Our Peruvian top 5

Well we’ve been home for a few weeks now, long enough for me to have surgery to remove a growth from my left hand.  Also long enough for us to reflect on our time away and select a few standout moments from our travels. Peru is an amazing country, so much to see and do that even in our 18 days there we didn’t really scratched the surface.

If we had to pick a top 5 what would it be? Here are a few ideas that came to us. They are in no particular order.

1. Suasi Island
A paradise on earth, remote and isolated and designed purely to help you relax.DSC_1534 DSC_1560

2. Colca Canyon
Home of the condors, the day we were there was apparently one of the best days in terms of condor spotting they’ve had for a while.Image (41)-800x530 DSC_0912

3. Machu Picchu
Breath taking and simply amazing. How they managed to construct such a place is just beyond words.DSC_1236-800x530 DSC_1349-530x800

4. Cusco
A beautiful city with a rich and colourful history and a sense of vibrancy we didn’t see elsewhere.DSC_0986-530x800 DSC_0961-800x530

5. Arequipa
Yet another city with real spirit, the people were so friendly.DSC_0676 DSC_1006

Of course none of this would have been possible without Natalie at Peregrine in Melbourne, who put up with all our emails to get this sorted.

Then there is Raul, our personal guide through our travels, he has gone above and beyond in the way he has helped us. He knows just when to offer advice and in his words ‘when to abandon us’ to our own devices. Over our time together he has not only helped us explore Peru but let us into his world as well.  Thank you Raul for making this a truly memorable experience for us.

So for now that was our South American travels, now to begin work on our next trip.  New Zealand in April 2017.

Santiago…

After a late arrival into Santiago we had been looking forward to a sleep in, but no, our tour starts with an 8.00 pickup. Our guide, Christian, is a very happy and upbeat guy who is bursting with energy. This is good as we’re a bit sluggish to start with.

Our first stop is San Cristobel, a hill overlooking the city. The views are amazing, you see Santiago laid out before you with the snow capped Ande’s just out of touching distance. DSC_1766-800x530The hill also features a old church as well as a huge outdoor church that apparently is packed every Sunday. The old church has links to the Basque community in Spain.DSC_1779-800x530DSC_1776-530x800

From here we drive down into the city itself for a walk around. You can see the influence of different groups in the architecture of Santiago.  There are buildings that are distinctly French or English by design but perhaps the most striking area is around the stock market on Nuevo York street. You can guess the influence here.DSC_1806-530x800

As we enter the square near the President’s Palace the changing of the guard us taking place.  They occasionally have guest bands for this and today’s is from Argentina. The pageantry is quite something to see, formation marching and military pride on display.DSC_1789-800x530

We then wander along one of the pedestrian malls,  stopping for a coffee, a good coffee… Chile developed a tradition in the late 80’s of having coffee served by women in very short skirts. Café con piernas (literally, Spanish for “coffee with legs”) is a coffee shop style popular in Chile where the service staff consists of females dressed in clothing considered to be revealing. There are no tables or seats, instead a high counter to stand at while you drink your coffee. No seats means people dont linger, it’s in drink and out.

From here we enter Plaza de Armas, a central square surrounded by churches, museums and government buildings. The square itself is filled with local art as well as a mini-botanic garden to showcase local and exitic species. There are also numerous street sellers as well as some beggars and homeless folk, you heart wants to help but Christian informs us many are scammers, similar to those we saw elsewhere in South America.DSC_1824-800x530

Next on our walk we Mercado Centrale, a market whose main commodity is seafood. We stroll for a while taking in the sights and smells,  the produce is amazing and the prices, well some are so cheap.  The market also features a range of restaurants but we aren’t stopping here for food as it’s off to winery country for us.

Our driver collects us and we head out of town to visit a local winery. Before this though we stop for lunch at a place featuring local food. We start with a local corn dish called ‘Pastel de Choclo’, a blend of corn ground with chopped onion, meat, eggs, olives and local spices.  It’s served piping hot with crusty bread, we need to get the recipe… we follow this with empanadas. A good local meal.

Then it’s on to Concha Y Toro for our winery tour. We discover thst although Chile makes some exceptional wine local consumption is very low,  most of the wine is exported. A good thing too,  we will be on a little buying spree when we get home.. Our tour is also the first time that our little twosome became a foursome,  we had two Canadian flight attendants join us. It was good to have extras along to join the fun.DSC_1847-800x530DSC_1846-800x530

Then it was back to town for us. The traffic here is like most we’ve seen, people create their own lanes and squeeze cars into gaps way too small.  Road rage is seldom seen but use of the horn is common.

After a good sleep we spent Tuesday wandering the streets on our own. We’d seen a couple of cafés in the square during our tour so decided to visit one for desunyo (breakfast), mmm a mixed choice. The pancakes were sensational,  filled with a luscious caramel and coated with icing sugar, and for breakfast too. Our waiter, who looked about 80 brought us our coffee. A pot of hot water and a bowl of nescafe… mmmm .

After this we wandered around just taking in the sights. We booked a tour to Valparaiso for Wednesday,  more on that later. We did visit several museums,  never again will I complain about our students behaviour on excursions. In one museum we encountered a mass of students on a day trip.  Their main aim seemed to be playing hide and seek around the exhibits,  doing their hair in the mirrors  (boys and girls!) and taking selfies. Oh and never mind the noise,  you could hear them all over. Security looked on disapprovingly while their teachers appeared disinterested in proceedings. Sadly teaching is not a highly regarded profession here, so it doesn’t attract the highest quality candidates. This is then reflected in poor standards, something several people we spoke to lamented.

That night we had dinner at a local place down the street from our hotel. At 7pm we had the place to ourselves,  Chileans don’t go out for dinner until after 8, many not until much later. The food and wine were amazing, not sure about excess baggage,  just hope they dont weigh me!

Wednesday saw us head to Viña del Mar and Valparaiso,  two seaside towns about 100 km from Santiago.  We were picked up from the hotel and then taken to a meeting point to board the bus.  The tour was okay, not quite up to the standard we’d become used to. Out of a bus of 40 or so there were only 4 English speakers so a lot of the comments were lost to us. We had mainly wanted to go to Valparaiso and relax by the beach so possibly i picked the wrong tour for us.  It did improve in the afternoon when we reached Valparaiso itself, it’s an amazing town built on steep hills by the coast with a rich history of colourful housing and interesting characters.DSC_1924-530x800 DSC_1923-800x530 DSC_1920-800x530 DSC_1915-800x530 DSC_1911-530x800 By the time we returned to our hotel after battling Santiago peak hour traffic we were too tired to go out for dinner. We grabbed sushi from the place next door and chilled in our room with a good Chilean red wine and sub-title movies.

Today was the last say of our South American odyssey,  we started the day with a walk into town. Then headed to an outdoor cafe we’d spotted that consists of four VW Kombi’s in a courtyard.  Only one was open, not to mind though it had the best coffee of the trip, served up with a rich chocolate brownie. The rest of the day was spent navigating Santiago’s Metro system, fairly simple once you get the hang of it, to visit a local mall and have lunch. We were also going to go up the tower there, the tallest building in Latin America.  But by the time we eaten and done some shopping robot mode took over and we headed back to the metro station..

So now we are packing, mmm will it all fit, before waiting for our driver to take us to the airport. Hopefully no baggage mishaps this time, i did try for upgrades with LAN after our last flight but they don’t seem forthcoming.

Thanks for a great trip South America,  when we get home we can look at a highlights package. There are just so many that it might take a few days or weeks.

Bolivia…

The border crossing into Bolivia is an interesting experience.  Raul introduced us to our Bolivian guide, Juan Carlos, who then took over. The farewell to Raul was a little sad, we’d gotten to know him quite well.DSC_1632 (1)-800x530

Juan Carlos then lead us to the immigration queue, where we jumped ahead as our local guide Sandro was holding a place for us. Jumped over 100 people and saved about an hour, needless to say there were a few grumbles. The driver went ahead with our bags, they were in Bolivia while we still queued to leave Peru. Immigration involved them taking our entrance card, stamping our passports and waving us away. We then walked across the bridge into Bolivia and joined another queue, again Sandro had jumped the queue for us, more grumbles but more time saved.  As soon as you cross the border you notice a change, it seemed more chaotic and less friendly.

Our journey then started along a dusty, rutted road out of the border town of Desquerado.  Sandro was giving us information about Bolivia and it’s way of life. First stop on the way to La Paz was the town of Tihuanaco where we saw ruins accredited to the Aymara peoples. DSC_1634-800x530The cultures in this region are very much like Peru, the stonework and stories very similar. Sadly the museum here, although new, is mostly closed due to rain damage. Sandro tells us there is no money to fix it due to government corruption,  this is apparently a common occurrence.

From here it’s on to La Paz itself, the roads are good but as in Peru everywhere is very dry and dusty. Before reaching La Paz though we have to go through El Alto, formerly a suburb but now a city in it’s own right.  As it was formed out of necessity due to La Paz not being able to administer it properly it developed quickly and with little planning. Due to corruption roads and other infrastructure have not been completed. Sandro tells us that initially it was quite lawless, a sort of modern day wild west. Some areas are still quite dangerous especially at night. Many people here travel into La Paz each day to work hence El Alto is often called the ‘bedroom of La Paz’. It is also the location of the international airport,  there is not enough flat land in La Paz,  At around 4000m it’s the highest commercial airport in the world, or so we are told.DSC_1707-800x530

The drive down into La Paz can only be described as chaotic, there seems to be no rules other than he with the biggest vehicle goes first. Our first impressions are that tbe city is crowded and hectic. When we arrive at our hotel it seems to be in a market zone, street stalls and sellers are everywhere.  Juan Carlos suggests we rest and meet at about 6 for a walk and dinner. The city walk we will do in the morning as today is a big street dance and it will be very busy, sounds like a great idea to us. Our room overlooks a courtyard. With  few hours to rest we hit the wifi to see what the world is up to. Wifi speeds this far have been erratic,  this hotel, the Rosario, has very fast wifi. The room is a little weird though in that we have the restaurant toilet right outside our door. Then when you enter the room the first thing you see is our toilet, the bathroom door always swings open.

At 6 we meet Juan Carlos for a walk and dinner. First we visit the Witches Market, in the corner by our hotel, they sell all manner if things to allow the locals to honour Pachamama, the Mother Earth. They are bright and colourful and full of the aroma of burning herbs and wood. Local artisans are also selling crafts, i finally succumb and buy a Alpaca wool jacket. DSC_1700-800x530After strolling the steep streets for a while Juan Carlos leads us to a very cool restaurant located in a house around 400 yrs old. It’s decorated with all manner of Bolivian history, no photos are allowed though. After dinner we head back for an early night, seems again like we’ve been awake for ages.

Our morning walk takes us through a Sunday market where again everything is for sale. As we walk we pass through streets devoted to individual items. Watch out Harvey Norman,  these guys cram their stores full of bargains. From the markets it’s through a row of terraced buildings to an important square. It’s surrounded on all sides by government buildings as well as important churches.  The President’s Guards are outside the Congress offices signifying that he is in the building.DSC_1727-800x530

The main road through La Paz has been closed in one direction for billy cart races. Imagine doing this on St George’s Terrace! It’s quite cool to watch the homemade carts take a run down the street, some look decidedly unsafe.DSC_1745-800x530

As we head back to the hotel we ask Juan Carlos about the infamous San Pedro Prison.  Helen and I have both been reading Marching Powder,  the story of an English drug smuggler arrested in La Paz after a bribe went wrong. It’s quite an interesting read. He points us ine the direction of the prison, based on being in tbe square we were in earlier.  We head back to tbe hotel to end our time with Juan Carlos.  After a rest, streets here are very steep, we set out to see the prison, and where up until 2009 you could go on tours run by the inmates.DSC_1755-800x530

We backtrack to the square then follow the directions,  mmm, no prison here. We head back to the square and ask some police for directions.  Their English is not good at but we get the idea and head off in the opposite direction to before,  no prison here either.  We ask another policeman, get new directions, these are no good either. Almost ready to give up we log into free wifi at a Burger King, just the wifi, not eating there. From here we see none of the directions we’ve received have been any good. At least though we know where we are going.

Finally we reach the prison,  its visiting day and families are lined up outside. I try to take a picture by am waved away by armed guards. We watch for a while then move to the side if the square facing tbe prison. I take what I thought was a sneaky picture and we move on or try to. A guard appears and demands to see my camera,  he insists i delete pictures of the prison. He has a rifle, so the pictures go. At least though we’ve seen the placethe book is centred on.

Back at the hotel we relax until our pickup for the trip to the airport.  There are no direct roads here, it seems we go in circles but we get to the airport and check in. After our two flights we make it to Santiago and collect our bags.  Outside we are greeted by a driver who takes us to our hotel, quite nice it is too. Here things don’t do so well though. On opening our bags we discover that somewhere in transit they’ve been opened, despite being locked. All our things have been ransacked. The toiletries bag that was in my case is open and things scattered through my bag. Likewise the gadget bag I carry with cables and chargers is also opened and scattered.  The backup hard drive that was in the bag is still there thankfully but no longer in it’s leather case. Looking at time at airports our suspicions fall on baggage staff at La Paz, the only place really where there was time.  Also at Inquique this would maybe explain the reason my bag was so slow at coming out compared to Helen’s. The whole thing leaves a sour taste in our mouths. I’ve reported it to LATAM Air but don’t expect much to happen.

So goodbye Bolivia, hello Chile,  lets see what a new day brings.

Sillustani……..

After our magical time on Suasi Island we were thinking that Peru had given us a brilliant going away present. That was until we got to Sillustani…. wow were we wrong.DSC_1600-600x906

Sillistani shows ancient burial towers,  much like family’s today that have a mausoleum. Our guide, Aldo, who is the local guide’s union leader, had a few surprises for us.DSC_1605-600x906

He showed us the towers and the fact that there are still skeletons in them, very creepy.

But he wasn’t done there, as we walked and he explained things he suddenly stopped. He told Helen to close her eyes, then told me to place a hand on her shoulder and close my eyes. Then leading Helen by the hand he lead us along a rocky pathway, always telling us to keep our eyes closed. After what seemed ages, the cold wind was now chilling us to the bone, he told us to open our eyes. The sight that greeted us was just amazing, an island in the middle of a lake with the sun beginning to set. Simply magic… from here the pictures do the talking…DSC_1613-906x600DSC_1617-906x600DSC_1618-906x600DSC_1631-906x600

A couple who live life in the constant pursuit of great food, drink, debauchery and adventure.