Puno to Cusco (March 25, 2008)

This morning was another one where we didn´t really get to sleep in. Our bus from Puno to Cusco left at 7:30 am so we were up by 6:15. We decided to take a bus/tour from Inka Express to go between Puno to Cusco rather than just a straight bus. If we went with just the bus, it would have been 6 hours. Adding the tour portion made the trip 9.5 hours instead. But the good part was that we had a chance to visit things along the way and the visits broke up the trip a bit.

The first stop along the way was the Pukar Museum. This is a pre-Inca ceremonial site. It is characterized by a series of staired plateforms. The ruins also reveal some litosculptures and tombstones, all witnesses of a pre-Inca civilization, possibly one at the origin of the Andean culture of the Altiplano. The Altiplano is where the Andes are at their widest and is the most extensive area of high plateau on earth outside of Tibet. Puno and its area is considered the Altiplano.

The next stop along the way was La Raya which is the highest pass on the route between Cusco and Puno. La Raya is 4335 meters above sea level. This is a region situated between two cultures – the Quechua and the Aymara, as well as a composite of two terrains: the dry and arid altiplano and the more verdant Quechua valleys and rivers. From that point, we started descending and immediately started noticing the difference in the landscape. As we moved along, the mountains became more and more green and lush. We are at the end of the rainy season so we were able to see the mountains at the height of their lushness. Seeing I am from Alberta, we have seen the Rocky Mountains. However, the Andes are completely different. Because we are already so high up, the mountain surrounding us didn’t seem as tall as the Rockies. However, as we mentioned above, they were at first rocky and then became green. The scenery along the way between Puno and Cusco was simply breathtaking.

Our next stop was for lunch. We stopped at a town called Sicuani. The lunch was buffet style and was excellent. In the buffet amongst other things was grilled alpaca. It was really tasty. Roger hadn’t been very hungry for the last few days because of the effects of the altitude but was hungry and really enjoyed the lunch. We were at the same table with a couple from Quebec City so we were able to talk hockey :-). We also met a very nice lady from Germany who is spending a few weeks in Peru taking Spanish courses (sounds like a good idea…).
Our next stop was at Raqchi which was 121 kilometers from Cusco. This is an Inca temple that was 100 meters in length, 26 meters in width and 14 meters in height. Divided in two naves, each of these still retains the base of eleven giant columns. The base of the walls consists of Imperial Inca stonework. Adjacent to the temple, we saw many storehouses, used for various purposes: military and religious items. The stonework the Incas did was simply amazing. They built walls with stones without any mortar or cement in between. The construction is amazing in that it has survived two major earthquakes – one in 1650 and one in 1950.

Our last stop before Cusco was Andahuaylillas which is referred to as the Andean Sistine Chapel because of its magnificent frescoes. The church is an example of the mestizo baroque architecture typical of the Cusco School of Art which was prominent in the 17th century. The ceiling is of carved panels covered with gold leaf. While it wasn’t as elaborate as the Sistine Chapel, it certainly did remind us of it.

We arrived in Cusco right on time at 5:00 pm. We shared a cab into town with 3 other Germans (yes, there was 5 of us in the cab). We didn’t share it to save money (as cabs are very cheap here in Peru) but more so because there weren’t any others around.

We met up with Kevin and Melissa at our hotel (Hospedaje Familiar LLipimpac). It is a great little hotel with a courtyard in the middle. After checking in, we went for supper and for a walk around the city. Cusco is a beautiful city. The architecture is great and is a very lively city. It is known as the “Gringo Capital” as it is so close to Machu Picchu. We really notice the number of Gringos that we see as compared to the other cities we visited.

After walking around and catching up with Kevin and Melissa, we hit the sack. Another busy day planned for tomorrow as we want to visit a bunch of the sites in Cusco.

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Puno (March 24, 2008)

Today, we slept in a bit, we are on holidays after all. We had breakfast at the hotel with a nice view on the lake. In the morning we went to visit a boat that is a musuem right now. They are restoring the boat which was built in England in 1862 and brought to Peru in 2766 pieces. The pieces were brought to the Lake by mules through the mountains!!! It is an amazing story, you really have to read about it at http://www.yavari.org . The captain, Carlos, welcomed us and gave us a tour. He is really an amazing man, very passionate. He used to be in the Peruvian Navy and is very passionate about the project. He was very inspiring. He said that whatever you do in life you should be passionate about.

After visiting the boat, we walked around the area. We had lunch a nice restaurant that was on the 3rd level and overlooked the lake.

After lunch, we took a tour of Sillustani. This town has pre-Columbian funeral towers. These towers are of the Colla tribe and most of them date from the period of Inca occupation in the 15th century. It is believed that the engineering involve in their construction was more complex than anything the Incas built. Our guide for Sillustani, Marita, was great and very passionate. She taught us a lot about the history and symbolism of Sillustani as well as the Incas. One of the many interesting things about the Incas is how they studied astronomy and how it was very important part of their lives. Many of their beliefs surrounded what they saw in the skies. At Sillustani, they built a temple for the Sun and a temple for the sun´s wife, the Moon.

After the tour, we stopped to visit a farmer. It is amazing to see how basic the farmers live. The really live off the land. They didn´t have electricity or any vehicle. They raised alpacas and lamas and had a small plot of agriculture to grow the food they eat. Many of the famers in the area eat very little meat. The animals are worth a lot more to them alive than dead as they can use the wool for weaving. They make some wool products for their own use as well to sell in order to make a bit of money. We bought a beautiful alpaca rug. Oh joy, better buy another bag as we have started picking up a fair amount of stuff. They raise guinea pigs as well. In Peru, guinea pigs are not pets but rather food. It is a delicacy for the Peruvians and they even believe that eating guinea pigs will prevent and even cure cancer. With those creditials, this is something we are definitely going to have to try! After visting the farm, we headed back into town.

Back in town, we again did a bit of shopping. Neither of us were very hungry so we had a sandwich and went to bed fairly early as we need to once again get up early to take the bus to Cusco.

Lake Titicaca (March 23rd)

We got up to 5:45 am to catch our tour that started at 7:00 am. Ouch! We were going on a boat tour on Lake Titicaca to go visit the floating islands of Los Uros and the island of Taquile. We were all feeling a bit off that morning from the altitude sickness, but Roger was hit a bit harder and did not have breakfast. He was not feeling so well on the boat and slept on the top deck for a bit and felt a bit better after that.

We had a tour giude that explained the history of the area which was great. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable body of water in the world and is a very sacred lake in the Andes. The legend says that the Creator God Viracocha emerged from the lake. Also the Sun God and the moon had their children spring from the lake to create the city of  Cusco and the Inca Dynasty. The name Lake Titicaca comes from ¨Titi¨which is the name of the puma of the Andes which is a sacred animal and ¨caca¨ means rock. The lake has the shape of a puma.

We first visited the floating islands of Los Uros which are made of reeds.  Yes, they really do live in the middle of the lake and build their houses on reeds. It is really cool to see. We went on one island where the island president explained to us their lifestyle. He was a very funny guy. There is an estimated 40 floating islands which a total population of about 2000 people. They build every thing out of Totora reeds including the island itself, the houses, their boats, etc. They even eat a part of the reed. They have to redo the top of their island and the boats,etc. fairly often as the reeds does not last that long.  It seems to be a lot of work. After the presentation from the President, we took a reed boat to another island which was also pretty cool.

After that we had a 2 1/2 hour boat ride to the Island of Taquille which is 45 km from Puno. The island is beautiful with numerous Inca terasses for agriculture. The only problems is that we had to climb to the top of the island which was about 200m high to bring us to 4000m. Let´s just say that with the altitude, it was nothing short of challenging! Poor little lungs! Anyway, almost at the top, we went to have lunch in a traditional house. They explained to us their lifestyles and the meaning of their clothing. The hats they wear tell you if a man is sinlge or married for example. Women cut their hair twice in their life. At the age of two, it is a big ceremony where the girls have many braids and she gets a present for every braid that´s cut. The second time is when a womam is in love. She cuts her hair and give it as a present to her future husband who weaves it into a belt that he will wear for the rest of his life. Isn´t that beautiful!  In the belt, there is a second section that depicts the couples life. The woman weaves the second part of the belt every year or so which indicates with drawings were they live, how many children they have etc.

They then showed us some traditional dancing and Kevin and Marjorie got to join in! The lunch was great and the view amazing. We had Quinoa soup and grilled trout. After lunch, we thought we were feeling so much better until we had to climb a stiff hill to get back to the main path. That was hard! I know we sounds like sissys but it was! We then went to the main square, took in the atmosphere and started descending down huge steps to get back to the boat on the other side of the island. The scenery was georgeous.

We got back on the boat and made our way back to Puno. We hung out on the top deck and enjoyed the scenery. When we got back in town, we did a bit more shopping from the different ladies that set up their knitting on the streets.  They sell all kinds of Alpaca products including Peruvian hats, mits, scarfs, etc… We then went for supper at a dinner type of place and it was great. The menu was so cheap at 10 soles (about $3.00) . It included a huge delicious soup, a main dish, a drink and a dessert. Marj and Kev had grilled Alpaca, it is really good. For dessert, Marj had a pancake with Doche de Leche or caramel – miam miam.

We went to bed fairly early as Kevin and Melissa were taking the bus to Cusco the next morning at 7 so they could get there on time for the conference. We decided to stay one more day in Puno.                                                              

From Arequipa to Puno (March 22, 2008)

In the morning we took a bus to go to Puno to go see Lake Titicaca. Arequipa is already at 2380 m altitude and we felt it there. But Puno is at 3800m altitude which for us is extremely  high.  None of us have ever been that high up. So we started taking attitude sickness pills (I mean altitude sickness). Sorry it has been our joke on the trip.  It doesn´t take much to amuse us. :) 

Since we are on the medication topic, the trip from Arequipa to Puno is a bit over 5 hours in the mountains so we all took some gravol as preventive measures.  The road out here a pretty windy with many curves.  As well, our bus driver was certainly not taking his time.  He spent a lot of time in the left lane passing.   Marj took 2 as she was concerned and was quite out of it for most of the trip. The scenery very interesting to see. The first part was sort of desert like with cacti.  As we started to climb, we started seeing larger mountains and even Alpacas grazing on the side of the highway.  Every once in a while we would see an “Alpaca Crossing” sign.  Not something you see everyday…

We arrived in Puno in the afternoon and checked in to our hotel, Joya del Titicaca. We sure could feel the altitude.   When we had to go up to our room on the third floor it was diffcult and we were feeling out of breath. Once we recovered, we went to grab something to eat. It seems all there is in Puno are Pizzerias! So, guess what we went for – yup, pizza.  It was mid afternoon so the restaurant was pretty empty.  The server was super friendly and asked all kinds of questions about Canada.  Thankfully Melissa and Kevin speak spanish.  Kevin and Marjorie had Alpaca pizza and both really love it.

After lunch, we  walked around town, saw a couple nice squares, the cathedrale, etc.  Roger even got a shoe shine in one of the squares.  You can only say no so many times… They tried scamming him and charging 10 soles instead of 1 soles by claiming that the 1 soles price was just for a brush and not a shine.  Nice try… 

Not far from our hotel, they have a street that seems to be “Gringo Central” with restaurants and shops for tourists. We found a little place where we had tea and played cards. There is a  tea here Matte de Coca, which is made with coca leaves (which is what cocaine is made from after numerous  chemical transformations).  It is the natural medicine here for alitude sickness.  The doctor at the travel clinic in Montreal told us to drink it to feel better.  And it works!  It does help us feel better.  Coca leaves have been a very important part of life here for hundreds of years.  They use them in tea and even chew the leaves.

We were all feeling pretty tired from the alitude so we went to bed fairly early. We also had to get up at 5:45 the next day for our tour. Boy, isn´t it nice to be on holidays and be able to sleep in… ;-).


Arequipa (March 21,2008)

Today we woke up fairly early.  The thing with Peru is that the sun is up from 6:00 am until 6:00 pm. So, you wake up in the morning earlier than you would probably normally.  However, the mornings are beautiful.  We met Kevin and Melissa for breakfast at 8:00 am.  We ended up having breakfast on the roof top terrace.  It was really a perfect way to start the day – not a cloud in the sky and surrounded by a perfect cone shapped volcano (El Misti – 5822 m) as well as beautiful mountains (Chachani at 6057 m and Pichu-Pichu at 5669 m). 

After breakfast we went for a walk to the Yanahuara district.  It was a nice walk to get to see a bit of the city.  In this district, there is also a lookout point that allowed us to see an overview of some of the city and the volcanoes and mountains.

For lunch, we stopped at a wonderful restaurant called Sol de Mayo.  It is situated in the Yanahuara district and has an amazing outdoor courtyard where tables were set up.  We arrived at 11:30 and therefore we able to pick any table we wanted.  It was beautiful with flowers, fountain, etc. (coming from so much snow, seeing flowers is very exciting!). We ordered our first Ceviche (raw marinated fish) in Peru as well as a rocoto relleno (hot stuffed pepper).  Both were incredible, especially the Ceviche.  When we were just finishing our meal, a Peruvian band started playing on a stage that was set up in the courtyard.  It was a 3 person band where one person played a guitar, one the drums, and of course, one the pan flute.  It was great music but interesting enough, many different covers of 70´s and 80´s music.  We ended up buying one of their CDs to remember the wonderful meal that we had.

After lunch Kevin went back to the hotel to work on his conference presentation and the other three of us went to visit the Museo Santuarios Andinos (aka the “Frozen Girl” museum).  This museum contains the mummies that were recently discovered on the Ampato volcano.  One of the most famous is Juanita who died between 1440 and 1450 and was found in 1995.  What was amazing about this find is that she was very well preserved with almost all her organs perfectly intact.  It is believe that the Incas would select the girls at birth to be chosen to eventually be sacrificed to the Inca mountain gods.  When the time came, the “chosen one” would embark on a trek from Cusco to Arequipa and up Mount Ampato (6309 m).  At the top, she would be killed and burried in a hole along with other artifacts.  Being chosen was considered a honor bestowed up the girls.  In all 8 mummies have been found. 

After the museum, we went to pick up Kevin and went for a walk around town.  We had a drink on a 3rd floor terrace overlooking the main square.  It was great view where we witnessed a beautiful sunset.  The restaurant even gave us ponchos to wear to keep warm. 

Afterwards, we went out for supper at a restaurant that served chicken cooked in a wood burning oven.  Man, is food ever cheap in this country.  It cost us each $2.25 for the meal.  And it was good to boot!

After supper, we went back to the hotel and played cards.  We went to bed fairly early as we had a early start the next day.

Peru here we come! (March 19-20, 2008)

Well, this is our first post in a long time. Seeing it is a travel blog, it gets updated on our big trips.

This year, we decided that we were going to Peru for 2 1/2 weeks. We are going to meet our friends Kevin and Melissa there. Kevin is presenting at a conference in Peru so it was a good excuse to travel there (not that we need an excuse :)) Neither of us have ever been to South America so we were very excited to go. Peru has always been at the top of our list so it worked out great to be able to meet some friends there and travel together.

We flew out from Montreal at 2:00 pm via Toronto, met Kevin and Meliisa in Toronto and took the same flight to Lima, Peru. We even ended up getting upgraded to business class. Yahoo! Long story short, last year when we flew to S.E. Asia, we were supposed to fly business class all the way but didn´t end getting it on the Montreal to Vancouver leg. So, Roger made a phone call to Aeroplan the morning we left and did some sweet talking at the airport and voila – Business Class! The trip from Toronto to Lima was close to 9 hours so getting the nice big seats and special treatment was a real treat.

We arrived in Lima around midnight and spent the next 5 hours in the airport. We had booked a flight to Arequipa at 4:55 am so decided so just wait it out in the airport. Man, the airport in Lima is busy all night long. At times, we thought were were in shopping centre there were so many people. We bought a few beers, sat on the ground and hung out.

Our flight to Arequipa left right on time. We were all pretty tired as we had been up for 24 hours. The flight was only a 50 min. flight. We snoozed a bit on the flight but were awake for when the sun came up. And wow, what a sight to see. We were flying over the desert for a portion of the flight and then were flying over these amazing mountains. When we landed in Arequipa, the runway was right beside this beautiful snow capped mountain. We were not at all expecting it so seeing something so beautiful was breathtaking.

We took a cab to our hotel and checked in at 7:00 am. We were all really tired so we took a 5 hour nap. The hotel we stayed at was Hostal Las Torres de Ugarte, which was really nice. At noon we headed out. At first we were going to have something to eat and then visit the Convent of Santa Cantalina. However, seeing it was holy Thursday, the convent was closing at 3:00 pm. We decided to visit it first. We quickly grabbed two waters, 2 little packs of cookies and 4 madeleine type pastries and were pretty surprised when it came to $1.75!

The convent was really beautiful with gorgeous colours. It was closed to the public for 391 years, up until 1970. It was almost a small city enclosed within walls. Each nun´s appartment had a small stone oven as well as a simple bed. They only communicated to the outside world via little revolving windows. It was a very interesting place to visit and see how they lived for so many years.

After visiting the convent, we went made our way to Plaza de Amrmas (or square of weapons as they translate it) which is a gorgeous square with a beautiful cathedral. We then went to a simple restaurant where we had some amazing empanadas. We wanted to have a beer with lunch but were told that because it was the holy week, beer was not sold on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. However, on our way back to our hotel, we found a small bar that sold us beer. And man is beer cheap here. In a bar, they cost about $1.50. And the beer is great as well. They played 80s music with the music videos, it was quite funny.

In the evening, we walked around for a while. It is Semana Santa (Holy week) and Peru is very catholic. Many people were in the city and very few tourists. It was a festival and thousands of people were in the streets with tables and street food all over the place. The cathedral was packed! It was quite the thing to see. We had supper at a street both with grilled beef which was delicious, and some tripes with potatoes which I think I was the only one (Marj) to appreciate! We kept walking around following the crowd which was going from church to church. We then had hot drink a one of the outside table. It was called Diana drink as far as we could gather and it as delicious (milk, sweet, coconut). Seeing we were all still pretty tired from our long day and wondering around hundreds of people, we went to bed around 10:00 pm that night.

Our first impressions of Peru? Arequipa is a beautiful city. It was amazing to walk around and take it all in. The people all seem very friendly. It is interesting to walk around with Marjorie and Melissa as they stick out in this country – Marjorie with her blond hair and Melissa with her red hair. Then were already asked if they were sisters.

Peru itself is a very cheap country to travel in. Our lunch was about $2/person and the beer was $1.50. Taxi cabs cost us about $1.00 to travel across the city.  Bottle water costs about 40 cents and internet access is about the same price (40 cents).
All in all a very busy 2 days (if we count the plane ride) but great ones that already started more amazing memories.