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Trip report: OAT tour of Machu Picchu and the Galapagos

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Apr 16th, 2006, 08:35 PM
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Trip report: OAT tour of Machu Picchu and the Galapagos

It was a 19-day trip, so this is going to be a LONG report. I'll divide it into three parts: an introduction, the Peru portion and the Ecuador portion.

Introduction

Going on an organized tour from Overseas Adventure Travel or anyone else is only as good as your tour leader. So, before going into day-to-day detail about our OAT trip to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos, I should tell you this: if there’s any guarantee that Juan Lazo will be your tour leader, sign up.

He more than compensated for the problems we had with OAT. It seems that the folks at headquarters don’t talk with the local guides—so we received some poor advice about what to pack and how some of the tour would work. Also, because of the high potential for flight delays in the Andes, OAT scheduled too much time in Lima – yet Juan made that time among the highlights of the trip. He gave us a good understanding of Peruvian culture, history, economics, politics, religion—you name it—that we would never have had if we had traveled to Peru independently. He will do anything at anytime to enhance your visit and his English skills are so good that he has mastered many idiomatic expressions (his favorite was “I wasn’t born yesterday!” so we taught him to say “I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck!”).

Meanwhile, in Ecuador, we found Hanzel Martinetti to be a very competent tour leader and knowledgeable naturalist, although not as personable as Juan. But he could not make up for OAT’s shortcomings. The Galapagos boat we were on (Archipell I) didn’t travel to many islands and lacked air conditioning (more about both points later). In the end, we DID see a good variety of wildlife, especially boobies, frigate birds, tortoises, penguins, sea lions and iguanas. But for the first few days it was pretty much a few birds and lizards and lots of lava rock (intensely hot under the equatorial sun). One factor may have been the time of year. We were there in March—and our guide said May and December are best for viewing wildlife. The only advantage we had was that the sea is so warm in February and March that wet suits are unnecessary, despite OAT putting them on the list of items to bring. We called OAT specifically about wet suits and they told us to bring ours because Archipell doesn’t have them -- so we used up a good deal of our weight allowance lugging them unnecessarily. Even if the water had been cold, as it is most months, we did not need to bring ours -- the boat had wet suits on board after all!

OAT had several other misdirections in its itinerary and supply list:

--The air routing to and from the US was handled poorly by OAT. Almost everyone on the trip had longer and less convenient flights than needed because of OAT’s financial arrangements with airlines. After receiving flights we thought were unnecessarily out of the way, we researched better ones and worked with OAT to switch to that routing -- although we had to pay more for the better flights.

--We were on the boat three nights, not four like our final itinerary stated. (But we did meet another OAT group doing the same itinerary, and they spent four nights on a boat and two at a Galapagos hotel.)

--Our final itinerary said we would stay at the Inti Inn Machu Picchu, but our tour leader had instructions to take us to the Machu Picchu Inn--no big deal unless someone needed to contact us in an emergency.

--We saw relatively little of Quito—although people taking the post-tour extension did have more touring time there -- and part of our Quito time was spent visiting an organization OAT supports.

On the positive side:

--OAT has a terrific strategy for seeing Machu Picchu. Instead of taking one of the morning trains from Cusco that all the other tourists are on, they bus you to Ollantaytambo—a wonderful town where people still live in Inca-era houses. After a tour, you take a separate train line to MP, getting there as the crowds are leaving. You have the afternoon on the site pretty much to yourself, stay overnight in Aguas Calientes, then take a great hike the next morning—leaving at the time the crowds are only starting to arrive again.

--Their Machu Picchu and Galapagos trip involves seven flights within South America. I was happy to have OAT handle my luggage and airport intricacies, and appreciated being able to store suitcases in their hotels during various segments of the trip.

A few general observations:

--Despite it being the rainy season, we had excellent weather -- it rained only one day, in Quito. Apparently in the Galapagos it tends to rain at night or in the hills. Our umbrellas got more use as sun protection than rain shields.

--For the most part, the group remained healthy. Two people who went on the Amazon pre-trip were laid low with severe stomach problems there, and two others experienced it during the main trip. My husband became ill from dehydration on the Galapagos boat, and a couple folks felt the effects of Cusco’s altitude.

--Food throughout the trip was generally tasty and well-prepared. Breakfasts tended to be buffets at the hotels, while lunches and dinners were at restaurants. For each restaurant meal we would select not from the full menu but from a list of maybe three soups and/or appetizers, three or four main dishes (there was always a fish and a chicken dish), and several overly sweet desserts.

--Despite several forays to high altitudes, it didn’t get very cold—the most we needed was a fleece or waterproof jacket with some layers underneath. We did need wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, sturdy walking shoes (not hiking boots), casual walking shoes, and something like flipflops to wear on the boat (shoes worn on the islands cannot be worn on board). We used sunscreen daily and bug spray occasionally.

--Our supply list talked about “semi-formal” attire for the cities, which I suppose is a quaint way of saying to dress up. But collared shirts and long pants were fine for men, and women wore casual dresses or pants outfits. Glad I left my semi-formal attire at home!
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Apr 21st, 2006, 02:32 PM
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PART 2: PERU

Tuesday, Feb. 28: We got through the usual confusion of international airports okay – arriving in Lima late in the evening and being met by an OAT representative. We were driven to the Monte Real Hotel in the upscale (and safe) Miraflores neighborhood—our home for three nights. Interestingly, we had been scheduled to go to a different hotel. But several people forwarded to OAT some postings complaining about that establishment—and they switched hotels a week or so before the trip, calling each of us to give the correct address. The Monte Real is clean, pleasant, not luxury but with nice touches including a courtyard for breakfast (but waiter server is slow—would have preferred a buffet arrangement).

Wednesday, March 1: One advantage of this hotel is that the Pacific Ocean is just a few blocks away. So, before breakfast, we walked on the malecon high above the ocean. It is filled with gardens, an area dedicated to Itzhak Rabin, and the Park of Love—which has a huge sculpture of lovers embracing and mosaic walls containing romantic quotations from literature. The sculptor’s initials are on the back pocket of one of the figures—unfortunately, the initials are VD, which gives an entirely new meaning to the Parque del Amor.

Half of our group was returning from their Amazon pre-trip extension late today, so the rest of us met with tour leader Juan Lazo and a money changer (very convenient!) in mid-morning, went to a cafe at Parque Kennedy for lunch, then had a tour of colonial Peru with city guide Yvonne. We got off the bus at Plaza Mayor, surrounded by the Cathedral, the Government Palace and City Hall, then walked down a street consisting solely of shoe shops. After stopping in historic Bar Cordano for drinks (Inka Cola for us), we walked to the Franciscan Monastery for a tour--including a cloisters decorated with Seville tile, a bone-filled catacombs and a library with 15th century books just sitting (decomposing) on shelves.

On the bus ride through various neighborhoods, Yvonne talked about life in Lima, including the class system, growing political unrest brought on by unemployment and how Peruvians create opportunities to earn money. At the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, we saw pottery, gold and textiles from various cultures of pre-colonial Peru, including the Chavin, Mochica, Chimu, Tiahuanaco, Pucara, Paracas, Nazca and Inca. Dinner was on our own, but Juan arranged for six of us to taxi to Cafe de la Paz in Parque Kennedy.

Thursday, March 2: With the entire group of 14 assembled (two cancelled at the last minute) except for one person who took a side trip to fly over the Nazca lines, we had our introductions and orientation meeting, including a lesson in making Pisco sours (and a taste—at 10:30 in the morning!). This was supposed to be a free day, but we all jumped at the chance to go with Juan on an optional "discovery" to the Central Market and Chinatown. As we walked through Central Market, he had us taste various fruits such as lucuma and chirimoya and he explained some of the herbal medicines on sale—thrashing one of our group with a sheath of leaves in a healing ceremony. After lunch in Chinatown we took the bus back to the hotel using a sunken highway lined with grassy embankments. In the grass were advertisements made out of flowers. Juan explained that the space is free but the advertiser must maintain and water the foliage.

During free time in the late afternoon, Juan arranged for four of us to take a taxi to the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, where we saw an extensive permanent exhibit of pre-Columbian ceramics, a temporary exhibit of gold objects, and shelf after shelf of other pottery in the “storehouse” (other museums would keep visitors out of their back room). Through a separate entrance, we also saw the museum’s renowned collection of erotic Moche pottery--arranged by position and by whether the sex involved two live people, a live person and a god, or a live person and a dead person. Tomorrow we were heading for Cusco, but because we’d be returning to the Monte Real at the end of the Peru portion of the trip, the hotel stored items we wouldn’t need until Ecuador.

Friday, March 3: We were up at 3:45 am to catch a flight for Cusco. (The hotel provided depressing ham sandwiches for breakfast). But because of poor visibility, the Cusco flights kept getting delayed and then canceled. When our flight was canceled, Juan ran to the ticket line to get us on a later flight--one of just a couple that did make it to Cusco. He also helped a group of OAT travelers who were without a tour leader because they were on a side trip. During the delays, he was constantly making contingency plans by phone and expressing concern for our well-being. We were in the airport for a total of eight hours, but felt lucky to get to our destination. Then we had to cope with the altitude change—from sea level to nearly 11,000 feet. Most of us took the medication OAT recommended we bring, and were glad we did. A couple people did get severe headaches, but the hotel provided oxygen to help them cope. (A less serious consequence of flying to a high altitude involved toiletries. Put creams and liquids into Ziploc bags and when you first open a container at high altitude, have it pointing away from you!)

Once we had checked into Hotel Jose Antonio (2 nights), we visited a number of city sites along the Plaza de Armas and toured the Iglesia de la Merced. We got our first good look at Inca stonecraft along the Street Of Big Stones: how did they create such beautiful walls without wheels, mortar, metal tools or large beasts of burden? Juan had us visit the workshop of an instrument maker, who demonstrated various wind and string instruments.

Saturday, March 4: We began a day of touring at the Qoricancha Sun Temple, Cusco’s most important ceremonial structure during the Incan era. Historical records of the time note that its walls were once covered with 700 sheets of gold studded with emeralds and turquoise. The Spanish conquerors not only took all the gold and gems, they also demolished much of the temple and built a church on it (Iglesia Santo Domingo). Still, some Inca stonework and rooms remain—so Juan gave us a fine lesson in Inca architecture. Outside town we visited the massive Sacsayhuaman fortress. Set on a hilltop overlooking Cusco, it is constructed of enormous stones weighing up to 125 tons apiece. Nearby an Andean medicine man conducted a fascinating healing ceremony for us that combined native and Catholic symbols. Final stop was an alpaca store to satisfy the shoppers in the group. My husband bought a vest of baby alpaca wool but the fit wasn’t quite right, so they made one to his measurements and delivered it to the hotel upon our return from Machu Picchu.

During free time in the afternoon we wandered around town, went to an internet café and repacked for tomorrow. (Because of limited space on the Machu Picchu train, everyone had to pack a small suitcase and store the bulk of our luggage at Jose Antonio.)

Sunday, March 5: We were up at 6 am for the bus ride to Ollantaytambo. We traveled to nearly 14,000 feet to get there, stopping at various overlooks in the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River. While walking through Ollantaytambo, a town where people still live in homes from the Inca era (Juan took us into one), we came upon a group of people heading for a wedding. Juan arranged for us to meet them and take photos. Juan also advised those of us who had not brought walking sticks to buy wooden ones in this town—a $3 investment I used throughout the trip.

We took a comfortable Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu—getting great views of the Andes and the raging river. After lunch we caught the bus for the 25-minute ride up steep switchbacks to reach MP—just as most folks were leaving. We toured for several hours and I must have taken a hundred photos because the setting is simply breathtaking. Despite it being the rainy season, the sun was shining brightly. BTW, those photos of MP that have llamas in them may seem staged, but the animals ARE roaming around and seem to be posing.

We stayed at the somewhat rustic Machu Picchu Inn in Aguas Calientes, where dishes like alpaca stroganov appear on menu boards. (We had a lovely dinner at Indio Felix, a French-Peruvian restaurant in town, and great grilled food for lunch at Pueblo Viejo.)

Monday, March 6. Those who wanted to hike in Machu Picchu got up at 5 am to catch the early bus up the mountain, with breathtaking views of peaks surrounded by mist. Some of the group roamed on their own (and there’s loads of room to roam). The rest of us hiked up the Inca Trail to the “Gate of the Sun” (about 3 hours round trip). It’s on this walk that you get the views of Machu Picchu on so many postcards. The entire way to the Gate we were in a cloud. Shortly after reaching the endpoint, the fog cleared and we had wonderful views. We left MP just as other tourists were streaming in and caught the train back to Ollantaytambo.

On the bus back to Cusco, we visited more interesting sites in the Urubamba Valley and stopped to talk to a farmer plowing with a pair of oxen, who let us try it. We also had views of snow-capped peaks—something rare during our trip. Because we were so close to the equator, the Andes—though they are high—stay warmer. So the frost line and the tree line are much higher than you would expect. Once at Hotel Jose Antonio, Juan took several of us to the laundry to drop off dirty clothes, which were delivered to the hotel the next day.

Tuesday, March 7: On the way to Pisac, we stopped at a llama farm and had a fun time with camelids of all sizes and colors—both shaggy and short-haired. At the ruins on the mountainside above Pisac, a flute player added atmosphere with music that echoed across the hills. We also had a brief visit to the Pisac market—then hurried back to Cusco for lunch in the home of a local family. Some of the food was quite exotic—for example, roasted guinea pig and a drink made from purple corn. The meal began with soup—in fact, the entire tour featured delicious soups at each meal. In the afternoon, we visited an orphanage supported by OAT. (You decide whether that would be a highlight for you—or whether you would have preferred to see more sights.)

Wednesday, March 8: Up early for the flight back to Lima and Hotel Monte Real. Because the rest of the day was on our own, Juan suggested activities and arranged taxis. After having lunch at Café de la Paz in Parque Kennedy, we hit the internet café, then walked along the malecon, did a little craft shopping and packed for the international flight to Ecuador. Juan arranged a fine farewell dinner.
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Apr 21st, 2006, 02:35 PM
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PART 3: ECUADOR

Thursday, March 9: We parted with Juan at the Lima airport and flew to Quito, where we were met by Ecuadorian tour leader Hanzel Martinetti and taken to Hotel Quito. There we had an orientation meeting about the Galápagos. We were supposed to have a brief city tour, but the rain was coming down in sheets. Our welcome dinner was at a restaurant in the old town but we couldn’t even see out the windows. From the little we saw of it, Quito seems to be a lovely city—long and thin, stretched out between two mountain ranges.

Friday, March 10: Leaving the bulk of our luggage in storage at Hotel Quito, we flew to Baltra in the Galápagos with a stop in Guayaquil. Buses at Baltra took passengers to the dock, where sea lions were stretched out asleep on the benches. At noon we boarded the catamaran Archipell I for our Galapagos exploration (3 nights). The main deck consists of 8 cabins, 4 on each side of a central dining/gathering area. Each cabin has two twin or 1 large bed, windows, closet area and small bathroom with shower. Above this was a partially covered, open-air deck with about 20 chaise lounges. The crew slept below the main deck or up on the open deck, depending on weather.

While eating lunch on board, we motored to our first stop: Dragon’s Bay on Santa Cruz, not far from Baltra. We got into two rubber dinghies (pangas) to reach the landing site, some slippery steps carved from the rock there. Folks on the first panga struggled with the tricky footing so the second panga went to an easier landing a few yards away. (It was during this first landing that Hanzel lost a lot of points with the group—he was rushing a woman who had recently had knee replacement surgery. She slipped and cut up one knee. Later I observed him ridiculing the way she uses her walking sticks, rather than showing her a better technique.)

Perhaps we had set our expectations too high—finally we were in the Galapagos, anxious to see teeming wildlife!—but our hour-long walk was disappointing: Under the intense sun we were rewarded with just a few land iguanas and one flamingo. We were also disappointed that our first stop was on an island where we would later be staying three nights. Back on Archipell, many of us used the scuba ledge on the back of the boat to go for a swim, but the current proved too strong for me. (I was in no danger of drowning, but could not get back to the boat. I called for a rope but didn’t know the Spanish word. Happily, a tourmate helped me get back.)

Dinner was a simple but good buffet with chicken as the main dish (dessert was canned fruit, despite being served fresh fruit at lunch). We hit the sack early while the boat motored about two hours to the next day’s site, but with cabin doors closed it was too hot to sleep. Most of us kept the doors open all night and some went topside to sleep on chaises. Which brings me to another disappointment about Archipell: the boat’s generator ran all night so we had to endure diesel fumes and noise.

Saturday, March 11: We awoke at dawn off Bartolome near several other tour boats at anchor. Around 7:30 we took pangas to begin our walk up the volcano that dominates Bartolome. As on other Galapagos islands, you must stay on the official path—in this case a boardwalk and 375 wooden steps to the top, past a moonscape of spatter and cinder cones. The view as we ascended was one of the highlights of the trip. Back on the Archipell, we fitted ourselves with snorkeling gear and took pangas to Bartolome Beach. Those of us who snorkeled with Hanzel were entertained by penquins and sea lions zipping by.

At lunchtime we returned to the Archipell and noticed the other tour boats heading out for their afternoon destinations. We were the only boat that remained in this bay the entire day—a big disappointment, considering our limited time at sea. After lunch of pasta and shrimp and several hours’ siesta, about half the group did the afternoon excursion, which consisted of a panga ride along the coast to see penguins and crabs. Suddenly the Archipell hauled anchor and motored four minutes across Sullivan Bay to Santiago, which the panga had reached. On Santiago three hardy souls walked across the scorching pahoehoe lava field while the rest returned to the boat. Around 6 pm the Archipell finally left Sullivan Bay and after four hours reached James Bay on the other side of Santiago, where we anchored for the night.

Sunday, March 12: My husband had started to feel unwell the previous day, but Hanzel and I encouraged him to come on the morning’s excursion—a big mistake. After an early landing onto Santiago’s black sand beach, the group took a long, hot walk through a striking landscape of black lava rock and grottos while viewing a variety of wildlife, including sea lions, fur sea lions, birds, crabs and turtles. By the end of the trek David was running a high fever so he (and several others) wanted to return to the Archipell, but the panga never came to retrieve them. Meanwhile, Hanzel and the rest of the group went snorkeling for an hour in James Bay, unaware of the problem.

When we all had returned to the boat, it motored two hours to Rabida, Along the way we experienced a highlight of the trip—the boat’s pilot spotted dolphins and we grabbed our cameras. For about a half hour we enjoyed the dolphins as they matched course and speed with the boat -- some to the sides, leaping periodically into the air, and some visible between the catamaran’s twin hulls.

By this time my husband was listless and running a high fever, so Hanzel arranged to take him to a doctor when we anchored at Puerto Ayora that night.

At Rabida about half the group participated in the excursion, which consisted of a panga tour of the coastline followed by a wet landing onto a red sand beach occupied by several sea lions (including a territorial bull we avoided). We snorkeled about an hour before returning to the boat, which motored to the bay at Santa Cruz’s Puerto Ayora, where we spent our last night aboard the Archipell.

As soon as we dropped anchor (about 8:30 pm), David, Hanzel and I took a panga to the dock and a cab to a clinic (with the only decompression chamber for divers in the Galapagos) where Hanzel had arranged for a doctor to meet us. With Hanzel serving as translator, the young doctor conducted a professional exam, concluded David was suffering from heat dehydration and recommended fluids, rest and Cipro. Hanzel had the cab stop at a store on the way back to the dock so I could buy plenty of Gatorade.

David became dehydrated because he didn’t drink enough to compensate for the equatorial sun and hot cabin. Although he thought he was consuming enough fluids, there were several factors that contributed to his dehydration. First, the drinking water on board was from the boat’s filtration system, so it was always warm and far from tasty (and the inadequate ice machine on board provided only a dribble of cubes at any one time). Second, Archipell did not provide bottled water (during the rest of the trip, OAT provided each person with a large bottle daily). Third, during the excursions we had only the water we carried with us—Archipell did not bring water along on the pangas to supplement our personal supply.

Monday, March 13: After an early breakfast we bade farewell to the Archipell (despite my complaints, I enjoyed experiencing life on a small boat). At Puerto Ayora we boarded a bus to the Charles Darwin Station (the bus then took David and all the luggage to our hotel for the next three nights—the lovely and luxurious Royal Palm Hotel on Santa Cruz).

The group stayed about two hours at the Darwin Station, viewing a video and visiting large enclosures of giant tortoises and pens for the babies. It was a great experience to see these unique creatures up close. At our own pace we walked the mile or so back into town and poked around in the shops until 11:30, when we boarded the bus for our home-hosted lunch—actually at two different houses. Seven of us got off at the first house, the home of a sweet and hospitable couple. (The woman came home from her job at the social security office to serve us lunch of mushroom soup, fish and chocolate pudding.) We missed having Hanzel with us as translator, as their English was so-so and only two in our group knew some Spanish.

The bus retrieved the two lunch groups and took us to the Royal Palm Hotel for check-in (3 nights). What a welcome relief—unlimited bottled water and ice, huge showers, toilets that can flush paper, air conditioning, free internet! In mid-afternoon the group (still minus David, who was recuperating) boarded the bus for a highlands tour of birds, a mining site and the Twin Pits—the pits for me but the locals are proud of it.

Every night at the hotel Hanzel gave us a briefing/lecture (better than the ones on the boat, which were hard to hear), followed by dinner at the hotel. The hotel’s breakfasts and dinners, in a lovely dining area with outdoor patio, were very good. Breakfast was a large buffet and dinners consisted of soup, salad, bread, choice of two entrees (one always a fish) and dessert

Tuesday, March 14: After breakfast the group, minus David and I, visited Trapiche Ranch, a coffee plantation with farm animals and a demonstration on how sugar cane is processed into liquor, followed by lunch in Puerto Ayora. We did join the afternoon excursion to a private ranch where tortoises roam in the wild, and this turned out to be a real highlight. Twice Hanzel followed the sound males make while mating, and sure enough we found them in the act. We sat by a pond and watched tortoises make a beeline for the water (they can move fast when they want to) and engage in territorial squabbles once there.

Wednesday, March 15: After breakfast we took a bus to the channel across from Baltra to board a day excursion boat. Although small, our boat had plenty of shade (not all do). Shortly after 10 we reached Seymour Island for a one-hour hike. We passed dozens of frigate birds sitting on their ground-level nests, many with red pouches inflated (these were males trying to attract females), some blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls and iguanas. After lunch on board (fish, broccoli, potatoes and watermelon), we motored to a snorkeling area. Several of us went in off the back of the boat and saw lots of fish. The boat continued to Mosquera Island to visit a beach filled with sea lions. There must have been 50 within sight, sleeping in the sand, nursing, swimming, pulling themselves out of the water and playing around us when we waded in.

Thursday, March 16: On the way to the airport we stopped to walk through a lava tube, then continued to the channel to catch a boat to Baltra and then a bus to the airport. Flight times for Aerogull are “flexible” so we waited in a private lounge set up by the hotel. The flight stopped in Guayaquil and what with the one-hour time difference from the islands to the mainland, we didn’t arrive at Hotel Quito until 5.

Friday, March 17: Today was devoted to visiting the equator and a city tour of Quito with local guide Santiago, but first we stopped at a school for disabled children supported by OAT to hear their orchestra, used as a teaching tool. The bus then headed north of Quito to the Inti Nan Museum, an interesting open-air museum located on the true equator line that featured experiments showing physical phenomena unique to the equator (water really does flow straight down the drain!). We then went a short distance to La Mitad del Mundo, the monument where 18th century French scientists calculated the equator (they were close). After lunch we returned to Quito for a tour of the old city, including walking around Plaza de la Independenzia and into the Jesuit church of La Compania de Jesus, decorated inside with more than seven tons of gold leaf as well as remarkable artwork. I would have welcomed more time touring Quito as well as more free time there.

Saturday, March 18: We flew home through Miami. Most of the group remained in Quito to begin a post-trip extension in Ecuador. (If the trip were one day longer, today we could have gone to Otavalo for the big Saturday market—although on this particular Saturday the roads were closed due to anti-free trade demonstrations).
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Apr 22nd, 2006, 05:28 AM
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Lorraine, I've never been to Latin America and neve been with an OAT tour (have considered both). Really enjoyed hearing about your experiences - your report was very well done! If you had to do it again, would you go with OAT? Do you think you could have arranged it on your own and not gone with a tour group?
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Apr 22nd, 2006, 06:10 AM
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This is an excellent trip report, Lorraine, well written and very informative! Thank you for taking the time to post.
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Apr 23rd, 2006, 12:39 PM
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Thanks for such a great trip report. We'll be doing the same trip in August except we won't be doing it with a tour. We've made all our arrangements over the internet. Did you take Diamox for the altitude in Cusco or did you just drink the matte coca? Also, we'll be very careful about staying hydrated on our Galapagos tour. It's too bad your husband was sick. Anyways, sounds like you had a fantastic time.
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Apr 23rd, 2006, 12:46 PM
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Lorraine

Sorry Lorraine I thought I responded to one of your posts the other day then couldn't find it so thought my message didn't get posted. I just found it and your response about altitude etc. so you don't have to repeat yourself.
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Apr 24th, 2006, 09:05 PM
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althom1122 asked if we'd take an OAT trip again and if we could have arranged it on our own and not gone with a tour group.

The answer to both is yes. I have no idea if we WILL take an OAT trip again, but we were satisfied with all their internal arrangements (which can be tiresome to plan and manage, especially when you don't speak the language). Since I didn't have to worry about any of this, I could put my energy into learning about the cultures. Yes, we could have arranged it on our own if we had time to do the research, but it's certainly easier to accept the tour's itinerary than weigh all the options.

Most of the time we do plan our trips ourselves and travel independently, including a trip to Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore; numerous European countries; and several trips to Central America. We have also taken three organized tours: Turkey with Rick Steves, China with Pacific Bestours and now Peru and Ecuador with OAT. There are tradeoffs. With a tour group I learn more about the culture because I can ask the tour leader to interpret anything that piques my curiosity. Moreover, the tours make stops that I never would have done on my own--but they're among the highlights of the trip.

What I object to most about tours is the inability to linger in a place that appeals to me, and the on-the-bus, off-the-bus herd mentality (one nice thing about OAT is it limits the group to 16, which makes the bus experience more manageable).
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Jun 24th, 2006, 10:50 AM
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Thank you, Lorraine, for a womderful trip report!
We've just gotten back from an OAT trip to Turkey and have been thinking of Machu Picchu and the Galapagos with them - maybe next winter.
Like you, we had several complaints about the US OAT's office - they really don't seem to know much first-hand about the trips and can be difficult about flight arrangements.
On the other hand, our guide and itinerary in Turkey were top-notch.
Re the MP/G trip - were you happy with the itinerary? Oddysses Unlimited offers one that doesn't seem to have as much running around - then again, maybe you won't see as much!(I think I'll have to do some homework.)
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Jun 24th, 2006, 11:21 AM
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Thanks so much for sharing!
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Jun 26th, 2006, 08:14 AM
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Yes, NGail, we were very happy with the itinerary in Peru, but less so in Ecuador. We would have liked more exploration by boat in the Galapagos, another day in Quito and seeing the Saturday market in Otavalo (if we had realized about Quito and Otavalo, we may have arranged to stay in Ecuador two more days).

Regarding the running around in Peru--it's really not that bad since you don't have to worry about the details.
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Jul 4th, 2006, 08:04 AM
  #12
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
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Lorraine - I just read your trip review of Peru/Ecuador and The Galapagos. Thank You for taking the time to write such a thorough day by day diary. I have my heart set on the Galapagos for next year and am struggling trying to decide whether or not to take the easy way out by choosing Celebrity Cruises and their Xpedition ship with 100 passengers or to brave a sailing vessel or catamaran. you brought up something I had not thought of and have experienced when sailing at home and tying up - the generator all night! also - the heat might be an issue - could be manageable if enough bottled water is provided. anyway thanks again!
BTW - A friend of mine swears by a company called "Journey's" and has been all over the world with them- even met her husband on one of their treks..
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Aug 7th, 2006, 02:56 PM
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Thanks, Lorraine, for the great report. We will be going on the OAT tour of Peru only (not including the Amazon) at the end of this month, and we will hope hard for Juan to be our guide.

We are having the same experience that you had--that the US OAT people don't know anything about the trip that is not in the booklet they sent us--so it would be great if you could answer a couple of questions:

--They say that we should bring hiking boots for Machu Picchu. Do you think that is advisable (we would rather not add that much weight is they are not needed and sneakers would be fine)?

--They say that we might want to bring collapsible walking sticks with rubber tips. We have never used anything like that, but do you think that would be advisable? I was interested in your comment about buying them there, though I don't know that we can count on our guide to make that opportunity available to us.

Thanks very much!

Len
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Aug 8th, 2006, 08:04 PM
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Cornishblue, if you just want to spend a week in the Galapagos, I'd vote for the Xpedition--it certainly would be easier (and more deluxe). We went with this OAT tour because we were trying to minimize time on the water, due to husband's seasickness.
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Aug 8th, 2006, 08:12 PM
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RCLCOLPB, I understand your comment about lugging around hiking boots! I didn't take my boots, but did take hiking shoes--no ankle support and they're as light as sneakers, but have more traction. I think you'll be fine in sneakers. Most of the walking around Machu Picchu is on large (and steep) stone steps. Unless you're young and agile, I strongly urge using a hiking stick to give you that extra boost going up and support coming down. If your itinerary takes you to Ollantaytambo, you'll be able to buy a stick. Or consider getting a used one on eBay before you go.
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Aug 9th, 2006, 06:40 AM
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Thanks very much, Lorraine! My wife reminded me of a few other questions that we have not gotten clear answers on from OAT:

--They highly recommend duffle bags. We were thinking of checking one duffle bag with wheels and bringing a roller bag to carry on (total for the 2 of us). Do you think the roller bag would be acceptable, or is there something critical about a duffle?

--They suggest that we might want to bring a small gift for the family we are visiting for a dinner. Did you have a dinner like that? If so, what kind of gift do you think makes the most sense?

--They suggest amounts to tip the guide, with the amount given in US dollars. I assume we can do this in Peruvian soles rather than having to carry a lot of dollars around?

--I assume the guide will advise us, but did you eat seviche and/or drink Pisco sours--everywhere, nowhere, or only at classier restaurants? Did people on the trip tend to have intestinal problems?

--I gather there is a time for an optional walk/hike at Machu Picchu. Any recommendations on that? We are in reasonably good shape, but my wife does not enjoy feeling like she is about to fall or slip off a mountain.

Thanks again,

Len

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Aug 10th, 2006, 10:32 AM
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Len, in answer to your questions:

1. Duffle bags. On my trip everyone had bags on rollers--but we were asked to bring a small duffle to use on the overnight trip to Macchu Pichu, because the train is small and all our luggage had to get piled onto seats. (The rest of our luggage remained at the hotel in Cusco.) The duffle comes in handy at the end of the trip to carry your purchases home.

-- gift. We brought T-shirts from our home town, and our host showed us his closet filled with T-shirts! The biggest gift hits were food, either brought from your area or purchased in Peru (bottle of wine, small box of chocolates, tin of cookies, etc.).

-- tips can be in either currency or combined, but I think service people would appreciate the local currency. Check with your guide.

-- food. Only a couple of folks in our group got sick (we took a Pepto Bismol tablet prophylactically daily). The tour uses only restaurants safe for our digestive systems; for meals on your own the guide will refer you to several choices. We ate ceviche whenever it was offered, which was almost daily. We don't drink alcohol, but everyone else happily imbibed pisco sours.

--optional hike. My husband has that same fear of falling off, and that isn't an issue if you do the hike up to the Gate of the Sun. All you need is a reasonable amount of stamina and good knees.
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Aug 10th, 2006, 11:29 AM
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Well - this is very unusual - I posted the following answer this morning but it's vanished - why would the moderator pull it? A book link to Amazon? I'll try again:

To RCLCOLPB

I wasn't on an OAT tour but can answer a couple of your questions......

We drank Pisco sours everywhere - but were very careful about seviche. We took the oral vaccine for food borne illnesses called DUKoral - I don't know if it can be creditted but we were in South America for 10 weeks and didn't have any problems. A travel doctor told us about it.

Re gifts - we stayed overnight with a family on Lake Titicaca and were advised to bring things for the children.......jeans were very popular plus school supplies like pens, pencils, paper, etc. Also batteries were appreciated. We also took some souvenirs of Canada.

Re walking in MP - some of the longer walks/hikes do involve heights (i.e. Huyana Picchu) - we walked to the Inca Bridge and it wasn't too bad for heights (a drop off on the right but fairly well covered by bushes, trees so you didn't have a sense of it).

You might want to pick up this self guided tour book before you go and then you can follow it once you're there - it's a really good book - here's a link to Amazon

http://tinyurl.com/pt58q

Have a great trip!
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Aug 20th, 2006, 03:08 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2006
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We are taking the OAT MP/Gal. trip in mid-September and really appreciate your trip report, Lorraine-- and the answers to the follow up questions. We had almost all the same questions that Len posted (AND LEN, if you are back before Sept 15 we would sure love to hear from you about your experience as I am sure we will be following the same itinerary right behind you!!

We were concerned about the "gift" - tahnks for ideas -- no T-shirts! and the luggage plan is still a bit confusing -- our normal bag of choice (the very popular carry on bag with semi-hard sides and wheels seems to be "prohibited"-- is that right?

By the way, we have had the same problem with the US based OAT folks-- flight issues, difficult to talk to about these issues, etc - but we expect the trip itself to be great!!

Peter & Wendy
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Aug 21st, 2006, 07:41 PM
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We are interpreting the responses to permit the very common black carryon, on the theory that it is basically soft and is smaller than a medium duffle (we are planning to take one of each). But do others think that's wrong?

Len
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