Peru Wrap

Our time on the road seems to be moving forward with perpetual motion.  It feels like we just got to Peru and now we are already moving on to Bolivia.  In hindsight the route we took was a little bit backwards. Not geographically, as we planned it.  But rather the ideal way to enjoy Peru.  We spent the first half of our time lounging around the northern beaches and the second half toughing it out.

Even though we enjoyed kicking it on the beach and drinking rum, it always felt like there was this small to-do list hanging over our heads.  Not to mention it would have been nice to relax in the warm sun after our trek in the Colca Canyon and trip to Machu Picchu.  Peru gave us many things to be thankful for:  The bus system is excellent and their buses can be quite nice if you feel like treating yourself, as we always seemed to do.  The food in general was a good step up from Colombia (sorry Colombia) and there seemed to be a lot more variety of hostels.  Unfortunately, as with any place that is well-known to travelers, at times there was an overwhelming amount of tourists and the locals seemed to be just a bit burnt out on catering to them.  The locals also have been able to pick up English far better than our ability to learn Spanish and so we too easily found ourselves forcing conversations in English.  This completely destroyed our motivation to be diligent students and our Spanish practice time has all but disappeared.

Food:
Peru´s food is pretty damn good!  It is a little hard to say how good because we did come from Colombia where we weren´t overley impressed.  They put the time and energy into their food to create a large variety of local and foreign cuisine.  I found myself eating cevichie any chance I got and the Pisco Sour is a drink we will be attempting to implement into our circuit of drinks when we get home.  The variety of baked goods is enough to make anyone pack on a couple of pounds and they have seemed to perfect the baked empanada.  Fresh aji or picante is available at any restaurant you visit and the fresh-cut peppers, whipped into a sauce, is a nice additive to anything.

Beaches:
We spent a decent amount of time on the Mancora surf beaches and also stayed in Huanchaco for a while.  Mancora is nice to relax, play in the surf, and drink some rum.  Huanchaco beaches are not a place you want to spend an enormous amount of time but is a great place to learn how to surf.

Top Rated For The Trip:
Obviously when you dream of visiting a place for ten years+, it is going to be hard to not rate it at the top.  Machu Picchu was an amazing site to see and we both throughly enjoyed it.  Surprisingly Lima also makes it onto our list.  We don´t normally enjoy busy, non-firstworld, cities.  They are packed full of people, noise, dirt, and lack the amenities you find when visiting a city such as Berlin (for example).  However, Miraflores and Barranco (two rich neighborhoods in Lima) provide the cleanliness, efficiency, and excitement that make a big city enjoyable.

Random Trip Facts:

Items lost:
– Sally´s debit card (likely left in an ATM machine in Lima)                                                                                                                         – Bret´s sunglasses (again – left at hostel bar)                                                                                                            – 50 Soles (Sally´s trip to the store to get more booze by herself proved to be unsuccessful when the clerk ripped her on the change back).
– The taste of good coffee. Peru exports most of their coffee and leaves the locals sipping on instant coffee.  I am not a picky coffee drinker and have done my fair share of tipping back the instant.  However, I didn´t know it was possible to make instant taste even worse than it already does.  Some of the places we stayed made it as thick as motor oil.  Others left it out to get cold and provided a microwave for you to warm it back up.  Terrible blow…

Items acquired:
– Bret´s sunglasses (again) turned into the front desk at the hostel

Current Running Rummy Scores:
Games are played to 350 and scored by the face value of the card.  Aces are worth one and face cards are worth 10.

Sally – 17 games won

Bret – 12 games won

Highest Score – 507 (Sally)

Lowest Score – 104 (Sally)

Please note: If my ass continues to get handed to me this segment of the blog will not only no longer be carried on, I will remove this portion as well.  That is all.

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Puno and Lake Titicaca

Puno is the natural stopping point for travelers making their way through Peru into Bolivia.  Some travelers use it simply as a way to facilitate their border crossing, others take the time to explore the city.  Sally and I decided to stay two nights and see if we could entertain ourselves.

The options are fairly limited but there is one appealing option of exploring the floating islands.  Lonley Planet had a vague and conflicting opinion of the experience, pretty much leaving it a toss of the coin as to whether you were going to enjoy the tour or not.  Our hostel set forth two options for viewing the islands, a full day (6 am – 5 pm) or a three-hour tour.  There was also the option of doing an overnight stay with a family but given our limited Spanish, we decided against that.  We decided it would be better to be left wanting more, rather than spend the additional eight hours of our life wishing for lightning to strike us dead.

The tour was outlined by our hostel: Pick up from the hostel, boat transport to the island, an English-speaking tour guide, experience the island, and return.  All for the low price of 20 soles each ($8).

Our driver to Lake Titicaca was 20 minutes prior to punctual.  It didn´t bother us, as we were waiting for the tour.  But it did grab the attention of our two English tour partners who were in the middle of lunch.  We drove the six blocks to the lake and piled into a boat powered by a lawn mower engine that saw its finest days well before disco died.  Thirty-five minutes later we found our selves amidst the collection of floating islands of Uros.  The exact construction of the islands was later explained to us by the ¨president of the island¨ (The guy in charge of the seven families living on the island).  They carve up the root system of the reeds into massive soil/root blocks.  They tie them off to create a 8-12 block buoy system and then cover the blocks with reeds about 5 feet deep.  The reeds need to be replaced or covered again every 15 days.

The boat pulled up to one of about 75 islands, each island consisted of about three to seven families and about the size of a camp ground.  The tourists were separated into two groups, those that speak Spanish and the Gringos.  We spent the next three minutes being told about the islands and its people by our tour guide.  The president’s wife then showed us her house and tried her best to push her textiles and carvings at a special price, reserved only for her friends.  Sally, myself and the two English guys took a quick look around the island (this takes about 2 minutes) then began to wonder where the additional two and a half hours of the tour were going to be spent.

After about ten minutes of being left to ourselves our tour guide called us over to explain how each individual island is made.  This quick explanation was then followed by being prompted to get on the families reed boat.  The boats they make have about a one to two-year life span.  This particular boat was close to the 18 month mark and was already being replaced by its predecessor (about half way done).  As we stepped onto the boat we realized just how sea worthy our boat ride to the islands really was.  The four of us made our way to the top of the boat and I remarked that I would be getting down if the rest of our group decided to board (concerned the entire boat would crumble under the weight).   I went to disembark the vessel and our guide stated the family wanted us to all stay aboard so they could sing us a song.

The four variations of row your boat were preformed with the most unenthused, don´t give a shit attitude, I have ever seen, my sixth grade self would have been impressed.  Just as the choir wrapped up their performance our guide uttered something about a six soles donation to the family.  It caught the four of us a little off guard as we thought the family compensation was included in our ticket price.  Before we had a chance to ask our guide about the “donation” our boat was pushed away from the island and began floating away from the reed pile.  The president’s son was up top with us and tantalizing our ear drums with his repeat performance of row your boat.  The off pitched, ear piercing, rendition was enough to make all of us consider swimming the remainder of the trip.  He finished his performance with a hand shake for each of us and then extending his hat for a tip.  The uncomfortable stare down was one the boy was quite accustomed to winning and unfortunately did in this case as well, after about three minutes of uncomfortable silence.

Ten  minutes later we were roping our way into a much bigger island comprised of restaurants and places to stay.  As we anchored in the president came up the stairs to great us with his hat extended and told us all the boat ride cost 10 Soles.  Not a suggested donation, not an option, ticket price bitch, now pay up. I forked over 10 Soles for the two of us and was met with some unpleasant Spanish. I expressed to him that we were not aware of any additional fees when we booked the trip and our guide told us a donation was sufficient.  He told me again we had to pay for the ride, but this time the ticket price was down to six Soles he stated giving his hat a shake.  Now I spent a couple of weeks in D.A.R.E class (didn´t graduate) and I know five ways to say NO (or was it seven?) but I don´t think this guy is going to buy “I have to go home now, my mom is calling me” or take a suggestion to go play baseball instead.  But thankfully I`m experinced enough in the world of pushers (strictly from the movies Mom and Dad) to know the one excuse that always seems to work… I have no more money.  It might take one or two times expressing this fact, but that shit is fucking bullet proof.  No excuse, no explanation, just the simple fact that I am tapped out.  There is no rebuttal left for your opposer.  They either have to attempt to check my pockets (not going to end well for the president) or except the fact I don´t have any cash.  Thankfully for the group, who undoubtably wanted a ride home, the president accepted that I was a broke and gave up.

As we stepped off the boat onto the island we had about 30 seconds to remark to each other how uncomfortable the experience was, before we were greeted by the restaurant owner.  In our face, stating we are friends, and letting us know we have an hour until our boat is headed back to Puno, come eat at his restaurant.

That was it.  We no longer fucking cared.  We posted up on a bench and spent the next hour staring out at the lake, avoiding the high pressure sales attempts from the restaurant owners.

Obviously we are not ignorant to the way the system is set up.  Sitting on the bench for an hour gave us the opportunity to come to the conclusion that the “tour company” takes a majority of your cash and the locals are left to beg for whats in your pocket.  If we had been aware that this was the way the “tour” was going to go we would have brought extra cash, our hunger, and tolerance for the situation.  It was the ambush of hats out, lip tucked, and I am not taking no for an answer situations, that frustrated us.

The floating islands are great for what they are.  We are glad we checked them out and have to say there is no plans of making it an annual event.  Would we recommend it?  Only after giving a full run down of what to expect.

Puno / Lake Titicaca

Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

The first thing that instantly comes to mind when you get to the Cusco area is, “Wow, what a gay place.”

It turns out the Cusco flag is the exact same flag as the gay pride flag.  I wonder if the gay community is comfortable with the Cusco people using it?  It took me a couple of minutes to realize their separate meanings and was under the initial impression that the Cusco people were very progressive with their acceptance and “pride” in the gay culture.

Cusco is a hub of activity for many travelers making their way to Machu Picchu.  We spent three days exploring the city at a slow pace as I managed to get sick just before leaving Arequipa.  My left ear didn´t pop the entire 2000 meter / 6000 ft climb.  By the time we got to Cusco it felt like I had a softball stuck in my ear.  Sally managed to put up with my two-year old like complaining as I did my best to get out and about.

Cusco

There are plenty of options when it comes to getting to the famous ruins. Everything from seven-day treks in the traditional Inca garments with an actual human sacrifice to tricycle/tightrope tours are available.  Of course everyone has a different opinion on which one is the best and will give you the “best” Inca experience.  Being the wild and crazy adventurers we are, we opted for the bus/train ride.  A combination of budget, time, and enthusiasm made this choice an easy one.

We started our journey to Machu Picchu with a two-hour colectivo ride to Ollantaytambo.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with concept of a colectivo, it is Spanish for “Any mode of transportation that has wheels, used as a taxi service, packed as tight as possible, then rushed to your destination as quickly as the vehicle will go (safety does not appear to be a concern)”  I know, its crazy that one Spanish word can convey so much in English.

Once we arrived in Ollantaytambo we caught the Peru Rail to Aguas Calientes.  Everyone seemed to have the same incompetent booking agent and not a single group/couple had seats together.  After a five-minute game of ´Who Are You With?`Sally and I managed to grab two seats together.

Once we arrived in Aguas Calientes we quickly checked in and went to purchase our entrance tickets to Machu Picchu and bus tickets to the top of the mountain.  There are two additional tickets available for the enthused traveler to catch a bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu.  Wayna Picchu is available to the first 400 ticket holders and has some ruins along the way.  There is also an option to climb Machu Picchu Mountain, which overlooks the entire ruins, including Wayna Picchu.  There was really no decision for us to make.  Without question we instantly knew we wanted the challenge of climbing the highest point available.  The ability to say we accomplished it, the reward of the amazing view, the fact that the tickets to Wayna Picchu were all sold out and we had no choice.  (back when we were researching our trip to Machu Picchu it was first come, first served for the Wayna Picchu hike but now you purchase your tickets in advance).

After all the ticket purchases were out-of-the-way we settled into one of the few hundred restaurants and enjoyed a couple “happy hour” drinks.  The price is 4 for 1 or 5 for 1!  Which really means, one drink either costs 20 soles or 25 soles.  The price of the one drink fluctuating depending on how many “free drinks” you get with said purchase.  Either way, it worked out to be pretty damn cheap for eight pisco sours and the place we happen to select made the best ones we`ve had yet and a pack of cards at each table so I could continue to whip Bret`s butt in rummy.

The next day we were out the door before sunrise making our way to the bus stop.  The mass of people who herded their way to the que reminded us what the only problem with Machu Picchu was all the tourists.  The talented bus drivers orchestrated an impressive game of chicken with the returning buses as we winded our way up the Hiram Bingham Highway.

When we finally reached the entrance I could barely contain myself.  Visiting Machu Picchu has been a dream of mine since I can remember.  Once we made it through the entrance I practically ran people over, dragging Bret behind me to make it to a point where I could see the ruins.

The first glance of the ruins took my breath away.  It just didn`t seem real!  After a few minutes of taking it all in, we made our way higher and found a good place to chill and watch the sun crest over the mountains and shine down on the ruins.

We enjoyed the view for a few minutes then decided that we had better get the Machu Picchu Mountain hike out-of-the-way before the heat set in and Bret`s motivation ran out.  The steep climb up multiple stairs took us just under and hour and that hour of climbing was more than worth the effort.  The views from the top were stunning!  Bret and I agreed that we were happy with our “decision” to climb that mountain, despite a few stops along the way questioning just how much better the view could get and whether or not we should turn around and head back down.

After the descent we spent almost nine hours exploring the ruins in detail. We decided against a guide and wandered around on our own, going against the flow of all the other tour groups at our own pace.  The whole time I was there it just didn`t seem real and I didn`t want the day to end. Bret finally dragged me out and firmly shut down my idea of walking the hour back to Aguas Calientes, instead getting the 15 minute bus-ride back down.

Machu Picchu

We picked up a few celebratory beers before making a quick change and heading up to the hot springs.  Despite the questionably murky waters, we hopped in and chilled for a few minutes.  It was a nice way to unwind after all the hiking.

On our way back to Cusco we decided to break up the journey and stayed overnight in the Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo.  It is a small Inca village where many people start the Inca trail and also get the train up to Aguas Calientes.  A few nice meals and a bottle of rum nicely capped off our time in the area.  We were fortunate enough to catch a colectivo back to Cusco with a driver who had his ear to the street when it came to the latest in techno.  We spent the next two hours bobbing our heads to Mr. Vain, Rhythm of The Night, and many other early 90`s dance hits with a Peruvian flair (Random noises and flutes put in, sometimes on beat).

Ollantaytambo

Bret`s highlight by far during our visit to Machu Picchu. . .

We are now back in Cusco and have one more night before heading to Puno, the last leg of our time in Peru.

Arequipa

Arequipa was our base camp for our trek to the Colca Canyon.  While it is a beautiful city, we felt the five days was a bit too long.  However, it gave us time to catch up on a few chores and luckily the hotel we stayed in had a huge sunny garden, perfect for enjoying drinks and playing cards every afternoon.  When I say playing cards I mean dealing them out, letting Bret think he`s playing, then smoking him on almost every hand.

Some of our highlights were:

Sights

Monasterio de Santa Catalina
Pretty much a city within the city, it is a convent famous for the poor behaviour of the nuns that occupied it.  For years it was completely closed off from the public until it was forced to open it`s doors in 1970.  A small number of nuns still reside there today.

Juanita the Inca Ice Maiden
We visited the museum that tells the history of Inca sacrifices.  They would sacrifice anything from llamas to fine pottery to silver and gold.  When something major occurred like a volcanic eruption or earthquake, they would sacrifice children as offerings to the Inca gods.  About six have been found in the mountains surrounding Arequipa, including the most well-known, Juanita.  Because Juanita was found at the summit of Mount Ampato  (the highest altitude than any other of the sacrifices), her body is the most well-preserved and therefore, the most famous.  She was sacrificed some time between 1450 and 1480 and found 1995.  Although seeing her was a little creepy, the visit to the museum was very interesting.

Mirador Yanahuara
Walking distance from downtown Arequipa and the perfect spot for views over the city and of the surrounding volcanoes.

Food

Papa Rellenas – mashed potatoes moulded around seasoned beef or veggies and deep-fried. (Hell, yeah!)

Cancha – large corn kernels dried and toasted with salt (could not get enough of these!!)

Chifa – Peruvian`s version of Chinese food.  Super cheap, quite tasty and less greasy than other versions.

Empanada – Not deep fried like its Colombian cousin, a wonderful baked treat with a variety of savoury fillings.

There you have it!  Not a lot to tell from our time in Arequipa.  The Colca Canyon trip was definitely the highlight for that area.

Arequipa

We have spent the last few days in Cusco getting used to the altitude and are now heading to Aguas Calients, our base for Machu Picchu!

Colca Canyon – Days Two and Three

Day two started off with a clear reminder of why I have absolutely no problem with the slaughtering of chickens.  Thankfully the rum helped battle the roosters desire to have us out of bed at 4:30am.  When he tagged his partner the sun into the match and they started double teaming us, we decided to get up.  Cheeky put together some banana pancakes for breakfast and then we hit the road.

We stopped briefly in the neighboring town to drink some Chicha (Inka beer made out of corn) and to be cultured about the history of the canyon by a local curator/homebrewer.  Thankfully the majority of our group speaks fluent Spanish and were able to translate for the two of us.  Otherwise I would have absorbed about as much information as a typical highschool class after “lunch break”.

A one-hour walk put us at the base of the canyon again at what has rightfully been dubbed The Oasis.  Large spreads of green grass, several pools built right into the rocks, and tall shade providing palm trees, created an excellent place to kick back and enjoy the sun.  Woody and Cheeky rallied a couple of tour guides and tourists together to put the volley ball court to use.  Sally and I were both quickly reminded why neither of us received scholarships in the sport and found ourselves the weakest link in what was already clearly the B team.  After several games of consistently getting our ass beat the A team decided they could use some refreshments and declared the next set of games would be for a beer.  The 10 Soles beer ($4) was marked up enough that the two beers we had to provide the winners was exactly the same cost as the bottle of rum the night before.  This was not lost on the two of us and when rumblings of playing double or nothing arose we quickly told the A team to get fucked.  Cheeky could clearly see the pain of loosing in our expressions (the last game 25-8 ) and decided that the winners would share their beers with the losers.

The sun dipped down and we started to play cards while waiting for dinner.  Lyn, not wanting to be left out of the ´I Bought A Bottle Of Rum In The Deepest Canyon Club´ decided to test our true desire for alcoholic drinks (the 1,000 meter climb started at 5 am the next day).  We managed to choke it down in less than 30 minutes.  Woody reintroduced Sally and I to the game Asshole and thankfully declared a rule that you can only be the Asshole three consecutive times (I spent most of the game being the Asshole).  If only we could implement that rule into real life.  There are a couple of people out there that have really gone well past their three-time limit.  

The next morning had us all staring at each other blankly in the pitch black night wondering just how difficult the next few hours was going to be.  Not being satisfied with my shortcomings on the test hill I asked Cheecky what the fastest tourist time was.  (Being smart enough not to even try to fuck with the local time)  Cheecky told us it takes the average hiker 3 to 3.5 hours, but has been done in an hour twenty by some tourists that were really on it.  Considering hiking ranks about as high on my fun list as shitting my pants in public, I talked Sally into getting it over as quickly as possible.  Woody and Sarah had arranged donkeys and didn´t start until an hour after those on foot.  (Sarah was getting over having water in her lungs and with the slightest exertion began to sound like a 40+ year smoker on their death-bed.)  So Sally and I decided our goal was not to beat the fastest time, but to beat the donkeys up the hill.

The first 20 minutes was in the dark with flashlights and wasn´t much faster than a crawl.  Once the slightest bit of light peeked into the canyon Sally and I were off.  The climb was pretty much what we expected, very steep and breathtaking (in the literal form).  The longer you climbed, the more tired and higher you got, the more out of breath you became.

We managed to get to the top of the hill in an hour and forty minutes!  We were the only ones in sight and had about 30 minutes until we started spotting other climbers.  We waited for the rest of our group to gather and then headed to town for breakfast.

After breakfast we stopped by some hot springs to clean the layer of sweat off and relax our exhausted legs.  We spent about an hour kicking back and then headed to what had become the conversation of choice for the last two days; the all you can eat buffet.  Being a fat kid at heart and having been given the nickname The Garbage Disposal while growing up, I was fully prepared to put every calorie burned back on…. multiplied by 5.  The entire group seemed to have the same idea and by the end of our forty minute gorge the conversation had turned into grunts and trips to the bathroom.

The ride back to Arequipa was fairly uneventful and was only broken up by a few stops.  One at the highest point accessible by road (This could be a complete bullshit fact?  But still very high).  We quickly ran from the van to the observing point to snap our picture at the 4,900+ meter point (16,000+ feet).

The trip in its entirety was considered a success and I might even feel inclined to consider another hike in the future?  The underlining message that has consistently surfaced throughout my life, that even the worst of situations can be throughly enhanced by the people around you.  That yes, even hiking can be enjoyable when you have good company.

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon – Day One

The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and for the purpose of this blog post and false motivation for me to actually hike it, the deepest canyon in the world 3,650′ (4,160 m) deep.

The three-day trek of the Colca Canyon started off with a 3:00 AM pick up.  We stumbled groggy eyed to the 15 person van and as we opened the van door we discovered we were one of the last stops.  Based on the expressions of the other travelers they were equally enthused with early morning pick up.  The guides greeted us and welcomed us to the tour.  They explained the coming events as they passed out pillows and blankets. 

Day One – 

Drive to Chivay (three hours away) and have breakfast.  Followed by a 40 minute stop at Cruz del Condor with the hope of viewing the massive Condor birds.  Our final stop will be at the top of the Colca Canyon where we will begin our four-hour descent to the base (2100 meters / 6889 feet – were we climbed) and trek up part of the other side of the canyon to a small village for lunch.  Then onto another village an hour away for dinner and accommodation.

Day Two – 

A three-hour walk to the Oasis, a collection of accommodations at the base of the canyon.  There we will chill out by the pool, eat lunch and dinner, and prepare for our 3.5 hour climb out of the canyon (over 1,000 meters / 3,200 feet) up. 

Day Three – 

5:00 AM start time to trek up the canyon.  We then eat breakfast at the top and head to the hot springs in Chivay.  After the hot springs we enjoy an all you can eat buffet and head up to the valley of the volcano’s.  We stop to take photos at the highest road accessible point (4,900 meters / 16,000 feet) and then head back to Arequipa. 

The drive to the canyon was confusing to say the least.  In and out of sleep, awaking short of breath and encapsulated by darkness.  When the sun finally cracked the mountain top I rubbed the fog from the window and was shocked to see the ground covered in snow.  The hotel where we were staying said only to bring warm cloths for the night. Here I was sitting in shorts at 15,000 feet surrounded by snow.  A few more hours passed, a few thousand feet lost, and my confidence in my apparel was slowly restored.  We pulled into Chivay no better rested then when we started drive and we´re greeted with the traditional Peruvian breakfast:  A white bread roll, jam, and cheese.  Not exactly how we planned on fueling up for our hike but it did the trick.

The Cruz del Condor was our next stop and it proved to be a great day for viewing the massive birds.  Three of them entertained the group of spectators by gliding in and out of the canyon.  Several times dipping out of sight blow the canyon wall and emerging merely 20 feet from the crowd swooping directly over our heads.  
We then headed for the start of our trek and arrived at the trailhead around 10:00 AM.  It didn´t take long for the rocky switch back trail that worked its way down the canyon at what felt like a 70 degree angle to remind me just how much I hate hiking.  In kicked the heat as the sun poured into the canyon and I was thrown into an Afghanistan flash back of misery.
“Who the fuck in their right mind does this shit for recreation?  Oh, I have an idea!  I am going to stumble my way down a rocky canyon trail and try my best to get sunburned, roll an ankle, step in donkey shit, and sweat my ass off.  Better yet, I am going to pay to do it!”
It was later disclosed that Sally was also not enjoying the first leg of our trek but didn´t want to fuel my excuse to complain.  On our way down we began to chat with members of our group, which to our amazement would later be dubbed by our tour company as “The Most Kick-Ass Group Ever To Climb Colca Canyon”. A plaque to commemorate the group is hanging in the tour company´s office and they are working on a mural portrait of the group that will span the entire depth of the canyon.
The group consisted of two Kiwis Woody and Sarah, Lyn – an American that is one year deep into her travels (hero), a Hungarian girl Diane (pronunciation varied throughout the group) who´s booming laugh was contagious and could be heard the entire length of the canyon, and our guide Cheeky.
After four hours of going straight down and hating every minute of our lives, we arrived at the base of the canyon.  A short break to collect our group and we were across the bridge heading up the other side of the canyon.  We came to the first village and had a set lunch.  We had the option of crashing there for the night or trekking on for another hour to the next village.  The group agreed to keep on keeping on.  The benefit being the following day we would arrive at the Oasis earlier giving us more time at the pool.
The last part of our trek to the second village was a “test climb”.  A fairly steep 20 minute switch back trail that mimicked what was in store for us the last day.  Cheeky mentioned the record time for the climb was 7 minutes, a German man who practically ran up the hill.  Team America World Police theme song instantly came to mind, “America, fuck yeah”.  I bulled up the trail with a quick pace that caused me several stops to catch my breath.  Sally had the watch and told me to yell out when I got to the top so she would know to mark my time.  I caught up with two guides on the trail that commented on my quick speed and I was feeling fairly cocky. I got to the top with barely enough breath to scream out to Sally.  “Nine minutes” she said.  Fuck yeah, not to bad at all!  My ego had only a moment to pat itself on the back before Sally came around the corner 30 seconds behind me and breathing half as heavily as I was… Ah, the catch 22 of having a fit wife.
The second village proved to be a wise choice.  The rooms were pretty set up, the showers had hot water, and the little store had a couple dusty bottles of rum for sale.  Sally and I decided drinks were a must as Cheeky told us the following day was only a two-hour hike and mostly flat.  I was greeted by Woody at the store front who had come to the same conclusion.  The first bottle was enjoyed on the dinning room patio that faced out into the impressive canyon.  The second bottle fed us the motivation to help Cheeky in the kitchen.  We diced vegetables as guinea pigs scampered around our feet.  Not on the menu tonight, but a common dish in Peru.  The meal with the addition of rum and our 2am wake up was enough to crash the party in the wee hours of 9:00pm.

Huacachina – Peru´s Desert Oasis

There are places that are traveling attractions and there are places that create attractions in the hopes to be a place people travel to. Anaheim isn´t exactly on the top of anyone´s must see city list, but Disney Land keeps the tourists pouring in. Huacachina residents have devised a way to put themselves on the traveling circuit, bringing hoards of travelers to a 12 block town that would otherwise be as exciting as being magically whisked away to Delaware.

Huacachina is nestled in the middle of a giant mountain range of sand dunes. The town itself is almost exactly the way Hollywood portrays the hero’s hallucination of finding water in the desert after walking aimlessly for four days. A small “lake” of water is surrounded by restaurants, hostels, and dune-buggy/sandboarding tour companies. The original plan was to stay two nights and three days. After doing a 10 minute loop around the town we tried our best to get everything done in a day. But with 15 hours of bus time under our belts and the bus out being another 12, we decided we would stay the night and leave the following evening. We spent the rest of the day planning our escape and how we would chew up the time we had remaining. The only thing to do in Huacachina other than drinking and eating is the dune-buggy/sandboarding tour. The tour its self takes about two hours, leaving no other option than to find the cheapest watering hole.

We booked our tour for 4:30 pm so we could catch the sunset and be out in the sand at the coolest time possible. The late 80´s converted GMC Suburban was stripped down with a roll bar installed and was able to pack in 10 people. The cracked snowboard with boots two sizes too big or small in Sally´s case (explanation later) cost extra and was reserved only for “professional” sandboarders. Those who were on a budget or in hindsight smart enough not to be suckered in, went with the traditional board. This was a piece of wood shaped like a snowboard with velcro straps for bindings.

We had heard of wild and crazy drivers that were determined to stain their seats with gringo shit, but the company we chose to go with didn´t seem to employ any of these. The options consisted of two old 70+ men that I´m pretty sure wouldn´t pass an eye exam and the owner of our hostel (about 40?). We jumped on the owners truck and quickly got the vibe of an individual that was jaded and uninterested in accomplishing anything but the bare minimum it took not to get a bad review. A ten minute putt up the hill and we arrived at our first bunny/practice hill for sandboarding. After being “sized” for our equipment earlier in the day, the massive pile that was tossed on the sand created enough havoc for those individuals unhappy with their fitting to be opportunistic.

Chick who I am sure ganked Sally´s boots: “Ugh, I like can´t find my stuff.”

One of three dudes who more than likely stole my shit: “Just grab whatever looks good, that´s what I did.”

Being actually content with the equipment we originally received, Sally and I were left with the garbage (Fucking awesome!) The individuals that took our gear were already down the sand hill and walking toward hill number two.

For anyone that thinks sandboarding might be fun and resemble snowboarding, save your money. You point your board down hill and lose speed as quickly as you gained it. Your weight has to be to the extreme back of your board like riding on powder and you can´t carve without the fear of catching an edge and shitting sand for the next week.

Another ten minutes of driving and we got to the big sandboarding hill. No shit, it was big. The group of us that knew how to snowboard were actually excited. That was until the first person went down the hill. He bombed straight down at the local guides request. The guide informing us that carving at high speeds pretty much ensured a broken neck. The kid made it 5/6 of the way down until he turned into a dust cloud, with random parts of his body peeking out to show just how violently he was flipping head over ass. It was enough to slow the rest of us down and make us cut the hill into thirds. Taking one section at a time, thinking it would be better to look like a pansy rather than find out just how far from a hospital we really are. The “cheapo´s” that went with the traditional board bombed down the hill laying down head first, yelling with excitement and adrenaline, rubbing in just how stupid the “professionals” were.

We ended our tour with a final 10 minute lap around the dunes. Our driver must have been excited about beer thirty being right around the corner and gave us one or two pushes on the gas. We pulled back into our hostel and it was a scramble for the showers. We packed up all of our shit and jumped on the 8:30pm overnight bus to Arequipa.

Huacachina