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Peru

Rotterdam, april 15, 2016

"Seen Machu Picchu and be satisfied"...

If this is going to be truth has yet to be seen. Frankly I am not too keen on mass tourism. Fortunately Peru offers much more than Machu Picchu. Very tall volcanoes, llamas and other furry items, condors, nature at sea level AND at 3950 m altitude. Reasons enough to explore Peru for a couple of weeks.

In January the annually bargains of our Royal National Airline KLM enabled us to acquire an affordable nonstop return ticket to Lima. The itinerary in Peru itself has been plotted with the help of some websites and a handful of good guidebooks:

  • Lima
  • Ica
  • Arequipa
  • Colca canyon (condors)
  • Puno (lake Titicaca)
  • Cuzco
  • Ollyantambo / Aquas Calientes / Machu Picchu
  • via Cuzco/Lima back home
Amsterdam - Lima, may 22

Ready for the 12:45 hour long flight of 10.757 kilometers from Amsterdam to Lima. Arrival at Lima International Airport on the dot and a swift immigration / backpack collection. The CAT PERU travel agency representative was already waiting for us with all our vouchers and the transfer to our downtown Lima hotel.
On the road I could not help noticing that the traffic had a strong resemblance with China and Vietnam: biggest/strongest/noisiest has right of way, and the colour of traffic lights is arbitrary. Anyhow, it works, because we swiftly reached our hotel. Hotel Buenavista in the Miraflores area does not live up to its name any more since the "buena vista" is long gone as high rising buildings surround the premises nowadays. It has kept its charm though and is well located.

No trace of jetlag or fatigue but went to sleep anyway since 8pm in Peru means 3am in Rotterdam: we are on the move for 24 hours...



sunday 07:45

South America.. finally..

the Andes mountains
Lima, may 23

Slept well, breakfast splendid. The day after a long voyage is usually spent acclimatising and scouting around the area but since we felt vigorous we walked to item #1 on our list: the archaeological site of Huaca Pucllana. The site of a substantial temple/pyramid complex dated 500 BC: pr‚-Inca and well before the Spanish arrived and messed up the country.

Our enthusiastic guide showed us around the site, explained everything and answered all our questions. ?The excavation is impressive and still a long way to go. Completion of the excavation and restoration will at least take another 20 years. "Pyramid" suggests a nicely pointed triangular shape (like the classical Egyptian ones) but this pyramid is more or less rectangular, stepped and massive. Built from adobe (clay stones), stacked layer by layer and each layer covered with clay. Even back then the clever constructors knew how to build earthquake-proof. Moreover, it was customary to sacrifice a young woman every 15-20 years and encase her remains in the last layer before adding a new layer of adobe. This sacrifice was necessary to please the gods.



Traffic controllers on every intersection

Huaca Pucllana

enclosed in urban area

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countless adobes

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After this excursion we set off for city center. At least, we thought so. Lima does not have a defined city centre, but the area in which the cathedral and presidential palace are located is considered the historical centre which is even on the UNESCO world heritage list. A nice walk of about five kilometer. The weather is not too hot (20C) and a bit cloudy which is nice because the sun is strong at this latitude.

Architecture along the way: no harmony, a mess of the remains of colonial and neo colonial styles and modern glass/concrete/steel constructions. The city is clean though (no rubbish on the streets and sidewalks) and a lot of security force. Not only police but traffic controllers as well, trying to keep the traffic going. Lima suffers from indigestion because road capacity did not grow with the increase of cars.

Since we both are railway employees we had to visit the main railway station but it turned out to be a literature museum nowadays. Passenger railways in Peru are almost extinct since buses took over long-distance passenger traffic. There are some suburban light-rail lines but those are not of interest for us.

Back to the hotel on local bus 301 (which I had noticed having a "paradero" close to the hotel). Trying to pay the fare with a 10 Sol-note (approx. ? 3) drove the driver nuts; "No Coins?". One ticket costs only 1 sol, regardless of distance. ?We hopped off the bus next to Kennedy Park. Oh look there, a cat. And another one. Ah, and another eighty.. It turns out that Kennedy Park is an official sanctuary for the Liman stray cats. A number of volunteers (vet included) takes care of the feline community and limits this to about 90 by neutering the males. Since we both are fond of cats, we spent almost every day at least one hour in this peaceful oasis in the midst of traffic madness.



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Surfbeach

VW microbus and surfdudes go along
Of course we had to check out the local supermarket for beer and, yes, carrots and corn crisps. The check-out woman pointed to my two half liter bottles and asked something. Since my knowledge of Spanish is basic and at par with her English it took me some time to catch her intention; one can only buy half liter- bottles if in return handing in an empty one. A classic example of Catch-22...

The only way around this problem is to buy 0.25 liter bottles which are non-refundable. Remains the question how on earth a Peruvian manages to acquire his first empty "big" bottle...

Time flies and since it is almost winter on the southern hemisphere it means early sunset and dropping temperatures. Just the right time for dinner and early turn-in.


Lima, may 24

Slow start, as we felt the jetlag finally hitting us with some delay. Since the weather was splendid (sunny and not too hot) we decided to change our program: no museums but a walk on the beach instead. Thus we set off in the direction of Pacific Ocean. Bought a load of delicious avocado's for lunch from a street vendor.
Lima is not at sea level but on a plateau about 300 feet up, with steep cliffs. It was a challenge to find a pedestrian path to descend to water level but we managed to find one. Our dreams about soft beaches and a dip in the ocean were crudely smashed. On the beach no sand but sharp pebbles and the water wasn't transparent and had a suspicious smell; looks like Lima is dumping the waste water straight into the Pacific...



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black vulture

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The only living creatures visible on and around the water surface are surfers, who created some kind of surf community along the beach. Today's waves probably did not do for them since the ocean was pretty calm.

The upward thermal airflow along the ocean rim is shared by black vultures and parasailers: both species were numerous in the air. There was a possibility to make a duo-glide on a parasail, but to us tomorrow' bus trip to Ica seemed adventurous enough..

Walked back to the hotel along the ocean boulevard via Miraflores and San Isidro area. On many streetcorners and squares we noticed yellow circles with a letter "S" in the centre as well as green crowd concentration signs with the text "Sismo". Peru is well prepared for the next earth quake. The most recent major one was back in 2007.
Spent the rest of the afternoon amidst the cats of Kennedy Park and shared our nibbles with them.



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Lima - Ica May 25

Exactly at noon we were waiting at Cruz del Sur`s bus station in Lima, preparing for the next leg of our journey. We were warned that the taxi ride to the bus terminal could take more than half an hour, the reality was less than fifteen minutes... Traffic indeed is heavy but our driver knew very well how to cope with that; we are way too early. We had checked in online, our tickets are printed and there is not much left to do except waiting for boarding time. The bus to Ica is scheduled for 13:30. After checking in the backpacks we had plenty of time to enjoy a cup of coffee in the restaurant while taking in our surroundings. This bus station wasnt what I expected based on my experiences in China or Russia, where there would be a chaotic crowd of people. This terminal is well organized, rather quiet, everybody patiently waiting, buses neatly in line in front of the building and the toilets are immaculate.



Cruz del Sur departure lounge

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along the Pan America..

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another one bites the dust..

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Our bus is extremely comfortable. Lots of space, much better than any airplane. We even get a warm meal, served by a smiling stewardess. The distance Lima-Ica is 300 kilometres, the ride takes five hours and the ticket costs 55 soles (approx. 15 Euro, including meal and drinks).
Life in Peru is relaxed; somewhere in between endless plantations with citrus trees our driver stops at a street stall to buy bags with fresh fruit (I wished we could have done that, too!).

There is only one southbound motorway from Lima: the PanAmerica highway. As soon as we left Lima behind the highway changed from six lanes to humble two lanes, infested with slow lorries and agricultural vehicles. Peru's lifeline is winding its way through dusty towns and dwellings, average speed is rather low. Slowly, slowly.

The view is varied: on the right side a small stroke of desert, merging into the Pacific Ocean. On the left more desert, strewn with chicken farms. Yes, these people love chicken, "pollo" is on the menu everywhere. Between Paracas and Ica the desert is turned green with plantations of citrus trees and, yes, enormous vineyards. The Ica area is famous for excellent wine!

At quarter to seven we arrive at the bus terminal in Ica, get our bags, hop into a taxi and were soon on our way to the hotel. Our driver did his utmost best to get us interested into local excursions (visiting a bodega or sandboarding or whatever) but we politely denied his services. We will explore this town on our own.



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..locked out

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Villa Jazmin is a relatively luxurious hotel at the outskirts of the town, literally next to a huge sand dune. Besides some barking dogs the area is quiet and silent - what a difference with the constant hubbub of the big city! When we wanted to enter our room the door would by no means open. Clearly the lock was broken. Thus we had to wait for half an hour in front of the door until the Flemish owner of the hotel had climbed into the room via the window and forced the lock open from inside. Luckily I'm pretty good with locks and we could repair the obstinate thing.
We concluded the evening enjoying Ica's famous wine and went to sleep, enjoying the silence of the desert.


Ica, May 26

On our program are two full days to spend in Ica which is more than enough for this desert town with a population of 125,000. What is it that do tourists here? Hire a dunebuggy and cross the desert, go sandsurfing or visit a plantation. That's about it. Oh wait, the Museum Regional de Ica does house an excellent archaeological collection. Definitely worth the visit.



Belgian waffles for breakfast

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the PanAmerican
The weather was splendid again. Perfect for a walk. Since walking along the noisy and dusty PanAmerica wasn't that much fun we decided to walk criss cross through the town on our way to the centre and the museum. People are generally friendly and clearly not used to see a lot of tourists, making us the main attraction on the local market. After doing business with Do the greengrocer wanted to be pictured with her amongst his delicious vegetables. Seeing that other stallholders wanted pictures with us as well, even though we did not need their merchandise.



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When we finally arrived at the museum we were held up at the open gate by the guardian. His English was just as fluent as my Japanese but finally it turned out that the whole museum was closed do to reconstructions. Or repair. Or restoration. Whatever. It was closed. We could have known after all as the official website of the museum has a hidden message in Spanish: if you take the effort to scroll down all the way, underneath the opening times, at the very bottom of the page in very small print: "Temporarily closed".

Back to the market to get more carrots, mandarins and delicious avocados for a healthy lunch which we enjoyed in the shadow of the wall of the huge graveyard. The man who had his car parked opposite our bench certainly had a story to tell that evening... he clearly could not see why the pair of strangers was sitting there of all places happily munching avocados.



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The way back to the hotel seemed to be somewhat longer due to the heat of the afternoon. We could have hired one of the many motortaxi's but they are not allowed to enter the area where our hotel is situated, thus we decided to walk all the way back. Peru has the reputation to be unsafe and dangerous, especially for tourists. Since tourism is an extremely important and valuable source of income a lot of effort is made to safeguard the visitors. Policemen and women on every street corner, traffic control everywhere and strictly guarded entrance to the areas where the hotels are. The entire trip we did not feel unsafe for one moment. Compliments to the governments' efforts.

Back at the hotel we jumped into the pool for a welcome refreshment, had a cold beer and booked an excursion to the Islas Ballestas and the National Park at Paracas. Best thing you can do in Ica...


Paracas, may 27

The Islas Ballestas are a group of rock formations in the Pacific about 7 miles off the coast south of Paracas. These small islands are famous for their inhabitants; pelicans, Humboldt penguin, seals, sea lions, the blue footed booby and of course the guanay cormorant. Especially the latter species is a main producer of guano (excrement of seabirds), a highly effective and therefore valuable fertiliser. Andean people have collected guano ("guano" originates from Quechua) for ages. Since the invention of artificial fertiliser the importance of guano faded. Organic farmers are fond of this natural fertiliser and it is still collected once every six years. Nowadays the islands are an important sanctuary for marine fauna and make for a memorable excursion with a boat tour. This starts early in the morning in order to minimise the disturbance for the animals and leave them at rest for most of the day.

"Early morning" meant for us to get up hat half past five, have a very quick breakfast, get in our taxi at six, go to Paracas (75 kilometres back to Lima) and get on board at half past seven.

When we got up the sun was hiding behind thick clouds and fog. To our big surprise it even started to rain. The driver of the taxi had to search for the switch to turn on the windscreen wiper because in the arid coastal region of Peru it nearly never rains...



foggy Paracas

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The usual boat excursion to the islands takes more or less two hours. The medium sized speed boats take up to 30 visitors and have no cabins which means the view is excellent but there is no protection against the wind, spray and - in our case - rain.

On the outward journey we passed the famous three-pronged Candelabra, a geoglyph, a giant figure carved into one of the hills. It is over 150 metres high and 50 metres wide and depicts a kind of cactus which is connected to the ancient cultures of the region. Still no one knows what the exact purpose of this geoglyph is, nobody knows when it was made or by whom. It might be connected to the pre-Inca sites in the area, mainly of the Paracas culture (800 BC to AD 100). Pottery is found in abundance plus 429 mummies - the museum in Ica tells the story, if it is not closed that is...

The tour around the islands was exciting, we saw not only zillions of sea birds but even sea lions and penguins!



Geoglyph candelabre"

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Back on shore we continued our tour with an excursion to the Reserva Nacional de Paracas. This National Park consists of the Paracas Peninsula and includes the Bahia de Independence, tropical desert and miles of coastal waters. We started at the Museo Sitio de Juio C. Tello, named for the archaeologist who made major discoveries about the ancient Paracas culture. This visitor center gives information about all aspects of this unique region. The desert is spectacular and again we spotted a great variety of birds, mainly flamingos and black vultures.



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Before returning to Ica we had an hour to spend and greatly enjoyed the quietness of the waterfront watching fishermen cleaning their nets and the colonies of pelicans who dwell on deserted fishing boats.



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Our host Eder and his chauffeur
Back in the hotel we packed, checked out and took a taxi to the Cruz del Sur bus terminal in Ica in order to get the night bus to Arequipa. Distance 700 kilometres, departure 20:45, arrival approximately 08:15. Always "Approximately" due to unforeseen conditions of the PanAmerican highway.


Arequipa, may 28

When I woke up at half past five I felt fairly refreshed: thanks to my sleeping pill I slept well. The sun was already up and I opened the curtains to enjoy the view. I could not but notice that we had left the arid plains of the coastal region and were now winding up our way in the Andes mountains. In the far distance the volcanic cones of the Misti (5822 m), Pikchu Pikchu (5664 m) and Chachani (6057m) were visible. Look, that is what we come for. The valleys in between the steep mountain slopes are busy with mining activities. Peru is rich in minerals and the main exports are copper, gold and zinc.

Arequipa is Peru's second most populous and one of the most industrialized cities. It is located around 2.300 metres above sea level and the above mentioned volcanoes dominate the skyline. In recent decades the urban area saw an enormous expansion. The suburbs and shantytowns look dusty and rather desolate. We arrived nicely on schedule at a quarter to nine at the bus terminal, caught a taxi and after a quick ride we arrived at our hotel la Casa de mi Abuela This cosy hotel is situated on one of the edges of the historic centre of Arequipa and the neighbourhood is a lot more lively and cheerful than the suburbs we had passed.



the PanAmerican

mining activities everywhere

La Recoleta

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The historical center of Arequipa, which has been a World Heritage site since december 2000, was litterally round the corner of our hotel. The city was founded in August 1540 and represents as well native as European influenced building techniques and architecture. However, most of the earlier colonial buidlings were destroyed by earthquakes and most we see nowadays is (re)built in the nineteenth century. Due to the use of the white volcanic rock (ashlar) Arequipa is often called 'the white city'. Especially beautiful in the soft light of the afternoon, when we took a stroll around and tried to convince one of the many ATMs to supply us with some more Soles. They all refused and in the end we had to change our Euros.

The rest of the day we spent in the beautiful garden of our hotel, relaxing in a hammock with view on the Misti. Exactly what we needed to acclimatise after the long bus journey.


Arequipa, May 29

In our opinion we had the most beautiful room (149) of the whole complex with our own little garden space, plenty of birds and sweet smelling flowers. The only downside: no running water... in the opinion of the hotel management that was a complete and utter desaster and they wanted to move us to another room as fast as possible. Since we did not really want to leave our own little paradise they somehow managed to fix the water for us.




parade

La Compañía

Croaking Ground Dove (columbina cruziana)
The old town of Arequipa spans 332 hectares and we saw most of it in one morning. The day before we had already noticed that the light in the afternoon is the best for taking pictures thus we had to repeat our tour after our siesta. No better place to spend that than in our hammocks with the fabulous view. We bought two hats in order to protect ourselves from the sun (never go out without sun protection!), went back to the hotel, enjoyed our lunch and chilled until three when the light turned golden again. And yes, the 'croaking ground doves' do sweetly croak like frogs but they prefer to sit in the trees and not on the ground.

In the afternoon we tried to get pictures of the already mentioned spectacular view of the town with the mighty cone of the Misti in the background. This turned out to be a hopeless undertaking simply because too many buildings in the way... For our dinner we had already spotted a local restaurant which had one of the national dishes, Cerviche, on the menu. Yet when we came back in the evening the venue was closed. Maybe because it was Sunday and they would serve lunch only? We had no idea, went back to the Plaza de Armas and had dinner in one of those typical overprized tourist traps. The cervice certainly was not what it should have been but the live music made up for the mediocre meal.


Arequipa - Coporaque, May 30

The bus journey from Arequipa to Coporaque promised to be on the of most enjoyable parts of our tour: we should reach the highest point of our entire tour and crossing the Pampa Blancha we might spot alpacas, llamas and even vicunas in the wild. Plus the most active volcano of Peru, the Sabancaya (5.976 m). The distance is approximately 200 kilometres and it would take about five hours to get to our destination.

Half past seven we were picked up by our guide Saoul and busdriver Samuel. They would bring us all the way to Coporaque and be our guides in the Colca Valley.



Shantytown on the outskirts of Arequipa

Pampa Blanca (4000 m)

Vicuña's

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Making our way through the seemingless endless suburbs of Arequipa took already more than an hour of our five hour journey. As soon as we left the last shantytowns behind the scenery became spectacular. Our first stop was in the natural reserve of the Pampa Blanca (elevation 4.000 metres above sea level) where we spotted a herd of vicunas. Vicunas are relatives of the llamas and the alpacas and are famous for their extremely fine wool. The Inca already valued the vicunas for their wool and anyone but royalty was forbidden by law to wear vicuna garments.



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Maté triple

llama in the wild

highest point
Further down the road we encountered large herds of alpacas with llamas hiding amongst them. Somehow they had the secret agreement to show their backsides only as soon as we pulled out our cameras...

A bit later we enjoyed a short break at a small restaurant which served the well loved 'Triple': in Peru that is not a kind of beer but an infusion prepared with leaves of coca, mint and a wild variety of thyme. Makes a very tasty 'potion' to prevent altitude sickness and dehydration.



frozen water

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Casa Mamayacchi
The highest point of the tour was the Mirador Vulcano at an altitude of 4883 metres above sea level. Again the view was impressive. This point broke my actual altitude record which until then was the Auille du Midi (Mont Blanc) with 4100 metres above sea level. While walking around and enjoying the scenery I could indeed notice the thin air, less oxygene, it took more effort to breathe and I run quickly out of energy.

Via the village Chivay we reached the picturesque hamlet of Corporaque where a beautiful hotel La Casa de Mamayacchi would be our home for two nights and days. From our room we had the best view ever, the terrased fields of the Colca Valley and the constantly puffing volcano Sabancaya on the background.

The lunch provided by the hotel was excellent, a choice of local dishes including fresh avocados, beetroot salad and barbequed alpaca. While the group followed our guide Saoul to the local hot springs we went out for a walk not only through Corporaque but a little way up the local mountain. While climbing up the ancient path we really were hit by the fact that we up in the mountains... local people are well adapted and used to high altitudes and the thin air, we were clearly not...



Keiko party

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When we came down our mountain slope and went back into the village the sun was already setting. The dusk is much shorter than we are used to so we had to be quick to get home before dark. On the plaza de armas we encountered the local supporters of the Keiko party who were active with running the campain for their future president to be (she did not win the elections by the way). Before we realized what was happening we were already adorned with orange hat and scarve and had to be in the picture with the team.

After dinner we went out again despite the cold and were awed by the sheer vastness of the night sky. Uncountable stars against a pitch black sky. The milky way in full glory. We stood there silently until we nearly froze and had to go to bed. The next day would be an early start so an early night was no bad idea.


Colca canyon, May 31

Again we had to get up so early that we could enjoy breakfast with a view of the rising sun, casting our puffing volcano in the nicest shade of pink. No chance to catch that in any picture so we sat back and enjoyed.



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alpaca in residence

Yanque

posing with Pépé
Precisely on time our excursion bus departed to take us to the Colca Canyon. The first stop en route was Yanque, a picturesque village well known for the traditional dance performances every morning. We assumed that the colourful group of children danced to warm up for school... the nights in the mountains are cold...



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Maca
The central square was surrounded with stalls where the locals not only offered their local handicrafts but gave visitors the opportunity to pose with birds of prey and of course llamas. Of course we had our picture taken with not only the impressive animals but the beautiful local people as well.
The next scheduled stop was Maca, another traditional village in the valley. In front of the impressive colonial church more stalls with handicraft accompagnied by warmly smiling, brightly clad locals with their animals. Since it was still fairly cold the woolen gloves on offer were very welcome indeed.



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We finally reached our destination: Mirador Cruz del Condor, the very spot to watch the mighty Andean condor. At this point the Colca Canyon is 1200 metres deep.
The Andean Condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world. They are primarily soarers and prefer to fly without major wing-flapping effort. This is why they are best seen soaring near rock cliffs, using the heat thermals to aid them raising in the air. These thermals are strongest in the morning when the sun warms the ground which in turn warms the air.

The very moment we arrived at the Mirador the spectacle started and more and more of the mighty birds came gracefully soaring above our heads. We could nearly feel the tips of their wings and could not get enough of this impressive performance. Apparently most of them came for breakfast: the large carcass of a cow. Condors belong to the vulture family and feed on carrion.

After an hour the thermals started to fade and the condors went back to their roosts. Watching the Andean condor is an experience which goes straight into the book of golden memories.



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After enjoying more views of the Colca Canyon we went back to Chivay where we had lunch with the whole group. Still deeply impressed by what we had just seen. Back at our hotel we had a short siesta and soon went for another walk, further exploring the ancient path leading up the mountain slope. Alas we had to take the early sunset into account and could not reach the ridge. As if to wave goodbye to us two condors came soaring over the peak.

On the way home we said hello to the local donkeys, a playful herd of piglets, cattle and a lonely horse. Dinner, star gazing and savouring this beautiful day.

The whole tour from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon was perfectly organized and equipped by tour operator Giardino (info@giardinotours.com). They made our excursion to the Colca Valley an unforgettable experience.



guide Saoul and driver Samuel

llamas even at the bus stop

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Coporaque - Puno, June 1

Our transfer bus to Puno should depart at eleven and our tour operator Giardino had a nice surprise planned for us to fill in the morning: we were met by one of the inhabitants of Corporaque, Senora Josefina, who took us to her house and told us a lot about the rural life.



señora Josefina

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multi coloured maize
She did not stop at telling tales about her life: after she had brewed something in her kitchen she gave us a pile of bags and sickles. Her husband and two neighbours waited for us with an ancient van and took us to one of their terraced fields. Work! Josefine tought us how to peel and sort maize. Another impressive and special experience, sitting there on that ancient terraced field in the company of extremely friendly farmers in traditional costume, helping them with the harvest. During the short break Josefine shared her brew with us which turned out to be delicious warm apple juice.

We spent the morning in utter peace and harmony and were sorry to leave.



Alfonso and Estrela

railways
At the bust stop we met Alfonso, a young boy, cuddling his llama Estrela. He was clearly there to convince tourists to pose with him and his llama in exchange for a few soles. There are many creative ways to earn a living.

Usually the journey from Chivay to Puno would take about five hours but due to a strike in Puno the traffic in the city was mayhem and we had to take a detour to reach the city. By the time we got there it was already dark and cold. Since we were completelz knackered and felt nothing to explore the neighbourhood of our hotel we went to bed immediately.


Puno, June 2

Puno is crammed in between the shores of Lake Titicaca and the surrounding mountians. The ever expanding city did not look very appealing to us and the main attraction is definitely Lake Titicaca. It is the highest (3.812 m) navigable lake in the world on the border of Peru and Bolivia.
Titcaca is notable for a group of islands: artificial, floating islands as well as a couple of small, hilly islands. All are populated by communities who still live in their traditional way.



Taquile

Kindergarden

Taquile

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Our excursion started early in the morning and according to our guide Percy we had the good luck to have one of the few fast boats which would take us to the island Taquile, more or less 35 kilometres east of Puno, in less than an hour. The time was well used by our knowledgeable guide to give us information about the islands we were about to visit. Taquile is populated by around 2.200 Taquilenos and life on the beautiful island is still largely unchanged by modernities. Most Taquilenos are proud of their culture and are proudly wearing their traditional clothes. The island is especially famous for the handicraft tradition.
Knitting is exclusively done by the men, who start at the age of eight. The women make yarn and weave. If a man is courting a woman he will be judged by the quality of his work, especially his knitted hat.



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Bolivia on the horizon

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Since the handicraft tradition is regarded as among the highest quality in the world (in our humble opinion rightly so) Taquile and its Textile Art were being proclaimed 'Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity' by UNESCO.

Once we arrived at the island we got the opportunity to explore the beauty and nearly reached the highest top which is 220 metres above the level of the lake. After our short walk we reached one of the settlements. There the proud inhabitants demonstrated their handicrafts and performed a traditional dance. At the end we got the chance to purchase their amazing crafts. In this way tourism contributes to their income. The people in Taquile run their society based on community collectivism and on the Inca moral code 'do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy'. Furthermore they have developed alternative tourism models, controled by the local travel agency - Munay Taquile www.taquile.net/en

On the way back to the boat we could not resist the clear but cold water - we would have loved to dive into the lake but left it at bathing our feet...



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Our lunch was provided at Santa Maria - Llachon on Capachia peninsula. And no ordinary lunch that was but the traditional 'Pachamanca' which is prepared in an underground oven, a pit filled with hot stones. A delicious, varied meal consisting of trout, chicken, various kinds of vegetables and potatoes. Before we could go to our lunch the whole was blessed in a traditional ceremony performed by the shaman of the community.

The last stop of our wonderful excursion was a visit to a community of the Uros people, who live of one of the last authentic floating islands. There are stil about ninety of theses artificial islands on the lake but only twelve of them are inhabited. The Uros build their villages on what are in effect huge rafts of bundled totora reeds. The reeds at the bottom rot away pretty quickly so freh layers are constantly added to the top. A thirty year old island can be about six metres thick.



Taquile

blessing our lunch

Uros Titino

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Titino is inhabited and maintained by six families. The children go to school on a seperate school island. In addition to fishing tourism provides a welcome source of income for the families and the women had their beautiful crafts stalled out. We could not resist and purchased some of their colourful, lovingly embroidered cushions. Wij bezochten het eiland Titino, dat door zes families wordt bewoond. De kinderen gaan overdags naar een school welke op een ander drijvend eiland ligt. Een eiland is in principe geheel zelfvoorzienend. De vrouwen maken textielkunst en kunstwerkjes van riet; hiermee proberen ze wat geld te verdienen. De mannen vissen of onderhouden het eiland.



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Guide Percy

Adios Titino...
Our memorable tour off the beaten track was fully organized by Edgar Adventures. Highly recommended!


Puno - Cusco, June 3

For this day the bus trip from Puno to Cusco was on the program. The distance is 385 kilometres, departure at 7:00, arrival at 17:00. Ten hours seem to be long but there are several scheduled excursions and a lunch break. PeruRail runs a service between Cusco and Puno as well and the train takes about ten hours, too. Without breaks which means that the average speed is 38 kilometres per hour. According to the guide who accompanied our tour the train is so slow because it is the oldest kind of public transport in the country (the first railway connecting Arequipa to Juliaca was opened as early as 1876)... We found her explanation and her knowledge rather doubtful and as it turned out later on we had good reason for that...



on the PE3 heading for Cusco

Torito's

Pukara

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Our friendly but extremely talkative guide needed nearly half an hour for her explanation of the archaeological museum in Pukara, our first excursion stop. That not being enough she went with her descriptions of magical rituals, drunken priests, pachamama and the universe even in the rather confined space of the museum, annoying other groups who wanted to admire the beautifully designed pottery and other interesting objects. We did not see much of the museum because our time was up before our guide had finished her superfluous stories...

The best thing about Pukara (apart from the impressive archaeological site we did not visit) are the Toritos, brightly decorated teracotta bulls who come in pairs and adorn the rooftops of nearly every house. They are meant to bring love and harmony to the couple.

Exactly at noon our bus arrived at the restaurant where we were to have our lunch. At exactly the same moment the PeruRail Andean Explorer (that is the service that runs three times a week between Cusco and Puno) passed... we were mere seconds late to leave the bus on time and take a picture of the picturesque scene unfolding before our eyes: a cascading river, the bridge, llamas and the mountains in the background...

One of the things on my to-do-list for Peru was duelling a llama. The one at the restaurant looked at me so wickedly that I had to knock it out before it could spit in my face...



..this llama..

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..unharmed!..

The Andean Explorer

After lunch we had a short moment of silence on the bus until our tireless guide found it necessary to explain to the group how the cosmos of the Inca functions. We learned everything about magnetical lines and the 'fact' that all important Inca settlements and temples are situated on these lines... furthermore we learned that round buildings exude harmony... whatever... we could not follow anymore and enjoyed the ever spectacular scenery instead.

As it turned out her never ending stories were the introduction for our next excursion, the archaeological site Raqch'i. Founded by the Inca at a vital point along the road from Cusco the enclosed complex consists of a temple and adjacent rectangular and round (!) buildings. They houses might have served as lodgings for travellers and the circular buildings are most likely storehouses.
However, according to our guide the whole complex is extremely mysterious, filled with ying and yang and esoteric energy and nobody knows what are the buildings were intended for (maybe for the priests and virgins serving the sun god). Moreover, she sternly forbade us to wander around the site on our own because tourists regularly got lost there... The layout of the rectangular site is strictly symmetrical and it was a mystery to us how anybody could ever lose one's way there...



Raqch'i

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San Pedro Apóstol

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Our last excursion on the way to Cusco was the baroque Iglesia San Pedro Apostol in Andahuaylillas. This sixteenth century church is most lavishly decorated with wall paintings and therefore known as 'Sistine Chapel of the Andes'. Even though it is a very impressive and historically speaking important monument the main attraction of the pretty little village seems to be the mummy of an alien...

Well on time we reached Cusco and could check into our charming hotel Los Niños before dark. .


Cusco, June 4

Cusco (elevation around 3.400 m) is known as one of the most beautiful cities in Peru. Founded by the Incas it was the capital of their empire until the Spanish conquest. Because of its antiquity and importance the city retains many buildings, plazas, streets and churches originating in pre-Columbian times plus colonial buildings. No wonder Cusco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Our excellent hotel lies near the historical centre and serves the best breakfast we had so far. After savouring our breakfast we went out to explore the city. Cusco is great. At least the centre has a relaxed atmosphere, the architecture is amazing, the whole lay out generous, the inhabitants are charming and friendly. If you are looking for nice handicrafts and cosy cafes San Blas is the area to be. Before we climbed up the many, many stairs leading to the archaeological site of Saksaywaman we had a break at Laggart (Calle Tanda Pata) and were served excellent coffee with homemade cake. Delicious.



huge stone with 12 corners

dry stone wall, Inca-made

San Blas

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Many of the colonial buildings are founded on dry stone walls cleverly constructed by the Inca. This typical form of masonry features precisely cut - either rectangular or polygonal - and shaped stones closely fitted without mortar. One of the finest examples can be found in the Hatun Rumiyoc street and the most famous stone cannot be missed since it is constantly 'guarded' by men clad in Inca costumes. Of course every tourist wants to pose next to the huge twelve angle stone...



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Saqsaywaman

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Saqsaywaman is the most important archaeological site of the region, situated on top of a steep hill overlooking Cusco. It was first occupied by the pre-Inca Killke culture and later expanded by the Inca. Because of the strategic location and the immense walls it is often called a fortress. There are ruins of buildings who served ceremonial activities as well as administrative purposes. However, at the entrance at the archaeological park we discovered that the tickets cost a small fortune - 140 soles per person. Even though the ticket covers four archaeological sites in the region we found it just a bit too expensive, especially when we wanted to visit Saqsaywaman only. So we decided to walk up the hill via the public road (carratera Don Bosco) and simply enjoy the view.



very furry llama

carved rock

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de tanden van de poema
When we reached the top of the hill we were rewarded with a spectacular view, overlooking the whole site. Following a path we came to a huge rock, intricately carved with steps and basins. It clearly belongs to the complex of Saqsaywaman but since it lies outside the fence we could visit it for free. Further down the road to Pisac we visited another archaeological site opposite Qenqo.



Cusco

Plaza de Armas

the Cathedral and La Compañia

VW beetles still in
abundance in Peru
On the way back to Cusco we visited Christo Blanco, a huge statue of the blessing Christ who overlooks the valley. The best light is two hours before sunset and we were lucky to be there at the right time. Cusco cast in the golden light was nothing short of spectacular.

For dinner we had delicious alpaca at the organic restaurant 'Greens'.


Cusco - Ollantaytambo, June 5

Sunday; good reason for sleeping in.
At 11:00 we were picked up by a driver who would take us all the way to Ollantaytambo. The 90 kilometres took him one and a half hour and again the scenery was awesome. Our hotel Mama Simona is situated in a quiet area of the busy village, right next to a rushing stream.
Ollantaytambo is a picturesque village located in the Sacred Valley more or less half way between Cusco and Machu Picchu. The town dates from the Inca period and has some of the oldest continuously occupied houses in South America. Nowadays it is busy with tourists mainly because it is one of the starting points of the hike known as Inca Trail.



on the way to Urubamba

Hotel Mama Simona

Ollantaytambo

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Another important attraction is the temple hill, another important Inca site. Again, we found the ticket (130 soles per person) too expensive and decided to visit the ruins visible on the slopes on the other side of Ollantaytambo instead. Wise decision. Not only was there no entrance fee for the site called Pinkuylluna but the path leading up the hill provided a lovely walk. The remains of the store houses built in the hills are more than worth a visit and so is the view.



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If you want to visit: the site is open for visitors from seven in the morning till five at noon. According to the note at the entrance the climb up the hill is not for the faint of heart and even dangerous. Well, it is not that risky and the path is well maintained. But even though the locals run up and down the path on their slippers - we advise sturdy shoes or even hiking boots.



Cuy. For dinner...

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train to Cusco - it's only a model...

Ollantaytambo
We decided to take another hike up that hill early next morning.


Ollantaytambo, june 6

The noisy mountain stream served its role as early wake-up call, enabling us to be at Pinkuylluna's gate at 7am. Thirty minutes after we were already close to the summit, enjoying sunrise over the Inca ruins.
Since it still is our holiday and relaxing is part of it, the rest of the morning was spent in Mama Simona's streamside garden. The hammocks, maté de coca (coca leaf infusion) and the scenery guaranteed an enjoyable finish of our stay in Ollantaytambo.



Torito's

..and other assorted fun objects..

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Explorer #73
Machu Picchu is located in the Holy Valley on a plateau, more or less on the spot where the valley is at its narrowest. There is no motorway leading there. The only possible way of getting there is take a Peru Rail (or Inca Rail) train from Poroy (suburban Cusco) via Ollantaytambo to Aguas Caliëntes.

Peru Rail Explorer #73 leaves Ollantaytambo at 12:58pm but, being railwaystaff, we wanted to study Peruvian Rail in detail which made us arrive early at bustling Ollantaytambo station. Actually railways in Peru are almost extinct nowadays except for some mining lines and some touristic lines in the south like this one.

Ollantaytambo yard comprises of three tracks and has no platforms. No need because the narrow-gauge coaches have a low entrance which makes it easy to board from railtop level. On track two a rake of five coaches was stationed, of which two were covered with tarps. Quite odd since covering a coach with a tarp is a practice we only know to obscure a damaged object. In this case is was done to keep the coaches cool in the blazing sun since the roofs are partially panoramic glass.

Diesel engine 520 (made by Alco) pulls in and supplies the necessary camera action while shunting our train in place. The tarps were removed and we could enter our coach "A". Yes, one of the panoramic ones. Lunch included...



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our traction animal
to Aguas Caliëntes

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We were allocated good seats under an open window so taking pics outside of the increasing intensity of the "Valle Sagrada de los Incas" (Holy Valley). The entire region, wedged between the tall mountains is blessed with fertile soil, hot springs, mountain springs and salty wells. Long before the Inca's took reign, several tribes used and cherished these riches. This centre of the Inca empire is not only fertile but of a breathtaking beauty as well. No wonder the contemporary inhabitants still revere nature and do their best not to spoil it.

The 35 kilometer ride from Cusco to Aguas Caliëntes takes 90 minutes: maximum trackspeed is 48 km/h (30 mph) and very curvy, hence several speed restrictions.

Arrival in Aguas Caliëntes is unusual for a railway terminal; dead in the middle of Main Street with hotels and restaurants left and right of the single track. This figures since the railway is the lifeline of the city as it is not connected via a motorway. This means no cars and therefor no streets. The only motorized traffic is the fleet of minivans, shuttling between Main Street and Machu Picchu (MaPi). Makes you wonder how these minivans ever arrived in Aguas Caliëntes...
Our Hostal Machu Picchu was untraceable. It sounds silly in a small town like this but even traffic cops could not direct us. As it turned out the address on our voucher was nonexistent and the are TWO hotels with the same name.

There are two options to reach MaPi (at 2430 meters) from Aguas Caliëntes (at 2000 meters):

  • hiking uphill by way of the trail; about one hour of climbing steep steps AND good physical condition required
  • by bus ($12 one-way, takes approx. 25 minutes)
Hint: if you plan by using the shuttle bus, buy the ticket well in advance. The queue at the one (and only) ticket booth is considerable in the early morning. Tickets can be purchased three days in advance.



alongside Urubamba river

Aguas Caliëntes

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Lifeline of Aguas Caliëntes
Time to kill in Aguas Caliëntes, so we took a hike into the Valley, direction Machu Picchu to check out the area. When looking up the mountain on the proper spot one can see a fragment high up of what is to be expected tomorrow...


Machu Picchu, june 7

No need for an alarm for early rise: we were early by natural cause. It was a good thing though since the queue for the buses was considerable at 6am. It took 15 minutes waiting before we could enter our ride, aptly numbered #13. An ominous start? At the end of the ride another queue to enter Machu Picchu. Ever been to Disney Land?



Queuing for the ride up..

..and queuing for the entrance..

Machu Picchu

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Yes it is true. The old Inca settlement is crowded. We can relate because this is the most impressive archeologic complex we have seen so far. The location itself is magnificent; wedged between two mountain ranges. The fact that the Spanish conquerors have never discovered this settlement (and therefor not destroyed it) shows: everything is still there. The roofs of the building are missing but for the rest it is all there and in almost mint condition. When the northamerican (Yale) professor Hiram Bingham re-discovered Machu Picchu in 1911 he asked himself: " "Would anyone believe what I have found?". He and his team took over three years to clean and documentate the complex.



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Maintenance with dedication
The infinite flow of visitors is looped in and around the complex via a one-way loop; along terraces, dwellings, temples, storages. Wherever you walk and look: the view is breathtaking.



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Those who feel like more views from higher up can mount adjacent Huayana Picchu but keep in mind that you need to register at least four months in advance! Only two groups of 200 pax each are admitted to the (demanding) climb at 8am and 10am. If you are not able to make this, there is always Intipunku (the Solar Gate) and Inca Bridge on the other side of the complex.

We did not manage to take everything in on one day, since we had to start descending at about 2pm in order to catch our train back to Cusco.



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Back to Aguas Caliëntes using the hard way; 400 meters (vertical difference) downhill by means of stone steps and paths. I started counting steps but lost track halfway. With good physical condition you can walk downhill in 35 minutes, and another 20 minutes back to Aguas Caliëntes.



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Intiwatana

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Cusco, june 8

Back in Cusco for our last day in Peru. One thing on the bucket list left: Santo Domingo monastery.
East of Plaza de Armas we entered a narrow alleyway, walled with Inca masonry. A small gate led us by chance onto a grassy yard. Looked like a little sanctuary, away from the crowds. Some llamas were minded by a nun. A few "tourist-stuff" shops; the staff busy weaving or knitting. To complete the scenery: an Inca-chief, surrounded by dozens of instruments and parafernalia, was performing ritual shaman music and dance. Impressive and peaceful at the same time.

We had to force ourselves to say goodbye to this little sanctuary and move on the monastery.



this llama needs a hairdo

..where we come from this
represents a local joke..

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The monastery is built on the remains of the walls of the most important temple of old Cusco: the Qorikancha (sun temple). After a destructive earthquake in 1950 the archeologists were able to relocate many remains of the temple, restored and put on display. Fifteen soles buys an entry ticket for the monastery and the adjacent garden, which not only offers flowers but hummingbirds and butterflies as well. We spent over 30 minutes waiting for a hummingbird to sit and pose for the camera...

Past lunchtime. Time flies! We returned to the same café in call Tanda Pata near San Blas, simply because their homemade cakes were incredible the week before.



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Hummingbird..

..finally..

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Time to go hunting for the last souvenirs and San Blas market square is the place to be. In between the common "Made in China"-trash we picked out well-made handcrafted llamas, authentic terracotta toritos and even some almost perfect replica's of Peruvian pottery. The fact that the shop owners leave you in peace during your hunt makes browsing pleasant.

While planning we had several sources mentioning that one of the best traditional Peruvian restaurants in Cusco is KusiKuy (Calle Amargura 140). We have tried this gem and can confirm our sources: they were right. This restaurant is good! The owner himself acts as maître d', waiter, chef and animator. His suggestions are well-chosen and combine perfect. On the menu you will find "cuy", prepared in several ways. For most Europeans this will be a bridge too far since "cuy" serves as pets for our kids: guinea pig. Select the one you want prepared from a cage in the back...

This was our last night in Cusco, and in Peru for that matter. On the way back home tomorrow.


Cusco - Lima - Amsterdam, june 9/10

Our transfer delivered us on Cusco Airport on the 11:30am-dot for our local one-hour flight to Lima on Star Peru flight 2I 1183. According to the e-ticket boarding would be at 1pm so plenty of time. But... wait a moment..? there IS no flight 2I-1183, and no take-offs at 1:30pm at all. But that does not surprise us any longer. At the baggage drop-off we receive boarding passes for flight 2I-1182, dep 12:40pm. Fine with us, but a good thing we were at the airport early.

Star Peru operates older BAe 146-100's, which is good news for me since a flight on a Ae 146 still fails in my log. To top things off we were allocated seats 1E/1F; more or less on the captains' lap. The plane is configured 16 rows of 6i. Kind of a flying "coletivo". (Coletivo's are the minivans all over Peru which serve local public transport).

A breathtaking 75-minute flight over the Andes, which are particularly clouded today. Upon arrival in Lima: heavily clouded.

What to do during a 5-hour lay-over? Editing and completing the travelog waiting for the baggage-drop off to open. Lima International is quite big but lacks the dynamic and entertainment of Hong Kong or JFK.

Flight KL744 naar Amsterdam was a four month old 777-300ER, which showed. Everything still smelled like new. And what a difference with the inbound 777; looked like leg-room was more spacious. The individual entertainment screens are modern OLEDs and offer a new function: seat-to-seat chat! KLM now offers in-air dating rooms....

Smooth ride, good food. Slept well taking into view that traveling back east makes you "follow the light" ánd advance 7 hours. Not optimum for biorhytm. In Amsterdam on the dot (3:25pm), quick luggage collect and on the homebound Intercity service at 4:09pm.



the Andes
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Adíos Peru
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Hello Schiphol
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the traditional homecoming
can not fail
Peru? An incredible versatile country with incredible friendly inhabitants. Sure, there are tourists but mass tourism fortunately did not spoil the country (yet). We saw that most foreigners were visiting Machu Picchu, but there is só much more to see and do. Flora and fauna at sealevel but at 4500 m altitude as well. Tall but hikeable mountain trails. Lake Titicaca with islands. Cozy and interesting cities like Cusco.
A 12-hour flight from West-Europe. Plenty of accommodations at affordable rates. Easy and cheap over land travel by long-distance coaches. Excellent food and drinks. Why stick to the beaten paths in Europe or Asia? getreden oorden in Europa gaat.

Two things that many people underestimate when travelling to the Andes: altitude and high ultraviolet-levels. Give yourself time to get used to the altitude by planning 2-3 days to travel from sealevel upwards and always wear a wide-rimmed hat during daytime.

Adíos Peru!! We will be back for sure...




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