As many of you know, Mrs. Creds and I were away the last week and a half in Peru. If you didn't know that, you might've sensed less arguing and general snark on the site over that time. Well, that's over, jerks.
A few loyal RR readers expressed an interest in my trip, so if you'll indulge my self centeredness, I thought I'd share a bit about it. Also, Mrs. 'Creds is a very good photographer so this gives me a chance to show off some of her work.
Follow me to Lima....and beyond!
The first two things to understand about Peru are 1) You can't drink the water and 2) You can't flush your toilet paper. These are both relatively small things that are common to many other countries (including Greece...who knew?), but they start to wear on you after a while. For example, I brushed my teeth with tap water by accident at least 3 times and spent the next 24 hours after each one worried about getting sick. Alas, both of us managed to avoid getting sick, so....success! But I also probably flushed enough toilet paper by accident to ruin the plumbing of the entire country. Sorry Peru!
Cuzco is the tourist capital of Peru, due mostly to its picturesque mountain location and its proximity to most of the Incan sites. We arrived there a day and a half before our trek to acclimatize to the altitude (over 10,000 feet). Again, luckily, no altitude sickness for either of us. I blindly picked a hotel off the internet and it had this view from the room's balcony.
Of course, that view meant that our hotel was on a hill far away from the city center and it took us forever to get anywhere, but never mind.
We spent our time that day and a half exploring the city and the sacred valley, which contains many interesting Incan sites, but I won't bore you with them here, except to say that they are what you thought they were: Lots of agricultural terraces mixed in with dwellings, temples, and guardposts. It really is quite fun to walk around in them and imagine living there.
Peru is about 95% Catholic, and we got there just after one of their huge festivals, Corpus Christi. Apparently this festival centers around a parade where huge likenesses of various saints are carried through the streets. Luckily, the floats (not sure what to call them, really) were still on display in one of the churches. Photography was forbidden, but we like to live on the edge.
It's hard to tell from the stealth photos, but these things are incredibly ornate and detailed...and kinda creepy.
By our third full day we were ready for the real reason for our trip: hiking the Inca Trail. I'll make a quick plug for the company we used (www.llamapath.com). It's now a law that you have to use a licensed guide if you want to hike the trail, and Llama Path is the best. Period. They aren't the cheapest, but they treat their porters the best, have the best food, and are generally considered the gold standard. Here was our team of porters (17 of them, not all pictured, for just 14 trekkers)
And here they are hauling all of our crap up the mountain.
Seriously, these guys are amazing. Peruvian law stipulates that they can carry a maximum of 30 kilos (66 lbs), but a lot of the agencies load their guys up with a lot more than that (I've heard up to 45 kilos in some cases). Llama Path is good about sticking to the limits, but still. 66 pounds is a lot to carry over 28 miles and up to 14,000 feet. Not only do they carry it, they get to your camp site, set everything up, cook a meal, and then serve it to you. In the evening they bring you hot water and a washcloth to clean off. Then, when you are done eating, they clean everything up. It really did make me feel like a bit of a schmuck. On the other hand, between their wages and tips, these guys, who are mostly farmers, make very good money doing this. Oh, and then there was the food. You'd expect food being cooked on a mountain with no electricity to be basic and sparse, but no. It was amazing.
I believe that was lunch the first day, served in a tent, on tables, with plates and cutlery that the porters carried and set up every meal. That particular meal started with an avocado dressed with finely chopped sweet potato, cucumber, something else, and topped with spicy salsa. Then we had a delicious potato soup, and for the main course they brought out Lomo Saltado (beef with veggies), pan seared trout, and rice. Seriously.
This was breakfast one morning. Chocolate pancake. That's nice, especially when you figure it came after bread, eggs, and hot porridge. Honestly, even if you hate camping and hiking, doing this is almost worth it just for the food. Not to mention that we had 4 vegetarians and one guy with Celiac disease with us, and every single dish they served that those people couldn't eat, they also brought out an alternative.
On the first morning, this was the view outside our tent that we woke up to.
Beautiful. And also cold. It's winter there, and we spent most of our time above 10,000 feet, so I didn't have much use for all the cut off WWE t-shirts I packed. Day 2 of the hike is far and away the most difficult. You start at just under 11,000 feet and then hike essentially straight uphill for about 4-5 hours. In that time you cover 3-4 miles and climb about 3,000 vertical feet to Dead Woman's Pass, at just under 14,000 feet. This is your reward for reaching the top.
This is your other reward: A 1.5 hour path straight downhill to lunch. I was hungry by this point and basically ran down this hill to the campsite below, leaving Mrs. Creds behind. She wasn't very happy with me.
After lunch, and a bit of groveling, we commenced the second brutal ascent of the day, this time climbing about 2,200 feet back up to 13,000. The day ended with a final descent through "cloud forest" and past a number of interesting Inca sites to our camp.
That night it rained. A lot. It's supposed to be dry season right now, but someone forgot to tell the cloud forest. Then it rained much of the next day, and all of the 3rd night as well. The way this apparently works is that clouds roll up from the rain forest, cover the mountains, then roll over them and out of sight. Then another batch of clouds will come, cover you over, then clear away. When the clouds are present, visibility can be almost zero, but when they clear, you are left with a few minutes to get some really amazing views
The third and final campsite is near what is, in my opinion, the coolest Inca site apart from Machu Picchu. Winay Wayna is thought to have been a crop laboratory, where botanists and biologists experimented with what crops grew well at which altitudes. It's also thought that they were able to grow sea level crops at these altitudes because of their ingenious drainage system, as well as their use of heat-radiating rocks that warmed the crops below. These pictures truly don't do it justice.
That night, our cook baked us a cake. Then, during dinner, when he brought out the chicken and rice dish, decorated with a cucumber bird, we figured he was just showing off.
On the 4th day you get up at 3:30 and get to the control point as soon as possible. The idea behind this is that there are about 125 people vying to get to the Sun Gate first, so you want to be as close to the front of the line as possible. The Sun Gate is an Incan site that overlooks Machu Picchu and is a beautiful place to watch the sunrise over the city. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain and completely cloudy, so despite being near the front of the line, we saw nothing. Of course, we got to wait the 1.5 hours for the control point to open under cover, so there was that. After hiking for about 2 hours, in the dark, in the pouring rain, we finally got to the main attraction at about 7:30. Luckily, the rain and clouds had cleared just enough by that time for us to get some nice photos.
One of my favorite things about the whole site is that they let wild llamas and alpacas just wander around. Matter of fact, as we were leaving, one got in our way and blocked our exit for about 5 minutes. We just had to stand and wait for it to decide to move along.
So, while it was wet, cold, and largely miserable that day, I definitely feel like I got a good idea of why some call it the "Lost City in the Clouds".
After getting back to Cuzco, via bus, then train, then another bus, we left again, this time for the Amazon rainforest. There are a number of eco-lodges that run 2-5 night programs for tourists. We didn't have too much time, so we were only there for 2 nights. That was still enough time to see some cool animals and impressive sights.
Our room at the lodge, complete with mosquito nets. One wall was open to the forest. The first night a couple of possums came in and noisily stole all of the food out of the rooms of the new people. Who knew possums liked peanut M&Ms so much?
The view from the lodge's canopy tower
We saw a lot of monkeys while we were there
Mrs. 'Creds fishing for piranhas. She only caught a sardine. (I didn't catch a damn thing)
But our guide caught a cool looking piranha.
There were some really interesting plants and flowers we randomly came across in the forest.
A cool translucent butterfly
And finally, a spider and a bat that we saw during a night hike.
So, that's Peru. If you have an adventurous bent, I highly recommend it. It can be done relatively cheaply, and you don't even really need to speak Spanish. Just don't be averse to getting up early. I'd say we were up before 6:30 all but 2 nights of the entire trip. Oh, and make sure to not flush your toilet paper.