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Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks): San Pedro de Atacama Day 2

Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks): San Pedro de Atacama Day 2

The thing about a desert is that it is very hot during the day, and it’s that much colder at night.  At daybreak, we paced the street outside our hostel to keep warm, waiting to be picked up by the tour bus for Piedras Rojas (Red Rocks).  The bus was late, and we ended up watching the sunrise over our street and the volcanos in the distance.

San Pedro de Atacama sunrise

On the way to Piedras Rojas, we stopped for breakfast and to see an old church with multiple cactus wood features.  This wood is made from cactus that had been dried for a year.  The panels are connected with cactus fiber.

San Pedro de Atacama cactus wood travel

When we arrived at Piedras Rojas, the tour guide cautioned us not to let our emotions overwhelm our experience.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

We could see why she warned us.  The red rocks were created from volcanic lava and ash.  The lagoon that had collected was frozen over and looked blue green.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

The mountains in the back ground are either volcanos or piles of volcanic ash.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

We gazed out over the lagoon…

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

Will felt so great, he thought he could take off.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

But he settled for a little meditation.

San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas Travel

Next, we headed to one of the highest lakes in the world.  On the way, we saw a family of Vicuna, which are an endangered relative of the llama.

San Pedro de Atacama Vicunas Travel

We had to walk to Lagunas Altiplanicus from the entrance because snow had blocked the road.

San Pedro de Atacama Lagunas Atiplanicas Travel

So Will took advantage of the situation.

San Pedro de Atacama Laguas Altiplanicus Travel

We stopped in a small town for lunch and the bathroom.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats Travel

Then we headed to the Atacama Salt Flats, created (of course) by volcanic ash and the evaporation cycle of these lagoons.  How many flamingos can you find?

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats

We got to hold a flamingo egg.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats Travel

And see a number of flamingos.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats 11

We strolled along the salt flat.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats Travel

And enjoyed the close of the day and the ride back to San Pedro.

San Pedro de Atacama Salt Flats

Stayed tuned for more tomorrow!

Check out pics from our other days in San Pedro:

Day 1 Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley

Day 3 Cathedrals of Salt

Day 4 Valle de la Luna

Elizabeth & Will

Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley: San Pedro de Atacama Day 1

Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley: San Pedro de Atacama Day 1

San Pedro has several claims to fame. It’s in the driest desert in the world, adjacent to some of the world’s largest lithium mines, and is populated by incredibly friendly people (lithium in the water?).  It’s also a half-day trip from dozens of volcanic features unlike anything else in the world. These volcanos, including one of the world’s two super volcanos, worked to mold the landscape millions of years ago. Our six days in San Pedro allowed us to see geological formations we didn’t even know existed.

Fully exploring “The Atacama” requires guided tours or renting a car.  We booked four outings with Flamingo Tours and got a package deal.  Our adventure started with a midnight stargazing (no pictures, sorry!)

The next day we were picked up from the hostel at 8am for the Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley. We started by climbing up to some ancient petroglyphs carved into volcanic rock.  Here we see images of elders in a ceremonial circle.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

When the rocks were volcanic ash, the ash moved very quickly and formed air pockets.  Now these old air pockets make the rocks look like Swiss cheese.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

Will contributed his artistic talent to the petroglyphs…I mean… Will pointed out these flamingos.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

We moved to another area to see even more petroglyphs.  We were instructed to stay on the path.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs

Which led us to these images of this llama and baby llama…

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

And this “two headed dragon.” The lack of wind in this area prevents the petroglyphs from eroding away.

San Pedro de Atacama Petroglyphs Travel

Next we headed for Rainbow Valley. We were dropped off at the top of the path, where Will immediately climbed this rock.  Can you find him?

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

We made our way toward the rainbow color rock.  Different minerals have caused the rock to turn multicolored.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

Will meditated for a moment.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

And I contemplated the copper in the green rock.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

Rainbow Valley has many views, and many colors.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

We tried to capture as many colors as we could before our day’s adventure ended.

San Pedro de Atacama Rainbow Valley Travel

Check out our other galleries from San Pedro de Atacama:

Day 2 Piedras Rojas and Atacama Salt Flats

Day 3 Cathedrals of Salt

Day 4 Valle de la Luna

Elizabeth & Will

 

Borders and Buses: How We Got from Arequipa to San Pedro de Atacama

Borders and Buses: How We Got from Arequipa to San Pedro de Atacama

We knew we had to stop in San Pedro de Atacama on our way down the west coast of South America. San Pedro sits on one of two super volcanos in the world (the other is Yellowstone), and in the world’s driest desert. As such, the landscape includes breathtaking, varied formations of volcanic rock that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world. The problem is that it is not completely straightforward to get from Arequipa to San Pedro de Atacama. In this post, I will tell you how we did it, and how it went. Hopefully it will serve to both entertain and inform – because San Pedro de Atacama is definitely worth a visit!

Here is the quick overview:

  • Bus from Arequipa to Tacna, Peru
  • Collectivo from Tacna, Peru to Arica, Chile (border crossing)
  • 2 nights in Arica
  • Night bus from Arica, Chile to San Pedro de Atacama (stop in Calama)
  • Arrival in San Pedro de Atacama

Bus from Arequipa, Peru to Tacna, Peru

Try as we might, we could not find a bus schedule for Arequipa to Tacna, Peru. Based on internet research, you would think buses didn’t run between these two cities. Our hostel staff assured us that these buses left on the hour, so we headed to the bus station to find out the schedule.

True enough – Flores had buses leaving every hour for Tacna. We got there early to get on the 6:45am, and they let us hop on the 5:45am because it hadn’t pulled out yet. The bus was incredibly cheap – 20 soles (about $6), and boasted broken seatbelts, filthy seats, and a bathroom I shall not speak of. The ride was 6.5 hours long, including a stop where we all got off and had our bags squeezed by men in uniform. The signs at the checkpoint all said “fruitfly free zone” and pictured a variety of melons. I can only assume that’s what they were squeezing for.

Border Crossing (Tacna, Peru to Arica, Chile)

Once in Tacna, we had two choices: get on a bus crossing the border (which means you wait for everyone on the bus to pass customs) or find a collectivo driver (a shared taxi, usually taking 5 people across the border.) At this point, I was coming down with a pretty bad cold, so I sat with our belongings and popped newly acquired Halls Watermelon while Will went out in pursuit of a collectivo.

About 20 minutes later, Will came back. “Okay, he’s outside. I think you’re sitting in back with two women and a child.” I indeed was not sitting in back with said group, but rather on the bench seat of the Ford sedan between the driver and Will. As we drove the 30 minutes to the border, the four adults passed around a clipboard with paperwork on it. The collectivo driver was very helpful with questions.

Somethings to note:

  • Collectivos post their rates on the windshield. They should not charge you more than that. There are no other fees, so don’t agree to pay any.
  • They take Peruvian Soles or Chilean Pesos.

First, we had to exit Peru, which involved having our passports stamped again. While this was happening, some other collectivo drivers pointed out that there was liquid coming out of the Ford. Our driver became very stressed out, running back and forth between the car and our group.

After exiting, we drove across the parking lot to enter Chile. Customs scanned our bags. At this point, our driver seemed to have either solved the problem with the car or resigned himself to it. Either way, he appeared calmer by the time we were headed for the Arica bus station (about 15 minutes away.)

Border Crossing Chile

Arica

No one really goes to Arica for Arica (except maybe the Tulane girls we met who are studying abroad there.) Arica is this little beach city where people going south from Peru to Chile pass by people going north from Chile to Peru. It is a crossroads of sorts, and if you ask questions of your hostel-mates you can get a glimpse of where you are about to go.

I was pretty sick at this point – so we decided to stay two nights instead of one at the very comfortable Hostel Sunny Days. It was three blocks from the bus station and across the street from a vegetable market and a school.  No bunkbeds, hot showers, a huge kitchen, good company. The perfect place to recover.

Bus from Arica to San Pedro de Atacama

The only way to get from Arica to San Pedro is via night bus. There are no day buses that travel this route. You can buy a ticket from Arica to San Pedro de Atacama, but these tickets are a combination of two tickets: one from Arica to Calama and one from Calama to San Pedro. We were hoping we would not have to switch buses in Calama, but no such luck.

We took Frontera del Norte, but Pullman and Turbus also travel this route, among others. Somethings to note:

  • The attendant will take your passport and will not give it back until you are arriving in Calama. It’s okay. He will give it back. Every passenger has to hand over some form of ID.
  • Don’t count on sleeping through the movie. They started it at 10pm after we were on our way. The sound was blasted throughout the cabin. We got to watch Pound of Flesh, which is a Jean Claude Van Damme movie in which his kidney is stolen the day before he’s supposed to donate it to his niece. He tracks down the thieves to get the kidney back. Luckily(?) they left it on in English with Spanish subtitles.
  • There is a middle of the night security stop (it happened for us at 3:30am) where they make everyone get off the bus, pick up their luggage from the cargo hold, and pass through what is basically a TSA check point. You then have to drag your luggage to another location and wait for the bus to come get you. You bring your luggage back to the cargo hold and get back on the bus. The whole thing takes about an hour.
  • Calama bus stops are notorious for theft. We were warned by Hostel Sunny Days that there are many tricks thieves play in Calama, including dressing as a bus attendant so they can get at your bags. While we were stopped in Calama, waiting for our connecting bus to San Pedro, one of the passengers had his bag stolen from inside the bus. He had left it there to go pick up his larger bag and when he got back it was gone. Always be careful on buses and at bus stations and never leave your things, but be especially careful in Calama.

San Pedro Rainbow Valley 1

Arriving in San Pedro

And finally, we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama. The entire week we were there, I think I saw one taxi. The bus station is not far from most of the hostels, so you can plan to walk. The people of San Pedro are notoriously friendly. We were stopped by no less than three people asking if they could give us directions (and indeed, they were all helpful.)

And then we collapsed. Between the Jean Claude Van Damme, the check point, and Calama, we had about 2 hours of sleep. Luckily the beds at Backpacker’s San Pedro were comfortable! Photo galleries of our amazing six days there coming soon.

Curious what to do when you arrive in San Pedro? Check out pics from our 4 day trips:

Ancient Petroglyphs and Rainbow Valley

Red Rocks and the High Lagoons

Cathedrals of Salt

Valley of the Moon

Mindsets, Expectations, and Classroom Culture

Mindsets, Expectations, and Classroom Culture

I arrived at Liceo Domingo Santa Maria unannounced and was greeted with a sort of excited confusion. After explaining myself to several administrators around the enormous Pre-K–12 campus, I ended up in a high school English classroom. The room was noisy. Most of the 30+ students chatted casually with unmarked worksheets in front of them. Occasionally the teacher would step out from behind his desk, pace impatiently, and then speak over the chatter to remind the students that this work was important, and they should be taking it seriously.

I spent most of my time talking with a group of boys by the windows who were wearing straight brimmed baseball caps. They asked me about music and said that they liked American rap music, especially Wiz Khalifa. When I said I was more interested in Chilean music, they smiled and made me a list of bands to listen to. I asked them if students at the school were always like ‘this’ and gestured to the chatter around us. They laughed and explained that students pay more attention in classes that they like but that no one likes English. I turned the conversation to their blank worksheets (they were supposed to be describing pictures of people’s faces) and I discovered that they all had several pages worth of English vocabulary copied into their notebooks. I realized, at some point, this class must have been quietly and diligently copying these notes from the board. Having students silently copy notes is a favorite management strategy of teachers in working-class schools. It brings order, but unfortunately, not much thinking.

International Education School Facilities

Liceo Domingo Santa Maria is a large school with nice facilities

Around the room, a handful of students seemed torn between the noise around them and the confusion of their worksheets. They ended up staring blankly forward, pillars of stoicism in a loudly social scene.

When class ended I walked up to the teacher, Javier, who was obviously embarrassed by his class. The first thing he said to me was, “These kids, you wouldn’t believe the problems they deal with at home. Drugs, violence, hunger…”

International Education enrollment sign

An advertisement for the school’s special program for students with speech problems

Javier got me a sandwich and a coffee from the school cafeteria, and we talked for the better part of an hour. He’s a 10-year veteran teacher and he explained that he enjoys it because it makes him be creative and keeps him sharp. When I asked about obstacles, he mentioned the focus on standardized tests and the amount of time it takes to design lessons, “There’s no time to create activities and so you have to do it at home and then you spend this time working at home but the students don’t care. Neither the students nor the bosses care about the teacher’s well-being. It’s run like a business. It’s all about results.”

Javier told me that the test scores in Arica are the lowest in the country and hypothesized that part of the reason could be that a large percentage of the population has been exposed to unhealthy levels of lead. He lamented how frustrating it is when students don’t pay attention and again connected it to their home lives, which he described as ‘heart-breaking.’

Education - Teacher with paperwork

Javier working on paperwork. Paperwork is so onerous, the school offers bonuses for having it completed.

During our conversation three things became very clear to me:

1) Javier works very hard over long hours,

2) He is emotionally invested in his students, and

3) He is not a very effective teacher.

And this is an important point to realize about education: many ineffective teachers’ work and care just as much as effective teachers. A teachers’ effectiveness is less a function of how much they work or care and more a function of what they believe their students are capable of achieving. Javier expressed what in the U.S. we would call a ‘deficit-based mindset.’ For him, the barriers his students face outside of school predicts a negative attitude toward school. The difficulties in their lives eclipse any more ambitious vision of what they could be capable of. As Lisa Delpit (amongst others) has pointed out, this kind of mindset is attractive because it frees the teacher of responsibility for their students’ learning.

Of course, the stresses Javier faces are severely exacerbated by the fact that he has more work to do than hours to do it in. Remember, Chile and the U.S. require teachers to spend more time in front of students than any other country in the world. And at least in the U.S. we have computers to help with paperwork.

After our conversation, I walked around the campus glancing into windows. I saw a wide variety of student engagement. A room of nearly 40 students was transfixed on a teacher who paced and smiled while tossing an apple into the air. Another class quietly copied notes from a PowerPoint.

Students in math class - international education

Students in math class

I ended up in a math classroom. There was no lesson, students were to get straight to work on their packet. I stepped into a familiar role, floating and trying to help students with math. But, while my Spanish is good, I often had difficulty decoding what the questions were looking for. After a short spurt of effort, I would give up and suggest we work on a problem that was more pure algebra. It gave me an experiential glimpse into what it’s like to struggle with text heavy problems.

In this class, students were more attentive to their worksheets, but there was still a lot of confusion, and they worked very slowly. After about 20 minutes, I realized I should be going.

One of my guiding principles for this trip is to avoid comparison: to let each place be what it is. But I can’t shake the similarities between Liceo Domingo Santa Maria and many large working-class schools I’ve been to in the United States. In the absence of a strong school culture, teachers end up creating unique cultures within the walls of their classrooms. The quality of these cultures nearly always a product of the disparate expectations they have of their students. The result is a wide, wide difference in how students behave and engage each hour of their day.

It’s interesting… I didn’t know what to expect from schools in Latin America. Still, I guess I assumed that there would be some clear difference in quality compared to working-class schools in the United States. But so far, that’s not what I’m finding at all.

Will

Arequipa: Highlights from Peru’s 2nd Largest City

Arequipa: Highlights from Peru’s 2nd Largest City

We arrived in Arequipa off an overnight bus from Cuzco. The streets were abuzz as people prepared for the weekend long celebration of Arequipa Day, the 475th anniversary of the city. As the afternoon turned into night, comedic dancers drew large crowds in the main square. Pop-up restaurants appeared throughout the streets – long tables where people could get tea and chicken. Parades of varying sizes marched in different directions. We made a loop through the main area, arriving back at our hostel to find a large parade rolling down the street. We went up to the roof and watched the dance troops and bands play from above. Arequipa started our stay with a bang.

In Lima, we got our traveling feet wet. In Cuzco, we explored Peruvian culture and did the tourist thing. In Arequipa, our third, and final stop in Peru, we took it easy and settled into the long term travel life.

roof deck in arequipa misti volcanoe

Arequipa turned out to be the perfect place to slow down, rest up, and get back on budget after Machu Picchu. As the second largest city in Peru, it boasts many traveler desires (markets, restaurants, museums, nightlife) but is also steeped in Peruvian culture. Everything we needed was walkable from our hostel, including the beautiful Plaza des Armas (the main square), and the only taxi we had to take was to and from the bus station.

Where We Stayed El Albergue Espanol

Probably the cheapest hostel in the city, this place only cost us $13 a night for a double room. The roof deck/kitchen had a view of El Misti the Volcano that couldn’t be beat, and we met many other travelers on a budget with stories of their own.

 

How Long We Stayed 8 nights

 

What We Ate Potatoes, veggies, and olives from the local market, Fresh Fruit Juice, Sandwiches from La Lucha (a Peruvian sandwich chain)

 

What We Spent $72/day – which includes the guided   tour to Colca Canyon, and buying a hair dryer

*Without the trip and hair dryer it would have been $61/day

 

Highlights from Arequipa:

Cooking from the Local Market

Arequipa Food

One of the tenets of long term budget travel is that you need to cook for yourself. Between Lima and Cuzco, we had only ventured into sandwich making (peanut butter and jelly) and had not yet tried to cook a full meal.

The enormous local market located three blocks from our hostel was intimidating at first. We went there three times just to look around before buying anything. Will was really excited about the variety of potatoes, so we decided to make some sort of vegetable and potato stirfry with cheese. We also bought a bag of fresh olives (there was a whole olive aisle!) and a bottle of Peruvian wine. You can see most of our items here:

Arequipa Food 01

We spent about 20 soles on the food ($6.10) and 14 soles on the wine ($4.27). It was a delicious feast envied by other hostel guests sharing the kitchen.

 

Juanita, the Ice Maiden*

I’m sure we have all heard about a number of ice people found over the years – usually on a mountain, astonishingly preserved. I always found these stories fascinating, but I never thought I’d get to see an ice person in the (well preserved) flesh!

Juanita, as she is called, was discovered on one of the volcanos near Arequipa in 1995. A neighboring volcano had begun to erupt, melting the ice that encapsulated her. She had been a human sacrifice during the Incan Empire. There are a number of other sacrificed children that have been found on other volcanos and mountains in the area. The museum that holds Juanita is dedicated to explaining as much as we know about how these human sacrifices occurred, as well as the science behind why the bodies were so well preserved. The museum was a double whammy of ancient history and science. Plus you actually get to see Juanita!

 

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon 10

I won’t go into too much detail because the pictures speak for themselves here. I still can’t believe I accomplished this hike. The walk down was hard on the feet, but not that bad. We hiked down over 6km, zigzagging back and forth so it wasn’t that steep. On the way up we only hiked 4.5km – a much steeper climb. Basically, I almost planted myself on a rock and refused to go on. My legs felt like jello, the altitude was getting to me, and this was all before breakfast. I climbed very slowly – barely faster than the Italian girl with the bum knee who was essentially using her walking sticks as crutches. Three times, we were passed by donkeys. Three times, I had to tell myself I’d regret getting on one of them. We finally made it to the top, and the instant coffee and eggs they served us never tasted so good. I’m glad I pulled myself out of the second deepest canyon in the world, and I’m glad they took us to the hot springs for some healing waters on the way home.

Arequipa is not one of the country’s more talked about cities, but it has been one of my favorites so far. Between seeing the annual celebration and enjoying the slower pace and beautiful weather, Arequipa was the perfect capstone to our time in Peru.

Ciao,

Elizabeth

*Image from www.pic2fly.com

Hiking Colca Canyon Photo Gallery

Hiking Colca Canyon Photo Gallery

After almost a week in Arequipa, we decided to take a two day hiking trip into Colca Canyon. We booked the hike through our hostel and were picked up at 3am by a small bus. The first stop was Cruz del Condors- a look out point known for glimpses of Andean condors, the largest flying birds in the world.

Condor in Colca Canyon

Here’s a pic with human beings for scale:

Condor flying in Colca Canyon Peru

During the stretches when we couldn’t see condors, we admired the cactus flowers.

Colca Canyon Cactus FlowerNext we arrived at the trail head at the top of the canyon, and looked down to The Oasis where we’d sleep that night.

Colca Canyon Oasis

We paused to enjoy the breeze.

Hiking Colca Canyon

And admire the giant cacti.

Colca Canyon Cactus

Some stretches were long and not that steep.

Colca Canyon 3

We paused to rest.

Colca Canyon 5

And admired how far we had climbed down. Over 3,300 ft. by the end of it.

Colca Canyon

Eventually we reached the river at the bottom.

Colca Canyon 7

Some locals prepared us lunch.  Alpaca stirfry.

Lunch in Colca Canyon

And we relaxed.

Relaxing in Colca Canyon

But we still had several miles to hike to the oasis and we were getting tired.

Colca Canyon hike

Still, when we looked back to admire the valley behind us we saw that it was beautiful.

Colca Canyon Oasis (2)

Our guide paused to explain about the culture of people in the canyon and how different plants were used as natural remedies since there’s no hospital around. We knew we were approaching civilization when we started seeing ads.

Colca Canyon Hotel sign

After almost 7 hours of hiking we finally reached the charming streets of The Oasis.

Colca Canyon Oasis

We drank some beer and had a nice dinner. We started hiking back up at 5AM the next morning (sorry no pictures).  We were given the option to take a mule up instead, but we declined.

On the way back we stopped in small towns with markets and cool colonial churches.

Colonial Church in Colca PeruWe also stopped for views of the pre-Incan terraces that are carved into the mountains.

Colca Pre-Incan Terraces

The terraces stretch for miles and miles and truly cause you to marvel at how rich the civilization which created them must have been.

pre-Incan terraces in Colca Canyon

The final stop was at over 16,000 ft. above sea level where we could see the peaks of several volcanoes. But here’s a pic with the rest of our hiking group. Four Spaniards and a woman from Macao.

Colca Volcanoe point

Depending who you ask, Colca is either the deepest or second deepest canyon in the world, though we didn’t hike into the deepest part.

The hike was tough, but all in all, it was one of our favorite parts of the trip so far.

If you’re in southern Peru, you should definitely check it out.  You can always take the mule back up.

Will & Elizabeth

Being Sick On The Road

Being Sick On The Road

The day after Machu Picchu, I woke up to an unholy alliance between my sinuses and bowels. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in days. My body ached, I couldn’t breathe, and my trips to the bathroom left me demoralized and anxious. Liz reminded me that we had to check out of the hostel at 10:30. That night we had a ten hour bus ride. I cringed at the thought of just sitting up in bed. A stream of questions added a self-inflicted insult to injury: “What am I doing here? Why did I think this trip would be fun? Can I handle over nine more months of this?”

In the months and years leading up to this trip Elizabeth and I would often try to measure our excitement by reminding ourselves that it wasn’t going to be comfortable. We mentally prepared for long bus rides and resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d get sick, probably more than once. Actually being sick is different story, but at least we came prepared.

And this is probably the biggest lesson we knew, but have now internalized. If you’re going to do extended travel outside of the developed world: Bring Medicine. Here is a list of the meds we brought and have already used in our first three weeks.

  • Azithromycin (diarrhea anti-biotic)
  • Cipro (diarrhea; I’m allergic to arithromycin)
  • Loperamide Hydrochloride (anti-diarrheal)
  • Rehydration salts (rehydrate after diarrhea)
  • Zantac (acid in the stomach)
  • Pepto-Bismal (all things stomach)
  • Claritin-D (allergies and congestion)
  • Zicam (cold symptom relief and prevention)
  • Emergen-C (cold prevention)
  • Purel (obvious cold prevention must)
  • Advil (aches and pains)
  • Kleenex (we’ve gone through a ton of these)

Sick in Cusco

I eventually rolled out of bed and re-packed my bag. Liz wasn’t feeling great either. She had sharp pains in her stomach and felt generally weak. We spent the next eight hours camped out on the couch in the lobby waiting for our bus. We watched the hostel move, the dogs come and go. At one point, the man at the front desk tucked me in with a blanket (pictured above). And at least we weren’t spending any money.

By the time we arrived in Arequipa, Elizabeth’s stomach had cleared up. Mine would take a few more days. I worried I might have had some sort of superbug but it turned out Elizabeth had misread the dosage frequency on the Cipro. (For more on the importance of quickly forgiving your spouse for innocent oversights see our previous post). We took things easy for a few days in Arequipa like we planned, and I appreciated the fact that there are worse places to recuperate.

roof deck in arequipa misti volcanoe

It’s been over a week now since I was writhed in bed doubting the whole idea of this trip. Things have changed. We’re now on a bus heading toward the Chilean border. In 48 hours, we’ll be in San Pedro de Atacama, surrounded by deserts, volcanoes, and the best stargazing in the world. A couple days ago, we hiked to the bottom of the deepest canyon in the world and then back up again. My sinuses haven’t cleared up and I’m on a daily Claritin habit, but life is good. We went to the pharmacy in Arequipa to restock on our meds and again, we feel prepared. There are no more doubts. I feel on top of the world.

  • Will

Colca Canyon

Machu Picchu Photo Gallery

Machu Picchu Photo Gallery

We got in line for the day’s first set of busses at 4:30 AM, to make sure we were some of the first people let into Machu Picchu. The air was cool, and clouds clung to the nearly empty ruins around us.

Machu Picchu in fog

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We climbed a not often climbed set of stairs.

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And started to explore the architecture.

Temple of the Condor Machu Picchu

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We got friendly with the local llamas,

Llamas in Machu Picchu

and started to wonder: what’s cooler, Machu Picchu or the surrounding mountains?

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Elizabeth was quick to point out that the Incas thought of them as one and the same.

Machu Picchu alone fog

We looked around and congratulated ourselves again on arriving before the crowds. It really is pretty cool to be here alone.

DSC_0613

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After a little over an hour of exploring the ruins, we decided to take advantage of the second part of the tickets we purchased and climb The Mountain! The Mountain is advertised as a trail, but it’s really more of a 2,000+ ft. staircase.

DSC_0643

At first, the views below us were clouded in, well, clouds… But soon Machu Picchu began to appear.

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Machu Picchu from above

Machu Picchu from above

After a few thousand more steps and many breaks, we reached the top.

La Montana Machu Picchu the Mountain

And we saw that it was good.

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Eventually, we had to head back down… Parts were treacherously narrow.

Machu Picchu mountain

And parts went through charming patches of rainforest.

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But the views were more clear now, and we paused to take them in. La Montana Machu Picchu view from above

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Machu Picchu from above

When we returned to the bottom we were exhausted.

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We looked back and up look at The Mountain and felt a swell of pride. See that tiny little flag up there? That’s where we were.

Machu Picchu Mountain la montana

But now it was time to leave. On our way out, we took one final photo.

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It was only 1:00PM but we had had quite a day. We were tired, on top of the world, and still hours away from realizing that germs already inside us were about to take advantage of our exhaustion in the most unappealing ways. But more on that next week.

Cheers,

Will & Elizabeth

Machu Picchu Without a Tour: Logistics and Highlights

Machu Picchu Without a Tour: Logistics and Highlights

It’s no wonder Machu Picchu was only rediscovered about a century ago – it’s not easy to get to.   We did the trip in 5 days and that seemed fast. Getting to the Incan city involves arriving in Cuzco (we did it by bus, but you can also fly), getting to the town of Aguas Caliente (we took a 4 hour train), getting from Aguas Caliente up to Machu Picchu (we took the 30 minute bus), and then the whole thing in reverse to get back.

And that’s only one way to do it. Some people hike the Incan Trail (a 4 day excursion) or stop in the Sacred Valley on their way from Cuzco. You can also skip the 30 minute bus ride and hike up to Machu Picchu from the town. These are not the only choices. Options and combinations abound!

Some people hire a tour company to put together portions or all of this trip. Knowing this would be one of our most expensive excursions, Will and I decided to do Machu Picchu without a tour and put together the whole thing ourselves. Here’s what we booked.

Our Trip Breakdown:

Item US$ Total Tips
Lima to Cuzco Bus Ticket

$63 x 2 tickets

$126

We did an overnight bus. You can read about it here.
   
VIP House Hostel (Cuzco) $21.72 x 3 nights $65.16 Right across from a supermarket – a life saver!
   
Peru Rail Train Tickets $154 x 2 round trip tickets $308 Expensive, but a high class affair.   Go to the bathroom before you board – it’s too bumpy to use the onboard facilities.
   
Ecopackers Hostel (Aguas Caliente) $29.53 $29.53 4 person dorm was perfect for 1 night.
   
Bus ticket to Machu Picchu from Aguas Caliente $24 x 2 tickets $48 You can buy them day before at the bus station starting at 2pm. Be in line by 4:30am to get on the 5:30am bus if that’s your plan!
   
Machu Picchu Tickets w/ La Montana $45.58 x 2 tickets $91.16 Make sure you print your tickets! The extra hikes sell out early.
   
“Machu Picchu: The History and Mystery of the Incan City”Edited by Harasta & River $0 with Kindle Unlimited $0 If you go without a tour, purchase some sort of guidebook so you know what you’re looking at.
   
Cuzco to Arequipa Bus Ticket $42 x 2 tickets $84
 
Taxis to and from Bus Station: $6Train Station: $14 $20
 
Total: $771.85**

 

**We spent another $130 on food in Cuzco and Aguas Caliente combined. We ate out for dinner but made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Breakfast was included in both our hostel stays.

 

Highlights:

Trying New Foods in Cuzco

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Coca Tea: Made from coca leaf, this tea is used to calm altitude sickness – which we greatly appreciated! Our hostel offered an endless supply in the form of loose leaves and hot water.

Alpaca: We paused for a second when the filets came out medium rare, but I’m so glad we threw caution to the wind, because it was tender and delicious. Better than elk (Will tried it at Yellowstone).

Quinoa: Unlike any quinoa we had tried before! Creamy, cheesy, with potatoes. I can’t wait to figure out how to make this at home.

Cuy (Guinea Pig): Our guinea pig arrived with an orange pepper in its mouth, perched on top of a larger, stuffed pepper. After setting the platter down, the waiter crowned it with a little vegetable hat and offered to take our picture. The guinea pig was then returned to the kitchen to be quartered for sharing. It tasted a lot like rabbit, unsurprisingly. This traditional Peruvian food is obviously quite celebrated – we saw it depicted in several Peruvian churches on the table at The Last Supper.

The Vistas in Aguas Caliente

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Aguas Caliente is lost in time – a tiny city nestled between rainforest covered Andean peaks. The streets are connected by bridges, and trains (the town’s only connection to the outside world) run through the center. Our hostel had a rooftop bar that felt perched in paradise. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

Seeing the Ruins (almost) Alone

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What’s better than gallivanting around cloud-ringed ruins by yourself as the sun comes up? You feel like the original explorers, discovering something ancient and mysterious. You get to have one on one encounters with the resident llamas. You get to see the views without all those people in the way. We had to take the first bus to get up there in time for this experience– which meant a 3:45am alarm. We also bypassed the ruins near the entry gate, where many tour groups get held up, and made a beeline for deeper locations. Being at Machu Picchu almost alone? Worth every effort.

Summiting an Andean Peak (La Montana)

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When I read the description, it said that the climb up Machu Picchu Mountain (La Montana) was a moderately challenging hike on a wide path, following an old Incan road. Well, Incan’s didn’t really build roads as much as staircases. This hike was a 2 hour staircase up a mountain.

I didn’t consult Will when I booked our Machu Picchu tickets with the La Montana hike included. I told him it was the easiest hike available (which I believe it is…yikes.) About half way through he turned to me, exhausted, and asked, “Are we SUMMITING this mountain?” Luckily, he was excited to do it.

Worth it. From multiple points along the way, we saw Machu Picchu from above, in addition to the surrounding landscape. Not to mention the accomplishment of summiting a mountain in the Andes! I successfully didn’t throw up.

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More pictures coming this week!

Cheers,

Elizabeth

Lima to Cuzco by Bus: A Great Decision

Lima to Cuzco by Bus: A Great Decision

Confession: we were completely freaked out by the thought of taking a bus through the mountains of South America. Will even cited it as his greatest fear on our journey. I binged on negative TripAdvisor reviews and created contingency plans in my head if we were robbed or in an accident. When buses crash in Peru, they sometimes fall more than 1000 feet.  But we wanted to see the Andes, and we didn’t want to pay the high cost of flying. So we took the bus. In hindsight, we are so happy we decided to travel this way because, not only were we safe the entire time, we got to see the countryside of Peru and some awe inspiring scenery.

When you hear “traveling South America by bus” you usually think of a rickety bus with the luggage strapped to the roof. While that is definitely still an option, South America also has some beautiful buses with big leather seats, on demand movies, and meal service. Given the treacherous nature of the Lima to Cuzco route (there was a US travel advisory about this route in 2013), we decided to take one of these very safe, more comfortable companies that tracks their buses by radar and has two drivers who take shifts. While more expensive, it was still about a third of the price of flying (if you count the hotel room we didn’t need to book.)

We arrived at the Cruz Del Sur bus station in Lima at 4:45pm for our 5:30pm bus. In Lima, each bus company has its own station, so you must go to the right one. We checked our bags at the central desk and waited in the cafeteria for boarding to begin.

Boarding was quick and easy – they checked our passports and inspected our carry-on bags. The whole bus was loaded in about 15 minutes. Heading out of Lima, it got dark very fast. We unfortunately didn’t have much to look at as we departed. This is what our seats looked like:

Cruz Del Sur bus Seat Lima to Cusco by bus

Everything was smooth sailing down the Pan-American highway. We settled into our leather recliners and each watched a different movie on our entertainment screens. After about 4 hours we tried to go to sleep. That was around the same time the road turned into an amusement park ride. Back and forth, up and down mountains. Just when we thought we’d hit a stretch of straight road, the bus would turn again. I’m not sure when I dozed off.

I do know I woke up at 6:30am high up in the mountains with a terrible case of altitude sickness. Will stumbled to the bathroom as the bus followed the swerving road. “I just almost threw up.” He reported. I ate one of the rolls we brought from Lima and started my regimen of Pepto Bismol tablets and Advil. This is also when we noticed the breathtaking scenery – the reason we took the bus. We wanted to see the Andes Mountains. Please note, most of these photos were taken through a dusty bus window, while in motion.

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Right after Abancay (a very small city), perched on the side of a hill, the bus came to a stop and the doors opened. Several people got off. Curious, Will and I stepped outside to find one of the two drivers feeding a stray dog out of his lunch container. Will asked him what was going on in Spanish. He replied, “It’s the middle of the day,” and gave an emphatic shrug. We saw that we were in a long line of stopped vehicles. Suddenly a boy selling soda and a cart selling oranges appeared, going from stopped vehicle to stopped vehicle. People from the vehicles in front of us were walking up and down the road, chatting, smiling, buying oranges. Will and I took some photos and chatted with a French couple for about 30 minutes until the driver called, “Amigos!” and motioned for us to get back on board.  The title photo shows the view from the road.

Lima to Cusco by bus pictures

We arrived in Cuzco around 4:30pm. After picking up our luggage from the check desk, we hopped in a cab with a couple from Italy and were at our hostel in 10 minutes.

The truth is: there are some risks associated with bus travel in Peru, but many of those same things (motor vehicle accident, robbery) can happen when you are living your life at home. The route from Lima to Cuzco is extremely winding, and you feel it even on a good bus.  But if you can handle sitting in a recliner and watching movies for 20+ hours, you can handle this bus.  The payoff is seeing all of Peru, and hours of priceless views!

Cheers,

Elizabeth

P.S. Prior to this trip, I searched all over the internet for information about bus travel from Lima to Cuzco.  I hope this is helpful to others!  Feel free to reach out with questions.