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Trip Report Lcuy's first visit to Peru; Machu Picchu, Iquitos, and Lima

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My husband has wanted to go to Machu Picchu for a long time, and though it wasn’t as high on my Bucket List, we decided it was finally time to go this year. I knew we wanted to go in May, but didn’t even begin planning until March.

I had a hard time in the beginning. It took me a bit more than normal research to figure out where we wanted to go, and how to connect all the dots. Because it was pretty late, I worried when all the hotels in Aguas Calientes seemed full, and worried again when people started warning me about sold out trains.

When planning our dates, I was hoping to find the balance between good weather and not too many other tourists. I wanted to make this a relaxing trip, and built in time for weather, mechanical delays, and even time to just do nothing. I no longer like to rush around when traveling, especially as my husband is not nearly as interested in getting lost as I am. I’ve learned that if we fall in love with a place, there’s nothing to stop us from coming back later.

I read a lot of the reports here, and finally “got” the advice about adjusting to the altitude by heading away from Cusco at the start and returning after Machu Picchu. This was very good advice.

I am very, very bad about getting trip reports done, so this time I have started with a speed-read version, then (hopefully) I’ll post the detailed version over the weekend.

May 10: Fly Honolulu to Newark to Lima. Yes, that was our route; it was not only the fastest route, but we were able to fly first class the whole way using FF miles on Continental. A nice surprise was the lay flat seats on the EWR-Lima legs. The original flights showed regular seats, but the planes were apparently updated about two weeks before our trip.

May 11: arrive in Lima in the evening. Stay at the Costa del Sol/Ramada hotel, about 50 yards from the airport baggage claim area. $170 for a double room with a welcoming Pisco Sour, free wi-fi and business center, and a full breakfast the next morning. Very pleasant hotel, clean room, and the location can’t be beat!

May 12: 10 am flight to Cusco on LAN Airways. Mario “Chino” Tapeza and driver Juan met us at the Airport. Chino had arranged some tours of the Sacred Valley for the next couple days, but today we headed off with just Juan. $50 to Ollantaytambo including a stop at Aida’s House in Calca for lunch.We had a lovely time there, except fo a wierd run in with a travel agent. In Ollantaytambo, we stayed at Pakaritampu Hotel. $147 a night included full breakfast. Very pleasant and quiet hotel with beautiful gardens and adorable llamas wandering the grounds. It is downhill from the main plaza, and a 2-minute walk (downhill) to the MP train.

May 13: All day touring Sacred Valley sites with Jose. ($100)

May 14: Spent the day riding horses from Moray to Maras then to the salt ponds ($70 each).

May 15: We had a few hours to wander Ollanta, and lucked into the beginning parade for a festival honoring San Isidro. We followed the band and lots of costumed kids into the church for a mass, then came out and watched them parade pairs of decorated bulls through town on their way to a bullfight. We skipped the fights, and caught the Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes at 1:30, arriving at 2:50. ($53/each). We were the only passengers on the whole train. Two nights at the Sumaq Hotel included both breakfast and gourmet dinners. Our room had a balcony overlooking the raging Urubamba River with two double beds and a huge Jacuzzi type bathtub. It was $1100 for the two nights special and worth every penny.

May 16: Up to Machu Picchu! The hotel sent up an employee to wait in line for a bus and then the bus stopped at our front door! We’d bought the tickets through the hotel; bus and MP entry were $64 each, paid in cash. (10% surcharge if they went on the room bill). Lots of clouds when we arrived at MP, but it cleared up nicely around 11 am. We chose to use a book instead of a guide and were glad we did. It was nice to just sit in many of the spots and we’d brought a box lunch with us.

May 17: I had allowed time to re-visit Machu Picchu today if we wanted. Instead, we walked around, visited the hot springs, then caught the 3:20 Vistadome to Cusco ($71 each). Due to track problems, Peru Rail had told us that we’d be on the train just to Ollantaytambo, and then we’d be bussed into Poroy. Our hotel was supposed to pick us up at Poroy (outside Cusco). Sounded simple, but became a bit crazier than expected. We finally ended up at Hotel Rumi Punku ($100/night with breakfast)

May 18: Cusco- walking, sightseeing, and shopping at the Mercado San Francisco. I had some altitude headaches today, so I was very glad we’d come here at the end of our week

May 19: Half day in Cusco then flew LAN airways to Lima. We got on a flight to Iquitos, but just as we reached Iquitos the pilot turned us around and took us back to Lima due to rough weather. We were rescheduled for another flight the next morning. Walked across the street to the Ramada for a room. They gave it to us at the same $170 as our earlier stay.

May 20: Fly –again- to Iquitos. Met at the airport by our guide, Armando, for the boat trip up the Amazon River to Explorama Lodge. We were on the TGIF special at $285 for 3 days, 2 nights, all meals and activities included. Took an afternoon walk through the jungle, then stargazing after dinner

May 21: Exploring the Amazon on boat, dugout, and walking expeditions. Armando was amazing. We saw all sorts of creatures!

May 22: Visit local trip after breakfast at Explorama, then a fast boat up to their Ceiba Tops Lodge for lunch, and big boat to Iquitos. Flew back to Lima at 6 pm. Taxi to the Radisson Decapolis Miraflores Hotel. $452 for 3 nights including breakfast, Internet, gym, business center and $10 in free drinks each day.

May 23: explore Lima on foot, and then surfing at Playa Makaha. Dinner at Pescados Capitales was a real treat.

May 24: Pedro de Osma Museum, and lunch in the Barranco district, then historic center of Lima via the new public transportation system. Works like a train, but is actually buses in designated lanes. Only 1.5 Soles and faster than a taxi.

May 25: Tour Huaca Pucllana, Stopped in at Larco Mar (mall) while walking along the clffs and had a fabulous lunch at Portofino. 10:00 PM flight on Continental; Lima-Newark-Honolulu. Customs and rechecking our bags in Newark took about 10 minutes total. Six hours layover gave us time to have lunch in the airport at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, and also take showers and relax in the President's Club Lounge.

May 26: Arrived in Honolulu around 5 PM. Airport greeting and pickup in Honolulu provided by a lovely local girl. No charge.

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    Thanks for taking the time to write your report Lcuy. Much appreciated.

    Was the trip to Iquitos and the jungle worth the extra travel time? The boat ride up the river seems overwhelming. I know you have done alot of traveling in India and southeast Asia and I'm curious about how you think the jungles compare.

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    Lcuy, I'm so glad to see that you had a good South American trip altogether! Peru has my heart, and I'm so glad that you had the chance to have Armando as your guide in la amazona. I really enjoyed the Andes region of Peru, and Machu Picchu was a longtime dream of mine, but it was the rainforest that got me. (Although I have to say that seeing the Incan terraces that had been on the front cover of my fifth grade geography book made me very, very happy.)

    Jackie, I'm not lcuy, but I've been to the Iquitos jungle three times in the last seven years...definitely, definitely worth it to me, obviously. I wouldn't do a "jungle cruise", but the relatively short boat ride to the lodges is wonderfully relaxing.

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    Thanks for your report Lcuy. We are also staying at the sumaq in october. Did you climb huyana picchu? What time did you have to get on the bus? That is so awesome that the hotel will do that for you! I am so excited to sleep "in" until 5 instead of stand in line at 430 in the am!

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    Getting There
    I was surprised by how much I loved Peru. I had no preconceived notions regarding the country- good or bad- so it really fun discovering what a great place it is for traveling.
    I’ve been racking up Continental miles for a long time, and rarely spending them. I decided this was a good time to use them, and was happy to get First Class the whole way. As I mentioned earlier, the shortest route, time-wise, was the least direct route. We left Honolulu in the evening, arrived in Newark mid-day, then headed to Lima two+ hours later. The lay flat seats on the EWR-Lima leg were very comfortable and we both slept soundly for most of the eight-hour flight.

    We arrived in Lima at about 9 PM. There were a bunch of staffed foreign exchange booths and bank counters, and we saw several ATMs. One of the smaller exchange booths in the center of the hall gave us the best rates of our trip. The guy was kind enough to break down a big bill into the very small bills and coins I asked for. We were happy to only have to walk across the street to our hotel. After a very fast check-in, we stopped in the lounge for our free Pisco Sours and snacks, and then we had room service soup and went to bed.

    Neither my husband nor I are morning people, so I tried to avoid early morning flights on this trip. We had a full breakfast (included) the next morning, then walked across the sky bridge for a 10 AM flight to Cusco. Though their prices are higher, I chose two LAN roundtrips: one Lima-Cusco RT and another Lima-Iquitos. They have many flights on each of these routes every day, and I was able to call a toll free number to do the booking over the phone in US dollars. I’d tried to book Peru or Star Airways, but they had a very limited number of flights that didn’t work with my schedule AND their websites were impossible.

    The Lima airport is pretty small, but unfortunately is not laid out very well in the departures lobby. I don’t know if there were check-in kiosks, but we were hustled into a line at the end when I asked where to get a boarding pass. The entrance and exit from the check-in counters was always a tight squeeze and it was often unclear which line was which. Once you get through that and head upstairs, the airport is a lot nicer. There are quite a few places to get food or drink and several shops with interesting souvenirs at not too unreasonable prices.
    Our first time out we hung around in that area, not knowing that there were lots more shops beyond the security screening.

    Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo
    Our flight to Cusco was uneventful. LAN flights were always exactly the same. They boarded rows 12-24 first, then rows 1-11. I loved that anyone attempting to board incorrectly was immediately sent to the end of the other line! We’d walk out to the planes, but when landing would park farther away and be bussed to the terminal.

    The planes were clean; seats about average in size, but pretty close together. The attendants were always friendly and on each flight we were offered a drink and a snack box containing a piece of cake, a big chocolate truffle and some wheat crackers. All were sealed, so we still have a couple of these floating around our suitcases. The flights had little overhead TV screens that ran clips similar to Candid Camera or “Funniest Videos”. No narration or subtitles needed.

    In Cusco, a man holding up my name met us at the exit. I had made arrangements with a guide by the name of Mario “Chino” Tapeza to take us to Ollantaytambo, and then on two days of tours. I was a bit concerned when he didn’t didn’t speak much English, but then Chino ran up and introduced himself and the other man as our driver, Juan. Chino spoke excellent English and we liked him from the start.

    I had read about Aida’s House in someone’s trip report here on Fodor’s. Her home in Calca sounded like the perfect place to stop for lunch on our way to Ollantaytambo, so I had e-mailed her and gotten reservations. Chino had also spoken with her to fine-tune our arrival time and get driving directions.

    Because we wouldn’t be touring, Chino rode with us to the edge of Cusco, then hopped out and we headed to Aida’s with Juan. He dropped us off at the front gate, where Aida’s husband greeted us warmly and led us inside. His English was very limited, and my Spanish hadn’t kicked in yet, but we chatted enough to know that he was a painter originally from Puno, and the oils on the walls were all his, etc.

    This is when it became rather weird. We were seated at a table for two in a parlor, though we passed through the dining room with a table set for six. A few minutes later, another setting was placed at our table, and Juan was brought in. I don’t know who was more surprised, Juan or my husband and I. We were served drinks (Chicha Morada, yum!) and then an American woman came out, introduced us formally to Aida and her husband and asked us why we were there, and how we had found out about Aida. Her tone of voice was like she was being welcoming, but it wasn’t a, “oh, how did you find out about Aida”, but more like “how did you sneak in here?” Aida and her DH were smiling so I guessed they had no idea what she was saying
    It turned out she was Nina Foge1man, who runs a high-end tour company. She informed us that Aida and her husband are “her special friends and that all visitors are arranged through her”. It was clear she felt others should not be booking Aida’s lunches, WTH?

    Aida’s emails had been very welcoming, and nothing had been said about booking through Nina. She told us that they’d brought in our driver Juan so he could “translate”. I wasn’t about to send Juan out, but was tempted to ask if Nina would be paying for his lunch. Nina even had the gall to say she’d prefer I not mention Aida’s House to others.

    We continued to “chat” politely for a few more minutes, mostly about how special she was to the Sacred Valley community, how she had adopted several Peruvian children, etc. She gave me her business card, hinting that she was very expensive.

    Obviously I took offense at all this. In a normal setting, my husband and I might have left, but I really was hungry, and I did, after all, have a reservation.

    Finally her clients arrived, and they were seated in the dining room for their lunch and we were served ours. Same timing, different rooms. Awkward and unpleasant.

    Despite that bad start, it was really a wonderful lunch. All organic, mostly from their own garden, delicious, and beautifully served. All were traditional Peruvian dishes. We had an avocado and chicken Causa, Cream of Leek soup, a stuffed vegetable that looked looked like a pepper (I think it was a squash), served with rice and a creamy dessert somewhat like a panicotta with fresh berries. Total cost, for the three of us was the equiv of $75.

    After lunch, Mr. Aida took us out into their garden and we had fun figuring out the English/Spanish names of the huge variety of plants in the garden. Many of them were very familiar from Hawaii (Mango, papaya, mountain apple, avocado, Surinam cherry) and others were plants that I would love to grow, but can’t (like fuchsias). All in all, it was a lovely experience, and I would highly recommend it if you speak a decent amount of Spanish. aidashouse49@gmail.com

    Stuffed and happy, we headed out with Juan towards Ollantaytambo, about 45 minutes away. It was a nice drive through the valley on a beautiful, clear day. The mountain peaks were topped with snow and the countryside was still pretty green.

    Ollantaytambo sits on a hill at the end of the Sacred Valley farthest from Cusco. It is the last train stops before Aguas Calientes /Machu Picchu. The main road does a sharp turn, becomes cobblestones and you rise up a steep hill to the village. Just beyond the plaza are the Ollantaytambo ruins and a colonial church. We continued past the plaza, down the hill, and toward the train station to get to the Pakaritampu Hotel.

    The hotel is about 50 meters from the train station, although we never heard any train whistles while there. The property sits on what appear to be Inca Terraces. and is a collection of two storey pueblo style buildings in a pretty terra cotta color. The main building has the reception, an alcove with computers for guest use, a selection of drinks and snack foods, and some nice art and souvenirs for sale. Another building next to it has the dining room, a nice lobby with a fireplace, and a bar upstairs.

    The guest buildings are two stories, with little balconies on many of the second floor units. Our room was on the ground floor. We had two beds, a dining table below the TV and a desk. It was simple, but clean and the walls and furnishing were pleasant. My only complaint was that the room tended to get cold at night and there didn’t seem to be any heater. It wasn’t bad enough for us to ask about it, so maybe we just missed the heater.

    I love gardens and this hotel had nice ones. Fuchsias, roses, lilies, and a variety of other flowering plants and trees line all the walkways and lawns. They had two or three alpacas (llamas?) that wandered the grounds during the day. Each of the upper terraces had lawns with comfortable chairs scattered about. It was pretty cool when we were there in the evening, or I would have been tempted to take a book out there.

    After a drink by the fireplace, we ordered soup and salads in our room. We went out to look at the stars, and then called it a night.

    The next day was our day of touring by car. The breakfast buffet at the hotel was not huge, but the items were tasty and they cooked eggs to order. I didn’t know it that first day, but later came to realize you can’t order one fried egg in Peru. If you order one, you get a pair of eggs. If you order two, you get two pairs.

    Promptly at 9:30, Jose showed up with Juan, with some excuse about Chino not feeling well. It turned out fine, as we liked Jose a lot. We went up to the Ollantaytambo ruins first. We huffed and puffed (okay, I did, even if Jose and my DH didn’t) our way to the top, with many stops for history and photos along the way, then crossed over to the far side and came down. Jose had a lot of facts, but I really liked him because he would say things like, “I like to imagine how it was when…” There is a big rock near the main plaza. He told us that no on knows for sure what purpose the stone served, but then theorized that it was for embalming. He then jumped over the ropes, and proceeded to lie down on the stone. Before the guard below started tweeting his whistle, we could see that the impression in the stone did, in fact, fit him perfectly!

    At this point, we began to realize how the Peruvians in that part of the country are still very resentful of the Spanish conquest. The Spanish came in, took the valuables, destroyed the most important Inca sites, and plopped Spanish churches and buildings on top of the amazing Inca foundations. We heard the term Inquisition used many times regarding the conversion of Inca to Catholics. We also realized very quickly that Hiram Bingham is regarded mostly as a con man. We made the mistake once of mentioning that Hiram Bingham was originally from Hawaii and a Punahou school alumnus. Oops. The Peruvians didn’t take kindly to his claim of discovering the “lost” city and “borrowing” all the artifacts that are remain at Yale to this day.

    We then worked our way up to Chinchero village after a stop in Urubamba for lunch eat. The weaving cooperative was interesting, but Friday was a very quiet day up there. The market was closed and there may have been 10 tourists in the whole village. Even the weaver that BostonHarbor had recommended (Rosa) had taken the day off.

    We stopped at a place to watch them make Chicha and had some samples, and visited some other interesting spots that were not ruins. (I didn’t want to be ruined out before we got to Machu Picchu.) All in all, a fun day, and we were happy when Jose said we’d see him on our horse ride the next day.

    For dinner this evening, we caught a little mototaxi (tuk tuk) up the hill from our hotel to the Plaza. It wasn’t a long walk, but kind of steep and we were hungry. We checked out all the cafes around the plaza, and then had dinner at the Hearts Café. Lots of tasty and healthy foods, and craft items for sale on the wall. All the profits go to an NGO working to improve the lives of local families.

    ***

    I am not much of a hiker, but I love horses. When I travel, I always try to go on a horseback ride. You usually get to go off the beaten road, have a chance to see things from a great angle, and the horse does all the sweating. This was how I ended up choosing Chino for our guide, as he had some great reviews regarding his horse tours.

    Chino and Juan picked us up at 9 am and we headed off to Moray for the start of our ride. He asked me if I was wanted the adventurous shortcut or the regular road. I gathered the shortcut involved narrow dirt roads on mountain cliffs, so we passed on the adventure.

    Moray is the series of circular agricultural terraces that the Inca may have used for agricultural testing. There are actually several of them next to each other. One is perfect, one is half restored and one has been left as a ruin. It was quite interesting, and Chino knew a lot about the agriculture and various plants that we passed that day. The horses were up at Moray when we arrived. Our group consisted of us, Chino, Jose, and three 40-ishAmericans; a couple from Michigan and his sister, who had talked them into doing the four day Inca trail. They figured they needed one day of relaxation before they started the hike.

    None of them had been on a horse in 30 years, so we were all lucky that these were really good horses. Chino’s horse was a bit feisty, but he was a good rider. Jose’s was stubborn, but all the rest were peppy and well behaved. We rode on paths in the middle of nowhere for about an hour admiring the gorgeous scenery, the mountains and the river below. We passed a lot of kids herding sheep, and people tending their small fields. For a while, we shared the trail with some mountain bikers. That section was all downhill, so it looked like they were having fun.

    We all had picnic lunches and stopped in the town of Maras to eat on the church grounds. Chino’s “illness” the day before was explained when one of the women mentioned they’d been out touring with him the day before… oops. After lunch, we spent some time admiring the homes in Maras, then continued on through changing scenery toward the salineras (salt ponds). By this time we were all getting along well, and Jose and Chino’s ribbing of each other had us all in high spirits. It’s good we were, because it started getting chilly. We all put on our jackets or a poncho thinking that rain was coming, but it never did.

    At the salineras, we said goodbye to the horses, then congratulated ourselves on our good fortune when the ticket seller appeared to have left for the day. The salt ponds were quite interesting, especially as they were of big interest to Chino. Unfortunately, as we left the ticket guard had returned and we had to pay for entry after all!

    We wished our new friends luck on the trail and drove back to Ollanta. At the hotel, we paid Chino, and when he asked for feedback I told him not to make up stories if he got overbooked. We were glad we had been able to go with Jose, so no damage had been done. My only real complaint was that Juan’s car, although clean, had lousy shocks and it made the rides a lot less comfortable than they could have been. (Our horseback friends had a brand new Toyota, so maybe I was just jealous). I gave him a hat, a tee shirt for Jose and tips for all, thinking it would have been nicer to tip Jose and Juan personally.

    Next: Machu Picchu

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    Jackie- The trip to Iquitos was definitely worth the time! The boat ride was not that long…maybe an hour or so. My husband gets seasick, but had no problems on the river boats.

    Life on all big rivers have similarities; the crazy wooden homes on stilts, kids playing in the water, people fishing and doing laundry, but the Amazon was still very different. The animals, the noises, the culture much more overwhelming in the Amazon than the jungles & river life I’ve experienced in places like India, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. And even though we really weren’t far from Iquitos, I found it to be a lot less civilized as well.

    BH: I loved al of it, except the attitude of a night clerk in Cusco, the guide at Aida’s house, and the lukewarm “hot” springs in Aguas Calientes. The fourteen days was just perfect for the three areas. We saw everything we wanted, had time to wander aimlessly, and I even had time to read a couple of books.

    We bought a bunch of the bags you had recommended (good call!), so interesting tribal crafts, and I got some silver pins and necklaces. We also bought a ton of baby alpaca socks and cute hats for the skiers and new babies in our life. At the time I felt I was buying TONS of stuff; I got home and wished I’d bought a lot more!

    Clelbong- You’re going to love the Sumaq! We didn’t climb Huyana Picchu, and actually chose to catch the 7 am bus. The Sumag staff said that unless you are climbing HP, you can avoid the initial rush of tourists and frequent morning clouds if you go a bit later. It worked out very well for us.

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    Hahaha...Chino is busted!! Oops. I wonder if you had "Paso horses", they are supposed to be very comfy to ride.

    Looking forward to the rest.

    Very interesting about Nina. I gather that the lunch at Aida's is a special selling point for her tour company.

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    Lunch at Aida's House is a special experience, but Nina should act like a professional and take up her exclusivity (if any) with Aida, not dump on innocent travelers coming in to have a nice lunch.

    We didn't ride the Pasos. I was really interested in their unusual gait, but wasn't sure if they'd be worth an additional $60 pp.

    Instead we rode the Criollo horses. They turned out to be perfect. They were comfortable, peppy and very responsive to commands. All of us loved them, especially as the day wore on.

    However, I do wish I'd had a chance to try a Paso. Next time!

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    Glad you found the bags Lcuy. My nieces love the ones I bought for them.

    How weird that an American named Nina seems to think she "owns" Aida--how wonderfully "colonial" of her. Glad you enjoyed your lunch. I read somewhere else in this forum that in Peru, drivers expect to eat with you. I have never heard of this anywhere else, so I can see how you would be surprised. Even when I have asked a driver to join us in other countries they have always declined no matter how many times we asked.

    You day on horseback sounds wonderful! Are you going to post photos?

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    Enjoying the details of your candid report Lcuy. There are tips I can use for my own trip.

    Thanks for your impressions of the jungle and Amazon. I had a bad experience on a day trip to the jungle in Belize a few years back--8 hours in 3 different boats and didn't see much of anything except for mosquitos. So, despite have booked tickets to Puerto Maldonado, I have been reluctant to make reservations in a jungle lodge.

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    LOL, BH! I just had to call my husband with your "Colonial" remark and we both had a good laugh!!

    Peru Photos will take a while. I have to decide on a new photo service and I lost my old one.

    Jackie, We saw so many animals that I'm going to have to look at my photos to remember them all.

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    Lcuy, The site where I post my photos is really good and has a terrific online editor/organizer. They have a new plan that is only $29/year for unlimited photos. I think you will like them www.phanfare.com I've tried them all. They have a free trial.

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    Thank you for the detailed report!

    How was the new transportation system in Lima?

    Do you know where I could get some information on the stops and routes? It seems like the taxis are suspect and a custom tour is too expensive.

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    Hopefully we will eventually get more chapters from lcuy's great report but until then I found this info on the new Metropolitano. LimaEasy.com is one of my favorite websites with Lima info.

    http://www.limaeasy.com/getting_around/getting_around_with_public_transport_in_lima.php

    Official website (Spanish)
    http://www.metropolitano.com.pe/

    If you use Google Maps for Peru, the stations are shown onthe map,"Colmena" is a station near Hotel Bolivar, line runs to Barranco but isn't really that great for Miraflores.

    You can also use the existing share bus combis to get around Lima quite easily.

    If you use public transport, you really should have a basic understanding of the layout of Lima, like any big city it isn't that hard to walk two streets to far and wind up somewhere you shouldn't be. If in doubt ask your hotel desk.

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    On Sunday, we slept in, had breakfast at the Pakaritampu, and then walked up toward the plaza. We had about 3 hours till our train to Machu Picchu. On a whim, we turned toward the church rather than the plaza, hoping to see the locals heading into mass.

    Imagine our surprise to see about a hundred people in bright costumes, a band, and locals carrying religious floats. They were coming from the Ollantaytambo ruins and marched into the church. We had no idea what they were celebrating, but we followed along and stood at the back. All the costumed kids sat together on benches along the sides and backs, while the adults crowded into the regular pews. It was obvious this was some sort of saint’s day.

    At one point, a very old farmer came into the church with a big sack full of corn and left it at the altar. People (and a couple of little dogs) wandered in and out all during the service. After the communion, the man next to me turned and put his hands on my shoulders…For a second, I thought he has going to push me out of the way, but instead, he gave me a big hug! It turned out that was how they end mass. It was cute that many of those around us shook our hands; maybe they weren't sure if foreigners hug? Who knows, but it was really nice!

    Outside again, the costumed kids, the band and the float carriers all started up again and headed toward the main plaza. Right across from the church is an arts coop. (Sorry, I lost the name.) We stopped in and a the young American woman inside told us that it was San Ysidro’s day, and that the whole town would be heading over to enjoy bullfights all afternoon. We’re not fans of bullfighting, but she told us that in Ollantaytambo, the bulls are not killed, so we should go. Unfortunately, our train would be leaving in just one, so we purchased some nice alpaca socks and caps and a cute little granite metate with two carved frogs holding it up, then headed up to the ATM at the Sauce hotel.

    While withdrawing cash, we realized that the townspeople were coming back along the little street, this time with the bulls. All of them were in pairs, decorated with flowers and ribbons and led (or pulled) by a young man. In between each set of bulls were the costumed kids, segregated by costume type, and with the parents hovering along the edge of the narrow street, taking pictures.

    I felt like I was at Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, brought to you by a director of the “Nutcracker Suite”. The bulls were just inches from us, and some of them were a bit stubborn. Meanwhile, many of the tiniest kids dressed in alpaca costumes looked to be about 4 or 5 years old!

    Anyway, it was a lot of fun, especially since it was so unexpected.

    We walked back down to our hotel, got our bags, and walked the 2 minutes or so to the train station. At first I though we were in the wrong spot, as there was no one there except a few sleeping vendors. At the gate across the road a rail worker checked our tickets and sent us into the rail waiting room. We passed the El Aburque hotel on the tracks, and they had a nice bar outside. I ordered a “frozen limonada” and it was one of the best I’ve ever had. I love limes and Peruvians do too!

    It turned out that we were the only passengers that day, so even though we’d been assigned the best seats on the train –A1 & A2, it was fun to act like we had a choice.

    I have to stop here and say that Peru really does the whole “tourist thing” very well. The train was immaculate, the windows freshly washed for us camera toting types. The driver and attendants were all good looking and smartly dressed in sharp uniforms. We were served a lunch of freshly prepared food, not packaged snacks, and though the porters were clearly required to sell us tee-shirts, the sales pitch was fast, funny, and completely pressure-free.

    Upon arrival in Aguas Calientes, a bellboy from the Sumaq Hotel met us at the station exit. He plopped our two bags onto his cart and we took at a brisk pace off through the Inca market, across the bridge, and down the road to the Hotel.

    Our hotel was only a two-minute walk from the station, but it was clearly the edge of town. The road changes to gravel and only the MP buses seem to use it. The best thing about it is that it is right across from one of the wildest sections of the Urubamba River. The riverbed is full of granite boulders that are bigger than city buses, and the water crashes, rather than flows along its course. There is no development on the other side of the river, so the view from our riverfront room was of the river, then a boulder/ fern covered hillside rising straight up from the thundering water.

    The hotel is decorated in an Inca motif with a lovely open lobbies, and wood furniture with saffron and orange accent colors. We were greeted with a fresh papaya-orange drink and three types of hot potato chips. The desk clerk took care of our registration, then offered to have Machu Picchu bus and entrance tickets delivered to our room. They cost was about $128 for two of each (10% more if you had them added to your room bill) and included having the bus stop at our hotel in the morning. Since we weren’t planning to get Huayna Picchu tickets, we took her recommendation to go at 7 AM. She said the early crowds were the biggest, and the last few days had had heavy cloud cover till mid-morning.

    Our third floor junior suite had a balcony overlooking the river, and when I say overlooking, I mean about 10 yards from the water. We could hardly hear ourselves speak while on the balcony, and even with the door closed you could feel the raging waters. It was amazing!

    The room was immaculate, beautifully decorated and had the worlds most comfortable beds. The wi-fi worked perfectly, (even in our room, which we all know is pretty unusual) and the jetted tub in the bathroom was so great after a day out climbing a million steps!

    I hear they have a great spa and lovely grounds, but oddly we never got around to checking them out. Besides the wi-fi, snacks and drinks during happy hour, gourmet dinner, and extensive buffet /made to order breakfast were included.

    I know I’m gushing, but it really was that good. If it had a pool, I would have to rate it above my favorite Oberoi Hotels in India. The staff was just amazing as well. They went out of their well to make sure we were happy, especially a young woman name Lucia.

    Anyway, after settling in, we went out for a short walk around the town, came back for Pisco sours, and later had a fabulous dinner in an elegant dining room.

    We had breakfast at 6:15 the next morning, and then sat in the lobby to wait for the bus at 7 AM. Lucia got a call on her walkie-talkie, the bus arrived, and the hotel employee who’d stood in line for us jumped off as we jumped on. It was fun, but you could tell the others on the bus were wondering what was happening.

    The bus takes about 25 minutes to climb a very steep set of switchbacks on a dirt/brick road. I had been worried it would be a nail biter, but the driver took his time, and everyone on both sides of the bus could get fabulous views of the river below. Another indication of how well they treat tourists was, again, spotless windows.

    At Machu Picchu, we had to provide tickets AND passports to get in. Keep in mind that there are no restrooms once you enter the park.

    Books have been written on the beauty and nature of MP, so I won’t begin to describe it. The clouds were swirling about. It was a little spooky and magical to see all the mountains and the river in the distance at one minute, then nothing but watery fog the next. We climbed up to the Caretaker’s House and settled down with our jackets and rain ponchos on, and watched people and listened to one super enthusiastic guide for a while until the clouds finally burned off about 10:30 or 11 AM.

    There were lots of people up there, but it was definitely not crowded. Most of our photos have no other tourists in them, and we would only wait a minute of two for the scenes to clear.

    We did not hire a guide for our day. Between the altitude and the stairs, we wanted to set our own pace. As few of the sites are labeled, we had to eavesdrop on other guides to get our bearings a couple of times, but it was fine. Some of our best moments were when we just sat and savored the views.

    I found out later that you could rent audio tour headsets in town for $20/day. They are in a restaurant across from the booth where the bus tickets are sold. We were told the tour on them was pretty good.

    One thing I was very happy to have done was to bring along fruit and snacks. I heard several of the groups heading down to have lunch at the Sanctuary and making plans to meet back up in the ruins afterwards. ARE you kidding? It was a half an hour hike to get down and back up! Our cheese & crackers, bananas, passion fruit, and box of mango juice tasted heavenly when eaten with our back against an ancient Inca home and llamas grazing below us.

    We could have stayed all day, but wanted to visit the museum at the bottom of the hill. Lucia at the hotel said it was a nice museum, but kind of a pain to walk there from town. Instead, we asked the bus driver to drop us off on our way down from MP. He dropped us right in front, and when we finished it was a nice walk of one kilometer back to the hotel. The museum is tiny, but had nice displays that answered some of our questions and put the whole thing into context. The attached botanical gardens, on the other hand, were a total bust. Poorly maintained, full of mosquitoes and spiders, and many of the plants are commonly grown in Hawaii.

    When you stay two nights at the Sumaq, you get an expanded menu the second night with items like ceviche. There was a wedding in the main dining room, so they set up the tables in the bar that night, and had a great Peruvian band play for us.

    The next day we were supposed to check out at 10 am, but they extended it till noon, as we were on the 3:30 train. We wandered through the town, and stopped in at the Aguas Calientes (Hot springs), which clearly should have been called Aguas Templados. There were some workmen banging around on the pipes, so it may have been just that day, but we certainly did not get the hot soak we were expecting, and left after about 25 minutes.


    It was a nice walk up the hill though, and we got to watch modern construction workers making bricks for the retaining walls that had washed away in last years flood. They were down on the banks of a tributary that normally drains into the Urubamba, but it had been temporarily dammed off. The guys used old-fashioned chisels and hammers to section off the big boulders, and then a bulldozer would pick up the boulder and drop it from the air. Voila! Perfect, matching rectangular blocks for the other guys making a new, higher wall and pathway along the water.

    We went back to the hotel before noon, showered and checked out. After uploading some of our photos on their computers, we left our bags and went back into town again. I found a cute watercolor, and then we had a couple of refreshing limonadas at Inka Wasi. The food being served looked great, but we weren’t hungry, so we just sipped and watched the passersby till it was time to meet up with our suitcases at the entrance to the train.

    The day prior to this, I had gotten an email from our next hotel, the Rumi Punku in Cusco. They had agreed to pick us up at the Cusco train station, but apparently just realized I’d be arriving from Machu Picchu at the Poroy station. They wanted to let me know it would cost $10 for a pickup there, which was fine. In addition, for a few weeks, all the passengers from MP had been taken off the trains in Ollantaytambo, and bused to Poroy. I didn’t know exactly when we would arrive, but the girl asked for my train number and said she’d find out when we’d be in and have a car waiting. This was all done via e-mail, so it seemed pretty foolproof.

    Anyway, we boarded our train and found out that car A was now the last car on the train. In their attempt to give out window seats first come, first serve, Peru rail had split up nearly every couple and group on the train. Those who had window seats didn’t want to give them up, but on the other hand it was a three-hour train with your partner on the other side of the train. My husband and I had aisle seats across from each other, and while we faced forward there was a table and the first 4 passengers in the car faced us.

    When we arrived in Ollantaytambo, a whole bunch of us stood to get off the train, but finally were told that the busing had ended two days earlier.

    Again we were served a nice meal, and drinks were available (but according to our Aussie seatmates, the wine was nasty). About half way through, there was a lot of music and a mythical Inca animal spirit danced up and down the aisle clowning with the passengers. After that the attendants put on a pretty raucous fashion show (peddling some very nice alpaca garments). Actually, the attendants were having fun, the passengers were being raucous. No sedate parading down the aisle, these kids were really hamming it up. Right after it ended, a passenger from the back walked up through our car to the bathroom. Everyone spontaneously burst into applause. She was a good sport; did a supermodel stomp or two and bowed as she disappeared into the toilet.

    As you can tell, it was not your basic sleepy train ride.

    We arrived in Poroy station about 7 pm. It is a small station, and men holding up names on signs took most of the passengers away. It quickly became obvious that no one had our name on a sign, so I emailed our hotel, then texted them, then called. It took 8 minutes (at $2.89/min, I was counting) for the front desk guy Jesus to say, “A car will be there in 5 minutes.”

    “Five minutes?” I asked, knowing it takes at least 20 minutes from town.
    “Five, ten minutes, just wait,” he said.
    So we waited 20 minutes, figuring he knew we’d wait. We were the only passengers in the building, all the taxis who could come inside the gate were gone, and just some rogue types were hanging around outside.

    Our Peru Rail attendant came over to ask if we needed help, and I told him what was happening. He said if the car didn’t show up soon, he could help us get to Cusco a “safe way”. Great. Now we’re not just stood up, we’re scared too.

    When a whole hour had passed, we went and found the PR kids again. They brought us onto their shuttle bus and we all had to wait for another 10 minutes for some last minute employees. We had a clear view of the gate and still no driver.

    Finally, our bus starts up. We are stopped at the gate by the security guard. The taxi dispatcher, who had been eying us, ran over and got into a big argument with our driver and the guard. Apparently, only taxis can take passengers out. Finally our “host” gets out of the bus, talks with the guard and we’re off, much to the dispatcher’s anger.

    It was actually a long, dark winding ride into Cusco, the kind you don’t like to take with a strange driver. We were extremely thankful to be with these kids. When we got into Cusco, the main gate to their bus yard was locked, and no amount of honking got the gates opened. We finally drove around to the back, where Cesar said he’d find us a taxi. Oops, very quiet street, no taxis.

    He tells us to get back on the bus. Quick hugs, heartfelt thanks, and our money rejected, we’re back on the bus. After a few blocks, the driver honks at a random car. It’s his friend! He tells us his bus is too big to go up Choquechaca Street, so the friend will take us. Our bags go in the trunk of friend’s trunk and off we go again. Apparently everyone knows where Choquechaca is, but it’s in a maze of one-way streets. After many inquiries, we finally find the Rumi Punku. We climb out of the teeny car, and thrust some money at him. Mission accomplished.

    I wish I could tell you that I went in and the desk clerk was properly apologetic and offered to make it right, but instead, he accused us of not seeing the driver (there was no driver, with or without our name on a sign). Once he finally agreed that we were telling the truth, he said that to make it better, he would give us a free ride to the airport when we left. Oh, nice, especially since that was already included – in writing- with our room reservation.

    I was really, really tired and hungry or I might have had a snit fit, but decided to let it go. We went to our room, then walked down the block and found a great little place with for a nice late dinner.

    ********************
    Next up: Cusco, then the Amazon

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    Lcuy, loving your report!!

    What a wonderful treat at the church in Olly. It is these kinds of moments that one remembers and talks about for years to come. You can always look at pictures of ruins, but you have to be there to feel a hug ; )

    I loved your line : I felt like I was at Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, brought to you by a director of the “Nutcracker Suite”.

    Oh, and I think it is hilarious that you also had your own train on the way down to Machu Picchu! I guess if you want your own train, early afternoon is the time to go.

    I'm glad the Sumaq was so nice. I kept going between the Sumaq and the Inka Terra (and decided on the Inka Terra) Sounds like wi-fi is a whole lot better at the Sumaq. Oh, and we actually had to walk to the bus, LOL.

    Sorry you had the frustrating landing in Cusco. However, you have a story and stories about some great young employees of PR, and stories are what you remember long after the annoyance is gone.

    Can't wait for the rest of your journey. What fun, a real Lcuy trip report!!

    Pictures. We need pictures.

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    Great reporting, lcuy, can't wait for more. What wonderful luck in Olly.

    It might be that the store in Ollantaytambo was Awamaki's fair trade shop. Awamaki is a nonprofit organization which supports women in the communities around Ollantaytambo.
    If anyone is visiting check their website (www.awamaki.org)they often list needed donations such as vitamins, Tylenol, etc. They also run tours to the weaving communities.

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    You're right, it was Awamaki, mlgb. Thanks. Besides the shop, they offer an interesting tour up to a tiny weaving village It's similar to Chinchero, but less developed. It didn't fit our schedule, but after seeing the shop and speaking with their employee, I wish we'd worked it in.

    Thanks Jackie. The late, great GPanda kept us cracking over there.

    Thanks BH. I agree; the weird, the unplanned and the awful always make the best long term travel memories. We always hope they happen, just not TOO many of the awful variety!
    I really do need to work on the photos. I want you to see how much the Urubamba River went down between your video and one I took from essentially the same spot four weeks later.

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    just now catching your trip report, lcuy..... what a great read! I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been upon your arrival in Poroy; I had a similar thing happen in Puno. Glad it worked out okay.

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    Hi Lcuy, I really enjoy reading your report. Great job. Thanks again for responding to my question about what to do in Miraflores. BTW, did you carry a purse with you? Also, do the currency exchange booths in the airport accept $50 or $100 USD bills? We are leaving for Peru in a week, I am excited and kind of stressed out at the same time.

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    Two of our hotels offerred good discount for using cash, so I brought about $1400 in crisp $100 bills. I had 1no problems cashing them in the airport booths or the banks in Cusco and Lima. Ask for some small bills, so you don't have to worry about taxis or shop keeppers having change.

    I always keep my passport, credit cards and extra cash in a money belt, and carry a purse with a zipper for my routine cash and camera. I always keep it tight under my arm, with my hand on the zipper.

    My husband and I each bring a different ATM card & credit card, just in case one doesn't "work" or gets lost or stolen. This trip was the first time I ever lost one. My ATM card disappeared, but I think I may have dropped it. We reported it missing, then just used the other one. No one ever tried to hack into my account before we had it disabled.

    Other than the night we were left stranded at the train station, we never had any fear for our safety. Restaurants and hotels were happy to call cabs for us, the buses, trains and airports were all well lit with police or porters nearby, and most places had enough people around that we felt comfortable.

    Peru really does the tourism thing well. It was a very easy trip.

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    Hi Lcuy, thank you so much for taking the time to give me such detailed, clear, and valuable advice. Your answers are so helpful and reassuring to me. As I learnt more and know more, I am less worried and even starting to feel that I am prepared :). I just picked up the Diamox for the entire family today, still need to read more about it. Again, thank you!

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    Hi Lcuy, thank you so much for taking the time to give me such detailed, clear, and valuable advice. Your answers are so helpful and reassuring to me. As I learnt more and know more, I am less worried and even starting to feel that I am prepared :). I just picked up the Diamox for the entire family today, still need to read more about it. Again, thank you!

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    Cusco

    The next morning, our hotel looked a lot better than it did the night before. The room had a 60’s look about it. The bedspreads were a gold and white brocade, and had a blanket stitched inside. I thought the beds would be uncomfortable, but it turned out they were okay, and that there was an alpaca blanket inside a duvet cover, so I didn’t have to sleep with the heavy bedspread. The hotel consists of several buildings all connected by decks, stairs and landings. Lots of interesting potted plants and small fountains made it feel like an oasis in the city. We were on the third floor, so it was a bit of a climb, but not bad. We had a big window with a pretty view of the doorways and courtyards on our property and a view of the homes on the hill above. The bathroom looked newly remodelled and everything was very clean. My complaints were the tiny, rough bath towels and the two tiny foil packets of shampoo that weren’t replaced on the second day. Plus, the water sitting on the desk, looking like comp that looked like the free bottles most hotels gave us, were actually charged as mini-bar items.

    Breakfast was good; a small but tasty selection of fruits and cereals, and eggs could be ordered at no extra charge. Teas and coffee were left out all day.

    Oddly, I realized that the altitude was only now starting to affect me. All this day and the next I had a continuous headache and a lack of appetite, as well as more noticeable shortness of breath. I drank a lot of Coca tea and took Tylenol all day. I was okay, but did not feel great.

    Our hotel offered to do our laundry for 7 soles/per kilo, but we had noticed about 6 shops advertising laundry for 3 soles/kilo. We weren’t feeling particularly loyal to the Rumi Punku, so we dropped off a bag a couple of doors down on our way into the Plaza. It was only about a block and a half to the Plaza Major, and the weather was just gorgeous.

    We toured one of the churches, then sat on a bench in the Plaza for a while. The flowers were all blooming, tourists were taking photos in front of the big fountain, and about every 3 minutes someone would offer us a shoeshine, artwork, or etched gourds. The vendors were obviously breaking a law approaching us, they’d all sort of sidle up, and when we said “No, gracias”, most would keep on moving. If anyone was too obvious, a whistle would blow and all of them would melt off across the street. It kept things interesting, and low key. We were able to chat with some of them, without any hard selling. Occasionally the whistle would blow when a kid (or adult) got too close to the grass. Guess that was illegal too!

    At one end of the Plaza, a noisy demonstration was going on. Lots of signs and chanting, and across the street was a display of posters detailing all the sins of the Fujimoto Clan. Father Alberto is in jail, but his daughter, Keiko was in the run-off election scheduled for the beginning of June. According to some of the signs, the four or so Fujimori kids all went to prestigious universities in America, all of them being brilliant enough to win full-ride scholarships from the Peruvian government.. Oddly the youngest sibling seemed to have attended a no –name junior college to the tune of about $400,000. Out of country tuition must have been quite high..

    We did a little shopping here, picking up some alpaca purses at a good price, then headed down the main street. (It changes name about every two blocks). There were a lot of schools in this area; lots of kids from K up to college age. Each school had a distinctive uniform, either the traditional plaid skirt and white shirt, or brightly colored athletic pants with zippered jackets.

    Our goal was the Mercado San Pedro. On the city map it looked quite far. In reality it was about a five minute walk. Nice! This indoor market is clearly set up for the locals. There are vegetable sections, meat, bread, and flower aisles, groceries, festival wear, baby clothes, and shoes, and many booths of wool and alpaca clothing. There was a long section of stalls that each had a tailor with an old foot pedaled Singer, and racks of aprons and the full skirts the older women wear. In the middle was a “food court “, and the soups and stews being served looked really good, as did one booth that had about a hundred layered yogurt parfaits with every mix of syrups and nuts or candies that exist!

    We bought some nice alpaca hats for our cold weather cousins and the skiers in the family, as well as a couple dozen soft baby alpaca socks ($3 each). We also picked up some bags of coca leaves and a few bags of the local corn nuts.

    After we had our fill of shopping, we strolled slowly back up to the Plaza Major. I had written down the name of a recommended restaurant that was overlooking the Plaza. We walked completely around the Plaza, fighting off the kids with menus but never spotted it. Instead, we stopped in at the Bagdad Café. It was your typical tourist restaurant with a huge menu divided up into Peruvian, Italian, and Mexican, and of course, pizza and hamburgers.

    We had a nice seat in a bay window overlooking the Plaza, so it was very pleasant, and our food was pretty good. Unfortunately, I was really feeling really exhausted at this point, so I left my husband with the view and walked home. I climbed into bed and took a nap until he returned a few hours later, and he’d even remembered the laundry. He had discovered the Monastery Hotel and Inca museum and had a nice afternoon as well. For dinner, he headed down the block to try Jack’s restaurant. Apparently it’s quite popular, and the line to get in was huge. He returned to our café from the previous evening and bought a take-out dinner for both of us.

    The next day we had a 3:30 flight to Iquitos. After breakfast, we paid our bill, then left our bags at the hotel. We walked over to the Monastery Hotel again (gorgeous!) and wandered up to the San Blas area, where I finally broke down and had my husband take a picture of me with two women and their llama. I thought it was a beautiful area, but it had a very different feel than the Plaza area. Every restaurant seemed to have banana pancakes and American cocktails on their menu, a sure sign the ratio of locals to foreigners is quite low….


    There was a little bakery on the right side as we came back down the hill. It’s hard to miss the smell of fresh bread. We each had a delicious ham sandwich on a roll then split a dessert. I made the mistake of ordering a hot chocolate, forgetting that they like them very strong and bitter. ;- ( I had some sweetener packers in my purse, but there was no amount of sweetener that was going to make that drink even slightly sweet! On the way out the door, we brought 2 more sandwiches in case the menu options in Iquitos were limited.

    We walked down to the Plaza Major again, then took a cab home. Cabs anywhere in the historic area are just 3 Soles, which is good, as it takes twice as long in a cab as on foot, due to the narrow and one -way streets!

    Back at the Rumi Punku, our driver appeared promptly at 1:30 and we were at the airport about 15 minutes later. Our flight was only a little late, and so an hour or so later we were back in Lima airport for the third time.

    Oddly, our flight didn’t appear on the departure screens. I looked at the actual boarding passes and they had changed us to a flight 90 minutes later. Apparently our earlier flight had been taken off the schedule. Oh well. At least there was a later flight to be on!

    Our flight was very unremarkable except that it got pretty bumpy about 10 minutes before landing. They had the TV screens showing the plane’s flight path, and counting down the distance to Iquitos. I was watching it as it counted down…10 miles to destination… 6 miles to destination… 3 miles to destination… 6 miles to destination… 8 miles to destination… WHAT?

    About this time the pilot came on and made an announcement in very scratchy Spanish. I guess he said we couldn’t land in Iquitos, because the screens started tracking our distance to Lima after that. We landed in Lima and followed the crowd back to the front desks, where we were issued new boarding passes for 9:30 the next morning. No hotels, no meals, but I asked if someone could help me call our Amazon company to tell them of our delay and I was given a couple of telephone cards. Too bad nobody could every get them to work in the public phones!

    We didn't want to sleep in the airport like many of the other passengers seemed to be forced to do, so we walked back to the Ramada and got a room there again. The desk clerk asked what I had paid the week before, and gave us that same rate. Meanwhile, no one was answering the phones or emails at Explorama. I finally called their US number and left a message that we would be coming in the next morning.

    Our fifth trip through Lima airport was much more successful. We left on time and landed on time at Iquitos, where we were met by Armando, our guide for the weekend. Poor thing. He’d waited for our cancelled flight, then the aborted flight, and then came back to check out this flight. At first he seemed a bit peeved we hadn’t called, but after I pulled out my cell phone to show him all the incomplete calls, he was fine.

    We headed out to the ancient wooden school bus that would take us to the boat dock. Iquitos seemed a lot like I imagine Havana, Cuba. Very few cars on the roads, mostly all three wheel tuk tuks. Nearly all of them had intricate plastic cords knotted in intricate design across the front of the passenger section. They looked like exotic spider webs in neon pink, yellow and every other color of the rainbow. I was in the front seat, and able to get lots of clear photos, primarily because the windshield of the bus was a fully functioning window and the driver liked it “open”!

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    is there a particular reason lcuy can post a trip report on SA within a short time of returning home, but she has not posted reports on some asian trips for years even?

    the curious wish to know??

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