Two and a half-months is as good a time as any to write a wrap-up of our last South American country, right? We have been so busy running around the east coast of the US visiting our people that documenting our June in Peru hasn’t been on our radar much lately. But as I glanced through photos last night I was reminded of what an epic adventure we had!
The border crossing from Lake Titicaca, Bolivia on our bus en route to Arequipa, Peru was a lot less eventful than our crossing into Bolivia.
Arequipa, though you may have never heard of it, is the second largest city in Peru and, like many South American towns, has a unique blend of European and indigenous culture and architecture.
We spent a day enjoying the city, and especially enjoyed an afternoon at Chaqchao, which sells organic, local chocolates and beers. They even had real iced coffee! Not the blend of ice cream and whipped cream we now understand to be “cafe frio” in South America! It’s hard to underestimate how amazing it is to stumble upon a place like this after months of travel.
Our purpose for coming to Arequipa was to launch from here into the beautiful Colca Canyon, about four hours drive away. We won’t bore you with the details of our well documented three-day trek into this canyon, which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and back up. Obviously though, it was one of our most favorite experiences of the trip so far. And we’re thankful for social media that let’s us keep up with our awesome trekking partners as they continue to travel long-term, too!
After a few more days in Arequipa, it was onto Cusco! We opted for a short flight instead of a 10 hour bus because we were a little travel weary and it was a good thing we did: guess who got sick again? Me. It’s much better to be recovering in an airport than on a bumpy, crowded, dirty bus. We almost pushed our five-day trek to Machu Picchu back in order for me to recover more, but in the end we ended up departing on time after one full day in Cusco to rent trekking poles, find accommodations for when we returned, buy tickets for the park, get groceries, and buy fuel for our stove. While I was recovering in our room that day, Nate went out to find some lunch for himself and came back with guinea pig, seaweed, and a bunch of other typical Peruvian festival foods. Because there is seriously always a festival happening in Cusco. Anyways, I wasn’t 100% on that first 19km day to Machu Picchu, but I’m glad we stuck with our plan.
After trekking five days to finally see foggy Machu Picchu, we enjoyed a few more nights in Cusco. Our train ride back from the remote world wonder though was particularly interesting. Apparently it’s customary for the ride to include a crazy, dancing wolf-man (with full audience participation) and then a fashion show, naturally.
Back in Cusco after not dancing with the wolf-man, we visited Sacsayhuaman which is right outside the city, built by indigenous groups, including the Incas, from 10th-13th centuries.
We spent a day hunting for a memorial from a plane crash in 1970 that Nate’s Aunt Nancy was on, which Nate will write more about soon. And we took a walking tour of the city that included a stop in a hand-made Peruvian musical instrument shop and a performance from the maker himself!
We also got a lesson on how to make Pisco Sours, which after three months in South America, we were officially sick of at this point.
One of our favorite things about Cusco was undoubtedly the San Pedro Market, an open-air market designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, as in the Eiffel Tower!). Fellow long-term travelers over at Ever in Transit wrote a great post about what you can find at the San Pedro Market. We ended up buying some dried fruits and nuts, a giant loaf of freshly baked bread, some quail eggs, and lots of vegetables! We passed up on the goat heads, entire pigs, llama fetuses, boiled frogs, and octopodes. (Plural of octopus. You’re welcome.)
We made some lovely dinners in Cusco and took full advantage of our hostel’s super hip bean bag chairs as we watched soccer (of course).
While we were in Cusco, we stumbled upon a lovely cafe called The Meeting Place. It is owned by an English couple and serves as a volunteer gig for lots of American and European young adults. As if their food being outrageously delicious wasn’t enough to love them, the cafe is a non-profit which is employed entirely by volunteer staff and gives all profits to local organizations focusing on education and child welfare. Even though we were only in town for one more day, we asked the owner if there was anything we could help with. “We could use some help painting tomorrow!” he said. And so our last day in Cusco was spent painting the second floor dorm hallway alongside some great new friends.
Two dinners in Cusco are worth noting for anyone thinking of visiting. La Bodega 138 had a great, modern, laid-back atmosphere, great local beer selection, and incredible food. Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse was on the fancy side; we aim to treat ourselves to a “date night” about once a month. Even after spending every hour, every day together, we still need to be intentional about having dates! We got a flight of local meat: lamb, alpaca, and steak and it was all mouth-watering delicious! Cooked perfectly, paired well with wine, and great service here. One of the nicest restaurants in Cusco and dinner for two still only cost ~ $40!
From Cusco we took a short flight to Lima. While our AirBnb accommodations here were frustrating, we still did enjoy our time in the Miraflores neighborhood a lot. Since we shared an apartment here we did a lot of cooking and were happy to find there was a natural foods store one block over from us. Mostly, we relaxed in Lima and caught up on reading or did a bit of freelance work, but we also visited Huaca Pucllana, a huge pre-Inca/Wari temple in the center of the city that was only discovered a few decades ago. People had been building on top of it or around it for thousands of years! We took a tour, learned about local plant-life, met some great people, and shuddered as we were shown a tomb with some ancient human sacrifices. As horrific as I find the state of modern civilization sometimes, I’m grateful that ritual sacrifice is not something we’re dealing with at this point.
While at many times, our experience in Lima felt amazingly like the United States, there were some situations where it became obvious we were far from home. Parks full of cats was one of them. They’re everywhere, just lounging around or cuddling with people on park benches. Equal parts adorable and gross.
After our time in Peru, it was off to a distant but incredible familiar place: the Dominican Republic! Seeing so many familiar faces and getting a generous dose of hugs was great for our semi-lonely traveler souls. But you’ll probably have to wait another few months to read that country wrap-up!
*our country-specific graphics for these wrap-ups are designed by Boston architect Ian Scherling. Isn’t he grand?