Of course, I have still come home with a great sense of accomplishment. For all of my challenges, I still survived and have plenty of great photographs! Let me tell you the story:
Our flight to Lima (where we would meet up with our G Adventures tour) was long, but in those 7 hours we never changed a time zone (except for that pesky dalight savings thing). I always love the first drive to our accomodation after we arrive somepleace new, and I find myself pressing my face to the window to see everything. New billboards! New shops! New people! New homes and buildings!
The first day in Lima was self-directed and we wandered around the bohemian districts of Barranca and Miraflores, in awe of all the murals and artwork and colour. Lima also presses right up against the ocean, with great, long ocean cliffs. It's really quite impressive!
After having met our group - which included 7 Swedish girls, a couple from Germany, a pair of friends from Britain, two girls from Australia, and two from Scotland - we started our journey to Nazca via overnight bus. Overnight buses are not for the faint of heart. While the seats reclined quite well, the seats are on the upper deck which amplify the wobbles and turns as we travelled up winding roads. I slept poorly, and felt like barfing after 8 hours. We learned much later that the first class seats on the lower deck were only $10 more.
Michael and I opted out of flying over the Nazca Lines, mostly because the private flights cost a lot and you'd probably get better pictures from the internet. Instead, we went on a dune buggy trip to go sandboarding! I found it terrbly difficult, mostly because I was exhausted by the time I hiked back up to the top of the dune, and battered from having fallen on the run before. Sandboarding isn't nearly as nice as snowboarding. The landings are harder, and getting a facefull of sand (vs snow) is decidedly unpleasant. Michael picked up the sport like a champ!
|Our underground feast!|
...and we tried (a couple of times) a Peruvian delicacy called cuy. Cuy in English is.....Guinea Pig. Yes, we ate that cute little thing us North Americans keep as cuddly pets. Peruvians think it's strange that we don't eat them. The traditional way to eat it is BBQ'd on a stick, head, legs and all. Our guide, Jeiko, told us that he loves it, but can't eat it very often because there really isn't a lot of meat on one animal and it's expensive (so he has to order two)....it sounds like how we feel about lobster.
|Deep freid guinea pig. Tastes like chicken....sort of.|
In my opinion, although Arequipa is one of the largest cities in Peru (over 850K people!), there wasn't much for us to do except acclimatize. Michael and I went for a walk around the older areas of the city, and spent some time visiting the Santa Catalina Monastary. It is an active monastary, with at least a dozen nuns still living cloistered. We obviusly weren't able to visit those areas, but the church is very old and still had plenty to show us! As a cloister, it was designed to resemble a small village behind tall walls, where the nuns had little gardens and common squares to hold weekly "markets."
|Our official photographer, doing Official Photographer things.|
With barely enough time to get used to 2330m, our group set out again to travel to Colca. It was a full day trip to get there, and included winding roads (barf), mountain passes, llama, alpana and vicunia sightings and a stop at 4900m. When the bus pulled up to the highest point in the road, we were told that we could get out and look arouind, but that we would only be staying for 5 minutes. The altitude would make us sick and tired otherwise. Even still, several of our tour group remained in the bus, too tired or carsick to even bother. My pulse oximeter told me that my resting heart rate was 130, and my SpO2 (blood-oxygen carrying capacity) was 72%. For refernce, an average person should be >95%. at <65%, you might have impaired function, and you'd pass out at <55%. Despite the fact that we didn't stay at high altitude for very long, and the town of Colca lies at nearly the same altitude as Arequipa, my SpO2 wouldn't recover for several days after this. The next morning, I woke up with a heart rate of 120 beats per minute (should be 60) and I was at 82% O2. So walking any distance made me feel exhausted and gross. I was not excited to do anything except rest.
|4900m and reaching higher!|
|En route to high altitude, we met an alpaca!|
Next up, Cusco. Cusco is the last stop before most people head out to trek or to visit Machu Picchu. It's bustling and full of tourists! It's also the last place to really acclimatize, being 3380m elevation. This is generally classified at "Very High Altitude" where you can be hypoxemic just while sleeping. So yay! Another couple of days feeling tired and useless. My feet swelled up, too.
One of the major activities in Cusco for our group was the pre-trek meeting where all the particulars of our 3 day hike were explained. I was tired, and I remember feeling extremely intimidated as we were told what to expect. I thought: I can barely manage walking up a flight of stairs without feeling winded. How the F^@% am I going to hike up 1600m!!? At least I knew that the only thing I'd have to worry about was myself. I wouldn't have to carry my own gear, set up or take down my own tent, or cook my own food. I could just focus on keeping myself alive.
Next, we repacked our necessary belongings into a duffle bag that could be transported by llamas later. We were getting on another bus! And to make things more exciting, I woke up on the morning we left Cusco with a terrible stomach illness. It was like waves of being punched in the gut. Good thing we were en route to our homestay, high up in the mountains in a village where they just barely had plumbing and spoke no English! Yes!
To be honest, the homestay was a really awesome part of this trip. Michael and I were paired with the Brits (Tom and Jade, or "Hadé" as the locals called her. She did not like that we assumed this as her official Peruvian name), and placed with a local family in a village called Ccaccaccollo. Patricia would be our new mother, Elias our new Father, and Michael, Stephanie and Brain our siblings. They were fantastic hosts despite their limited means. Patricia cooked out meals in a tiny kitchen with a dirt floor and a wood "stove" build from mud bricks. Elias was on the local council and a former trekking porter. He graciously brought me fresh mountain herb tea as I lay in bed like a wet noodle. I asked them to name my new gnome - he's been officially called Elias! And big thanks to Tom, who was the most fluent in Spanish (the rest of us couldn't speak a word) and helped us make sure we didn't all just sit around awkwardly pointing at things in silence.
|Tom, Hadé and I helping shell the peas for supper|
|Swagger on fleek|
|This young girl was very curious of us. After I showed her this picture, she was so excited and had Hadé take many more.|
Planterra Weaving Project, which is heavily sponsored by G Adventures. I was able to purchase a beautiful scarf which had been hand woven by my "sister" Stephanie, and from wool harvested from an alpaca we'd met the night before! It really was sad to leave this community. They had been wholeheartedly welcoming.
|Incan ruins overlooking Ollaytaytambo|
|One of many winding roads on the way through Peru|
So on the first day, we hiked 9km, mostly uphill. It was tough, but manageable. Quickly, our group of 15 turned into 2 groups, those who hiked fast, and those who did not. As a person who hikes very slow and who hates when I just get left behind, there was no way I was going to leave anyone else behind, so our little slow group consisted of myself, Michael (who has earned his "Best Hike Buddy Ever" badge), Hadé, and two of the Swedes (Emma and Lin) who'd continued to feel sick. Props to them for even doing the hike!
|Elias the gnome also made the trip to the mountains!|
|The scenery was fantastic!|
|Even the view from the potty-tent was rad|
But we did make it! And it was a fantastic feeling to conquor that mountain!
|Hadé, Michael, Myself, Emma and Lin at the summit|
|This is how I felt, immediatly after reaching the top.|
Day 3 of the hike was easy-peasy. Two hours of downhill! I love hiking downhill. Michal does not.
|Moa and I trying to keep ahead of the stampeding llama train! (They weren't stampeding. They're just fast)|
|Day 2 campsite|
|Roger, our Chef. This guy made us a cake - on a stove. Spot on!|
|Elias found a buddy en route to Machu Piccu! Paddington! (He's Peruvian!)|
One of the things that stuck with me as we toured the ruins was that there are plans to install a gondola overtop in the next 10 years. Once the gondola is in place, tourists will no longer be allowed to enter the ruins. So I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to take pictures like this one...
|Pre-Rain. Pretty happy!|
But, visiting this "Wonder of the World" would be our last great act as a group (aside from a solid night at a club that I don't remember particularly well with 14 of my nearest and dearest ...) and Michael and I said our goodbyes as we flew back to Lima. We would have one day to see all of the things we'd missed on the first go around. Despite what we'd heard, we booked a hostel near downtown, and it turned out to be a fantastic choice. We took a walking tour, saw the changing of the guards at the home of the President (which included a marching band and orders from the Ministry of Silly Walks), went underground to see bony catacombs at a church, ate street food, and spent an evening at a park filled with lit up, musical water fountains!
|Main shopping throughfare in downtown Lima|
|Empanadas. 1.50 soles (about 50 cents) and totally delicious|
|Prime example of a street with rich history, but a shady present time|