This was my first trip to Peru since the grand re-opening of Jorge Chávez International Airport. Until now, all the of my trips in and out of Lima had been through a temporary warehouse-type building with no air conditioning while they rebuilt the departure gates and shopping areas. All the planes parked just outside the terminal and the passengers had to take buses to and from the airplane, which added considerable time to the boarding process. In March, I got to deplane through a jet way into a brand new concourse and go through the new customs area which was among the nicest airports I’ve ever been through. Coming out of the baggage claim area, you still need to run the gauntlet of taxi drivers offering to drive you into the city, with the drivers getting less safe, less reputable as well as less expensive the farther you walk.
This time, Pili decided to take me to the south again, this time to the coastal city of Paracas. Paracas is a small little town, just south of Pisco and we took a double decker bus for the three hour trip. This time, we were on Ormeño, which was not as nice as the buscama from a year earlier, but the bus was still pretty cool -a double decker with a dual front axle, which you don’t see any of here in the states. We arrived just after lunch and checked into the Hotel Paracas (closed until 2009 due to earthquake damge) for our weekend stay. The hotel was beautiful, with rooms line up on either side of the restaurant and a nice swimming pool with an island and a swim-up bar. We walked out of our room and saw a girl sitting at a desk selling tours of the sand dunes. I had known I wanted to do this since we planned the trip, so we signed up right away for later that afternoon. (Note: I had previously had a link to sandtours.com here, but the site has been down since shortly after the earthquake in 2007 and I fear, sadly, that they may be out of business now.)
It was just Pili and I in the four-seater dune buggy, along with our driver who was very friendly. We drove on paved roads for about 10 minutes, then on dirt roads for about another 10 minutes to get to the turn off for the dunes. Almost without warning, the driver just yanks the dune buggy onto the sand, then starts climbing sideways up the dunes. He started out pretty tamely, but then got a little more aggressive with the driving. Basically, he would drive to the top of a sand dune and park right on the top of it. We’d be looking down the dune, at about a 45 degree angle, look over at him, thinking “we’re not going down that are we?” just as he guns it and heads straight down the dune. Eventually, towards the bottom of the dune, the driver gradually turns the dune buggy so that you parallel the dune and slow down. We asked him if he ever flips the buggy when he does this and he said not by accident, but he could make it happen if we wanted. We declined.
About 30 minutes or so into the trip, we stopped at the top of the dunes for some breathtaking views – all you can see for miles and miles are the dunes and ocean. A few minutes later, the driver took us to another part of the dunes where you’re allowed to use a snowboard-type board to go down the dunes. The first few times, you go down sitting on the board, but after you get the hang of it, you can go down standing up. This sand dune tour was honestly one of the funnest things I’ve ever done! I tell people it’s like when you’re flying over a mountain range and you look down and wish you could just strap on a snowboard head down, well it’s kind of like getting to live that out in real life… That night we had a great dinner at the Hotel Paracas restaurant which has a buffet featuring foods from all around Peru.
The next morning, we took a boat tour out to the main attraction of Paracas, which is the Ballestas Islands. These islands as known as the mini Galapagos Islands as they are home to over 160 species and seven million birds in the high season! The two hour boat ride takes you around the islands where you see literally thousands of sea lions, penguins and all sorts of birds. It is amazing to see that many sea lions all packed in together on the same island with all the birds and the penguins, all living together very peacefully. As you can imagine with all those animals, also come a lot of “byproduct” which is still harvested to use as fertilizer. At some points, the smell from the islands is so overpowering they pass out cotton pieces with alcohol to rub under your nose, which actually helps very well!
On the way back from the islands, our boat drove past a huge marking in the ground named El Candelabro (The Candelabra). While this is not nearly as big as one of the Nazca lines, it is big enough that it can only be viewed from about a half a mile away out in the ocean and it does point directly at the Nazca lines further inland. Just like the Nazca lines, no one is sure how this was created or by whom.
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Pili and I decided to do our civil wedding in June of 2005 to get a head start on her waiver so we could live in the US after we got married. For this trip, my parents flew down to Lima with me for their first trip to Peru. We arrived in Lima just before midnight and dropped my parents off at the Las Americas Hotel in Miraflores then headed to Pili’s house. That week, we visited several museums in Lima and took a guided tour by Mario, who arranges tours for groups of people that visited Pili’s office from overseas.
Mario picked us all up in his car right on time on Tuesday morning outside of my parent’s hotel. He was a great tour guide and took us to see Barranco, Chorrillos, Miraflores, Love Park, the Huaca Pucllana ruins, San Isidro, Chinatown for lunch, Lima’s main Plaza de Armas, the Capitol building, the President’s house, San Francisco church and the catacombs underneath it which are the final resting place for about 70,000 people. In all, we were with Mario for 8 hours!
The next day was our wedding, which was in the courthouse of the Surco district. Starting about 8 am, we received about twelve flower bouquets that soon filled the house. We did our civil wedding about seven month before our church wedding, but many people do them on the same day. The ceremony was very nice, and lasted about an hour total, including a small reception afterwards. In attendance were both our parents as well as most of Pili’s close friends and family, who served as legal witnesses. The night of the wedding, Pili’s mom treated us to a beautiful reception at their house in Monterrico with the people who were at the wedding and some other friends of theirs. That night, Pili and I took off for a quick two night “honeymoon” at the Las Americas El Pueblo Resort and Convention Center outside of Lima. Later that week, we went to eat with my parents at two of our favorite restaurants in Lima, LaHermita and Astrid y Gaston, as well as touring more of Lima.
Click here to see pictures from our civil wedding.
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This was one of my most favorite trips to Peru. For this trip, Pili planned a visit for us to a town in the North called Huaraz. We left Lima by bus the day after I arrived on Cruz del Sur, which I had no idea at the time was mostly through mountains on roads with hairpin turns and no guardrails. We left Lima in the morning in a fairly moderate climate and by the time we were an hour or so out of Huaraz, it was snowing outside and the bus windows were completely fogged up. Huaraz is a town that is famous among climbers, hikers and backpackers as having some of the best trails in the world and we set out with no real plans but to see what the town offered us. Pili had been there a few times as a child, but had not been there in many years. She chose the awesome hotel Churup as our place to stay, which was a four story hostel with a great open room at the top floor with a bar/cafe, fireplace and couches – and an incredible view of the mountains. Our first day, we headed across the street to one of the many local outdoor outfitters and booked a few trips for the week. The first trip would be around Huaraz and to Yungay, the second a horseback ride through the Callejón de Huaylas and the hike up a glacier.
The next morning, we boarded a small bus for the trip to Yungay. I had no previous knowledge of the Peruvian earthquake of 1970 before this trip, so this was a real eye-opener. Yungay is essentially a huge cemetery that was once a town of 40,000 people near the base of a mountain.
On May 31, 1970, an earthquake hit off the coast of Peru and triggered avalanche of glacial ice, rocks and mud that essentially decimated the entire town, killing nearly every resident instantaneously. Where the town once was is now open to the public. You can tour the town and see evidence of what was once the town center (tops of buildings, overturned buses), but it is eerily quiet and quite moving. The damage done to the town was so severe that they never attempted to excavate the site and instead left everyone below the ground and have declared the site as a national cemetery. After that, we stopped in a small town and had some ice cream, then made the long, dusty drive up to Lake Chinanchocha, which is a small lake 3,850 meters above sea level which sits at the top of a mountain. There was not too much to do at the top, but the lake has an incredible blue color and does look quite cool sitting at the top of a mountain, so it was definitely worth it. You can also rent a canoe and paddle around if you like.
The second day, we set out to do some horseback riding at a small canyon about half an hour outside of Huaraz. We had booked through the same travel agency that had put us on the tour yesterday, but for today, there was no bus. Instead, they paid for us to take a taxi to a small bus station where they then put us on a micro that was heading in our direction. I’m 6′ 0″ and don’t normally do too well on micros, but I managed to get a seat that faced backward and could stretch my legs out by the sliding door. We got to our stop about a 1/2 hour later and were met my a very nice family with a farm who rents out their horses for these trips.
The trip was really great. We did a kind of horseshoe shaped trail around the inside of a valley between two mountains. The farther in we went, the more remote it got. I got to see parts of Peru that most people will never, ever see. We saw people living in places like time had no meaning. There were small houses with no electricity and I’m sure no running water, but everyone seemed to be quite happy going about their businesses. No building codes here. Most families had a few animals and some land to grow food on. We eventually got to a point where there were some kids who I swore had never seen tourists or a gringo like me! They were definitely curious about us, but were so shy that they’d hide as soon as we looked at them! I instantly wished that I’d bought a Polaroid I-Zone camera, like Rick had brought with him to Mexico. This is basically a small instant camera that gives you small 1″x1 1/2″ pictures that you can take and give to the kids. In his experiences, the kids were always thrilled with this because most of them had never seen nor had pictures of themselves. Oh, well. Next time I find myself on the back of a horse in the Callejón de Huaylas, I’ll be better prepared.
That night, we found ourselves eating at a Thai restaurant in Huaraz, Siam de los Andes. I only mention it here because to date, it was the spiciest food I’ve ever eaten in my life. We even asked them not to make the dishes too spicy, because we’d heard that the food was hot, and even then neither of us could come close to finishing our meals. We decided to take the food “to go” and gave it to some local kids in town who were asking for money. I felt good and bad at the same time for giving them this food.
Our third day in Huaraz, we headed out by bus to Pastoruri glacier. This was once a huge glacier, one of the biggest in the tropics, but is quickly dwidling down in size every year due to rising temperatures in the area. Our tour bus took us to the farthest that the road reaches, at about 5,200 meters elevation. At this point, there are some people selling handmade hats and gloves, which we gladly bought, and also some food vendors. There were also a line of about 15 mules that you could pay about 50 cents take up another 50 meters or so up a very steep trail to the final path up the glacier. Let me think about that – yep! Sign us up. Out of our entire bus, we were the only two who opted to use the burros. Hey, you gotta support the local economy, right? At the beginning of the path up to the glacier there were men there who for roughly the same price as the burros, would carry people up on their back! Now, if I had any shame at all left in me after passing the other tourists on a burro a few minutes back, my pride just couldn’t let me sit on the back of a full grown man (who quickly put to rest any doubts I had about them being able to carry a 200+ lb man when asked if they meant me when offering to carry people with a confident “Si!”).
Pili and I made it to just about the summit of the glacier. Neither of us were really equipped to make it all the way to the top, and I had a feeling like I had about two pisco sours inside me, so we decided to head back to the parking lot and bought some hard boiled eggs from one of the vendors.
We headed back to Lima the next day in the morning. Had I known a little more about how dangerous some of the buses can be in Peru, I might have been a little scared on the way home, but instead we just watched whatever movie they had on the bus and arrived intact 8 hours later.
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I decided to spend my 30th birthday in Peru with Pili. I arrived a few days before an didn’t do too much besides relax at Pili’s house and watch a lot of television. The day of my birthday, Pili’s mom made a great meal at her house and surprised me with a birthday Tiramisu! That night, we went to a bar called Spa, which I believe actually used to be a spa. Spa is an ultra-modern, minimalist design club and was actually a great place to hang out for the night.
Pili had to work the whole week, so we couldn’t take any trips, but we did go out almost every night and took a trip to Miraflores to watch the paragliders one afternoon. This was pretty relaxing trip to Peru and one of the first where I started to feel like more of a local in certain situations than a tourist. I was getting to know all the roads, shops and restaurants quite well. During this trip, we also visited alot of wedding-related places and bought some of the liqour for the wedding. We went to a few of the weddings that the wedding planner Pili was working with was hosting and got some ideas for our upcoming wedding.
Click here to see pictures from this trip