My vacation to Peru started off like all my other vacations…..long plane ride. But let’s not forget all the vaccinations and preventatives I had to have before I went. Vaccination for Yellow Fever, Malaria pills, and assorted other medications I took with me just in case. OK once a nurse always a nurse. I flew from Chicago to Miami then on to Lima Peru. A little bumpy, but landed in one piece. I waited in the Lima airport for my friends Maria and Kathy to come in on their flight. From the airport we went to a bed and breakfast in Lima. The next morning we started our adventure in Peru.
Peru is a land of forgotten temples entangled in jungle vines, cobwebbed imperial tombs baking in the desert sun and ancient treasures beyond reckoning. Wild rivers that rage around Cuzco, pumas that prowl in the night and shaman rituals that are centuries old. Even Inca warriors and Spanish conquistadors didn’t stand a lasting in this wild terrain. No one could completely appreciate the terrain, from the dozens of peaks exceeding 5000m including Machu Picchu, down to the vast coastal deserts and the hot, steamy rainforests of the Amazon Basin. Peru will astound you with its diversity, from its countless indigenous peoples, languages and traditions to its rainbow variety of wildlife. Travel however and wherever the spirit moves you – a luxury lodge in the Amazon, cheap ceviche at a beachfront café or a panoramic train ride through the Andes – because it’s all surprisingly affordable.
At one time Peru was the homeland of several prominent Andean civilizations, with the Incas certainly the most notable. The incredible Incas built astonishing mountain temples, palaces and other buildings, all with no mortar; they constructed almost 10,000 miles of roads; engineered functional bridges, and built aqueducts to transport their water. At the peak of the Inca’s influence in 1532, the Spanish conquistadors arrived in their quest for gold and other riches; they executed the indigenous Indians and their leaders, captured their cities and in a brief period of time this innovative and powerful culture was scattered to the wind and all but destroyed. For almost three hundred years Peru functioned as a Spanish colony, but in the early 19th century native discontent and colonist revolts brought calls of independence, localized uprisings, and then, civil war in 1821, with the Spanish finally defeated in 1824. Over the next century, or so, Peru suffered through many wars, some with neighbors; brutal dictatorial rule, military coups and the subsequent political upheaval that comes with the territory.
After staying one night in Lima we started to Pisco. We took a bus and then transferred to a “collectivo”. What is a collective? It is small minivans that you stick 7 people in with their luggage and oh yeah a bike. I was in the back of the “van” and had luggage on top of me. Luckily it was a short ride. Because we got friendly with the other in the van because of the close contact Maria picked up her first stray. We met a guy from England that was biking his way through South America. Since we told him we were see sites in Pisco and had a B&B that we were staying at he thought it would be fun to tag along. We got to our hotel and we got our rooms and met downstairs for some drinks. We were introduced to a Pisco Sour. It was like a Tom Collins but with a punch. We had a few drinks discussed our plans for the next day and decided it was time for bed.
The next day we took a tour to the cost line to see some of the sites. We were going to a beach where it rarely rained. Our tour guide said he doesn’t remember it ever raining in his lifetime. This place looked like in never rained. Not a plant in sight. I don’t remember even seeing any animals. Even though the ocean was right there it looked like the moon, desolate with no life. The desert and the sea come together in spectacular fashion in Paracas, in the department of Ica, just a few hours south from the city of Lima. The cliffs that fringe the beaches are teeming with life: millions of birds that live here year-round, and thousands of others that fly from the Northern Hemisphere and from further south, ranging from guano birds to Humboldt penguins. Next we were going to see a reserve. From there we took a boat to see the island game reserve. This was Guano Island. Yes, I said guano. This is from the birds nesting and using the island as a toilet.
Paracas National Reserve is a refuge for fur seals, Humboldt penguins, flamingos, and many other birds. You can visit many different natural and archeological attractions in the reserve. One of them is the El Candelabro, a geoglyph of more than 120 meters / 394 feet long, better appreciated from the ocean. The Punta Pejerrey, from where one can look out across the hillside at the candlestick-like figure of the Candelabro, carved into the sand with a similar technique to the Nazca Lines, although possibly of a different origin: theories range from pirates marking a treasure hiding place to soldiers fighting for Latin American independence from Spain. Ballestas Islands are located outside the reserve area. They constitute the habitat of a great variety of birds and sea lions, which you can approach by motor boat. This excursion is one of the most regular ones from Paracas. The next site we were scheduled to see is in Nazca.
As you view the coastal mountains that stretch across the arid flats to Nazca, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this desolate pampa holds little interest. This sun-bleached expanse was largely ignored by the outside world until 1939, when North American scientist Paul Kosok flew across the desert and noticed a series of extensive lines and figures etched below, which he initially took to be an elaborate pre-Inca irrigation system. What he had stumbled across was one of ancient Peru’s most impressive and enigmatic achievements: the world-famous Nazca Lines. From a 12 meter / 39 feet lookout, you can partially observe the shapes of the hand and the tree. However, in order to appreciate the drawings fully, it is recommended to fly over the area in a small airplane. I did see the lines from the air. The plane was a small prop plane. It fit a total of 4. This was an exciting trip. I slid into the back seat behind the pilot. It was a tight fit. I was very nervous. While sitting in to back seat I noticed that the pilot had oxygen tubing and mask at his reach. I pointed that out to my friends and wondered why he was the only one to have oxygen and did we need it. He got in the plane after a quick check of the plane. As we started down the runway I wondered if we would get off ground, which of course we did. My stomach was a little jumpy and it was a good thing I took Dramamine before I went up in the plane.
Every time the pilot dipped the plane sideways to have a better look at the line I grabbed the seat like I was going to fall out of the plane. All I could say was, “yes I see you can fly straight now”. He would tip to the side so much an alarm would go off in the plane. I kept telling the pilot he didn’t have to do that I could see. All he would do was say, “It’s OK…. Look!” Didn’t stop me from grabbing the seat in front of me, which was the pilot’s. It was my first time in a small plane (and not the last). It was an experience.
Today the small town of Nazca is continually inundated by travelers who show up to marvel and scratch their heads over the purpose of these mysterious lines, which were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1994. Nasca Lines is a vast network of lines and drawings of animals and plants credited to the Nasca culture covering an area of approximately 350 km2 / 135 miles. Some of the best drawn figures are the hummingbird, the dog, the monkey, and the long-tailed mockingbird.
The German, Maria Reiche, devoted 50 years of her life to studying and researching the area and came to the conclusion that it was an astronomical calendar. Theories abound regarding these mysterious etchings, ranging from landing strips for aliens to a giant seismograph. The most probable theory is that of María Reiche, a German researcher who dedicated her life to studying the lines. Ms Reiche believed that the lines were part of a vast astronomic calendar whose figures marked different solar phases. Ms Reiche, affectionately nicknamed the Angel of the Plains by the local inhabitants, was the first to discover the ancient technique of digging into the tough and dry desert floor and covering the track with stones brought from distant sites. The component of natural plaster existing in the area helped to preserve for thousands of years the drawings: the hummingbird, the spider, the condor and the monkey, among the more than 30 figures etched into the plain.
The Nazca Lines are the most extraordinary legacy left by a culture that flourished in 300 BC. The Nazca culture is not believed to have been capable of manned flight. But the question remains as to how they crafted the drawings, what technology they used and what purpose the lines served.
Arequipa has been rocked by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes nearly every century since the Spanish arrived in 1540, Peru’s second-largest city doesn’t lack for drama. Arequipa has been called the White City. Its distinctive stonework graces the stately Plaza de Armas, along with countless beautiful colonial churches, monasteries and mansions scattered throughout the city.
What makes Peru’s second-biggest city so irresistible is the obvious relish with which its citizens enjoy all the good things in life, especially the region’s spicy food, stylish shopping and nightlife. The pulse of city life is upbeat. The streets are full of jostling vendors, bankers, artists, students and nuns. There’s no better place in the south to rejuvenate your weary bones, especially while waiting a few days to acclimatize before scaling the higher elevations of Cuzco. One of the sites I ventured to was Colca Canyon.
Colca Canyon is a beautiful part of Peru offering stunning scenery and one of the best opportunities to see condors in the wild. Of course we took a bus to get there. We had to get up at 1am to catch the bus. It was a local bus. The bus had open windows and was backed with people and chickens. I did say it was a local bus. We were going up narrow mountain passes and the bus was going fast and you could feel it lean when turning the corners. I just tried to sleep so I would forget about the passageways. We finally got to the canyon and we got off the bus. There was no one there. Dawn was just starting to break. There were only a few people at this site. It was below freezing and we were not prepared for this weather. Before our bus left the open the luggage compartment under the bus. When it opened people started coming out with knit goods to sell. I thought I had a bad seat. Once the sun came up the condors came out. These were beautiful birds. It was a site to see and well worth the adventure getting there.
On the way to our next destination Cuzco, I had to take a bus. The ride was going to be four or five hours….. so I thought. I got to the bus station and our bus was running late so I waited. I waited two hours. I continually asked the man at the ticket counter if the bus was coming and he said, “yes, don’t worry”. It seems in many other counties transportation is not on time and no one is bothered by it. “Us Americans” worry too much… “Relax”. Finally the bus reached the terminal. I got on the bus and looked forwarded to a restful trip. About half way into the trip the bus broke down. It broke down in a small town that had, luckily a cantina where we could get something to drink and eat. I had to wait for a replacement bus because the driver, after trying to fix the bus for an hour, could not fix the bus. The replacement bus was coming from the depot which is two hours away. I now had to stay in the cantina for hours with no running water for the bathrooms… you don’t want to know what I had to use as the toilet, and we had no food left. It was about 40 degrees F and no heat for the open aired building. I waited and waited. I started having conversations with some of the local people and one family wanted me to take their son with was in his 20’s home to America with me. The replacement bus arrived at the cantina around 3am. I hoped on the bus and hope for an uneventful finish to my road trip. I checked into our hotel a day late, but the room was still there for me.
The Andean city of Cuzco is the uneasy bearer of many grand titles. It was once the foremost city of the Inca empire, and is now the undisputed archaeological capital of the Americas, as well as the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Few travelers to Peru will skip visiting this premier South American destination, which is also the gateway to Machu Picchu. When I first got there I was short of breathe because of the altitude change. My thoughts were fuzzy. Even though my friend Maria was speaking to me is English I thought she was speaking Spanish. After some Coca Tea we were fine.
Although Cuzco was long ruled by an inca (king) or a Spanish conquistador, there’s no question of who rules the roost in the 21st century: city life is almost totally at the whim of international tourists. These days nearly every building surrounding the historic Plaza de Armas seems to be a tourist hotel, restaurant, shop, travel agency or busy internet café.
As the heart of the once mighty Inca empire, the magnetic city of Cuzco heads the list of many a traveler’s itinerary. Each year it draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to its cobbled streets, lured by the city’s unique combination of colonial and religious splendors built on the hefty stone foundations of the Incas. And lying within easy hopping distance of the city is the country’s biggest draw card of all, the ‘lost’ city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, and a lofty Inca citadel perched high on an isolated mountaintop.
The department of Cuzco boasts a long list of flamboyant fiestas and carnivals in which the nation’s proud pagan past collides colorfully with solemn Catholic rituals and modern Latin American mayhem. And in no other place in Peru can you descend from the breath¬taking altitudes of Andean peaks down through cloud forests painted with rare orchids to the lush lowlands of the Amazon jungle so quickly. Corpus Christi is a festival in May – June in the Cusco Region. This festival is a celebration of the saints. Fifteen saints and virgins from different Cusco districts arrive at the cathedral in procession to salute Christ’s body in the form of a consecrated wafer kept in the fabulous 26-kg massif gold custody. During the night wake, typical dishes, such as chiriuchu (guinea pig and hot peppers), chicha and corn bread, are served. As soon as the sun rises, the parade starts around the main square, and then the images enter the cathedral to salute each other. Finally, the delegations go back to their churches in the midst of songs and prayers. The celebration last a week.
For many visitors to Peru and even South America, a visit to the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu is the sweet cherry on the top of their trip. With its spectacular location, it’s the best-known archaeological site on the continent. This awe-inspiring ancient city was never revealed to the conquering Spaniards and was virtually forgotten until the early part of the 20th century. In the high season from late May until early September, the maximum limit of 2500 people arrive daily. Despite this great tourist influx, the site manages to retain its air of grandeur and mystery, and is a must for all visitors to Peru. Because of the higher elevation I was out of breath again. It took me a while to get used to that. Once you saw the view you forgot about everything else. Truly picturesque. This is not a site to be missed.
A vast region of tropical vegetation in the Amazon River Basin, home to Peru’s largest natural reserves. The vast Peruvian jungle, which surrounds the wide and winding Amazon river, is divided into two differentiated areas: the cloud forest, which features a subtropical, balmy climate, with heavy rain showers between November and March, and sunny days from April to October; and the lowland jungle, where the dry season runs from April to October and is ideal for tourism, with sunshine and high temperatures often topping 35°C.
I spent 4 days in the Amazon Jungle. To get there it was time for another plane but it was an 8 seat plane this time. We flew in to the jungle and landed in a small field in the middle of the trees. After we landed we met our tour guide and canoed on the river to our camp. We had huts with and part time plumbing and electricity by generator. We woke up early every morning to go on our walking tours. We were told to make sure we had our insect netting tucked in well before we went to bed. I didn’t want any unwanted guests in bed so I prepared my bed in the day light. I was also told that when I woke in the morning I should tap the netting first then take the flash light and scan the area around the bed and my viking shirts then get out of bed. Just in case a snake decided to visit. On night we slept outside on a deck along the river to view animals at night. We had sleeping bags and the “bathroom” was down the path along the river but we had to watch for animals, jaguars. I stopped drinking fluids when I heard that. Didn’t see much…. to dark.
We saw many animals and it was amazing. The jungle features high humidity all year long. In the southern jungle, there are sometimes cold spells known locally as friajes or surazos, cold fronts which drift up from the far south of the continent between May and August, where temperatures can drop low at night. During this season, the river levels dip and roads are easy to drive. The rainy season, meanwhile, which runs from November to March, features frequent rain showers which can damage roads in the area. I met some wonderful people in the Amazon and will never forget my experience.
Inca Kola National Soft Drink of Peru is a yellowish color and bubble gum taste. This was my favorite drink when I was there. Peruvians are proud of their national soft drink and look forward to enjoying it when they return to Peru from abroad. What is that strange yellow beverage everyone is drinking? It’s the first question a Peruvian food newbie asks when confronted with Peru’s ubiquitous soda: Inca Kola. It’s a drink people either love or hate, but personal preferences aside, it has an interesting history in the annals of the global carbonated beverage world. It really is the tale of the little cola that could. What many may not know is that the extremely sweet and brightly yellow, very bright, soda is one of just a handful of locally produced colas in the world that was never able to be beaten by the world’s number one soft drink: Coca-Cola. Despite years of trying to dominate the Peruvian market, Coca-Cola finally gave up and decided it had to buy a share of Inca Kola because it simply couldn’t outsell it.
Inca Kola, there is only one, unlike any other. Peruvians love their Inca Kola. There is a sense of pride that a soda in a small, poor country was not able to be overtaken by the most important beverage company in the world. Fast-food restaurants like the Peruvian company Bembo’s switched from Coke to Inca Kola, and even McDonald’s, yes I had my Inca Cola at McDonalds, had to come to a unique agreement with Coca-Cola to allow both beverages to be sold in its restaurants, something unheard of in the fast-food restaurant industry. Inca Kola was like the persistent lover that had come into the marriage between McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. In Peru, Big Macs are eaten with Inca Kola, not Coke.
write by Daniel Baldwin