From inside our comfortable, thatched-roof cabana deep in the Amazon, we were awakened by the early morning sounds of the rainforest. Peering from under our netted, canopy beds, blue skies peaked through the thick, lush green of the towering vegetation. Birds of countless varieties chirped and cawed and all at once the jungle came alive on this glorious morning. The divine scent of Peruvian coffee coming from the resorts’ kitchen, had us up and out quickly, not wanting to miss a minute of what the day would offer.
Our journey began the day before when we arrived in Lima for an overnight stay followed by a city tour. Then, a short flight brought us to Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon. Here, we met our guides who took us by boat, a 40 minute ride up the Madre De Dios river to our riverside lodge. In the Amazon, respecting the ecological system is everything. Water and electricity are conserved; there are no phones, tv’s or internet. It is very warm and the pace is slow. Staff at the resort are welcoming and attentive; the Reserva Amazonica Lodge…lovely. It was good to have this day to acclimate and rest before the real adventures began.
Next day… a thrilling walk on the canopy of the rainforest. Climbing 155 steps, some 30 meters high, we walked along the swinging walkways hanging on to the rope rails making our way along the top of the jungle ceiling. The idea is to experience the view from the top, but some of us thought it might be best to concentrate on our walking! There were other special moments during our Amazon experience….an evening boat trip up the river in search of caimans lazing along the riverbank, birdwatching for some of the Amazon’s many colourful species, seeing the resort’s resident tapir (a very large animal) which roamed around the resort sniffing everything in sight and a visit to a botanical garden with interesting discussion about the various tropical plants and their uses.
Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was a major highlight and a true wonder. The Incas built this spectacular complex high in the mountains and it is a masterpiece of engineering and architecture that served as a sanctuary and retreat for the Incas in the 15th and 16th centuries. When the Spaniards invaded the area, they did not find Machu Picchu as it was well above the clouds and out of view from the valley below. The ruins are spectacular and as we climbed the steep staircases, there were opportunities to view the site from many vantage points. In some areas, we were looking down at the clouds! There are no railings and the climb is steep and uneven at times, but it is absolutely worth the effort to make the trek. A restaurant at the site provided an extensive luncheon buffet after which some of us ventured higher still, to take in more of the site.
In Cusco, nine days into our tour, our guide Juan Carlos, offered to take us to a laundry to freshen up our wardrobes. What a funny sight to see 20 people carrying plastic bags full of dirty laundry down the street, lead by our efficient and helpful guide. The laundry was a tiny place, fitting only 2 or 3 of us at a time. A smiling, young woman took the bags and our names and told us to return at 5pm. Sure enough, our clothes were clean, pressed and folded by the promised time, all for an incredibly cheap price based on the weight of the bag.
Every day was an adventure, but special to many was our ten-hour train journey from Cusco to Puno. After being greeted by a Peruvian band at the train station, we were lead to our private Craig Travel car…. lovely upholstered chairs, tables with crisp white tablecloths, lovely silver cutlery, wine glasses, exquisite gold lamp at each table and a beautiful fresh rose. Brass overhead racks for hand luggage ran the length of the car. Porters loaded our large luggage and we were off. Wait staff, very smartly dressed, served coffee and tea soon after departure, then passed out menus for us to choose our lunch. It was simply delightful! And all along the journey, we were treated to magnificent scenery from mountains to farm land with many llama, alpaca, sheep, Holstein and Swiss Brown cows and workers who waved as we rode by. We were even treated to a fashion show in the Observation car, one of the models being a wonderful member of our group! We had an opportunity to disembark the train for 15 minutes to shop at a group of market stalls along the way. Apparently, the vendors switch their stands from one side of the tracks to the other to meet the train as it travels in both directions. When the train stopped here, we were told to shop fast. What a fun experience and yes, being the expert shoppers we were, many purchases were made in that short time! The train was a little late arriving in Puno because of a Japanese film crew on board filming a documentary about Peru. It was very interesting to see it all unfold.
While staying at Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world), we boarded a private boat and made the short journey to the Uros Islands, islands that are man-made from reeds. We were greeted by the local people and met our island guide, Sulema, who gave a wonderful account of life on the islands, how the islands are constructed, how the people live and work. There is no electricity, no phone or internet, no plumbing as we know it. We were invited into their homes, also made of reeds and had an opportunity to ask questions about their life and culture. The women are all very large, due apparently to their diet and sedentary lifestyle. The local ladies sang for us and even the islands “mayor” attended! We then had an opportunity to take a ride in one of the islands 2-storey reed boats…delightful! Next, we departed for Taquile Island for a delicious, typical lunch of the area, followed by a song and dance performance and demonstration on the exquisite weaving and knitting that is unique to this tiny island. On this island, the women do the weaving and the men do the knitting!
There was much to see in the beautiful city of Arequipa, but one highlight was an opportunity to purchase items for a children’s school and present them to the children. We collected whatever donations the group wished to donate, then divided the total into five equal amounts. The group was placed into groups, each being responsible to purchase items in their designated category (school supplies, fruits/vegetables/bread, toys, household supplies and clothing). We were taken to the local market and given one hour to purchase items in our assigned categories. Most vendors did not speak any English, but we managed, sometimes feeling we were playing a game of charades, trying to show the vendors what we wanted. Each group had USD$162 to spend and at the end of the hour, we had many bags filled with items, money spent. At the school, both teachers and young students were thrilled with the many gifts. What a fun and rewarding experience!
The landscapes and scenery in Peru are extremely diverse and a perfect example was on our early morning drive to the Colca Canyon. Gorgeous terraced hills in stunning greens, snow-capped mountains, primitive villages and lots of twists and turns as we wound our way towards Condors Cross in hopes of spotting the amazing condor. An hour and a half after our arrival at Condors Cross, several condors were spotted flying low in the canyon. These birds are very large, with wings that can stretch nearly 10 feet from tip to tip. When in flight, these huge birds glide on air currents to soar as high as a dizzying 15,000 feet. There was not a lot of wind that day, so they stayed low in the canyon; however, a few avid photographers in our group managed some great shots.
Our visit to the mysterious Nasca Lines was highly anticipated and did not disappoint. Arriving at the new Pisco airport, each passenger was weighed so that the total weight of each 12-seat aircraft was balanced and not over-weight…a slightly intimidating experience! Our flight was approximately one hour and forty-five minutes, with our group being divided into three new, comfortable aircraft. The day was clear and the view spectacular! We flew over several small towns with bright green irrigated patches of farm gardens, then into the desert before arriving at the mysterious Nasca Lines. The Nasca culture flourished between 50BC and 600AD. The fascinating lines in the sand picture coastal, highland and jungle fauna as well as geometric figures such as various lines, trapeze and triangles. Our aircraft banked steeply to the left and right to make sure everyone got a close look, making several passes over each drawing. A simply amazing experience!
These are only a few of the many highlights on our Land of the Incas tour. At the end of our tour, Juan Carlos presented us with an interesting “milestones and highlights” list our group had experienced during our Peruvian adventure. Take a look….
½ a morning at the market in Puno
1 school visit for donations
2 new kinds of meat to try – alpaca and cuy
3 varieties of quinoa
10 tour guides
20+ cultural sites visited
34 friends together on this adventure
200 species of corn
2,000 kinds of potatoes
5,000 years of Peruvian history
5,600 km travelled within Peruvian soil
1,000,000 memories to share with your loved ones!
Explore this diverse land with escort Judy Moore! November 1 - 16, 2019.