimos. There is plenty of home-brewed beer and a lot of curious children, but after a while we feel that it will be better to leave now. In Chinchero there's that beautiful golden light again and we notice that the Inca remains are much larger than we had seen during our previous visit. By coincidence we end up in a collectivo and sit down in the trunk of the car, with 9 Peruvians, and return to Cusco.
The next morning we fly back to Lima, where we visit the city-center for a couple of hours and we're transferred to the airport in the evening. Back there, Delta surprises us again: our flight is cancelled. Lots of hours full of annoyance and bad service later we're back in a hotel in Lima for two more nights. Well, one night and a half, because we finally fly back home at 6.30. And again, there are about 100 people left behind who also wanted to be on this flight and untill departure they thought that they would be. This is how our special trip ends, a trip full of new impressions. But still the Trans Mongolia Express stays our favorite!
> More Info
Also check our Peru info page where you can find a lot of useful information about Peru.