Sunday, December 26, 2010

Photos from Peru

Now that I've finally got some time to myself, I've spent the morning working on editing my photos from Peru and attempting to get them up on my photo blog. Check them out!!

Peru - People of Cuzco
Peru - Market
Peru - Ccaccoccollo Homestay
Peru - Lima

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lima and Home

Our last day in Peru came far too quickly.

After a wonderful sleep in (however necessary, having gone to bed somewhere around 5:30am) I missed breakfast served at the hotel. The general plan was to meet the other girls in the lobby around noon and go from there to find lunch and the markets that were supposed to be somewhere near by.

Slowly the group convened and after much deliberation we decided to set out and find something to eat. Justin had mentioned that he and Matt were going to a little place a few blocks from the hotel and if we wanted to join up with them we could. We didn't make any concrete plans but told him maybe we'd run into them.

Our idea was to find something along the water so the group of us went out in search of somewhere to eat with a view. We did our best not to get hit by a car (the only way to cross a street in Lima is to start walking and just stick your hand out in "stop" fashion, with pure hope that the cars stop for you) and started walking down random streets... which led us directly to the restaurant that Justin and co were at. We sat down with the intention of eating there, since we were hungry and just needed food, but soon discovered that the menu was all seafood. Some of the group couldn't do seafood and the rest didn't think it was the best idea for the first meal of the day, so we got up and decided to head towards the sandwich place we'd gone to the day before.

We didn't really know where the sandwich place was but managed to find it anyway. Lunch was just as delicious the second time around, though I had the chicken sandwich (instead of the chicarron) this time.

All of us were in the mood for something low-key to do so we set off in search of the markets. We found them without too much difficulty (they were actually just down the street from our hotel) but were somewhat disappointed to find out they weren't anything like the markets in Cusco- more just shops selling the standard knitted fare that we'd seen everywhere else. However it gave us a chance to stay out of the bit of rain that was starting to fall (and they say it never rains in Lima!).

We window shopped for a while and then decided to just find somewhere to sit down and get a warm beverage. We'd passed a Starbucks on our way to the markets and decided to go back there (free wifi was a definite deciding factor). On the way Rose and I were lucky enough to get some pretty awesome necklaces from a guy on the street for only 10 soles. Maybe my best find of the whole trip.

Warm bevs in hand, we killed at least an hour at Starbucks. While there we asked a security guard where the best place to buy a bottle of Pisco might be - the ones we'd seen were about S/20 for a small bottle. He suggested Metro which was basically just across the square. We started our adventure to find the store, taking the long route around because there actually seemed to be cross walks around the square so we wouldn't die by Peruvian motorists.

Once in the Metro we asked where to find the Pisco and were led into a room filled with bottles floor to ceiling. One whole wall was dedicated to the country's national spirit. Prices ranged from S/24 to about S/60 but most of us opted for the cheap bottle with a picture of Machu Picchu.

Pisco in hand we headed back to the hotel. We had a few hours to kill before meeting Barbara for dinner and most of us just hung around the hotel lobby. I myself curled up in the corner of the couch and had a nap. At 6 Barbara came and took us to a nice place on the square for dinner - she made great suggestions for stuff to eat and I don't think any of us were disappointed. I had a seafood dish that was similar to jumbalaya (one of my fav things).

We couldn't linger too long after dinner since we had a shuttle to the airport booked, so we went to meet everyone at the hotel. Onto the bus we went, taking with us a few other GAP adventure people that were also staying at the hotel. The bus trip was about an hour but it definitely didn't seem that way. Traffic was terrifying as always... I don't think I would EVER be able to drive in Lima!

Since Carolina had checked us all in the day before we didn't need to do anything at the airport except head to the gate. Some of us were going to the west coast of Canada and others to the east, so we parted ways before security. On the way to the gate Justin suggested a beer at one of the bars so I took him up on the offer. By the time we got to the gate we found out that for some unknown reason our flights were delayed by about half an hour. Someone told us that there was a free wifi zone back around gate 17, so a few of us went back down there to kill more time on the internet.

While waiting in line Rose pointed out a guy with a pretty fantastic looking hair do - pure 80s magic. We snickered and commented on the fact that he looked like he belonged in a band from the 80s and so did the guy standing beside him with the long curly blond ponytail. The longer we stood in line staring at the pair the more convinced we were that we were staring at Dee Snider of Twisted Sister.

We weren't lucky enough to get first class on the way home (darn!) but Carolina managed to get us bulkhead seats AND complimentary champange before take off. Before take off "Dee Snider" passed by us, muttered a few words and the voice and face together was enough confirmation for us that it was indeed him.

Because our flight was so late taking off, almost 1am, both Rose and I opted out of dinner and promptly fell asleep. Having the extra leg room was awesome, and even though we weren't in first class any more the blankets they had on the plane were SOO cozy. I almost stone one, I have to admit (and with this cold weather I've been dealing with since returning home I wish I had). I slept soundly the entire flight and only woke up when the flight attendent was right beside me with the breakfast tray.

Our flight being delayed in Lima meant that we missed our connecting flight in New York, but luckily LAN reprotected us on a flight with American Airlines. We ended up having to wait an extra hour or more for the new flight, which caused me to have to change my shuttle that I had booked back to London. I'd only flown via JFK once before (when I flew with Finnair in Aug) but the terminal we left from was the same so it was sorta nice to feel a bit of familiarity despite the disruption in our flights.

Got back to Toronto just after 2pm and had to say goodbye to half the group since they were taking a taxi downtown Toronto. Rose, Heather and I hung around terminal 3 until they had to catch their planes, at which point I went down to wait for the shuttle... all alone after 8 days of being surrounded by people. It felt weird.

Got back to London around 7pm, and a friend picked me up in my car (I'd loaned it to him for the week while I was gone) and took me to home. It had just started to snow, which was quite the shock after it being close to 20 degrees in Lima when we left!!

Overall Peru with GAP and LAN was a fantastic trip that I think will stick out in my mind forever. Experiencing the Peruvian culture, food and country is just something everyone should do in their life time. South America is a facinating place, and there are so many more places on the continent I'd like to get to (Galapagos, Brazil, etc). LAN was a great airline to fly with, the service was amazing and the planes themselves were full of amenities (over 40 movies alone to choose from!). GAP made the whole thing a very "real" experience and we had lots of free time to do what we wanted. Our guide, Barbara, was adorable and I wish we could have brought her back with us to Canada ... and she tells me she would have liked to come along because for some reason she loves the snow!

As with every trip I go on, I met some amazing people that I hope to stay in contact with for years to come - it helps that the women on the trip were all people that work for the same company but I think we became more than collegues over the week long trip - we definitely became friends.

And so ends my accounts of my trip to Peru - I hope everyone has enjoyed reading my stories, and continue to check back on this page from time to time... I don't sit still very long and will be off on another adventure soon.

Next stop: Costa Rica in Feb with Volunteer Abroad (if I can get a big enough group to go) to help save the sea turtles
Thailand in May for the full moon festival
Egypt with some of the TCUTS/ATC ladies from Peru in the fall.... hopefully.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Off to Lima!!

My apologies for not getting my updates out to you all sooner - we've been buried under snow here in London and I just finally got it back to work on Thursday! Not that I'm complaining about the bit of extra holidays I had, but it's kinda nice to get back to a regular routine.

We woke up early one last time in Cuzco and gathered in the lobby of the hotel. After our exhausting last couple days at the homestay and then Machu Picchu, the majority of the group had gone to bed early. We all headed out to the bus one last time and took off...

Completely forgetting Lisa, one of the girls from Toronto!

We made it partway down the street before we realized she was running to catch up, pulled over and let her on. D'oh!! She climbed aboard, we apologized profusely, and off to the airport we went. Carolina worked her magic and got us all seats near the front of the plane where there was more leg room. We checked our luggage, went through security and waited to board.

The flight itself wasn't overy exciting, we enjoyed a small snack and I'm pretty sure half the plane was watching Just for Laughs. We arrived in Lima in one piece, gathered our luggage and went to our shuttle to the hotel while Carolina went to go check us in for our flight back to New York the next evening.

I have to admit, upon arrival in Lima and on the drive to the hotel I wasn't totally sure how I felt about the city. At first glance, that's all it is - a city. Billboards everywhere, chaotic traffic and a lot of poverty. We had a city tour planned for the afternoon, but along the way Barbara gave us some information on the city itself. She showed us the river, the Rimac, for which the city is somewhat named. River is sort of a misnomer though - there was barely any water in the river!

The scenery did improve as we got farther from the airport however. We drove along the coast which is being completely overhauled and made into parkland, and as we approached Mira Flores, the area where our hotel was located, the buildings became more modern and less run down looking.

We arrived at the hotel and went into the lobby - such a nice place!! Hotel Britania was the name and it was gorgeous! We were given our room keys and we all dispersed with the plan to meet back in an hour to go for lunch at a little sandwich place Barbara knew about. Our bags were delivered to our rooms (how's that for service!) and we changed into more summer appropriate clothes since the weather in Lima was warmer and more humid that Cuzco. Watched some TV (the only English show on was Ghost Whisperer... I should have avoided TV all together) and then went back to the lobby, met the group and headed toward La Lucha.

Barbara gave us the run down of what there was to eat, from things like chicken, to pork, to ham etc. I tried the chicharron which was good but I'm glad I didn't ask what it actually was (pork rinds..*shudder*). The place also had AMAZING french fries, which we all ordered or shared with the group.

We couldn't linger too long at La Lucha because we had to meet our guide for our 3h city tour at 2pm. We went back to the hotel, grabbed our stuff from our rooms and got on the bus. Our guide's name was Celes and he had all kinds of interesting things to tell us.

  • the population of Lima is about 9 million - 1/3 of the country lives here
  • there are 43 districts in Lima
  • Mira Flores, where we were staying, is primarily the tourist district
  • Love Park, the park overlooking the water, used to be really trashy but they have since revamped it and created the park in memory of those who had committed suicide there. The idea is to "love life"
  • The Incas built Huacas (sounds like wakas) where they would scarifice things to the sun gods - women, seafood, etc. 
  • When the Spanish arrived in 1530 they didn't fight against the Incas - the civilization was in conflict and the Spanish used this to their advantage and turned the sides against each others.
  • Lima doesn't get very much rain - it's often very cloudy however. Therefore the roofs are generally mostly flat. Once, in the 70s it rained for 11 hours and everything flooded. The only houses that were okay were the European style ones that had sloped roofs.
  • Pizarro picked the location of the city for a port and wanted to name if the City of Kings - Lima is a result of the mispronuciation of Rimac, the river that runs through the city. 
  • Gustaf Eiffel, builder of the Eiffel tower, designed the first metal building in the city - an art gallery
  • Public transportation in Lima is terrible - there is minimal organized public transport, a result of the previous president's decision to import old japanese cars and leave people without a lot of jobs. 
  • Peru was one of the last Spanish colonies to gain independence, since all the money/resources was located there. It was due to other S. American countries stepping in that they were able to fight the Spanish and gain independence.
Our guide showed us the main square in the city and man was it gorgeous!! Such a difference from the slummy type areas we drove through on our way to the hotel. The buildings were bright yellow and very colonial type architecture - mixture of French and Spanish design. 

We also visited the San Franciscan Monastery, and the catacombs below - really really interesting! Over 25K people were buried there at some point, which is pretty incredible. I was really sad I couldn't take pictures - the library located inside was a sight to see - sky lights and spiral stair cases, rows and rows of books. It was breathtaking!

After the monastery, we went to get on the bus, but before we could get on we were approached by a guard who wanted to tell us a joke - in English. We laughed and then he told us another. Pretty sure someone got the second one on video. 

The tour ended back at the hotel around 5pm, giving us enough time to shower and get ready for our goodbye dinner. Dinner was to be held at Huaca Pucllana, a restaurant that was located beside one of the huacas that existed in the city. We all met in the lobby and walked to the restuarant where we were met by Justin and a couple other people from the GAP office. 

Dinner was, as we'd come to expect, amazing. The night was warm and the views of the huaca were pretty fabulous as well. After dinner we all got in taxis and spent a night on the town, with Matt from GAP as our guide - he seemed to know all the great places to go and showed us a great time as promised!

Got to bed late, as often happens with a night out, but thankfully had a whole day off to do whatever we wanted before our shuttle to the airport at 8pm.

Only one more day left in Lima!! Stay tuned to see how our last day went

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Take Me Wit-chu to Machu Picchu!!

Ever since the new list of the Seven Wonders of the World came out, I made it my goal to visit them all, and I've already been to Colosseum, so the fact that I was going to Peru and Machu Picchu had me super excited.

We've all seen pictures of Machu Picchu, with it's terraced slopes and massive mountains in the background, but how many of us have actually SEEN it? Well, as of 2003, over 400K people, according to Wikipedia. And now I had the chance to be one of them.

Our day started incredibly early, as I mentioned before, with us meeting in the lobby of the hotel. We packed ourselves some snacks for the trip and all headed down to the bus stop at the base of the hill by the railroad tracks. The buses run from about 5am til about 9pm, every 10 min at times. We piled on the bus and settled in for the half hour trek up the hill. The bus took off, crossed the river and started the ascent.

Back and forth we went up the mountain side, terrifying drops awaited anyone who was brave enough to look out the window when their side of the bus was overlooking the edge. Hairpin turns allowed the bus to zigzag up the mountain and the roads were just barely wide enough for another bus to pass. Eventually we made it to the top and gathered as a group to await Barbara's instructions.

We were told that sunrise was at about 6:30, but considering the skies were already blue we figured we'd missed the good time of day to see the famous site. Barbara told us not to worry, and handed out our tickets. She led the way to the gates where we gave our tickets to the attendants and then continued our way up the hill.

We were greeted by a fork in the road. One pathway went straight up, with the word "Long" on a sign with an arrow. The other pathway went straight, with an arrow pointing down the hill. All of a sudden we started on the vertical path up, with it's ominous looking arrow.

Up and up and up we hiked, huffing and puffing and complaining about how difficult it was to haul ourselves up the hill. Pretty sure I remember hearing a few of the group mention how there wasn't much chance of us doing the Inca Trail if we can't even do the stairs up to overlook Machu Picchu.

Eventually we reached the top and it was completely worth it. The view of the ancient site was unobstructed and the clouds were drifting past just enough to give some depth to the scene. There were llamas atop the hill as well, presumably to be posed in pictures (and here I thought they just photoshopped them in!) for the tourists. Barbara pointed the way to the Sun Gate, location further up the hill, about a 45 min hike away.

The group of us ran around taking pictures, taking in the view and just generally being in complete awe of the fact that we were indeed at Machu Picchu! The sun was shining and despite our worries, it came up over the mountains while we were there casting an amazing light over the whole city.

We had to head back down the mountain to the fork in the road and then back to the gate to meet our guide. The way down was almost as scary as the way up since the rocks are slippery and steep. Once at the bottom we all gathered for a photo overlooking the city before heading to meet our guide. Just want to mention - this was all by about 7:30am! Amazing what can be accomplished before 8am!

Our guide,Wagner,  was waiting for us at the gates at 8am. He took us back up the hill to the fork in the road and this time instead of going up the monstrous hill we went down the stairs towards the ruins themselves. We stopped in the shade and he started to explain the site to us. There are 2 main areas, the agricultural section and the urban section. The part that most people see from the photos is the urban area.

Some of the interesting points Wagner told us are as follows:

  • there are more than 5000 steps in the ancient city
  • built on top of a mountain to avoid landslides - on the east side of the mountain the terraces are for agriculture, on the west side they are just retaining walls 
  • the bricks used throughout the city were created by chiseling the naturally occuring granite, following the lines of the rocks and grinding them down with water to make them smooth.
  • Incas built all their buildings to withstand the frequent earthquakes by using trapezoid shapes. 
  • The Temple of the Sun is an accurate calendar showing the winter (June 21st) and summer (Dec 21st) solstice. Unlike our Gregorian calendar, which has to be adjusted every 4 years, the Temple of the Sun is accurate to 14,000 years.
  • Machu Picchu was one of 4 ancient cities (Ollantaytambo and Pisac are others) that have been discovered. They are still searching for the 4th. 
  • The Incas domesticated potatoes - they figured out how to breed the alkyds out of the potatoes so they were no longer poisonous. Scientists today still do not know how to do this. 
  • There are over 3000 types of potatoes in Peru 
  • Incas and Andean people live on a mostly carb diet - potatoes, corn, grains - due to their extremely active lifestyle. (Believe me, all that hiking you'd need lots of sustenance!)
  • Andean culture nowadays is very similar to those of the Incas - the only difference is that some of the knowledge (like how to breed potatoes) was not passed down after the Spanish took over. 
  • The Spanish brought disease to the Incas - prior to them arriving there was very little sickness. The Incas would send the men out of the communities at 17/18 years old and they would move to another community. By moving the people around, there was no incest and stronger bloodlines.
  • The Incas taught the Spanish how to find gold and silver - things that were mostly useless to them. Their treasures were the seeds to their plants. 
  • Machu Picchu was home to approx 800-1000 people though they could not possibly grow that much food on the land they had. They would instead harvest fruits etc from the nearby jungle, dry it and trade it with other nearby villages. 
After the tour, which was fantastic (I highly recommend having a guide at such a facinating place, since you will get so much more out of the experience), some of the group stayed behind to do the Sun Gate hike while the rest of us went back down the hill into the town to find something to eat. 

As we arrived back in Aguas Calientes, the skys opened up and it started to rain. A group of us decided to go for Mexican food at a cute spot long the railway tracks with outdoor seating and a nice awning While we were sitting there a band happened by to play us some live music. We sat back, listened and discussed the amazing things we'd seen that morning. 

Once completely stuffed, the group split up. Some of us went to check our emails while others went to shop in the markets surrounding the train station. All in all we just killed time until our train from Aguas to Cusco that departed at 5:30 

The train ride was about 3 hours long and we didn't get back to Cusco city until nearly 10pm.... it felt great to be back "home" in a familiar hotel. Showers and repacking commenced. Some people went out but the majority just hung back to get a good nights sleep before another early morning - next stop, LIMA!

** Just want to mention - while at MP myself and a few others got eaten by Peruvian black flies (or something similar) - so be sure to use serious bug spray or wear long pants. A week later and my legs are still insanely itchy (23 bites in total on my legs) and I have yet to find something that really makes them stop. 

Train to Aguas Calientes

After leaving the homestay and saying our goodbyes, we took off in our bus to the town of Ollantaytambo, a small town from which we were going to take the train to Aguas Calientes (which is a very new town created to host the tourists going to Machu Picchu). It's too bad we only drove through, as the town itself seemed great for travellers. Along the way we also passed Pisac, another Inca archeological site. Later we learned that Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo and Pisac were all cities that made up 3 of the 4 areas in one division of the Inca Empire. Since each division had 4 cities, they are still searching for the 4th city - maybe one day we'll hear about the discovery of a new ancient city!

Once in Ollantaytambo, we waited around for the train. After being at the homestay for 2 days without running water or flush toilets, I think it's safe to say we all took full advantage of the amenities! The train arrived around 3:45 and we all boarded. The ride was to be about an hour and a half long, even though the destination was only about 50km away.

The train itself was really nice, and if you've read my other stories you'll know how I generally have bad luck with trains. The seats on this train were comfy and pretty roomy, and the carriage itself had lots of big windows along the sides and curving over the ceiling so that it was possible to see the mountains without too much difficulty. Not too long into our journey we were given a snack of salad and a tart (and, like all the food we ate throughout our adventure, it was amazing)

At km 82 along the tracks you can see the entrance to the Inca Trail, where the travelers with much more time and much more guts than any of us start. The Inca Trail can be hiked in 2, 3 or 4 days. After all the hills we climbed at the homestay, I honestly can't imagine doing the trail. A note to anyone wanting to do it - make sure to allow yourself at least 3 days in Cuzco to get used to the thinner air at the higher altitude. The Inca Trail is a bit lower in altitude than Cuzco, but after breathing the thinner air you'll feel like an athlete on the trail!

Eventually, after inching along at what felt like a snails pace (max 35km!) we finally arrived at Aguas Calientes. We filed off the bus, gathered our things and headed through the market to get to the main area of town. We climbed up the hill on one side of the raging river with the intention of crossing one of the bridges. However, when we reached said bridge we found it was out, so we had to walk all the way back down the street to a bridge close to where we started. Back up the other side of the river we went, on a 45 degree angle. Eventually when we reached the top we were totally exhausted. Luckily the promise of a soak in the hot springs that the town is named for (those fluent in Spanish would have noticed that Aguas Calientes literally means hot waters). We dumped our stuff off the hotel (but not before climbing 4 flights of stairs!) and put on our bathing suits and headed towards the spas.

Along the walk (still up the 45 degree hill) we picked up some towels for rent (3 or 4 soles, getting more expensive the closer to the entrace you went) and got to the gates. A surly looking man at the gate informed us that even though there was only an hour left til the hot springs closed we would have to pay S/10.00 each. Carolina, with her fluent Spanish, tried to convince him to cut us a deal but he wasn't having any of it. He also didn't want to break anyone's 50 notes. Sigh.

After deciding that an hour was still enough to soak in some hot mineral water, we continued the trek to the springs. We assumed that we were close. We assumed wrong. The walk from the point of entry to the springs itself was easily a 5-10 min walk, depending on how fast you went. For some reason, even after being in Peru and hiking up all the hills, my body still seemed to insist on going at it's normal walking speed, which is fast even in Canada. In Peru it was heart attack inducing.

We arrived at the hot springs, dropped our stuff off at the entrance, practically ran down the stairs to change and went to stake claim on a spot in one of the pools. We picked the least busy looking one and got in.

The ground was sandy/rocky, something like the bottom of one of the great lakes. And it smelled funny. And worst of all, there wasn't anywhere to sit along the edges anywhere! We found spots to sit/crouch along the outside while we waited for the rest of the group to find us. By the time they joined us, we had also realized why this particular pool wasn't as busy as the others - it wasn't very hot at all!

Once the rest of the group was in the water (all but 3 of us from the whole tour decided to venture to the hot springs) we decided to move to another pool, one that hopefully was warmer. It took a few tries, but we finally found the pool that was actually what any of us would consider to be "hot".

Despite the odd smellingness of the water (which, thankfully wasn't sulphur but some other odd smell) and the rocky bottoms of the pools, I think we all enjoyed ourselves. The water was soothing after days of roughing it at the homestay and working our way up steep hills with our 30lb backpacks on our backs.

Around 8 we decided to head back to the hotel. We'd planned to shower at the hotsprings but realized soon after arriving that there wasn't any proper showers there. The plan was to shower (so that we'd smell awesome instead of strange) and meet back in the lobby in half an hour to go find something to eat.

We'd been warned that Aguas was much more expensive than Cuzco, so we set out looking for a deal. We walked down the hill (going down was almost as hard as going up, since the sidewalks were somewhat slippery from rain that had fallen). About halfway down the hill and not finding anything that really caught our eye we decided to go back up the hill so that we didn't have to walk all the way back up from the bottom. Some of the girls wanted a woodfire pizza and we remembered a place that had 5 for 1 drinks right by the hotel so thats where we decided to go.

We wanted to sit on the balcony, so we went upstairs and found a table in the corner long enough to accommodate 9 of us. We ordered drinks and pizzas and made ourselves comfortable. What we didn't realize was that our particular table was right beside the chimney for the pizza oven and before long the smoke coming out of it had a couple of the girls fleeing to the other end of the table.

It took forever for our pizza to arrive, and it turned out that 3 thin crust pizzas were not enough for 9 hungry women to share. However, since it took almost an hour for those 3 pizzas to show up we decided to call it a night and go back to the hotel. We had a 5am wake up call awaiting us so we didn't think we should be up all night.

To our rooms we went, and I checked under the blankets - yup, hidden under the deceiving bed spread was at least 2 llama blankets. How I would go home to Canada and sleep without the weight of a full animal on my chest, I didn't know.

Set my alarm for 5am (GROSS!) and fell asleep quickly, even though my hair had the distinct stench of  campfire on it.

Turns out I didn't need my alarm, however... at 3:45 am I was awoke by someone banging on a nearby door telling them to wake up.Then, at 4am, I was awoken by not one but two roosters outside the window. They continued their wake up calls every 5 to 7 minutes until 5 am finally rolled around.

Erin and I got ourselves up, I got dressed and attempted in vain to do something with my hair, and packed my things up. We took our bags downstairs, gave them to the front desk and settled in for some breakfast. Apparently my stomach doesn't wake up at 5:30am and I wasn't overly hungry. I forced down a bun with jam and some tea or coffee, I don't even remember now. Because I knew the food would be scarce at Machu Picchu, I also packed a bun and jam for the road, as well as a banana. Into the backpack the snacks went and off to the bus we went to drive up to Machu Picchu.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ccaccaccollo Homestay - A Planeterra/GAP Adventures Community Project - Day 2

Morning comes early on the farm, and I woke up around 4am to the donkey horn... Eee-ahhhhh... Checked my alarm and went back to sleep. Finally, after a few hours of donkey alarm, I got up around 6:30 and laid under my 5 llama blankets til 7am. Got dressed quickly (it was freezing!! No heat in our house!) and went down the stairs to head to the bathroom. On the way I noticed what looked like sheep droppings along the pathway to the bathroom. One note on the bathroom - we apparently were lucky enough to have an actual toilet, albeit without a seat, but it was more than just a hole in the ground.

On the way back from the bathroom I was almost run over by a herd of sheep. Victor had taken the sheep out to pasture and was bringing them back. As we walked back to our room Hilia joined us and explained with lots of miming that there was water available for us to wash our faces and brush our teeth. We stood in front of two bowls of water unsure of exactly how to use them to brush our teeth. I wasn't sure if we were supposed to spit in the water, or down the sink (which ultimately just drained onto the ground) or where exactly. After brushing our teeth for a solid 4 minutes I took the initiative and just spit in one of the bowls.

We went to the dining room and sat down. Awaiting us was a bowl of popcorn (breakfast of champions!) and a plate of either cake or bread, we weren't sure which, cut into triangles. We sat for just a few moments before Victor came in with mugs with some kind of liquid inside with what looked like potatoes floating in them. I brought the cup up to my nose and sniffed it.. it smelled sort of like porridge. Erin and I looked at each other. Do we drink this or do we use spoons? An executive decision was made to wait until Victor came in with his to see what he did. He used his spoon. We tried the bread/cake, which was actually very good. It was dense and a little bit sweet. Finished breakfast off with some tea and headed down to the square to meet the group.

The women of the community all joined us in the square with giant packs of their handmade items on their backs. We helped our respective homestay moms lay out their wares in anticipation of the arriving busses of other GAP tour participants. (GAP brings many of their tours to the community for demonstrations on how the wool is produced and to allow the passengers to purchase handmade goods from the people from the community).

I definitely felt that we were getting a much more authentic experience at the community by staying with the families and being part of their lives. The people that arrived on the bus only got to see a small part of what made this community work but we got to LIVE the experience (which had it's ups and downs but overall was really amazing)

After the other groups started to leave, we were given a demo of how the women got the yarn that they made the crafts with. Originally, when GAP came to the community, they gave the people a few alpacas. Since then, as nature seems to do, the alpacas have increased and there are at least 12. Once a year the women shear the alpacas (or llamas or sheep, though alpaca wool is the softest of all 3) and spin the wool into thin threads. They do this by stretching a wad of fluff into a thin string, twisting it and then attaching it to what looks like a top. They then spin the top and let it hang down, which causes the fluff to be spun into a long thread. Once this is done, they dye the yarn.

All of the dyes that they use to colour the yarn are made naturally. Some are made from plants, like eucalyptus plants (which make a greenish blue colour) and others like red/purple are made from insects like the cochineal (see the wiki article here). The yarn is boiled over a fire in a clay pot for a few hours to get it's hue and then hung out to dry.

After the yarn is coloured and dried, it may be spun a few more times - one strand yarn is often used for woven articles, and 2 strand yarn (spinning 2 strands of the same colour together) or 3 strand yarn is used for knitting/crocheting hats and sweaters and scarves. The incredible part of the process is that it becomes second nature for these women to be spinning wool while walking around the community, selling their crafts etc. We had the opportunity to try to spin the yarn ourselves and let me tell you, it was impossible!

Watching the women weave was so amazing. They start as young girls, around the age of 7, making things like belts and small purses etc. They use intricate patterns to depict things like suns and trees and other things that fit into a story. When they start out making things they use a guide to tell them what threads go up and which go down, but after a few years they just know how to make the pattern.

After the weaving demo, we were supposed to go help out at the local school. We walked over to the school only to find that the ministry of education was currently there testing the students and so we couldn't interrupt. So, instead we went over to the preschool and visited the kids. All of the kids were between 3 and 5, and were absolutely adorable!! They got all excited to see us and sang us a song. Once finished, they looked at us, crossed their arms and demanded we sing them a song back. The only song we all knew and could sing with any accuracy was Oh Canada, which we did. The kids didn't know what to think - it's not exactly the most entertaining song to listen to! Our presence wasn't very conducive to a proper learning environment, and the kids were all distracted, so only a couple people from the group stayed back.

From the preschool we were given a tour of the guinea pig farm (cuy is the spanish name, for the sound they make) and then started off on a hike around the area. Theodora, Rose and Heather's homestay mom, showed us where the farmers went out into the fields, as well as showed us a lot of the plants that are used in the dying of the wool and what they look in the wild. She explained that a typical day for the members of the community consists of the men getting up and heading out to the fields around 8am. The women meet in the square, weave til around 11 or so and then go back to their homes. Once home, they start to prepare lunch, which they then put into their clay pots and put on their back and take it out to their husbands in the fields. They eat lunch together, and then head back home. Around 6pm everyone (husbands, children etc) all meet back at home for dinner. I can't imagine how they possibly do this, hiking back and forth through the fields with the stuff on their backs like that!! These people are crazy in shape!

Because we were planning on meeting for lunch and our volunteering projects for the day weren't happening the way we intended, we all went back to our respective homestays. Erin and I hiked up the massive hill for what would likely be the last time. Once there, Hilia suggested we nap, but we weren't really in the mood. I decided I wanted to go talk to my sheep (since my sheep talking skills were more effective than my spanish skills). When I walked down to their enclosure, I found that one of Hilia's daughters had a couple of the lambs out and was holding it down while she picked bugs off it's wool. I crouched down and convinced the other one to come over to me so I could hug it. That's right, I'm the sheep whisperer.

When I walked back up to the house I found Hilia bringing out a bundle of string and wooden frames. As her daughter helped her stretch it out, I saw that she was making a scarf. There was a main frame that held all the strands and 4 different other frames that held the threads in different heights so that she could hold some up or some down in different combos to create the pattern she was making. It was really ingenious. Erin and I were given chairs and we watched her weave for about 45 min. It was mesmerizing, actually. All the while, a little boy named Marco was showing off to us, pushing the wheelbarrow that his father (I think) was needing to build the house across the way.

We got so caught up in watching the weaving/building that all of a sudden it was time to go for lunch. We grabbed our stuff, Hilia gathered her food containers in her woven blanket and tied to her back and we all trekked down the hill. We all went to one of the other homestays and sat ourselves in a circle. The women of the community opened up their packages. The laid the spread out and it was amazing - quinoa, potato soup type stuff, a chicken/onion mixture, a mutton/onion mixture, some amazing potato pancakes, some cheese (oh man... that cheese is so good!) and some salad... and the kicker - some guinea pig cooked in the oven.

I tried a little of everything, and I have to say the potato mixture and the quinoa and the cheese and the potato pancakes were my favourites. I wish I'd gotten the recipe for the pancake things, I would definitely make those on my own time!

After lunch we all posed for photos with our homestay moms and then had to pack up our stuff. We all headed back towards the tour bus, gave some of the children from the community a hug and got on the bus. We all waved goodbye and headed off down the treacherous hill.

Despite the fact that when we arrived I was pretty apprehensive about the whole experience, it ended up being an amazing and enlightening experience. It's amazing that these people who live up in the hills, growing their own food and living off pretty much just tourists coming to visit (or being porters for the tourists on the trek) still have such fullfilling lives.

I'd love to go back someday.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ccaccaccollo Homestay - A Planeterra/GAP Adventures Community Project - Day 1

A little bit of background on one of GAP adventure's project (taken from the Planeterra website)
Since 2005, we have been working with the Ccaccaccollo community to develop a women’s weaving cooperative. Most Gap Adventures groups are able to visit this community as part of the Sacred Valley Tour where they meet the women and learn about all the stages of the weaving process; from hand-spinning the wool, dying the wool using natural dyes, and participating in a weaving demonstration. Travelers are also given the opportunity to purchase high quality textiles directly from the women who made them. By working with the women of this community we are encouraging them to be proud of their cultural heritage by showcasing their intricate weaving skills. This also enables the women to help provide for their families and benefit from tourism in a way that avoids negative social and cultural impacts.

We left Cuzco in the early afternoon, winding up the hills out of the city. The views were amazing, and the hills were incredibly steep. We drove past the Christ, which we hadn't been able to visit the day before due to the massive hail storm, and caught glimpses of people farming the hills and other small communities.

The drive to the homestay took about an hour, though it really wasn't terribly far from the city, just that the roads were windy and up and down. The road to reach the community itself was slightly terrifying, built into a hill with about a 60 degree angle. All the people on the outward facing side of the bus peered over the edge apprehensively to make sure we weren't going to topple over. 

As we reached the top of the hill, the bus pulled into a large open square, with homes made of adobe bricks and thatched roofs that sprawled out over the hills. We unloaded ourselves from the tour bus and Barbara our guide spoke to one of the young children running around where Pedro was. The child said something back and ran off to find Petro. Shortly after people from the village started to emerge from their homes. All of a sudden we were greeted with the sounds of drums and panflutes, played by Andean men in traditional dress accompanied by women also in traditional dress with flowers in their hands. 

Barbara introduced the people from the village to us and directed us to our respective new homestay moms and dads. Erin and I were to go live with Hilia (Julia?) and Victor. Victor works as a porter on the Inca Trail (with GAP) and Hilia makes woven and knitted goods for the travellers that come to the community. We were led up a massive hill, with stairs cut into the hillside, huffing and puffing the whole way. We were shown our room, the upper half of a small building. The buildings were all created with adobe bricks (mud and straw mixed with water and then baked in the sun). The upper level of the building had a wooden floor, but the lower level was just concrete. The rooms were furnished very modestly, with basic beds and a basic table. The rooms weren't very high either, as people from Peru aren't super tall to begin with, and both Erin and I hit our heads almost every time we went into the room. 

Our homestay Mom showed us around the house, where the bano was (right beside the sheep paddock!) as well as the kitchen, where the food is cooked over a basic wood oven. It was amazing, really. We were invited in for some tea (coca tea!) and popcorn, so we sat down and tried to make conversation. However, neither of us have any Spanish skills, so we weren't sure what was going on. Hilia showed us a skirt like the one she was wearing, in traditional style, and said something about a fiesta. We suspected that she meant we were to WEAR the skirt she was holding but weren't entirely sure.

After settling in we were supposed to meet back at the square and then head off to the fields to help with the farming. However, once we arrived in the square it was raining pretty hard, so the decision was made to skip going out to the field as it might be too slippery to make the trek up the hills. We were joined by the other people from the group, all wearing traditional outfits. Crap! We WERE supposed to put on the outfits!! Thankfully we were soon joined by our "mom" and she had clothing for us - skirts and shawls to put on over our clothes. The skirts were tied up around our rib cages, crushingly tight. How do these women work in these things?! The shawls were stiff, almost like blankets but surprisingly warm!

Because we weren't going out to the fields we all went back to our respective homes and hung out. Erin and I both had a nap, underneath a ton of llama blankets. After an hour we both got up and made our way downstairs to see if there was anything we could do to help make dinner. Hilia showed us the food she was making (cauliflower, rice, some kind of soup) but didn't require any help, but instead instructed us to sit in the "dining room", the small room below our bedroom that had a table and 3 small chairs, each with a lambskin or goat skin on to help cushion. 

While sitting there, we heard the strangest sound - sounded like vigorous beating of something. Not long after Hilia came in beating a bowl full of egg whites. She said something about putting the egg whites on the cauliflower. Erin and I looked at each other apprehensively but smiled and tried to look excited. 

Not long after, Victor came in with a couple bowls of soup for us. We looked at the bowls, not really sure what we were about to eat. Floating on the top were french fries, and there were other veggies and little grains in the mixture. Unidentified bits of meat were in the bowl as well. Despite the fact that the soup was a bit strange looking, it actually tasted pretty good. Best I can figure is that the meat was mutton, since the family had their own sheep, and that the little grains were cream of wheat or something similar.

We finished our soup and then were brought plates filled with rice and these strange little balls of what looked like dumplings. Surprisingly, the "dumplings" were actually cauliflowers that were battered in the egg whites and then fried. And I thought they tasted awesome!! After dinner we had some more tea before getting ready to head to Petro's house for a fiesta. 

The walk to Petro's was a bit scary, since even though the houses have electricity the outside of the buildings do not. We had small flashlights to guide us, but the hill was still treacherous! On the trip we passed a couple of donkeys that seemed to pop out of nowhere! Eventually we got to Petro's house where we settled in. The rest of the group slowly joined us and when we were all there the men from the community started to play some music! After a bit the women got us up dancing. The night was fantastic, even though I was exhausted. 

Around 10pm we headed back to our house, past not one, not two, but 3 donkeys (burros) that seemed to pop out of nowhere. We were told that wake up time was at 7am, breakfast at 7:30 and that we were meeting in the square at 8am... Erin and I made our way to the bathroom, held the flashlight for each other and then went back to our sleeping room. Crawled in under our 5 llama blankets, said good night and went to sleep!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Back home!!

Due to limited Internet access and time (so busy doing awesome things) I haven't had a chance to post my adventures... Stay tuned, my adventures were amazing!

Ccaccollcolo homestay
machu picchu
and more!!

Also - many pictures to follow!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


on the road for the last couple days... Here's what I was up to:

Day 3 - Cuzco all day

Having been the responsible one the night before, I woke up feeling much better than the day before. Having gotten about 9h of sleep my body had more or less gotten used to the altitude. 

Erin and I set out for breakfast at the hotel, which was a pretty good spread. There was a huge variety of juice, one of which was a yogurt drink (yop, basically). The coffee is interesting, not terribly strong but really quite thick. There was fresh fruit, bread, cheese, ham, eggs, and a variety of cereals, none of which I could identify. I filled up a plate, and made a sandwich. 

Over breakfast we discussed what we all wanted to do, and the general idea was to go to the market and shop for gifts. We all went to our respective rooms and gathered our things and met in the lobby.

The market was huge, and people were selling everything from sweaters and hats and mittens to fruit and meats and various types of potatoes.... And mummified llamas. I wish I was kidding about that. I didn't spend too much, just got some small gifts for people and took a zillion photos.

We met outside the market and headed to find some lunch. We aimed ourselves in the direction of the main square. Thankfully we had Carolina, our rep from LAN with us, so when we were swarmed by people from the various restaurants she was able to negoiate a great price for lunch for us. We ended up at a place called Sumaq, and lunch consisted of a soup, a main dish, dessert and a drink... And not one but 2 pisco sours.... All for 15 soles!! Amazing. That's about $6.50.

I had some quinoa soup, which had alpaca cheese in it, and a stuffed hot pepper. The pepper was so good!! Inside it was ground beef, peas, and something else, and then it wad battered and deep fried. On the side was what I can only describe as peruvian Greek salad. For dessert I had ice cream. Mmmmm. Overall it was a fantastic meal, as every meal so far has been. 

The best part about lunch though had to be the band that came in and played while we ate. They played some traditional music and were thoroughly enjoyable. We also got a wonderful view over the square from where we sat. 

The plan after lunch was to drop off our stuff and go to see the Christ at the top of the hill. We went to the hotel to drop our stuff off and catch up online. While waiting for the group to gather a massive hail storm started. The rain came down in buckets, so much that it was coming through the sunroof. Due to these unforseen events my afternoon turned into drinking wine in the common area with Justin and whomever else happened by. It was pretty fantastic, actually. However it's rare that I don't think an afternoon spent drinking wine is fantastic. 

Carolina had prepared for us a presentation on LAN so at 6pm we all gathered in the breakfast room. She told us all about the company, and about it's various classes of service (which we'd experienced most of!) and about the network all around south America. Believe me, after our fantastic journey to Peru I'll definitely be recommending LAN! When she was finished, Justin played us a video from GAP put together with all the offices worldwide.

It had been decided that GAP was taking us out for dinner and so we all headed to the Fallen Angel, which is strongly recommended in all the guide books on Cuzco. We walked in and immediately knew why- the atmosphere was just incredible!! Very art deco style, the tables were sheets of glass on top of clawfoot bathtubs... Filled with goldfish. The chairs were covered in animal print and some of us sat on a love seat covered in heart shaped pleather covered pillows. On the walls hung original art from (I'm assuming) local artists. When I went to the bathroom I was given the choice of heaven or hell- one was a red theme and the other blue/white. I chose heaven, which on the inside was completely covered in cracked mirrors. A little bit weird but definitely cool. 

Dinner, like everything we've eaten on this trip, was to die for. Still full from lunch, I opted for the swordfish, with a tower of grilled veggies and mashed potatoes on the side. Most everyone else got steak of some form or another, with various sides. The presentation of the food was also awesome, brought to us on strange shaped plates. 

Once dinner was over,all of us so full we could barely move, the group split up- half planning to go out for a drink and the other half heading back to the hotel. 

During our aftenoon wine session, I'd promised Justin I would go out with him drinking so I was in the group that went out. As we walked across the square we were approached by a guy that looked like a Peru version of TJ, one of my brothers best friends. He told us if we went to mamma africa's we'd get a free drink, so the decision was made to go there. We follows peruvian tj up some stairs and into a club, which was aptly Africa themed. There was also a girl getting body painted. The walls were covered in African wildlife, and the ceiling covered in flags. 

Slowly the club started to fill up, and at one point a guy dressed as a pirate. Stayed until about 2am, maybe 3...

Next morning was up at around 8, had to eat breakfast and check out. Put our bag in storage and decided to go for a walk. Originally Rose and i were just going to sit in the square and people watch but ended up walking all around the central part of the city. We found all kinds of areas- the home improvement district, the photocopy district, the photography district. 

On our way back to the square we must have looked lost because 2 guys stopped and pointed the way. They introduced thenselves and to this moment we can only remember them as Ricardo and not Ricardo. They seemed to know  a great deal about Canadian geography. 

Because they were local we asked them about the blended frog drink we'd heard about. They said they knew where we could try it and lead the way to the market. We followed behind not sure what to expect. The drink itself is called jugo de rana, and when we got to the woman selling it we were a bit afraid- basically you have to pick your own frog and the woman then blends it for you. Neither of us were brave enough to try it out. We left the market and realized we had to go back to the hotel. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and headed back to the hotel. 

Stopped to get some food at a little place serving burgers (not the best meal thus far) and enjoyed some lemonade. 

Back to the hotel to meet the group and get on the bus for the homestay.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 2 - Arrive in Cusco, try not to have heart attack

Day 2 Cuzco

We arrived in Lima after our 8h flight in first class with LAN airways. We gathered our bags, checked them back in and wandered around the airport a little bit. 

Our guide from GAP, Barbara, met us at the airport and gave us a quick run down on the basic plan for the day. Upon arrival in Cuzco our driver would meet us and we would head to the hotel. She gave us a briefing on the altitude sickness and to take it easy today so as not to wear ourselves out. 

We loaded ourselves into the van and and headed to the hotel. Along the way Barbara gave us a bit of info about Peru- the climate, the money, the fact that there are over 3000 types of potoes. This fact astounded me.

Once we arrived in the hotel we all tried some coca tea- the same plant from which cocaine comes from. I don't think any of us had ever tried it before and there were some mixed reactions. The general concensus was that it tasted like green tea. 

The common area of the hotel is absolutely gorgeous, with a big huge sunroof and couches and chairs to lounge on. We all sat around while waiting for our room assignments. 

I was paired up with Erin, from travelcuts in Saskatoon, and we ended up with a pretty large room with 3 beds. We showered and changed and met the group back at the courtyard an hour later. By this time my stomach was starting to eat itself.

The whole group set out towards a money change place and the ATMs. The exchange rate is pretty great- $30 USD got me about $84 soles.

After we were all funded, we went in the direction of lunch. Barbara took us to an amazing little café with huge portions. I got a veggie burger and a cusqueso (beer). When my burger came out it was phenomenal!! Shredded carrots and rice, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, fresh guacamole, and grilled eggplant, all on a fresh bun. 

By the time we all finished lunch the altitude had definitely started to take it's toll on us so the unanimous decision was made to go back to the hotel and nap. Upon arrival to the hotel  pretty sure I was asleep within moments of my head being on the pillow. 

Slept for about 2h and got up to get ready for dinner. We had our welcome dinner with GAP at an amazing restaurant with the most incredible view of cusco at night. Barbara made some recommendations of what to try and I think tha majority of us had some form of alpaca. I tried the alpaca saltada, a variation of the traditional lomo saltada which is made from beef. We were told that most Peruvian meals come with both potatoes and rice. This held true for my meal. 

After dinner a few of the group went out to the disco but the majority ended up being the responsible and going back to the hotel to sleep. I myself was still feeling the effects of the altitude and really just needed to sleep it off. Got some more great photos of the city at night and  poked our heads in a few shops on the way. 

Pretty sure my I was asleep within minutes of crawling under my two very thick llama blankets.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

And we're off!! Day 1!!

Arrived at Pearson at just before noon, decided not to go too far and just sit in the little cafe I've waited in before. Didn't realize until I sat down that I was directly infront of the LAN check in counter. Fantastic! Bought a chocolate croissant and a coffee and settled in to enjoy an hour and a half by myself before meeting the rest of the group.

An obvious but necessary thing to point out: the chocolate croissants at good ol YYZ are not anywhere near as good as the ones in france. 

Eventually after waiting for a while, I saw a pair of women walking past. One looked familiar so I called out to them and asked if they were CUTS people. Thankfully my instincts were right and they were.

Slowly we added people to our group, and when we thought we had everyone we headed to the check in counter. I thought I'd won the "lightest bag" title with only 10.7kg, but was beat out by the agent from victoria with only 8.8kg of stuff. Impressive!

We made our way through customs where the customs agent weirdly and monotonely asked me "are you ready for the trip of a lifetime?" If you've ever seen the movie Napoleon Dynamite, picture Pedro all grown up and working the customs desk at an airport. 

Made it to the gate and waited. While waiting we introduced ourselves to the rest of the group. Justin, the rep from GAP adventures joined us and gave out free waterbottles!! Yay free stuff! 

When we finally got on the plane the group was scattered around, but the plane itself wasn't super full. LAN is a great airline, with modern entertainment systems and a nice 2/3/2 layout. 

I slept the majority of the flight from yyz to jfk, waking up at the end with enough time to mash the buttons on the tv and see what movies there were to watch on the long flight from jfk to Lima.

We were informed that we were going to be treated to entry to the Oasis lounge in JFK, so once we landed we all made our way there. I've never had the luxury of free wine, beer and food while waiting on a 4,5 hour connection...with free wifi allowing me to brag to all my friends.

About halfway through the wait, Carolina our LAN rep informed us that there was the slim possibility that a few of us might get bumped to first class due to the flight being oversold. (omg!!) 

To make it fair we drew names to see who would get priority... Justin drew his name first followed by mine... There was likely going to be 4 seats available so I was pretty stoked!! I've never flown in anything but bottom of the barrell economy, so this would be amazing.

Justin and I took great pleasure in rubbing it into everyones face that we were for sure going to be sleeping  on flat out seats and watching movies and eating steak.

Once we got back through security we waited to find out who was going to be the lucky ones. Carolina went up to the desk and we watched her count out a few boarding passes, hand them back and walk back to us solemnly...

Who gets in??!

She looked us with a sad expression and said "no one...." We all pouted... And then she laughed and said "all of us!!!!"

We literally screamed. And immediately shushed ourselves.

Upon boarding we were given champagne, a travel kit with all kinds of goodies, and presented with the menu... I think I'll have the mahi mahi 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

This time tomorrow...

This time tomorrow I'll be sitting at Pearson, all checked in and ready to get on a plane!

Guess that means I should start packing for Peru, eh?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Outline of Peru Trip

It's getting close now - only about 4 days til I'm on a plane and heading to some warmer weather!

So that everyone knows where I'm going to be and what I'm going to be doing, here's my itinerary:

November 26 - Depart Canada
Leaving Toronto at 16:35pm - will be spending the entire day at Pearson though - so glad they now have free wireless!

November 27 -  Arrive Cuzco
Arrive in Lima and then transfer to Cuzco. The G.A.P guide will meet us at the airport and then take us to the hotel. Lots of time to unpack and relax before a welcome dinner in the evening.
November 28 - Cuzco
After breakfast, you’ll have the option to either do a horseback riding tour outside of Cuzco to nearby ruins or you can take park in a mountain biking tour if you think horseback riding is too tame. Overnight in Cuzco.
Thinking I might take the horseback riding option, since it's been ages since I got to ride a horse and perhaps I can take some fun pictures that won't result in me wiping out and breaking bones.
November 29 -  Cuzco / Ccaccaccollo
Free morning. Then, at midday, transfer to Ccaccaccollo and meet families. In the afternoon, volunteer at a project in the community.  Overnight homestay.
Don't know the specifics on the homestay but I'm pretty excited about this!
November 30 – Ccaccaccollo / Aguas Calientes
Continue volunteering with the community in the morning. In the afternoon, transfer to Ollantaytambo for the train to Aguas Clientes. If time allows, you can visit Machu Picchu in the afternoon on your own or you can just take in the thermal baths of the areas or even do some shopping in the local market. Overnight in Aguas Calientes. 
Ooo... market shopping... guess where everyone's Christmas presents are coming from this year!
December 1 -  Machu Picchu / Cuzco
Rise early to take advantage of viewing Machu Picchu in the early morning light. This is the best time to view the ‘Lost City of the Incas’. Our local guide will provide a detailed interpretation of the Inca history before the majority of other tourists arrive at midday.  For those looking for a bit more adventure, you can also choose to climb Wayna Picchu, an arduous hour climb that offers a spectacular bird’s eye view of the ancient site.  We’ll head back to Cuzco in the afternoon. Overnight in Cuzco.
Pretty sure "early" is tour-code for 4am. Hiking Wayna Picchu sounds like a good idea, since I really should be able to claim I've done some sort of hiking in Peru!
December 2 – Cuzco
Free day in Cuzco to do as you please.  We can help arrange a whitewater rafting tour if you wish, a city tour, a visit to our community project in Cuzco or maybe you just want to take in a cocoa tea at one of the sidewalk cafes surrounding the Plaza de Armas. Overnight in Cuzco.
So many options! Whitewater rafting would be amazing... but I do love a good cafe!
December 3 – Cuzco / Lima
After breakfast, you’ll transfer back to the airport for your early morning flight to Lima at 0900, arriving in Lima at 1025.    You’ll be met at the airport and shown the sites of Lima by our local guide.  With a population of over 10 million people, Lima is a bustling metropolis that has a lot to offer.  Many people think, “who’d want to stay in Lima?” . There is great shopping, a beautiful coastline, wonderful restaurants, museums and nearby ruins.  We’ll end the evening with a farewell dinner at Huaca Pucllana.  This restaurant is famous in Lima as it overlooks the ruins of the same name and makes for a perfect location for our farewell dinner.
December 4 - Depart Lima/Arrive home
Departing from Lima late at night and arriving back home to Toronto midday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More Links to Old Travel Stories

It occured to me today that while I had posted links to previous trips, I had neglected to post about my trip to London/Greece in 2008.

24 Hours In London - we did a very brief stopover on the way to Greece in London. Having friends there made it easy to spend a very busy 24 hours exploring the city.

Cruise with Contiki in Greece - Aegean Classic 7 day tour (definitely recommended)
Day 1 - waking up early in London, easyJet flight to Athens, meeting the Contiki Group
Day 2 - onto the boat, lounging around, Mykonos
Day 3 - wake up in Turkey, Ephesus, turkish coffee, baklava, Patmos, beach!
Day 4 - Rhodes - acropolis, beaches, fresh clean clothes
Day 4 pt 2 - drinking games with the Contiki group
Day 5 - Crete, Santorini, donkey rides, toga party
Day 6/7 - Athens, delayed flights, trekking between airports, home!

Links to Previous Trips

This blog isn't the first foray into blogging my travels I've taken... if you're interested in my views on previous trips, feel free to click the links below:

Waiting for the train at Termini station, Rome

A-Team Takes Italy - Alanna and Andrea head to Italy with Contiki with a brief stop in Amsterdam. 
Part 1: Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Rome, Rome To Naples, Naples to Sorrento
Part 2: Sorrento to Rome, Rome & Vatican, Rome to Florence
Part 3: Florence to Tuscany, San Giminango, Pisa, Venice, Rome and home

major downside of traveling alone? Having to take pictures of yourself in front of monuments.

Alanna Does Finland and France - otherwise known as "make friends world wide and you can crash on their couch.
Part 1: The bus driver is into druids? and other musings while traveling
Part 2: So I can't think of a good reason NOT to live in Europe
Part 3: Nice is Nice
Part 4: 5 Flights, 2 Trains and more tube rides than one should need...

Where to Next? Peru with G.A.P!

I started this blog for a few reasons, one of which is to chronicle the adventures I get to go on because of my job as a travel agent. Every so often a great opportunity will come along that I can't help but take and in this case that opportunity is heading to South America with GAP Adventures at the end of Nov.

This will be my first trip to South America (or anywhere south of the USA, for that matter), since most of my travels have been to Europe or the South Pacific. Rich in history, I can't wait to learn more about the Inca civilizations and get a chance to take pictures at one of the New 7 Wonders of the World!, Machu Picchu (I've already seen the Colosseum... next stop Egypt?)

Before going off to a place, I do try to learn a bit about the place I'm going - widely spoken languages, temperatures to expect, and since I'm big into food - what are some local dishes one absolutely must try? So today I've been doing some research in Wikipedia...

Peruvian Cuisine - I should probably try ceviche, and pollo a la brasa...and maybe even guinea pig?
And, since I like to learn how to say "cheers!" in every country I go to, maybe I'll cheers with a Pisco Sour, which is apparently the national drink.... and probably try a bottle of Cuzqueña, one of the country's beers.

I'll be visiting quite a lot of places in a relatively short time, though I'll still get a good feeling about the country. Horseback riding to some ruins outside Cuzco, exploring Cuzco itself, Lima, Machu Picchu, an overnight homestay and volunteer project in Ccaccaccollo, exploring Aguas Clientes amoungst other things.

Stay tuned for updates!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Welcome to my travel blog!

Being in the travel industry has given me many travel opportunities. When you're exposed to travel day in and day out, you start to dream about the places you want to go and the exciting things you want to experience. So, in the spirit of travel, I've started this blog to share my experiences with the world - and to encourage you, the reader, to try some of the things I've done!

Where have I been?
Australia, Singapore, London UK, Ireland, Greece, Turkey, Amsterdam, Italy, France, Finland, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Calgary, Quebec.

Where do I want to go?
Turkey, Costa Rica, Belize, Peru, Spain, Germany, Tanzania, Thailand, New Zealand, Morocco, Egypt, S.E Asia, India... to name a few

Why be a travel agent?
I get asked all the time "Why would I use a travel agent instead of booking on my own?" - here are my top 5 reasons:
1: We've got your back when something goes wrong - we're the ones who spend our days dealing with the airlines when you have to change things so you don't have to.
2: We've got the expertise - we know what countries you need a visa for, can tell you what companies are truly great and which ones to avoid, and many times have already been where you want to go.
3: We've got the savings - in both time and money. We have deals you can't get online  and can save you the hassle of checking out all the websites trying to find a lower price.
4: We've got the personal touch - sometimes it's just nice to talk to someone. In PERSON. We're real people you can trust.
5: We're not going to lie to you - We work FOR you, not the supplier. Our goal is to make sure you get the best value because we want you to come back to us again.