Friday, April 18, 2014

Let's Go to Peru

When it came to planning where our next vacation would be, Bob and I had South America - particularly Peru - high on the list. Bob's dream place to visit has always been Machu Picchu, must be that architect thing in him. It didn't hurt that his best friend from high school is Peruvian, so by tagging along with Aldo we had a built in translator, tour guide and travel buddy!
With two days on either end dedicated to just travel (Peru might have been in the same time zone as Chicago, but with 2 stops either way we were looking at more than a dozen hours plane/airport time each way), we dedicated 8 days to Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lima. This was the same amount of time spent on our New England Road Trip. Not so much time out of the office to cause people worry, but long enough to feel like a true vacation and not just a long weekend.

With Aldo on board, I found myself doing a lot less pre-planning than I normally do, I let him help guide how we booked our hotels, tours and tickets. We were budget conscious when it came to hotels, but the bulk of our spending was eaten up by planes, trains and automobiles. Landing in Lima, we didn't just look across the way and say, "oh, look there's Machu Picchu - let's walk on over." No, our trip was more in line with the following:

1. Land in Lima at 10pm.
2. Stay in the airport overnight to take a 5am flight to Cusco.
3. 2 days in Cusco to acclimate to the altitude and explore the city.
4. Get on an 8am tour bus to see more Incan Ruins.
5. Ditch the bus at a certain point and take a three-wheeled cab to the Ollantaytambo Train Station.
6. Take a 2 hour train to Aguis Calientes.
7. Sleep.
8. Load onto the 6am bus headed to Machu Picchu!
9. Head back to the train station at 5pm and reverse from #6!
No complaints here though - once I had some dramamine in my system the altitude issue was greatly lessened. The first day I truly thought my head was going to explode and I was going to pass out from walking up the umpteen stairs we had to get to our hostel. (note: this photo is NOT of the stairs we had to walk up. . .I might have died right then and there if this was the case.)
What is the one thing I always end up buying on my travels? Aloe gel for sunburns! I did really well with sunscreen until the last couple days in Lima when I apparently thought myself invincible. No, it was Bob's turn to be a red lobster in the early part of our trip and require the run to the pharmacia for After-Sun Aloe Lotion. Mostly contained to his forehead, his misplacement of his hat during our first big day tour was a mistake he would sorely regret.
We left the tour bookings and train reservations until we checked into our first hotel, letting our hotel "concierge" help us out, something I highly recommend if your vacation spot is geared towards tours and day trips. They helped secure our English-speaking tour guide for Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, and were able to bundle everything together for us.
We visited Peru in the rainy season, which meant our early morning views of Machu Picchu were clouded over and it sprinkled on us throughout our hour long hike up Wayna Picchu. It was actually nice to have the cool rain, otherwise I think I would have been a big ball of sweat as I trudged up and up to the top.
But once we got there. . .and once the clouds rolled past. . . the wait was worth it.
We spent the next several hours walking around and learning about Machu Picchu, it's history, legacy and current state. 
We also spotted this chinchilla guarding the Sun Temple.
And then we had more photo ops with the local wildlife. (and by local, I mean the llamas and alpacas that they carefully placed in Machu Picchu in order to entertain tourists like me) Let's just say I had an obsession with taking photos of any animal that crossed our path.
Seriously, a few days later we saw a dog in a hat, so how can you not take a picture of that? It's a dog. In a hat. A Playboy hat.
After a full day at Machu Picchu, we reversed the travel schedule above and found ourselves back in Lima for our last few days in the country. We saw Aldo's family, checked out the rocky beach and Lydia got sunburned (wouldn't be a trip if that didn't happen).
And then there was the Parque Kennedy. Not far from our hotel in Miraflores (The Terra Viva brand, highly recommended), the park showed up in guidebooks as a tourist stop so we made sure to take a stroll through. On Saturday evening, the center of the park was filled with a mini-marketplace, and not far off the small amphitheater was packed with dancers and a live band.
We saw a cat walk by, and said, "look, a cat!" Cusco was filled with stray dogs, so it was a nice change of pace to see a feline. And then we saw a couple more. And then we saw a dozen. . .Turns out, Parque Kennedy is inexplicably home to dozens of cats! Fed by neighbors who work on donations to keep the cats healthy, spayed and fed, they lounged about on sunny sidewalks and raced about in the grass, trying to avoid over-exuberant children trying to pick them up. 
We ended up walking through the park several times, mainly to spy on the cats! 
Miraflores, a popular neighborhood in Lima, is also home to Love Park. A mosaic bench borders the park, and kissing couples flock there. 
Of course we had to get our own shot the day before we departed.
Soon enough it was Monday morning and the flight home was fast approaching. Fourteen hours later, we landed in Chicago and nine hours after that we were back at work! What a trip, what an adventure. Can we do it again soon?

Stay tuned for a write up of the souvenirs we found ourselves on this trip (here's a recap of our past trip goodies we've acquired for our home!)

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