Peru BLOG

Día 7

Yes, sleep was a bit challenging sweating all night, and with only electricity from 5-10 pm to charge electronics and get a little breeze from the fan (although we had no internet, so that’s why we’ve been off the grid!). We woke Friday at 5am to be able to depart for a long series of hikes and boat rides around the jungle, totaling about 5 miles. The most visceral memories may have been…We lathered the sunscreen and bug spray constantly, wiped the sweat, chugged the water and saved snacks from ants, trudged through mud and rowed through swamps. But may we not forget these gems: we saw and held turtles, studied millipedes, spiders, and massive snails, spotted birds, monkeys, and caimans, learned about the shallow and buttressed roots of many Amazonian trees, checked out wild pig and tapir footprints, learned how to make rope and a slicer with a palm, climbed an anxiety-inducing view tower to see the canopy, and painted our faced with the purple extract of some leaves. We smelled and ached and itched with bites, but arrived proud of our jaunt for another delicious meal, cold showers (never felt so good), and a swim.

The afternoon was spent doing our own thing: hammock naps, chats, river watching, cold drinks, more cold showers, macaw and large rodent sightings, and darts, pool, and ping-pong. Before dinner some of us left for one last hike, heading into the lush green forest during sunset, tempting some white caimans out of a murky pond with some raw machete-chopped chicken (the biggest papa we saw on our trip by far!), and back out in the dark with just our flashlights. and the vibrant symphony of animals accompanying us. After dinner we relaxed, played games, and took in the reality that this was going to be our last bed sleep for a few days!

Hasta pronto!

Día 6

Exhausted after our Machu Picchu travel and hike, Thursday met us with another big change in environment: Cuzco to the Amazon. We took a plane to Puerto Maldonado we the heat, sun, and humidity slapped us right off the plane. We took a rickety open-air bus, called the Tortuga, to a port on the river Madre de Dios, a tributary of the Amazon. We took an 1 ½ hour boat ride to a remote lodge called Ecoamazonia. While we were exhausted, sweaty, and some a little cranky, we climbed off the boat and into a paradise—with a lot of heat and mosquitos—but the nonetheless, a paradise, complete with cold tropical juice, hammocks, delicious food, a game room, beautiful gardens, wildlife, a pool, and bungalows covered in mosquito screens.

After a tasty leaf-wrapped lunch and unpacking, we headed to Monkey Island in our lent mud boots and saw the first of our rainforest biodiversity: tarantulas, birds, carnivorous plants, and the highlight, monkeys! We fed them oranges and bananas and some came down to steal some of our water bottles and snack from our backs and heads. So many laughs and a beautiful sunset completed a crazy travel day. After dinner we headed back out on the boat for an exquisite silent moonlit float down the river, including star-gazing and caiman search on the way back. Our super guide in the Amazon, Alex, used his heavy-duty spotlight to spot the shiny eyes. He even found a baby one he could tell was just 5 days old, and grabbed it to show each of these carnivores up close. What a night.

Día 5

SORRY we were too tired to post on Wednesday then left for the Amazon with no service until today. We are on our way home with two short flights to Lima then two long flights until we see you all! Let me recap our last few days.

On Wednesday we had quite the trek to get to Machu Picchu. While some spend four days hiking the Inca Trail from Cuzco to the site, others, like us, take a bus to a train to another bus to reach the entrance of this spectacular Inca temple-university-royal getaway. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the sight was truly breathtaking. We spent an hour and a half with a guide hiking around the larger of the mountains, called Machu Picchu for “old mountain,” making our way down and across to the side that is the most iconic, whose smaller mountain is called Huanapicchu, meaning “young mountain.” Seemingly endless terraces and stone structures flanked the hills, many used for teaching the empire’s brightest minds in engineering, astronomy, and agronomy.  The steep drops on either side leading to river gorges and more series’ of mountains set Machu Picchu in an ideal remote location. It is no wonder it wasn’t found until centuries after the conquest. We observed both the royal and worker’s living quarters, the temple, and various structures built especially to mark the solstice in June. We continued on exploring on our own for just another hour before hearing the whistles to leave the park by 5. Our train rides were fun and we had lunch and some market time in Aguas Calientes, the closest train station to Machu Picchu. Oh, and did I mention the weather was PERFECT? We have been so lucky on this trip!

   
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Día 4

Today was a busy day in the Sacred Valley. With our guides Ada and Ana Maria, we headed out in the bus with our first stop at Awanacancha, a private association that brings together the weavers of many communities in order to preserve the art of traditional spinning and weaving, trying to motivate these communities to keep the old standards of quality and natural production, versus the cheap items bought by tourists treated with chemicals, (Thanks, Ada, for the dictation!). They showed us the traditional ways of dyeing fibers using various plants and insects. We fed the alpacas and llamas, and also saw and learned out their relatives, the vicuña and the huanaco. We also had the chance to meet Ricardo and his daughter Frida, who are working there this month. He showed us the piece he was working on weaving, a table runner, and we observed his traditional dress as he spoke some Quechua phrases to us.

      
 
   
 
   
 
 
 

Next we visited the market in Pisac and stocked up on our souvenirs while practicing our Spanish bargaining skills. Among the crafts we bought (may be too late to make your requests!) were scarves and the iconic beanie-likes hats, stuffed alpacas, pottery, silver jewelry, and a whole sinfin of trinkets. From Pisac we went to an elementary school nearby and spent some time in a second grade class where we chatted and colored with students one-on-one. While we brought donations of supplies, jackets, and toys, it was clear the gifts they gave us in their joy and affection were equal, if not greater in impact.

 
 
 
 

We ate a delicious abundant buffet lunch, complete with fresh picarones, the Peruvian donut made with sweet potato and pumpkin and served with a sweet syrup. Another Andean music group serenaded us during our meal. We gathered on the nearby lawn for the Incan ceremony, Pago a la Tierra. Ada and Adriel explained the Andean faith, which combines the ancient polytheistic beliefs with the Catholic religion. Adriel led us in a ritual to thank Pachamama, the mother earth, and offer various items, including coca leaves, cotton, llama fat, and even colorful sprinkles to be wrapped in a package and burned with prayers of thanks and petition to the gods, the saints, Jesus, and Mary. It was quite the cultural experience!

   
 
   
 
Finally we visited what I like to call Machu Picchu #2: the ruins of Ollantaytambo. Another majestic set of terraces, crop storage rooms and tombs carved into the mountains, and remains of temples, this site was still under construction when the Spanish arrived and conquered the Inca. Ana Maria showed us how the massive stones were pulled up the hill with a long system of ramps, levers, and ropes. We were so tired after climbing the tall stairs but the views of the valley’s crops, steep green mountains, irrigation systems, and red roofs were worth it. The light breeze with just a little chill and plenty of bright sun made the visit ideal. We are hoping for similar weather for our long trek to Machu Picchu tomorrow!
 
     

    

    

 

 

Día 3

Crew Peru took our short flight to Cuzco today, the former center of the Inca Empire (the navel of the world, according to them), at an astounding 11, 200 ft in elevation! Many of us have felt the effects of the change with some headaches and stomachaches, even after pounding the water and eating on the gentler side in the last day. Despite this, we are delighted by the sights here. It is truly a magical place, with hillsides of red roofs and green vegetation, grand colonial buildings (many made with the stones of former Incan structures), and colorful crafts for sale by locals and indigenous women. 
 
    
 
 
   
 
Right after landing we headed to our nearby hotel, Eco Inn Cusco, with beautiful courtyards, clean rooms, and kind staff. We quickly hopped next door for another delicious lunch among the sounds of traditional Andean wind music. We all had choclo, the large kernels of corn (not real sweet), many had chicken soup to help adjust to the altitude, and Rachel ate alpaca!
 
   
 
   
 
 
We took a city tour and first stopped at the Qoricancha Temple which was mostly destroyed and turned into the church of Santo Domingo. Some original rooms and walls remain and our guide Ana Maria showed us how the Inca used such precision to cut and stack stones without using any mortar--somewhat like Legos!--and with a preference for trapezoids and some give to allow for movement during earthquakes. We compared the Incan and Spanish architecture, and got one of many amazing views of the city. 
 
    
 
 
 
Next we explored the cathedral in the plaza, considered to be the most beautiful in South America. Incredibly ornate baroque and rococo sculptures and carvings'--many gold and silver leafed--fill the walls and chapels. But we also got a taste of how the Inca included their culture in the paintings--llamas in the background, a dark Virgin Mary, and Jesus and the disciples eating cuy--guinea pig--for dinner! No photos were allowed here :(
 
 
Lastly we drove up the hill to Sacsayhuamán (helps to pronounce it like ¨sexy woman¨!) to see more of the exquisite Incan architecture but in grander form. This site was used as a temple as well as for agriculture and raising llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas. Quechua women, descendants of the Inca, are seen in plenty around here, sometimes with a baby on the back or a llama in tow. 
 
 
 
 
 
Quite tired, we returned to the hotel to rest a bit and get a little dressed up for a nice dinner which included traditional music and dance. We heard the gentle Andean flutes paired with some American classic rock and pop songs! Two couples intermittently took the floor for folk dancing in traditional colorful dress, and with much joyful expression. We clapped and Bravoed...oh yeah, and ATE a lot of food at our buffet. Salads, olives, cheeses, potatoes, rice, bread, chicken, quinoa soup, beef, pasta, rice pudding, chocolate cake..qué rico!!!
 
Having a blast! Chau, familias y amigos!
 
   
 
 
 

Día 2

What a fabuloso day! Wow, we are blown away by the learning,  fun, and adventure of today! After a buffet breakfast, we jumped on the tour bus with our day guide, Hernando, who was a walking encyclopedia, explaining the extensive history of the Precolumbian cultures as well as the colorful make up of today´s Peru.

    

We began at the Larco museum which houses the largest collection of Precolombian pottery (whoa! rooms and aisles, and huge stacks of ceramics!) as well as gold, silver, and textiles housed in a former hacienda with beautiful gardens and adobe walls. With the help of an intro video and Hernando, we were  reminded that the Inca were only the most recent indigenous group to inhabit Peru but that there were many other groups that flourished in this land were resources abound, perfect for settling and cultivating a community.

      

        

A highlight has been the bus rides through the streets where we've seen a plethora of political campaign posters for the upcoming elections--19 presidential candidates! We've been able to see various neighborhoods and all kinds of street vendors and performers, including a Robocop-like character, a soccer stuntman, and a live karaoke show (this one was ON the public bus we took tonight which ended in most of us singing along to Enrique Iglesias' Bailando!) see video at the end of day two´s post!.

We continued our tour of historical Lima with a visit to the central Plaza de Armas where we saw the changing of the guard in front of the presidential palace, we caught a special lenten procession in the metropolitan cathedral, and explored the halls and catacombs of the convent San Francisco (bones, skulls, saints, oh my!). Sorry we couldn't take pictures in this locale. Walking through these streets, Isern bought coca candies and leaves from the Quechua women, which give energy and help with altitude sickness. Some have also had the coca tea in restaurants--tastes a lot like green tea and is very mild.

   

  

   

Our afternoon consisted of free time to get lunch, then a public bus trip back to the Miraflores district where we split into a couple groups. After cruising down a long walkway we swam in the ocean of a beach full of smooth rocks and near several surfers. We tasted deliciousness at the Choco Museum and learned about the harvest and processing of chocolate. We cruised through the Parque Kennedy where locals danced in couples (and a few of us!), artists sold their paintings, and several kitty cats roamed the lanes! Some of us did some shopping in a crafts market, and we all loved the free time to talk to locals, practice some Spanish, and experience a typical Sunday in Lima among families and other international travelers. Dinner was another classic, Pollo a la Brasa (grilled chicken, potatoes and salad) and some anticuchos (marinated beef hearts on skewers, yum!). 

   

    

   

   

 

Time to go to bed! It's an early one tomorrow as we'll be flying from Lima to Cuzco where we'll have to adjust to the altitude of the capital of Imperial Inca. Hasta mañana!

Street Performers

Día 1

Welcome to The Crew Peru blog! Day 1 we recovered from two long flights to get to Peru! We arrived in Lima and went to our hotel in the San Isidro district, a modern and beautiful neighborhood. Our wonderful guide, Ada met us and began introducing us to the capital of this "Tierra de contrastes"--land of contrasts.

 
   

After a little rest we began our exploration of Lima. We saw our first Huaca, or Precolombian temple, right in the middle of the city, our first taste of the rich past of cultures who inhabited Peru prior to the arrival of the Spanish. We then headed to the Miraflores area where we followed the extensive parks along the coast, ending in the art-filled Parque del Amor with mosaics and the massive sculpture El Beso. 

 
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
 

Our first dinner was a hit at the ocean view restaurant, Popular, in the Larcomar shopping center. Many of us ate classic Peruvian cuisine (did you know Lima is a gastronomic Mecca in South America and the world?!), including Lomo saltado (beef and potatoes), ceviche, Aji de gallina (a creamy chicken dish), and the new favorite drink, chicha morada (blue corn, pineapple, and lime juice).

Our team enjoyed a much needed sweet sleep in our Hotel Ananay. Mañana exploramos Lima más!

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