Cusco: Relax and Recover

I wish I had more cool facts or fun adventures to include in my Cusco post, because the city really was amazing. Truth is, we spent four days total in Cusco (both before and after the Inca trail hike) simply eating good food, reading, and catching up on my blogs.

 

Cusco is beautiful. It’s got gorgeous plazas with beautiful red brick churches, fun neighborhoods full of pubs and great food, and the comforts of western civilization like Starbucks (which we spent more time in than I’d like to admit).
  After walking around and getting the feel of the city, we never really left the confines of the main square. Internet cafe’s, great coffee, cozy pubs, lounge restaurants and our absolute favourite: Jacks!

Jacks was an all day breakfast joint that was to die for. By early afternoon there was a lineup out the door and onto the street. Banana milkshakes that literally made me cry one morning they were so delicious, and the infamous Gordo breakfast that is almost too big to finish: bacon, eggs, sausage, tomato, beans, hash browns and 4 large pieces of sourdough bread (the sourdough was probably the most exciting thing about Jacks, considering its tough to find anything other than white bread in all of South America). Needless to say, we went to Jacks 6 times during our stay in Cusco… The staff pretty much knew us by name.

 

We planned on doing a lot of tours while in the city, and the area really did have a lot to offer. Unfortunately, neither of us could imagine anything topping Machu Picchu, and so we just recovered from our hike. It didn’t make it any easier that we both had colds after our bodies gave up on us the last day of the hike. So it wasn’t tough to make the choice to lounge around.

The day after our hike was over, our group of 16 all got together for Rachel’s birthday at Paddy’s pub: the worlds highest Irish Pub. The place was packed for a Tuesday, and the food and drinks were delicious. With comfort food that only an Irish bar can provide, and two for one happy hour specials, it was great fun catching up with everyone in normal, non-sweaty attire for a change! The pub also fit our description for being part of the main square: heaven forbid we stray too far from our comfort zone.!

Other than that, I think we were both glad our race from Bogota to Machu Picchu was finally over. It’s exhausting sleeping on a bus every second night and waking up never knowing what country you’re in. Luckily, we’ve got some time to finally take it slow through Bolivia… Next stop: Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca.

Advertisements

Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail

After a couple relaxing days in Cusco it was finally time to start our 4-day Inca Trail hike. We had a terrible sleep after 8 of our roommates decided to party in our room until 1:00am. Our alarm went off a couple hours later at quarter to 5 and I wanted to die… Good start. 
We caught our bus without a hitch, picked up the rest of the group and set out towards kilometer 82: the start of our trek.
  At our breakfast stop in Ollantaytambo is where we first met the rest of our Inca group. There were 16 of us in total; We had a an amazing group of British, Australian, French, Russian and Canadians and even after 4 grueling days of hiking we all got along famously!
  Everyone spent some time after breakfast buying last minute essentials for the trip: walking sticks, snacks, coca leaves and much needed rain ponchos. Then we drove off to the starting point.

Day one was a relatively easy hike. We trekked from Kilometer 82 to our campsite in Wayllabamba along rolling hills for a total of 12km. We stopped frequently for breaks, lunch and to get a brief history about various Inca ruins and the trail itself.
  The Inca trail is actually only 43km long, but, it goes up and down over high mountain passes that reach up to 4200m in altitude; that’s why it takes 4 days to hike. And although we stopped occasionally, I can’t imagine hiking it in less time. 
Turns out, there are actually Inca trail “runs” and “races” that go on during the month of September. Our guide Cesar is actually going to lead one of the runs this year. He and his group will do the ENTIRE trail in 8 hours. When we were told about that, it seemed crazy. After finishing the hike, it seems IMPOSSIBLE! But that’s not even the craziest part: during the Inca trail races they have professional trail runners compete against the local porters for the fastest time. The porters aren’t racers. They are simple farmers that contract themselves out to carry all our things for 4 days in order to support their families back home. The fastest professional runner finished the trail in an unbelievable 5hours! The fastest porter kicked his ass and did it in 3.

The porters are unbelievable! For our group of 16, we had 22 porters and 2 guides. Everyday the porters would race ahead of us, carrying 25kilos of various supplies on their backs: tents, food, garbage, propane, etc. at our lunch checkpoint each day they would greet us with smiles and a warm round of applause for each one of us as we walked into camp. They served us sweet juice right away, then, hot tea. Afterwards lunch was served. This was no ordinary camping; each meal was a three course, 5-star, home cooked meal! We had gourmet appetizers, hot soup, and a full-fledged main course. Sometimes even dessert! On our first evening the chef came in and had banana flambés for each person! We had pizza, fish, fresh salads, beef, and even a baked cake for Rachel’s birthday on the last night. These cooks were really something special. It would be a difficult enough task for two people to cook a hot, 3-course meal for 16 people in a kitchen at home. These two chefs did it while camping! Props to them!

When lunch was over, our group continued on the hike. The porters stayed behind, washed dishes, took down tents, packed up, and raced ahead of us again to have everything prepared for dinner. They were incredible! 
It is now a law that no porter may carry more than 25kilos on his back at a time. Before this rule went into effect, some men would carry 40, 50 or even 60 kilos of supplies at a time. I have no idea how they managed. Even at 25kilos I would have collapsed on the steeper hills. One porter from the GAP tour group was 69 years old and still pulling his weight. He’d been doing the job, 4 times a month for the past 7 years. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about these men who risk their bodies everyday in dedication to their work.

As I said, day one was very enjoyable. We strolled into lunch as a group, were greeted by a round of applause, and sat down to a delicious meal. Adam got jumped by a chicken that was roaming around under the table looking for scraps and I nearly spat out my tea I was laughing so hard. It came straight up between his legs, jumped towards his face, and stole the garlic bread right out of his hands. This was going to be an awesome day…

The scenery on the way was breathtaking! It sprinkled here and there during the day, but it was nice to keep the temperature down and to not get a sunburn on the first day. We had beautiful views of the Urubamba mountain range, stopped at a few Incan sites and learned a lot about the history of the Incas. A British Archaeologist named Haram Bingham discovered the whole area, including Machu Picchu itself. Although many more improvements have been made since his discovery in 1911, he is the reason so many people hike the Inca trail today. Bingham discovered numerous settlements along the way, all of which gave great insight into the lives of the Incans. The Inca people were a warrior race. They conquered tribes and set up fortresses in order to become the strongest empire around. They captured nations according to their skills. The Nazcan people were used for their knowledge of astronomy; the people that lived deep in the Amazon jungle were used for their medicinal purposes, etc etc. Before long, the Incans were masters at nearly every art. And then the Spanish came.

The Spanish introduced westernized culture and religion into the Incan empire. Those who were against the change were tortured or killed. They also brought influenza and diseases that were foreign to the Incan people. This caused thousands of Incan warriors to die. Each village that was discovered by the Spanish people was changed through cultural transformation and widespread disease… But Machu Picchu was never found. The city was built in the hills, often shrouded in mist and clouds, and a number of false Inca trails were created to lead the Spanish armies astray. On top of that, Machu Picchu was not a common city. It was a sacred sanctuary for the ruling family and special priests. Common Incans did not know the location of the city, and so, they were unable to give hints to the Spanish armies. 
The men that traveled the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu were messengers and amazing trail runners. These men ran on foot for days at end to pass messages from village to village. They ran up steep hills and along mountain summits at insane speeds, and always beat the Spanish army that traveled by horseback. Where the Spanish took 7 days in their journey from Ecuador to Cusco on horseback, the Incan runners would make it in 5: entirely by foot. (Just as some perspective… This is how many days it took our BUS to do the same trip with the protests).

Needless to say, it still took us 4 days to hike the 43kilometers along the trail…
After a nights sleep, camping out in tents in Wayllabamba, we were woken bright and early at 6am. Aldo, our guide-in-training, woke each of us up, with a couple of porters offering hot tea and coffee. What an amazing way to wake up. My standards of camping have just jumped up significantly. We packed our things and sat down to a big breakfast of fresh fruit and yogurt, a quinoa and cinnamon porridge and a pancake with dulce de leche. Then of course, more hot tea. We needed to stuff ourselves in order to prepare for day 2 of hiking.

Day two is infamous for being the most difficult day of the hike. The first 5 hours is completely uphill. Giant steps, massive hills and climbing to our highest peak of 4200m altitude. 
To get our energy up, Cesar taught us how to properly chew coca leaves. The coca leaves helped with a number of ailments: altitude sickness, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and if chewed and rubbed on the body, also with joint pain. What a miracle plant! We chewed up a few leaves with a small amount of charcoal for a couple of minutes until our mouths went tingly and numb. Then, after spitting out the dark green mess, we rolled a tiny piece of charcoal on a ball of leaves and left it in our bottom lip for a couple hours of hiking. The stuff really worked!! For the whole hike my breathing never became rapid or hoarse. Even on the steepest inclines I breathed slowly and steadily and found myself much more energized than usual. 
After our coca demonstration we started the hike. Uphill we went, in the cold morning, and in the drizzling weather.

The rain was not ideal, but it could have been a lot worse. The trail was partially in the trees so the rain wasn’t a huge problem. The hike was tough, I can’t deny that, but compared to what I was expecting it really wasn’t that bad. We picked a pace, stuck with it, and never looked up and how much further we had to go. I honestly though I was going to have a rough day, but I made it up to the 4200m summit in amazing time, just behind Adam and Rodrigue, about 45 minutes faster than our guide had anticipated! I was pretty proud of myself. I suppose I had expected much worse, but after hiking the Grouse Grind at home, this was not much more difficult.

When we arrived at the top, there was zero view. Rain clouds covered the valley and the fog made it impossible to see much farther than 100m or so. But we waited and cheered on the rest of the group as they each made it to the height of the pass! When everyone arrived we were lucky enough to have a break in the rain, and got a group family photo of us all at the top! 
From there it was all downhill…

Apparently I’m not as big a fan of downhill as I am uphill. Who knew! Good thing the rest of the 3-day hike was almost entirely downhill. The stairs were steep and uneven, and it was a lot of pressure on the knees. After an hour of descent, my toes began to get blisters from ramming into the fronts of my shoes. The only thing that was easier was breathing. Most of the time you had to walk sideways down the steps because they weren’t wide enough otherwise. After a while, even slight downward slopes were uncomfortable on my joints. But it was only 2 hours to the camp, and we arrived at our final campsite by lunchtime, which was very nice. It gave us a good afternoon to relax our tired bodies for the next day of hiking. When we arrived, I immediately stretched my legs, assuming they would be a little sore the next day. When everyone else arrived, we ate another wonderful lunch, had some down time, an early dinner and then a VERY early bedtime.

When the sun went down, the camp sight was FREEZING! I wore every layer I had and was still shivering. Luckily our sleeping bags were wonderful and so we all just called it a night early and went to sleep.
  Night two’s sleep was uncomfortable. The sleeping mat might as well have been the hard ground, and every angle I tried left me in agonizing pain. I tossed and turned, not wanting to leave the sleeping bag to sit up for fear of the cold. By the time Aldo woke us up at 5:30am to start the morning I was exhausted. Not even Coca tea helped. But the worst part was my legs wouldn’t move. My quads were complete jelly from the day before. Stretching obviously didn’t help. I had to use Adam as a crutch just to stand up, and even then it took about 5 minutes for my legs to warm up enough to stop my shaking muscles. Uphill was fine! I had no problem walking UP the hill to breakfast, but walking DOWN the hill to the bathroom was a different story.  
For those people who say day 2 is the hardest, they are wrong. Day 3 was my nemesis…

We started hiking by 6:20 and went uphill. We had another peak to climb to before everything else was downhill again. I limped along for a few minutes before warming up enough to not be in pain. Then it rained. We hiked up steep stairs in an icy rain that came at you from all angles. No matter which way you turned it was blowing in your face. The wind spun around in circles, chilling me to the bone, even with all my layers on. One of our activities of the day was to make an offering to Mother Earth at the top of the second pass. We each carried a rock up the mountain, and then, waited for everyone to arrive to make the ceremony. This was the low point of my trip… 
I couldn’t feel my hands from the wind and rain. Sweat and water ran down my face, into my eyes, and no part of my body was dry enough to wipe it off. My running shoes were soaked, and every step I took I could feel my waterlogged socks slosh around. I stood shivering at the top of the pass for 15 minutes waiting for the last of us to arrive. With so many groups all moving at once, the line was slow, and it took longer for everyone to reach the summit. When the time arrived, we all just put our rocks in a big pile and that was it. Not impressed. If we had just kept walking we would have been A. Warmer and B. 20 minutes closer to our final destination.

Today’s hike consisted of 11 hours of hiking, I did NOT want to waste time standing in the rain. I put on the alpaca gloves I bought in Arequipa, but every 10 minutes or so I had to wring them out they collected so much water. Then we went downhill. Each step was agonizing. I couldn’t go fast, because the steps were so uneven, but if I went slowly, I thought my legs would buckle under. I walked for 40 minutes without seeing another soul (apart from the passing porters). I was only a couple people from the front of the group, but everyone went at their own pace, so we rarely caught up to each other. The rain was not helping. If the sun had been shining, it may have been pleasant, but there was no view, no warmth, no end in sight. Just fog, and stairs and aching muscles… Why did I do this trek? 
We stopped at another Incan ruin but I hardly listened to the explanation because I was trying to keep warm, and not let my quads cool down. Every time we stopped, my muscles cooled and I had to start all over again. As we walked downhill on uneven rocks I began to curse whoever designed this stupid trail. Why did it have to be so uneven?!

Finally the rain slowed and the sun revealed itself by early afternoon, only 6 hours or so of treacherous hiking in the rain. We had a bathroom break, I ate a pack of M&Ms to get my sugar levels back up and I instantly felt better. I was still soaked to the bone, but at least the sun was warm and there were some amazing views to be seen. A few of us walked together until lunchtime. We stopped frequently to take photos (as this was our first good view in three days) and took it slow to lunch. The sun dried almost all my layers, except for my shoes and socks: they were a lost cause. 
Lunch was amazing as usual, an after a short break of relaxing we continued in our way.

The next part of the trip was called “the gringo killer”. Great. It was named so, because of its steep, never ending, downward stairs. Double great. It was painful to say the least, but at least I wasn’t freezing. We managed to stay more together as a group, so morale levels were slightly higher than our morning segment. As the day grew closer to an end, we had the option of taking the shortcut route to camp, or the 25minute longer scenic route to “the terraces”. Even with all our aches and pains everyone chose the terraces. They were beautifully crafted stone and grass terraces that jutted out along the mountain pass. It was a breathtaking view. We took loads of photos as the sun slowly sunk behind the mountains. Then we made our final leg of the day and hiked the 20 minutes back to camp.

15km of hills and 11 hours on the road we finally arrived at camp: the last of our long days behind us. Total number of stairs to date: over 4000! Fortunately, from here, we only had a short 5km to make it to Machu Picchu, and the walk was only rolling hills, much like day 1. What a feat!
  The last morning our wake up call was at 3:50am. This time there was no room service of hot tea and coffee, just a dark, cold morning and another struggle to get out of bed with sore muscles. We forced down a tiny breakfast and started walking by 4:40. It was still dark, and I was definitely still disoriented about whether I was awake or asleep. As the sun started to come up, all we could see was that we were completely surrounded in clouds. We walked along cliff edges, but looked out into a blank white sheet of air. Who knows how deep the valley went, or what the view was like. Occasionally the top of a mountain would peek out from behind the fog, and then disappear just as quickly. We passed two different landslides on the two-hour walk, one that had happened only a week earlier, the other, two weeks earlier. A makeshift path was created, but our guide warned us not to linger to long on it.

After 2 hours of walking we made it to the Sun Gate. This is where you are supposed to see the first glimpse of Machu Picchu… All we saw was white and rain. We hung around for a while, hoping that the fog would lift, but to no avail. So we continued hiking downwards towards the ruins. It took only another 20 minutes or so before we reached the stereotypical “postcard” view of the ruins. 
We had finally made it below most of the clouds and could make out the city fairly well from where we stood. The place was massive! An entire city, at one point housing over 1000 people, almost fully intact! Unfortunately, the clouds mostly covered Huayna Picchu, the mountain that sits behind Machu Picchu, but we snapped some shots anyways before continuing down to the main tourist gates.

It was definitely surreal being surrounded by hundreds of clean, fresh looking people. After 4 days of hiking in the rain, wearing the same outfit, being excluded from civilization, not showering, and limping with exhaustion, it was very weird seeing clean, well-dressed people, chatting on their cell phones, in dry, uncrumpled rain ponchos just hanging out for the day. Just a short couple hours on the train, or a vigorous 4 day trek through the wilderness: almost seems unfair that there is another option. Even with my jelly quads, I’m glad we hiked it. It makes the whole place so much more magical and amazing!

After a quick bite to eat, Cesar took us on a 2-hour tour of the ruins. We saw the priests’ temples and the royal family’s living quarters; we learned how knowledgeable the Inca people were with astronomy and construction. All of the Inca structures were built to be earthquake proof. By building the walls and doors at a slight angle, and keeping some of the natural landscape to fortify the walls, these structures could withhold almost anything.

When we finished the tour, the rain and clouds lifted, the sky turned blue and the sun shone down, warm and welcoming. We had a couple hours to explore the ruins on our own, and this is where I finally realized how gorgeous the place really was.  
I said before that Rio was a dramatic city, but the landscape surrounding Machu Picchu is absolutely dramatic in every sense of the word. I’ve never seen mountains like this before. Ones that are huge peaked hills, each completely separated from the other in looming towers of green. They are steep and dangerous looking and majestic in the misty clouds of morning.

Machu Picchu itself is built on a steep mountain. The backside of the city drops off into a dangerously vertical cliff, and it is believed that many people were killed during this part of the construction. Gorgeous terraces spread upwards along the side of the city, and at one point were used for crops and gardens. The structures of Machu Picchu now are only stone walls, but when the city was in use, each of the buildings had dried, straw thatched roofs, smeared with llama fat in order to make them water proof. They say that when the sun shone down on the city, it lit up like gold with the beautiful, light tan structures. When you picture this, the entire city is even more surreal than before.

While the sun was shining, we hiked back up to the viewpoint where we first spotted Machu Picchu. It was spectacular now that Huayna Picchu was clearly visible in the background. We snapped some more photos and then finally trekked back in the bus to Agua Calientes (a town about 30 minutes from the ruins).
  We ate lunch, had a few beers in celebration, then spent the afternoon playing pool until our train left at 6:45 that evening. A few of us celebrated our successful hike with a bottle of rum back on the train, and by the time we arrived in Cusco we were dead tired. But all in all, SUCH an amazing experience; as well, another world wonder off the list… Check!

Arequipa: Ceviche and Frozen Mummies

The morning after our Colca Canyon tour we had booked seafood cooking classes through a hostel called Casa de Avila. We were scheduled to make traditional Peruvian ceviche and a fried blue shark dish with a hot salad on top. Sounded amazing!

So we got up early and set off for the hostel. The first part of the class was a market tour. Our guide, Armando (who is also the owner of the hostel, and who only runs the cooking classes occasionally himself for fun), took us in his van to a small local market, where we learned how to properly buy and ask for the necessary foods. The market was really great! So many local meats, fish, vegetables, spices, fruits, cheeses and so forth were all nicely laid out in front of their vender.

We walked from vender to vender repeating the appropriate “buenos dias casera” to each one of the women. We even stopped at a local medicine man that worked in the market every morning of the week. He had a huge array of spices and herbs and fruits that he mixed into special healing drinks according to each person’s ailments. Apparently these medicine men are quite common around Peru, and this particular man’s station usually had a lineup around the corner with people looking to get cured of their cough, headache, arthritis or simply get a new surge of energy for the day. The medicine man mixed us up a warm drink specific to having energy that was DELICIOUS.

 

We arrived back at the hostel an hour and a half later to begin the cooking process! There were 9 of us in total, 7 Americans and Adam and I representing Canada! We were adorned with chef hats and aprons and then started chopping! We had so much fun putting everything together for the ceviche, and the end result was outstanding! For those that don’t know, ceviche is a raw fish dish adorned with onions, chili peppers, toasted corn and sweet potatoes. The fish is marinated in lime juice and salt which briefly cooks the fish And gives it an intense citrus flavour! Can’t wait to make the recipe again at home.

We all sat down with our dish to eat and was served a sweet, purple juice made from corn. We all got along, chatting about our trips and giving each other tips on places to go next. Then we started the main course: fried shark.
  Although this dish looked more complicated, with lots of flavors, veggies and fish all served on a bed of rice, it’s actually quite easy. Pretty much all the ingredients go into one large wok. And apart from cooking the rice, the meal was made in a matter of minutes. We only had one minor glitch, when our wok, handle and all, lit on fire, nearly burning off Adam’s right hand. But, after we put out the wok, the handle, and the dishcloth that sadly also perished in the fire, our food was perfectly cooked! Oh, and Adam is just fine.

The cooking class was a definite highlight in Arequipa. And I think we plan on doing one or two more in the last month of our trip if we run across a good one!  
For the rest of the afternoon we just checked out the city sites. Arequipa is a beautiful colonial city with a gorgeous main Plaza de Armas that lights up at night.

We sat in one restaurant that had a balcony overlooking the plaza and had endless fun people watching below. We weren’t quite sure what was going on, but it seemed as though there was a very important wedding happening. There was a bride and groom all dressed up, several bridesmaids, a FULL marching band and several important looking army officers all dressed in their official attire. However, everyone looked dislocated from the other, and no ceremony took place that we saw. Either way, endless things to watch!

 

On our final day in Arequipa we stopped in at the “museo santuarios andinos” to check out the frozen ice princess “Juanita” that was discovered on top of Ampato Volcano in 1995. The museum was opened, and is still operated by, Dr. John Reinhard, who is the man who actually discovered the frozen bodies. The place is run, mainly, by university students; they are a wealth of knowledge and depend solely on tips for their wages. The museum explains about the bodies of 4 children that were found, almost perfectly preserved by the cold, on top of Ampato Mountain.

 

In Incan times, the people believed that the gods lived in the nature around them. The tallest mountains, the vast ocean: mother earth was a living creature, and needed to be worshipped. When natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanoes happened, it was a sign to the Inca people that the gods were unhappy, and sacrifices needed to be made in their honour. The Inca people chose pure, unblemished and innocent babies as human sacrifices to the gods. The children grew up knowing that, when the time came, they would be sacrificed for the betterment of their people and live their next lives among the gods.

 

When the sacrificing time was right, young girls, none older than 13 or 14 years old, would make long treks (days or months) through rugged terrain, to make it to the sacrificial place. Ampato Volcano is the highest mountain in the region, it was, therefore, a popular place for sacrifice.  The Incan priests, and the young maiden climbed up the 6,380meters above sea level to perform the ritual. The girl was given a powerful, hallucinogenic alcohol to sedate her, then, while lying down on a blanket, the Incan priest would smash in her skull with one precise, yet deadly blow. The maiden was then buried, in the foetal position, with all her worldly possessions: pots, dried food, dolls, small statues of animals etc.  These possessions would carry on with her into the next life.

 

500 years later, in 1995, the maiden’s body was finally discovered. A couple years after that, 3 more bodies were found, in similar circumstances. All of the children were between 12 and 14. 3 were girls, and one was a little boy. Juanita, the first discovered, was the best-preserved body, and the most interesting. Her clothing, her teeth, and her possessions were slightly different than the others. She bore the red and white noble clothing of the royal Incan family, she had much more wealth surrounding her, and one clue after the other suggests she was a daughter of the Incan ruling family: an ice princess. 
The museum had all sorts of photos and artifacts about the discovered bodies, and at the end, they had one of the frozen bodies displayed to see. Juanita’s body is only shown 6 months of the year, and currently, it is the second little girl that is displayed. It was unbelievable to see how well preserved the skin and cloth and face was preserved. It was like staring at a curled up child, swaddled in a blanket. The body was tiny, as the Incan people were a small race, and it’s almost hard to believe the child was even 12 years of age! 
The tour was very informative and I’m glad we finally decided to check it out. It was a very cool insight into the cultural lives of the Incan people before starting the trek to Machu Picchu.

 

After the museum, we went for appies and wine at a HIGHLY recommended restaurant called Zig Zags. Everyone we talked to in Arequipa was raving about this place, so before the bus to Cusco, we decided to check it out ourselves.
  No one was joking about this place; the food was AMAZING, the atmosphere was wonderful, and I definitely didn’t want to leave to catch a bus. We had a cheese and dried meat platter that was to die for, with several cheeses, alpaca meat, corn and sweet purple potatoes. Next we had the prawn cocktail that was unlike anything I’ve tried before. It was based in a thousand-island dressing, and apart from huge tasty prawns, it had sliced avocado, mango and grapefruit chunks in it then adorned with dill and spiraled lime slices. Unreal!! Unfortunately we couldn’t stick around for the main course. The specialty of the restaurant was meat cooked on volcanic rock. The plate was served, still sizzling right on the black rock. The dishes smelled amazing, and looked even better as neighboring tables ordered them, but sadly we had to catch YET ANOTHER night bus to Cusco… C’est la vie!

Colca Canyon

When we arrived in Arequipa we decided to do NOTHING for three full days. Check out the sites of the city, lounge around at cafes, eat good food and definitely NO MORE BUSES! 
So we grabbed a hearty breakfast and walked around the city for the afternoon. We looked into taking some cooking classes, and then found a highly recommended cafe to sit down at, have a few warm drinks and read…
Then we met some fellow Canadians.

A couple in their mid sixties from Hamilton, Ontario who have spent their years in retirement traveling the world. They had wonderful stories to tell us of their travels, and couldn’t stop raving about the Colca Canyon tour they had just been on. We had briefly looked at the tour in our hostel, but the 3am start time and the six hours of busing there and back deterred us from signing up. Unfortunately, by the time they had finished talking it up, we both realized our relaxing time in Arequipa would have to wait.

The two argued that the canyon was equal to, if not better than Machu Picchu. It is the second largest canyon in the world (the largest only a few more kilometers into the Andes) and is actually deeper than the infamous Grand Canyon itself. Needless to say, we went back to the hostel and immediately signed up for the next morning.

At 2:30am Sunday morning we heard a knock on our door. “Colca Canyon tour! Get up!”. We dragged ourselves out of a dead sleep and sped downstairs in record time: only to wait another 20 minutes for the bus to show up. 
The two of us tried to nod off during our three-hour bus ride to the canyon, but it was a bumpy road and the bus was freezing! Instead it was more of a nodding off here and there trying to curl up into the smallest ball possible for optimum warmth.

We were woken again at 6am where we all got off to have breakfast. I don’t know what the temperature was at the time, but it was deathly cold as soon as we got off the bus. You could see your breath and all the windows were fogged from the temperature change inside the bus. Breakfast was warm tea and bread crust with butter… That was it. Nobody was remotely satisfied when our tour guide pushed us all back on the bus 20minutes later. Not to worry, lunch was at 1:00, only 7 hours later!

From breakfast we went further into the valley towards the small town of Chivay. The valley was beautiful in the morning sunlight. The place was so green, with thousands of man made, grass terraces stretching for kilometers down the mountainside towards the river at the base of the canyon. The taller mountains were snowcapped, and it was our first glimpse of snow in South America.

Chivay was a quaint little village, full of busy locals herding alpacas and selling their wares to tourists. The women wore all their traditional garb of intricately decorated clothing: thick, billowing skirts, long sleeved blouses with a vest over top, a colourful hat, and their hair in two long braids that were pinned together at the ends in the middle of their backs. Their clothing consisted of EVERY colour under the sun. No care was taken to make sure colours matched or clashed; the detailed stitching was so busy and had so many shades of colour that the outfit was simply exquisite.  Some women danced the traditional “danza watiti” or the “dance of love” in the town square, while others held out giant falcons and adorable alpacas for the tourists to fawn over.

After a short time in Chivay, exploring a couple cathedrals and watching the locals, we continued on towards the Canyon’s deepest point. We passed through Yanque, and a couple other small villages on our way, but mostly it was just open expanses of valleys and mountains. No pictures or words could do this place justice. It was breathtaking in every sense of the word. Morning light is by far the best time to see the canyon, because of the contrasting shadows and sunlit spots across the horizon. Even with the villages the place felt remote. There were no large cities or factories; the people still worked the land by hand, walking for miles to reach the different terraces. They all moved about by foot or on mules, and the only vehicles around were the tour buses.

People of all ages walked up along the dirt road towards the top of the canyon. At one stop, we observed this little, old, hunched over lady with no teeth, shuffling her way up the hill. The closest town was kilometers away, so she must have been walking from there. Adam turned to me and said “look Hil, if a 95 year old woman can hike up this hill, surely you’ll have no problem on the Inca Trail next week”. We laughed, but found out afterwards that the woman wasn’t 95… Turns out she was 104 years old, and she hiked up and down that hill for kilometers EVERYDAY to beg for money at the top of the hill. OH MY GOD! On top of that, she wasn’t even the oldest person in the area! There was another woman in the next town over that was 111 years old. Unbelievable!

It took about an hour, but our bus finally reached the viewpoint for the deepest part of the canyon. The canyon was beautiful, with sheer cliffs of green and grey mountain across from us, and a valley so deep that the massive river at the bottom looked completely still, and no larger than a stream. We sat on the edge of a rock wall with our feet dangling over the edge of the canyon for over an hour just soaking up the view. While we sat, a massive Andean Condor floated by the crowds of tourists. This was a common nesting place for the birds, and although there are not many left in the world, seeing them in the Colca Canyon is apparently quite common. Andean Condors are the largest bird on Earth, and their wingspan reaches over 3 meters wide. The birds don’t flap their wings, but instead, float along the thermal air, reaching extreme heights and depths without moving so much as a muscle. The bird did a couple rounds of the area, at one point getting very close to the crowds as if to show off it’s enormous size. We were at a lower lookout, but even from where we were sitting, we could hear the crowd gasp all at once as the bird flew by them.

Eventually, it was time for lunch. We had a huge buffet lunch in town that included all sorts of traditional Andean foods like stuffed peppers and alpaca meat (which is tender and delicious, albeit a little gamey). When we had all finished lunch it was time to start heading back towards Arequipa. It was perfect timing really, considering we had perfect weather all day, and as soon as we stepped out of lunch it began to rain. We started our assent out of the canyon towards the main highway. At one point we reached the highest pass on the bus at an altitude just shy of 5000m (by far the highest point of altitude I’ve ever been at!) Our tour guide asked if we wanted to get off to take photos, but at this point it was snowing and hailing outside, and the view was obsolete from the fog. So we trekked onwards.

 

When we reached Arequipa it was going on 5:00 in the evening. Total time on the tour: 14 hours!! We were exhausted to say the least! We had a quick dinner and an early night, as we had fun things planned for the next morning already!

The Nazca Lines: Spoiler Alert – Aliens Not Involved

Because our bus from Ecuador turned out to be 2 days longer than expected, we only had 24 hours to spend in Nazca: we weren’t about to waste one second of it. We had a crazy, whirlwind day and booked 3 separate tours to get as much in as possible. The day was so full I’ve been apprehensive about writing about it… But here we go.

We really lucked out when we arrived at the Nazca, Cruz Del Sur bus station. A young man named Reynaldo had offered to drive us to our hostel for next to nothing, and on the way he explained that he did private tours of the city. His prices were equal to, or cheaper than the others we had checked out, so the three of us put together a full day excursion starting at nine AM the next morning. It was a great feeling going to sleep with everything taken care of!

The next morning we were picked up by a bus and taken to the airport just outside the city. We were going to go on a 35-minute flight in a tiny 4-passenger plane to see the Nazca Lines!! We were both so excited, and a little nervous. We’ve heard horror stories of some of the flights, with people throwing up all over the place from the turbulence. Even when we booked our flight the guy said, “don’t eat breakfast… Trust me”.  So we did as we were told, and I popped a gravol as an extra precaution.

We were very lucky in our wait time. Even with a reservation, many people wait between 1 and 4 hours to actually get on a flight. It all depends on weather conditions and number of tourists. We were weighed in and sent out to the runway within five minutes of arriving. The day was beautiful and HOT. There’s a reason they call this place Death Valley. The heat is outrageous, and the rainy season is a total of THREE HOURS a year!  
We packed ourselves into the little plane with two other guys, our pilot and our copilot. Our headsets were connected to the copilot’s so he could explain what we were seeing, and we were given a small map of the shapes. Then just like that we took off!  
I had never been in a plane that small before, but the experience was awesome! We must have hit a great day, because we had no turbulence and neither of us felt sick at all (thank god).

The Nazca lines tour was out of this world!! What a cool way of seeing them! We flew over each geoglyph twice, once on the right and then again on the left to take photos. The whale, the astronaut (actually the ancient priest), the hummingbird, monkey, parrot, spider, trapezoids, heron, dog, the tree and the hands! They were just like you see them in photos in magazines! They are perfect shapes with distinct lines and although it was sometimes a little hard to find them at first, once you saw one, you couldn’t not see it! They were beautiful and mysterious and we loved every second of the tour! From the air you could get a perfect view of the entire valley. Long lines zigzagged across it, and the shapes were scattered across the flats and along the sides of mountains. The area was desert, all shades of brown with gorgeous and surreal looking mountains off in the distance. Even as we looked at them, we both said that they looked more like a painting than real life. But the real spectacle was the lines. They ranged from 36m from end to end (the whale) all the way to 300m (the heron) As we found out later, these shapes were just a few main ones. There are over 200 figures, and 4000 lines in Death Valley, all made by the ancient Nazca people.

The flight was a great way to start our day, it was an exhilarating rush, and the lines were beautiful and exotic! Luckily, however, our next two tours with Reynaldo were full of information. If you go to Nazca, I recommend both tours. The lines are seen the best from the sky, but you get no practical information on them at all. When we met up with our guide after the flight is when we really started to understand what we were looking at..

 

The Nazcans were an ancient culture that lived prior to the better-known Inca’s, between 400BC and 800AD. They were a highly advanced civilization, and were well versed in mathematics and astronomy. They knew the pattern of the sun, the solstices, and even managed to map out the largest astrological clock ever to exist. These were the people that created the Nazca lines.  
Interestingly, the lines are not trenches dug into the ground, or painted rocks. They are actually just negative space. The Nazca people created lines by moving the dark pebbles of the canyon and revealing the lighter sand beneath. When many of the rocks are removed it creates a distinct, light coloured line by contrast… And they are EVERYWHERE throughout the valley! The lines were used for many things. Some denoted a path into the mountains, others were markers to mark the seasonal solstices, and some were images of animals meant as sacrificial offerings to the gods (ie the now famous Nazca lines).

We stood on one hill later in the day to take a look at the lines for the movement of the sun. The lines started at the hill, and stretched out in a perfectly straight line for as far as you could see into the distance. There were so many of these lines zig zagging across the valley, each one having its own special meaning or purpose. These formations of lines are considered to be the largest astronomical clock that exists: and I don’t know how you could possibly make one larger! 
The lines were discovered in the early 1930’s when the first aircrafts began to fly over the area. The figures were much darker than they are today. Over hundreds of years of being exposed to sun, the light coloured sand had darkened, making much less contrast between the two colours. It was not until a decade or so later, when Maria Reiche, a German-born Mathematician and archeologist, came to study the lines that things changed. Maria took it upon herself to restore the Nazca lines herself. She lived in the desert completely alone for 15 years and spent everyday cleaning the lines with a broom, and slowly mapping out each one of the geoglyphs. She was the person who introduced the lines to the public, and eventually made the movement to have the lines become a unesco world heritage site. Without her, the lines would have been destroyed today. Strangely enough, one of the geoglyphs is of a pair of hands. No one knows why hands were sculpted as a gift to the gods, and even stranger yet, why one of the hands only has 4 fingers on it. By coincidence, or fate, Maria Reiche had actually lost a finger when she was a young girl. She also only had 9 fingers. When she discovered the pictograph, she took it as a sign that restoring the lines was her duty from God; and so that’s what she did! After her 15 years of solitude, she spend the last 26 years of her life educating the world on the Nazca lines, until she finally passed away in 1998 at the age of 95.

Today, her house has been transformed into a museum. You can still see her charts, photos and work space exactly as she left it. She was meticulous in her studies, and has left behind invaluable information on the Nazca history. Unfortunately, without Maria around, there is no one to continue cleaning the lines, without funding and support from the government, the lines will eventually disappear if they are not properly maintained. It seems like such a shame.
  We got a tour of Maria Reiche’s house, a ground view of a couple of the lines from two separate miradors (man made scaffolds that you could climb to see the lines from above). And a close look at the astronomical clock… As one tour.

For our other tour we took a look at the Nazca Aqueducts. And as everybody knows, our guide told us, “these are the key to the Nazca lines”. Really? Because I’m pretty sure we thought it was aliens right up until 12 hours ago. Our guide was pretty funny and had this way of saying “of course!!” after every question we asked as if the answer was SO obvious! But I suppose in a way he was right about the aqueducts; without them there could be no civilizations living in Nazca, and so, they were extremely important to its history. Essentially, the Nazca people discovered two water sources under ground that they used to their advantage. They build incredibly long and elaborate aqueducts that led all through the valley in order to irrigate the land, thus creating fertile land to live on. They used gravity to their advantage to move the water in the right directions. The aqueducts went on for kilometers throughout the valley, with watering holes used for drinking, and others for bathing. Without these water sources, Death Valley would have been impossible to survive in. Hot temperatures and no rain all year round were not ideal conditions for a thriving civilization. And so, with the ingenious nature of the Nazca people, huge irrigation systems were created.

The Inca people, who came after the Nazcans, also used these systems. They used the aqueducts to their advantage when they set up strategic fortresses along the mountain ridge at the edge of the valley. We walked through the remains of the Inca fortress as well on the tour. It was interesting to see the difference between the two cultures. The Nazcans were concerned with irrigation and astronomy, mathematics and religion. Their reign was over 1000 years. The Inca reign was only 120 years! They were a warrior people, and were more focused on building strongholds against invading armies than culture. It’s amazing to see what they accomplished in such little time. 120 years to conquer so much land and to build empires that included grand fortresses like the one in Nazca, and Machu Picchu further inland.

Overall, the day was incredibly informative. We even learned a little about Nazcan pottery on the trip. One man had dedicated almost his whole life to studying the techniques of their ancient pottery. Today, his daughter continues his work, and creates the most amazing collection of traditional bowls, teapots, masks and figurines in a small house in Nazca. All the techniques are traditional, right down to the ancient kiln, and creating a shiny finish to the pottery by polishing oil from your face onto the finished product. Her work was exquisite! All in all, it was our first introduction to ancient Peruvian civilizations on the trip and I definitely learned a lot. I can’t believe we hadn’t even been in the city 24 hours and we were already heading out on yet another night bus to Arequipa. Then we were ready to spend 3 full nights doing nothing important before heading to Cusco and the Inca trail…

An Oasis in the Sand


Huacachina is an oasis: literally. In 1999 only 115 people lived in the town, and I can’t imagine many more live there today. Only a couple city blocks long and wide, the town surrounds a small lagoon in the middle of miles and miles of sand dunes. The city is lush and green, with palm trees sucking the water from the single water source. One step out of town, there is only sand! The dunes create high cliffs of sand that tower over the city. While eating out on the patio, I often found myself wondering why the sky behind the palm trees was brown; it was always strange to have to horizon so far above eye level! At sunset, lots of couples and groups of young friends climb the dunes to watch the city in it’s final minutes of light. Huacachina is stunning! I had no idea that oases really existed, but this town is living proof.

I suppose I should let Adam write about the first day there, because I spent almost every second of it in bed with terrible stomach pains. I lost my appetite, but managed to drag my sorry ass to the table to share a dinner. I slept for 10 hours that night, drank litre after litre of water, popped all the drugs I brought and still felt like crap in the morning. So we had a slow afternoon. I managed to walk around the entire town before collapsing with exhaustion – which isn’t a huge feat in a town that has only 3 blocks. But the place was beautiful; it had grassy areas to sit down by the water where you could rent paddleboats or swim in the lagoon. A couple restaurants set up their tables and chairs right near the water for a fantastic view of the place. There was one luxury hotel right at the end of the water, and a bunch of lower budget hostels, each with their own restaurant and happy hour specials.

By the afternoon the pain had stopped and all I felt was lightheaded, woozy and restless. I was tired of sitting around sick and was determined not to let my illness get in the way of our timeline or adventures… So we signed up for extreme sports.

Sandboarding is a sport you can only do in very specific places in the world: Huacachina is one of those. It is exactly what it sounds like. Sandboarding is just like snowboarding, except A. The boards are shorter B. the bindings are simple and wrap around your shoes C. It is much more difficult to control yourself and D. It’s on sand dunes. So we left on our tour at 4:30 and drove off in a big, 7 person sand buggy. Our guide ripped up and down the dunes, scaring the living hell out of the two French Canadian girls next to us. You never knew when the sand was going to descend gently down, or cut off in a nearly vertical cliff: it made for quite the ride and the giggling screams of terror from Marianne beside me were so infectious we laughed most of the way there.

The dunes were unbelievable. They stretched out forever, climbing and falling in perfect slopes where the wind left them. The late afternoon sun left gorgeous shadows of contrasting light and dark brown against the blue sky. It was like looking over a brown ocean with huge waves crashing in on each other. 
After a half hour or so, after our eyes, ears and mouth were well covered in fine sand, we stopped at the top of a huge cliff of sand. “This is where you go sand boarding!” said our guide with a huge smile. Other groups had pulled up to the same spot and had pulled their boards out to the edge of the cliff. We looked over the edge, and straight down about 80m in a nearly vertical drop. NOPE, NO WAY, NOT A CHANCE IN HELL; there’s no way a person can go down that and survive! I turned to Adam and said “you’re on your own”. He looked down at the cliff with a little boy’s enthusiasm and grabbed a board. “You’re CRAZY” I said.

Now for those of you who know how awesome I am at Snowboarding, you should be surprised that I didn’t immediately go down the hill! Hahaha no, actually, my experience with flying down hills at huge speeds only occurs in nightmares. I would prefer to be sipping on a cold beverage at the bottom and wait, with a first aid kit, for Adam to show up. BUT, I also have a bit of an ego when it comes to being “too scared to do something” and Adam knows that about me; It didn’t take him long to convince me to do it. 
Standing on the board would have instantly been the death of me. I saw too many people get whipped around and flipped on their heads to try it. Adam obviously sand boarded down perfectly as if he’d secretly been practicing for six months behind my back! Showoff! So our guide showed me an alternate way of going down.
 Put your board down on the edge of the cliff, lie stomach down on top of the board, face first down the hill, gripping the bindings with your hands and feet flailing out the back. This seemed even crazier, but was my preferred option, so I lay down, and let the guide push me off the edge towards my impending doom.

Once over the edge I absolutely FLEW down; with sand whipping up into my face, I think I screamed the entire way to the bottom where I came flying up at Adam’s feet. I can’t believe he convinced me to do this on a day I was nearly puking my guts out only hours earlier!! But it was surprisingly fun!! I didn’t crash and I came out unscathed (unlike my wakeboarding experience in the Ilhabela that I still have scars from). We had to hike up through the sand to the next dune, which was much shorter than the first, and then finally a third before our guide picked us up.
 We then trekked over the hills in our sand buggy for a couple minutes before pulling up to another large dune. “Want to try again?” he pulled out the boards again as we walked to the edge of the dune to look over. I got instant butterflies. This was one on the biggest sand dunes I’d EVER seen. It was more vertical than the first and at least one and a half times as high. I was terrified! Perhaps I’d skip out on this one. The first guy to go down nearly came to a dangerous barrel roll finish as his board spun sideways at the bottom. His girlfriend flew down at record speed and came within inches of crashing into him. This did not look safe. Adam obviously grabbed a board, hiked up the hill to add another 10 ft in height and slid down the hill on his stomach, a trail of sand dust shooting out from behind him as he went down. I could barely hear him as he yelled what I can only assume were bragging taunts at me from the bottom. I hesitated a couple more minutes before the other Canadian girls (who chickened out themselves) convinced me I could do it. So once again, I came screaming down the hill towards the rest of my group! It was exhilarating and a little terrifying, but all in all I loved it! Successful afternoon on the slopes!

We trucked down to an area to watch the sunset over the sand and the whole place looked like a painting. It didn’t seem real to be sitting there watching the shadows change as the light disappeared. Then just like that, we all got back in the buggy and went back to our little oasis.

The next morning we had organized a winery tour with the two French Canadians from our dune buggy tour. Their driver picked us up at 11:30 and we set out to our first winery. Our guide, Jesus, spoke wonderful English and was a wealth of information about the brewery. The first winery was a family owned industrial winery. The family name, Picasso, is one I remember from home, but most of which were too expensive for me to afford in Canada. We walked around the grounds, learning all the techniques to make their world famous Picasso tempranillo wine and Pisco, the popular 42% liquor that is so common here in Peru. When we’d finished, we sat down to taste them all. We tried a red, white, rose and the Pisco. The wine was tasty, and the red tempranillo which had earned itself a gold medal in Peru and a silver in South America, was probably the best. However, I have to admit, Peruvian wine is not one of my favorites. All the wines we tried over the day had a certain similar taste to them that I am at a loss of how to describe. I suppose each country has this, and that’s how sommeliers can determine which country a wine comes from, but personally, Peru is not my favourite. We ended up buying a winning bottle of Pinot blanc from the winery that came highly recommended and was a great price. But that too left me disappointed: looks like those wine courses have made a wine snob of me after all!

The second place we went to was a family owned traditional winery. It was quaint, beautiful and everything was made by hand – or foot. They had huge concrete pits where people still stomp on the grapes to extract all the juices. Apparently once a year, on the March solstice, they have a big festival where people come to drink and dance over the grapes for the entire night to help make wine. We sadly missed this by only a couple days. Once the grapes are properly crushed, they are moved into clay pots and covered for fermentation. This winery only makes wine and Pisco once a year, not very sustainable that’s for sure. So it’s lucky that they also have a large field of various fruit trees, which also produce chutneys and pecan chocolate that is to die for! We got a tasting of several types of pisco, some dessert wines, a few types of chutney and the chocolate. It was a great way to end the tour.
 When we arrived back at our hostel we only had to kill a couple hours before catching our bus and moving onwards toward Nazca!

Entering Peru: The Ultimate Bus Ride from Hell

The bus ride from Machala to Lima is 24 hours; and that’s without layovers or border crossing times. We decided to fly. There is no way I want to spend a full day of my life on a bus, especially with our limited time to get to Cusco. Flights just over the border were only $99 instead of the $60 buses. Well worth the cost I think!! It also allowed for another day in Ecuador if we wanted, to recover from Patty’s day hangovers and spend some more time in the city. So before we went out to the Zona Rosa to party, we went to book our flight….
In 24 hours the flights had doubled! It was now over $200 to fly, AND the bus prices went down. This meant A: We were going to bus, and B: We had to leave in 12 hours… Great!

 

We had it all timed perfectly (which is dangerous in South America because nothing is on time) the trip to Tumbes, the Peruvian town just over the border, takes about 2hrs20min. It’s a dead border crossing, but we allotted for an hour and forty minutes to cross it. And it’s a good thing we did!! 
After two, painfully slow, border crossings the 2 working staff members processed our bus of 40 people. The whole thing took an hour and a half, and probably could have been a third of the time if they’d told everyone to fill out a form BEFORE the front of the line, and if one guy hadn’t been playing MAJONG on his computer screen!  This left us 10 minutes to get into the terminal, buy tickets for the next bus and get moving… No time for food I guess!

 

The problem we realized upon arrival in Tumbes, was that there is no central bus terminal in the town (Something that seems to be common here in Peru). Instead, each individual bus company has it’s own terminal, located somewhere around the city. We were traveling with Cruz Del Sol and had no idea where it was. 
Luckily a tuk tuk driver (tuk tuks are EVERYWHERE here) came up to us and said he would take us there for 5 soles. We figured this was a little pricey, but couldn’t work out the conversion rate right away and knew it couldn’t be more than a couple dollars. Because we didn’t have any money exchanged, he even offered to take us to a bank first. We had 10 minutes, so there was no arguing: we jumped in. 
Now as a rule, I’m going to say, never trust a man who has a sparkling, gold, front tooth and who’s first question to you is about your marital status and includes a wink (creepy). After our stop at the bank machine he asked double the price to take us to the bus station (which was one block away, but we didn’t know it). He knew we had no time to argue, were over exhausted and were still unsure of the new money… I glared him down before we handed over the cash and he flashed a shiny grin. Great first impression you’re making on your country buddy!

 

Turns out it didn’t matter. The bus was sold out, and the next one wasn’t for another 5 hours. We tried to get VIP seats on the night bus, but to no avail. Regular seats it was… 
But when we boarded it wasn’t bad! We knew the buses in Peru were second to none and they were going to serve us breakfast, lunch and dinner during the trip. Although their wifi didn’t work, they DID show movies with English subtitles, and the food was quite tasty. I even remember turning to Adam and saying “Hey, I kinda like this bus!” oh how quickly I would regret those words…

 

When I opened my eyes after a night of not so awful bus sleep, I was looking straight out the window to the Peruvian countryside. It was absolutely unlike anything I would have expected. We were in a giant desert with massive black and white, wind-swept sand dunes all around us. There was almost no vegetation in parts at all. Just open expanses of sand, beautifully set in a monochromatic tableau from the morning sun. In the distance were larger mountains in similar tones fading off into the grey sky. I couldn’t believe it! I imagined Peru to be jungle infested, Machu Picchu style, Amazon rainforest-esque! But apparently the northern coast is quite different. After a bit we even drove right along the water. The sand turned browner, and more rigid, and there were long expanses of completely deserted beaches. It was beautiful and surreal.

A couple hours after breakfast, I started to feel sick. That achy, headache feeling that comes about just before a cold or the flu. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and drank some more water in hopes it would go away. About an hour after that, our bus hit a long lineup of other cars, buses, semis and the such. An announcement on the speakers came on, I didn’t catch what was said, and we pulled over on the side of the road. Pulling over and stopping for unknown reasons is so normal in South America I thought nothing of it. We watched a full movie, and had lunch before I realized we had been sitting there for over 2 hours. Then the bus turned off, air conditioning and all, and we sat in the scorching heat of the desert. It was a little after 2 at this point, and my ill feeling had yet to go away. The heat of the bus wasn’t helping, nor were the kids sitting behind us. 
Apparently Adam and I got placed in the “ball pit” section of the bus, where the two kids behind us staked out their territory. One was probably 4 years old, and the other not even a year yet. Note to all mothers out there: please don’t bring your new born child, who is prone to screaming, on a 24 hour BUS journey! It’s not fun for them, it’s not fun for you and it sure as hell isn’t fun for the rest of us!

 

The 4-year-old girl made it her mission to kick the back of my seat AS often as possible.  I was now in full-fledged sick mode, where anything that touched me sent painful shivers through my body. Hot, cold, movement at all, didn’t matter, it hurt! Every kick of my seat made me want to cry, every 15 seconds or so I would jump forward in pain as her tiny foot jammed into the headrest of my chair… Her baby sister was probably worse! She had this cry that was the most horrific noise I’ve EVER heard in my life (Adam can back me on this). It started out as this guttural coughing noise that sounded like she was choking on her own phlegm. Then just as you’re about to be concerned for her health, she erupts into a piercing screech only babies can achieve. A wailing sound of distress that is absolutely deafening! A baby siren of distress!! This went on NON STOP!! All day, all night, all the time…I finally got off the bus.

 

Outside wasn’t much better. It was dusty and hot; everyone huddled in the shade on the side of the bus, there was nowhere to sit down except in the dirt… I was in rough shape. I now had a fever and could hardly stand upright. No amount of water was helping. 
We finally asked what was going on. Turns out there was a strike going on. The Peruvian miners were protesting, and had set up a picket line about 15km up the road. The police were fighting with them, but they weren’t budging. Any vehicle that tried to pass was met with resistance, and rocks were thrown through the windows. It had been going on for 14 hours at this point, and they didn’t know when it would end… Fabulous.

Soon cars and buses that had been waiting there for hours longer than us started turning around. There was a small town 2 hours back that people were going to for the night. Hotels were probably full, but at least they had restaurants and decent bathroom facilities! Our bus was not turning around…
So I braved my seat again, hoping the devil children were taking an afternoon nap. Not the case. I had the chills, and was covered up in a thick blanket in the 38 degree bus. I had to lie across two seats in the foetal position just to keep from being sick. In this heat, with no moving air at all, is when the mother decided to change the baby’s diaper… A foot and a half from my face. I thought I was going to die on the bus.  We had now been stopped for several hours and I desperately wanted to be horizontal and straight at the same time! The seats were beginning to be as uncomfortable as day four in a hammock, and I was less than enthused.

 

By dinnertime, the whole bus was cranky. We hadn’t eaten in hours, but the bus had no more food or water. They weren’t expecting the delay (although turns out they had known about it since it started 12 hours earlier) and so hadn’t brought any more food for people. We were in the middle of the desert, with no amenities, and the driver couldn’t turn around unless told to do so by the head office. A few other Cruz Del Sol buses went back, but ours just sat there… For hours!.  The false alarms were the worst. We all were told to sit down, the engine started, we moved forward a foot, then found out it was a rumour that the picketing ended. This happened too often to be funny.

 

Finally, after 12 hours of being stuck there, we tried to go to sleep. Not much else we could do without any lights or food or power.
  During our sleep, the bus was finally given the go ahead to continue on.  We had been stopped for a total of 15 hours.  My back was killing me, I couldn’t sleep a wink in the night, my fever had broken sometime during the early morning, but my headache and body pains were still very much an issue.  As were the relentless, screaming children, lest you had forgotten!

 

It was 9:00am when we arrived in Lima, only 46 hours after we left two days earlier. We hadn’t eaten food in 20 hours, and we were all in rough shape. This was our third day in the country and had yet to get a hotel room. The joke was, Lima wasn’t our final destination!!! We were going to Huacachina, a small town 5 hours South of Lima just outside of the city Ica. So we immediately booked a ticket South, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and got BACK on the bus… 
I took several trips to the bathroom thinking I was going to puke. Luckily I didn’t. I couldn’t describe the scenery, and I couldn’t tell you much about the second bus trip. Except that I’m surprised I made it. We spent 53 hours getting to our final destination. That is over TWO DAYS on the bus… 
As for the miners, they are still picketing (which is why we are currently stuck in Huacachina with no buses leaving anywhere). The fights that had broken out at the picket line we were delayed at, left 3 people dead and over 60 injured. Now it turns out there’s several more lines to the south of here. What chaos!
  At least from now on, any  bus ride that seems horrible, I can safely say “I’ve had worse”.