Written by Joy Thrun.
The first 24 hours in Peru made the bungee in Africa look like a cakewalk.
We arrived in Lima at almost 11:00 PM and spent a tedious hour in immigration before arriving at our hotel close to 1:00 AM. We had a great two-room suite on the 14th floor of one of the tallest buildings in the country: The Westin Lima Hotel & Convention Center.
We got to sleep just before 2:00 AM. Our tour pick up was at 5:00 AM.
We arrived (bright and early) back at the Lima airport to fly to Pisco. We were in Peru during their cockfighting season, so the sounds of roosters crowing in the airport were fun and unsettling. As we were bused to a runway with a 12-passenger fixed-wing prop plane, I had one of those “Should I be doing this?” travel moments. As we lifted off in Lima’s signature fog, I wondered about the Andes Mountains and other air traffic.
We bounced into Pisco, an airport that was so disheveled and small it was kind of funny… kind of. We were told that we had to wait three hours for the weather to clear to fly over Nazca. Three extra hours of sleep occurred to me, with my second thought being three hours in the middle of the desert, in a two-counter airport with four chairs.
The one of the two airline counter agents offered to call us a cab. When Percy arrived, he asked us something. We assumed he asked what we wanted to do or where we wanted to go, but we had no idea. He knew no English and we knew no Spanish. Tom’s high school Spanish was depleted after “Hola”.
As we drove towards Paracas, the driver kept speaking to us like we understood with Tom repeating a word or two in Spanish like he understood. We were getting nowhere, literally. This desert town is on the sea and smells like rotting fish. This is because there is a fish mill processing plant, the stuff that’s in your pet’s food.
We stopped in town to find someone who speaks English and Jimmy told us there is nothing to see or do in Paracas but the trip over to Ballestas Islands, the poor man’s Galapagos, but we were too late to get to the island and make it back for our flight.
When delayed, find a cute café and have a beer. Downtown had a cute street of cafés, shops, and prehistoric looking Peruvian pelicans. The photos are hilarious.
Percy, Tom, and I enjoyed Peruvian beer and limited conversation, Tom counting in Spanish and Percy pointing at things while I nodded.
With some research, we discovered the reason Paracas/Pisco looked so devastated is because in 2007, it was hit by magnitude 8 earthquake that left 500 dead and leveled the city. There are still thousands without permanent homes.
When we returned to the airport, our flight was on schedule.
When flying over the Nazca lines, size matters. Most of the planes are 5-8 passenger one-prop Cessnas. All of a sudden our 12-passenger panoramic-windowed aircraft looked luxurious and large. The cute copilot informed us that rough air over Nazca was normal and not to be alarmed. As we approached Nacza and saw the Astronaut, one of the most compelling drawings, our anticipation paid off. There is much speculation about the reason for these drawings considering they date back to 500 BC, but are best seen from the air. Why were these designs created thousands of years before commercial flight?
The theories range from mathematical calendars to communicating with the Gods to space aliens. Everyone I have spoken to personally has had or a close friend or family member that has had a UFO experience. I’m just saying!
About 20 minutes into this mindboggling experience with the plane bouncing in the desert air and the pilot banking at low elevations to be sure we were all able to see the figures, motion sickness kicked in big time. As I clutched the airsick bag and tried not to miss the awe-inspiring figures, I prayed I would keep my dignity and my lunch.
I made it back to Pisco without humiliation, but only had two hours to recover before boarding the same plane back to Lima. I recovered enough to fly back, but was carsick on the hour long transfer back to the hotel.
After a nice dinner at the hotel and good night’s sleep, I felt revitalized and that I could enjoy the travel memory of the previous day. Next it was time to enjoy the beauty of the Miraflores District, the upscale area of Lima. The weather was stellar for an alfresco lunch overlooking the coast. The meal at Mango with the paragliders sailing overhead made for a perfect farewell to Lima.
The next morning, we were picked up at 7:00 AM for our flight to Iquitos. First we headed to the golf course even though it was raining. We had a 40-minute transfer in a mototaxi; a motor cycle with a two-person carriage on the back. Noisy, dusty, and all-around unsafe. When we arrived, we were given garden boots, a set of ill-matched clubs, 12 balls, and a machete.
Our caddy/mototaxi driver took our camera to catalogue the round. Dogs, cats, and parrots were in attendance. We had a great, er… interesting round and made it back to the hotel safely.
It had been a wild few days, and the next day we were scheduled to set sail on the mighty Amazon aboard the Aria. We wondered what was in store for us in the jungle.
The Aria, an Aqua ship, is a 32-passenger vessel with lovely cabins, floor-to-ceiling windows, and exceptional food and service.
But it is the Amazon and the naturalist guides that make this an educational, ecotourism must. Fishing for piranha with pink and grey dolphins swimming all around was a “WOW moment”. We then swam in the same waters, yes, with the dolphins and piranha.
The jungle walks, night expeditions, and village visits are hard to describe. I hope our photos help tell the story. Tom held a caiman while we drank champagne at sundown and lived to tell about it. We were able to touch a two-toed sloth and an anaconda. And the birds! But it was the scorpion and poison dart frogs that made me uneasy.
Our Amazon adventure at an end, we flew into Cusco in the evening and we were transferred to the serene Tambo del Inka hotel for the Machu Picchu portion of our journey (about an hour plus ride from the airport). This hotel is in the Sacred Valley, but it is not at the same uncomfortable altitude of Cusco. So much easier on the body!
We were upgraded to a two-bedroom suite with a stunning view. This is a must for luxury adventure travelers. The unequalled service and unique architecture made this an exceptional experience.
There is a private train station at the hotel, so at 6:20 the next morning the bell captain walked us to the rail station where we boarded the Vistadome train for Aguas Calientes. From here, we walked into town to purchase our tickets for the 20-minute bus trip to Machu Picchu and our site entrance tickets.
This bus trip is not for the faint of heart. The one-car lane dirt road with numerous switchbacks and no guard rail gets the blood and prayers flowing. When we arrived at the site, we hired a private guide, Moises, whose family has been living in Cusco for generations. He was the perfect person to give us the history and culture of this ancient and magical place. Twenty dollars per person for a private 2-hour tour; you gotta love the prices in Peru!
As we walked, learned, and photographed, we were overwhelmed by our luck to be at this iconic place on Tom’s milestone birthday. It’s hard to be depressed about being old while having this kind of life experience.
When we returned to the hotel after the return train trip, complete with cultural dancing and an alpaca fashion show, we entered our suite to find a note from my sister and her husband with some wine and a cake. Priceless! The day, Pisco sour, and birthday wine kicked in just as my organic vegetable risotto arrived.
The rest of the evening is a bit hazy. But today as I write this, in the luxury of this wonderful hotel while looking at photos and relaxing for the first time in two weeks, my gratitude for this wonderful experience is plain and clear.
What a trip! Happy birthday, Baby!