Cusco was our base for travels within Peru. The altitude of the city is over 12,000 feet. We were winded when we checked into our hotel and took the advice of our travel doctor to drink coca tea to cope with the effects. Coca tea looks like water with a few bay leaves in it. It seemed to work and we grew to almost like it. In fact, we think we will send some coca leaves back home with our next package of souvenirs (Curt, thanks again for picking up and storing our packages. We will see you when we get back--- or when you get out---which ever comes first.).
We did not spend much time in Cusco. After booking our tickets to Macchu Picchu, we headed to Lake Titicaca. As Candy had already seen the Peruvian side of the lake, we decided to see the Bolivian side. Unfortunately, at the border, we found out that Bolivia had recently decided to charge Americans a lot for a visa (after our guidebook was published in late 2007). We, and 3 other Americans, decided to head back to the Peruvian side.
The highlight of our time on the lake was spending time with the Uros people. The Uros built these amazing floating islands out of reeds to isolate and protect themselves from the Incans and Aymaras on the mainland. This place simply defies descriptions. To get some sense, look at the wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uros
We found one island where we could spend a very cold and dark night (solar panels light a few fluorescent lights on the island).
The island was "squishy" when you walked and waves moved the island like a giant water-bed. Nevertheless, the Uros raise pigs, turkeys, and even trout in special "ponds" on the island (once again, the influence of Canadian cuisine follows us on the trip--trout from Canada were planted in Lake Titicaca and are now a local favorite).
Candy definitely bonded with the women on the island. Now, Candy too has attempted to adopt a local hair style.
More importantly she was able to spend time with women from many generations on island and learned about cooking methods both traditional (wood fires on a reed island, amazingly) and modern (propane stoves).
Ray spent a lot of time watching the daily lives of the Uros (building houses or hauling in more reeds to build boats or expand the island). He did get to share a snack of, yes, the ubiquitous reeds with young Alex.
Peruvian cuisine left a bit to be desired. We had one really cool meal in a restaurant that was part archaeological ruin (the chef had to cross a plank over a pit to get to the kitchen) and a fire hazard (the floor was covered with straw and the main cooking enterprise was a homemade, wood-fired adobe oven).
Over alpaca kabobs and alpaca pizza, we got to know a German man who had visited his distant relatives in Jordan, Minnesota. (We later ran into him at Macchu Pichu. Based on our recommendation, he too is planning to stay with the Uros people).
Our curious encounters with large cutlery on public transportation continued in Peru. On the very long trip back from Lake Titicaca to Cusco, a women boarded the bus, unwrapped the blanket she had tied behind her back, and started hacking up what we believe was part of a pig with a giant cleaver to sell to people on the bus. It seemed like most Peruvian women carried a large pacel tied in a blanket behind them. You never knew if the package was a baby, potatoes, or some meat product in some stage of its lifecycle.
A lot of our time in Peru was spent on some sort of public transportation.
Taking the long train to see Machu Picchu at sunrise required us to spend far too much time in the tourist trap town at the base of the mountain. But Machu Picchu was worth it.
By getting to the site at dawn, it almost seemed that we had the place to ourselves (even though we were the third of seven buses that got to the site at 6AM).
As the clouds/fog rolled in, we hiked out of Machu Pichu on the Inca Trail. The uphill climb on the stone trail seemed easy (thanks to the volcano-training and coca tea perhaps?).
When we got to the top, the clouds had cleared and we had an amazing view down at Machu Picchu.
With the clouds no longer around, Ray´s fear of heights appeared. It didn´t help when we met a woman on the trail covered in dirt who said she had fallen off the trail (about 40 feet down) and another women who turned back due to her fear of heights.
Candy took some amazing photos of orchids and other plants along the Inca Trail killing the battery of our camera along the way.
The whole experience was simply amazing for Ray. Even though Candy had seen Macchu Pichu before, she was also able to have wonderful new experiences as well.
After returning from Macchu Pichu, we headed to Ecuador. We have almost three weeks here, so it may be a bit before we update the blog. Thanks for keeping in touch with us. Your postings and messages bring smiles to our faces.
Our brief time in Peru was a whirlwind. We arrived quite late in Lima and had an early morning flight to Cusco. Based on the scary experiences Candy and many others have had in Lima, we took the advice of the tourist booth in the airport and joined a few dozen others who slept in the Lima airport. As Mom and Dad Smith can testify from seeing our credit card charges at Starbucks, etc., the airport was nice. Still, we hope we can avoid spending another night in an airport going forward.