Saturday, January 7, 2006

Peru Tour - Final Thoughts

Overall the trip has been wonderful. 

I did not know that Peru was so diverse in geography, people and craft. The ruins are old and beautiful. The Peruvians are proud of their history and never forget to mention that their ancestors knew about astronomy for agricultural purposes. They were mostly nature worshipers. It does not seem that Peruvian guides appreciate what Spanish did to their history. Which is justified – why would any culture destroy someone else’s culture except for ego and power.

The food was quite okay. Ate a lot of eggs; the quinoa was amazing grain – the quinoa soup was the best. The deserts were not all that great in a lot of places; some snacks were okay. I learned that Peru has a variety of potatoes (and grows a lot of them!) and corn. The potatoes were actually very tasty - I think they made all the dishes a lot tasty. The pita bread (kind of) was also very tasty. All cultures have some kind of bread. And of course there was a lot of chocolate!

A number of places I saw were really pretty as they were decorated with flowers. The flowers were also quite different than what I had seen. Sometimes the contrast was so beautiful that it made for really good photo op. 

The whole tour worked like clockwork. All the guides and pickups were on time; they were all speaking good English. They took care of the fact that we were vegetarians. Highly recommend this tour company. 

Peru itself is very tourist friendly. Shopping was too good - if one does not come back with alpaca wool shawls and scarfs then something is wrong with them!

I would definitely recommend anyone to go. We stayed for about 12 days but one can easily spend 2 more days and see the Nazca lines not too far from there. I did not feel that 12 days was less or that we left out anything. Staying in a place and enjoying the ambiance is one thing, but as far as sights - I think we saw a lot! 

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Peru Tour - 12 - Lima

5 Jan 2006 – Lima

Last day in Peru! Got up lazily. I was awake by 5:30 am…don’t know why I am waking up early here.  After breakfast we walked to the coast which is about 1 mile from our hotel. It was a nice coastline, but a little hazy and cloudy to see the mountains. We walked towards the Garden of Love (Parque de Amor).  The walk was all along the coast.  Lovely walk. The garden has a huge sculpture of a couple kissing – so romantic.

We had an excellent falafel sandwich at a Middle Eastern restaurant and then we found Café Café – and had chocolate cake. It was a little heavy but heavenly. It was so much that Bhaiya and I could not finish even one slice.  On the way back we stopped at the Metro (store) to get some chocolate and drinks for later.
I took a short nap and then packed. We checked out and then our guide came to pick us up for the tour.

Our first stop was the – yes – Parque de Amor. It was built to promote love and peace.  We then saw an archeological site in Miraflores (the old town). It was pyramid like structure of about 500-600 years old, made of just mud bricks. These were pre-Inca made in the Lima area. Then we drove to Sunny Cedar, where the houses are more upscale and really pretty. One cannot really see them as they all have walls around them.
Parque de Amor
Old archaeological site in Lima
Then another archaeological site – this was a museum where there were some mummies in fetal position, and some arts and crafts.  And then we drove to downtown Lima. I felt here that Lima was like Delhi – old and new buildings. Saw some nice buildings – the Sheraton hotel (built on the old jail site), and the justice building opposite it.

Next stop was near the Palace in the central square. There were the two yellow buildings on two sides, a church one and a palace on fourth side. It was all quiet as there was some protest going on so the police had barricaded the area. We walked to the back of the church to get inside. It was a very different church from the one in Cusco. It had many chapels on both sides. The choir was near the front and there were beautiful lamps hanging from the ceiling. There was also a section dedicated to the founder of Lima – all made of mosaic.

And then we went down to the catacombs where all the bishops were buried. It was a spooky place and had a strange smell. There were graves here from 1710s…old!

Then we walked to another cathedral which is partly turned into a museum. We visited the museum part also. The design was very different than the other churches. Again the structure was built to support earthquakes.

The library was very impressive – it was old and had more than 24,000 scripts. There was a lot of natural lighting as candles were not permitted.
The church was beautiful as was the choir area. The catacombs in this church were made in three levels. Over 2000 bodies had been found in these graves and the bones were still there! The bones were all there in separate tank like areas. This catacomb was even spookier than the previous one.
That was the end of our tour.
We got dropped off at Kennedy Park as we requested. We got tickets for the Mirabus for 8 pm and then sat at the Parque de Amor for a while. On just observing people there it seemed like Lima was really open in their intimacy, sometimes I felt it was a little too much – feel like saying “get a bedroom!”  We saw the sunset at 6:30 pm – just lovely. We walked to the food street again to have dinner (pizza!).

Sadly the Mirabus bus was not working properly so we got our refund but we also had another hour and a half to kill before going back to the hotel to go back to the airport. Sat in the park till sunset. 
The journey back to USA was not bad, I slept a lot – I had been feeling under the weather all day.

Back to Kansas City! 

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Peru Tour - 11 - Arequipa

4 Jan 2006 – Arequipa -> Lima

Today there was no rush to get up. Had really good breakfast today – it included mangoes! We had to check out early as the manager would not allow us there till 2 pm. our guide Norma came to take us around Arequipa.

We first went to the Cathedral, and the companion church. Then got dropped off at Santa Catalina, a place for nuns. From there we went to see a huge church! We had seen it from outside. It is an international church.  It had a clock from England, pulpit from France, and Chandelier from Belgium. There were apostle statues on the pillars inside and a beautiful nativity scene.
Next was the walk across the plaza to the companion church. This church was baroque style with 14 K gold plating on the cedar wood – very beautiful. Earthquakes are a common problem here also in Arequipa – so these churches have been rebuilt. Adjacent to the church is a chapel. It was beautifully painted.  All the pigments were natural – the red one had to be done again. Flash photography is not allowed so we took some without flash.
Next to the church were some buildings which was given to the local artists and businesses. Nice…and pretty.

Then our driver, George, came and took us to some higher elevation spots from where we could see the Chile River and the whole city. If the day had been clear we could have seen the three volcano craters also.

Norma showed us the Maca products. This is used by the Colca people for energy in the mountains. Coca tea is popular but so are maca products – the candy and liqueur. We walked around and came across and mama and baby llama. The baby was so cute! It was so scared! Poor thing.
Next stop was Santa Catalina. We took the one hour tour at 11:30 am. This is a 400 year old place for training nuns. Rich or poor – the girls came here to become nuns. The place was like a castle in India – except much prettier and maintained really well. The rooms for the rich were different than the ones for the poor – strange. The mother nun had a huge kitchen to herself – why? Most of the buildings had arches to protect it from earthquakes.

We saw old kitchens, living rooms etc. the entire nun place was about 3 blocks long and 2 blocks wide. It was literally like a city inside with streets and beautiful garden areas.  The entire place was just beautifully painted and well maintained. There were so many photo ops and I took advantage of all of them. Amazing place.

Came back to the hotel – took a little nap in the waiting area and then our guide came to take us to the airport.  We arrived at Lima around 5 pm. Ulysses, our temporary guide, took us to our hotel. Lima is definitely a big city! It took us 50 mins to get there – the old part of town.

The city could be any big city in India, crazy driving, too many people (about 9 million), and public transport with great deal of noise and pollution and commercialization. And just like India, usually businesses and residences are mixed, a lot of times, business downstairs and residence upstairs.
Hotel was okay. We signed up for a 2pm city tour for next day and then went out to Kennedy square/Gardens in search for Indian market, as our guide said it was there. It was a long walk. After a long fuss, we found there was a small market in the park area. There was nothing much unique about the shopping here.

We saw a street on the right which was very brightly lit. We went and found that it was a street just lined with restaurants.  And as in Agua Calientes the waiters were standing out with the menu to invite us in. we did go in one – Bhaiya again had lasagna – not good at all, and I had some cheese bread.

Started walking back to the hotel, tried to look for a dessert place but did not find any. Found some stores but nothing special.  Just came back to the hotel and slept!

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Peru Tour - 10 - Colca Canyon

3 Jan 2006 – Colca Canyon -> Arequipa

Have to get up really early today for the long drive.  Went for breakfast by 5:30 am. Albert came at 6 am to pick us up.  We picked up the other passengers, some were staying in really nice lodge by the river.  We then went to Yanque, a neighboring town to pick up one last couple. It was a small town and today there was some festival going on. Lots of traditionally dressed people and of course – llamas. And there was an eagle too! Took a whole bunch of photos.

We left for Condor Cross now that we had a full bus. (The ladies were next to me and driving me nuts – talking all the time!).  The scenery to Condor Cross was breathtaking. There were deep gorges and river in the middle. And then the agriculture and people walking with donkeys for their work….so serene.

Condor Cross was obviously a tourist spot. The deep end of the Colca Canyon started there and there was an occasional sighting of condors (an eagle like bird but with crest on their head – really elegant creatures).

There were two tiers for viewing the canyon. We went down first, took photos and then came up. And then we waited for condors to fly by. And they did – at 9:40 am two condors gave us a viewing (darshan). Beautiful! Such elegant birds. Everyone around me was busy taking pictures, it seems I was the only one enjoying the flight of the condors. (I had seen and recorded the flight of a condor before so I was free to enjoy this flight).

We stayed for a while and enjoyed the scenery and then started our drive back to Chivay. Lunch was at Chivay – it was okay. The sweet potato pakoras were good!

We walked around the Plaza for a while. I bought some chocolate and chips for the road. Left at 1 pm and very soon we encountered clouds on the road. Alfredo, out driver was superb! He kept us safe and drove wonderfully. It was snowing by the time we reached the highest point. No fun driving in this.
The ladies were too chatty! We arrived at Arequipa by evening. Checked into the same room as before. We walked to the Plaza to look around. We went to Govinda’s for dinner – big disappointment. Not tasty at all.

Went back to the hotel and packed. I bought too much stuff! 

Monday, January 2, 2006

Peru Tour - 9 - Chivay

2 Jan 2006 – Chivay

Slept well – for a change. After Amantani Island – any place would be better! Got ready and had breakfast by 7:30 am. Our guide came 30 mins late because two American girls were late in getting to breakfast. In any case – good group of people. There are the two American girls, a Peruvian couple, an Italian couple and a Spanish couple.

We left the city and stopped later to take pictures of three volcanoes clearly visible – not active: Chechali, Misty and Pichu Pichu. Very beautiful all covered in snow. The town, Arequipa, is quite dry and brown but people seem to love flowers here. It is colorful because of the flowers.
The landscape became more barren as we drove out. So different from Cusco which was all green. It’s going to be an uphill drive to about 4910 m (about 16,000 ft.).  We stopped at one place to get some candy and coca tea to get used to the altitude. We started ascending and luckily I did not feel sick.
And then we drove through a natural preserve. Such a beautiful drive. There were vicunas, llamas and alpacas everywhere. Vicunas have really long neck and no fur and they come in many colors. Alpacas are smaller and look like sheep. All these belong to the camel family. We would see herds of these animals periodically. It was a lot greener in these places as there were springs here. Although being of the camel family, these animals don’t really need a lot of water.

The drive was just lovely. The scenery was quite barren for most part but periodically there were unique shrubs. There were also snow capped mountains far away – all dormant volcanoes. We stopped at another place for coca tea to prep for the 3 hour uphill drive. We were advised to drink coca and glucose to help us the altitude sickness. Also we were to use restrooms here because at the highest point there would only be a hole in the ground!
The next 1.5 hrs. was bumpy ride to the highest point at about 16,000 ft. it was just beautiful! We were surrounded by snow capped mountains…but it was also bloody cold and windy. Reminded me of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Took pictures and yes there were vendors there!
And then started the descend. It was not so barren any more, there was some moss like plant that is used for fire. (It is not moss). It grows only about 1 cm per year. And because it is a rare plant it is protected by the government. So I guess they don’t use it for fire anymore. Down a winding road we approached Chivay. And we saw the llamas again.
The scenery was just beautiful. Chivay is in a valley. We reached our lunch place at 1:30 pm. food was good. I had potatoes with cheese and bread with sauce and pasta with spinach sauce (all carb lunch!!). Bhaiya had tomato soup and pasta with tomato sauce – not bad either. The snack – roasted corn was also good. Desert was sweet bread…
Albert dropped us off at our hotel at 3 pm and said he would be back by 5 pm to take us to the hot spring.

Our hotel was very nice. It faced southwestern and we could see the valley and the other rooms. The room was very comfortable – at least it had a heater because the room was cold. We walked down the hill to the bridge we had crossed earlier. It is over a river where people go rafting. We walked around to get better views. Came back and took a nap and got ready to go at 5 pm. Albert came to pick us up. The hot spring was very nice. It cost us 10 soles to get in but it was worth it. There was an entry point to the pool which was hotter than the rest. I enjoyed the warm pool.

Came back to the hotel by 7 pm and went for dinner by 7:30 pm. it was a in a different location than lunch. The food was okay – I had tomato soup and veggie omelet. There was live entertainment going on. Five man band playing and then a couple came to dance. Their costumes were very different than what we had seen in Cusco. The girl had a lehnga type dress – with beautiful embroidery and sequins. The men were also dressed like girls! Apparently the Spanish did not like the Peruvian men, so the men would dress up as girls to go and meet with the girls!
The next was a seed sowing dance and now the men were in pants. The nice thing about the dances were that they were involving the guests also – we participated too!  We left around 8:30 pm or so – need to get up early tomorrow.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Peru Tour - 8 - Arquipa

1 Jan 2006 – Puno -> Arequipa

Happy New Year!

And I am sleeping in a sagging bed with a bad pillow in a room with no electricity in a house with no running water. It’s back in the dark ages! And my shoulder is hurting from the way I slept. At least I was not cold at night (although I did sleep in my jeans and sweat shirt and all!) Oh the rooster started talking in the morning! I have not heard those for a while.

I laid in the bed till 6:30 am even though I got up at 5 am. It was raining outside so I did not want to even go to the restroom.

Eventually got up – did whatever and washed my face with cold water and got ready to check out. I went down at 7 am to let our host know that we were ready. Placido was already there.  Breakfast was ready! Mrs. Fortunata must have gotten up really early to make the breakfast.  There was baked bread (really good!) and such good pancakes. There was no plate to keep the bread on, only bowls, so it was a little hard to eat all this. She did not open the strawberry jam package, and none of us did either.
Mrs. Fortunata is a great cook, even a good vegetarian one, but I think she could really use some more kitchenware. It must be the poverty there. I wish we had known about that so I could have taken some different gifts for her.

So we had coca tea and got ready to leave. Mrs. Fortunata had already gone down to the boat. I think she took food for the captain of the boat. The trek down was not so bad. The rain had stopped but the ground was all muddy and had small rivulets. We said our good byes to our hostess and left.
I slept part of the way.  Woke up to see Uros Islands again. I am constantly amazed at the people here. They live with so little and I am sure they are happy or they would have left – the city is not far away.

Reached Puno around 11:30 am. Walked around in need for food. We found one vegetarian place that had some pizza – just miserable.  But I was hungry!

Went back to the hotel and ate some snacks (yeah – still hungry). Placido came at 1:30 pm and drove us to the airport. I still slept part of the way to Arequipa. Placido had been a really good and sincere guide. It’s usually hard to find people like that.

We were in Arequipa in 30 mins. The scenery had changed completely. It was all brown, desert like with plenty of mountains but all brown.

Our guide, Alejandro, was there to pick us up. Hotel was good and only 5 blocks from Plaza de Armas. I showered and packed for the overnight trip to Chivay. We took some rest and went out at 7 pm to the Plaza. The walk to it was quiet but the Plaza was busy. We thought we would go to Govinda for dinner but it seemed far away, so we ate a pizzeria. We ordered a small pizza and lasagna but it still turned out to be so much food. Pizza was really good.

Good ending to a good day. Tomorrow we are off to Colca Canyon!