Saturday, July 23, 2011


We got into Miami on time and had to move quickly to get on to our next flight as Mom was able to move us to an earlier flight the night before, but was not able to check our bags all the way through to Boston on the same flight. Things went pretty smoothly, though, as our travel experienced kids knew how to move through the airport, get breakfast, etc. We actually had to wait for about 5 minutes when we got to the gate before we could board. We were in the last row on the plane to Boston, but happy to be back in the USA, if not to be on such little sleep!

We're really looking forward to Cabot's for lunch and then getting home for some sleep. We hear that it's been really hot all over the US, including in Boston, but it's supposed to break tomorrow...guess we'll have to get out the AC units and get in the's all good, after all...

Final impressions: the people of Peru were incredibly nice, the scenery was spectacular, and the trip was harder than we thought it would be on a number of fronts including San Pedro, the hiking, and the kids dealing with being in a foreign country where no one spoke English.

Bests: Dylan - backpacking and Machu Picchu; Alex - going home; Persie - riding horses over the high passes; Mom - hiking over the passes and animals in the rainforest; Dad - the high passes, hiking in altitude and not struggling.

Worsts: Dylan - the 3 am bus ride with the blaring, horrible music and the train ride back to Ollantaytambo from Aguas Calientes; Alex - San Pedro; Persie - biting llamas; Mom - the day everyone was sick except for me; Dad - the "Avocado Incident."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Heading home

It was a tough night sleep for some of us...the excitement of the trip and a lot of wind, plus some howler monkeys in the middle of the night, made for a loud number of hours. We eventually got up at around 7:30, had breakfast and got on the boat at about 8:15. The boat ride was fast but really cold...we picked up a few other people at the other lodge, which was closer to the port, made it to port and then had the 45 minute bus ride to the Refugios headquarters near the airport. After repacking, we had a quick bus tour of Porto Madolnado (including their Plaza de Armas and the bridge that leads to Brazil in 200 kilometers), dropped off the California women who where part of our group (Sara, Sara, and Jamie), and then headed to the airport.

The airport is teeny, with only two gates and and not much for food. Given that, we had snickers bars, chips, and cookies for lunch, hoping for more on the plane. Alex figured out that we would be spending as much time in layovers (12 hours) as in the air over the next 24 hours...woah!

The flight to Cusco was quick and painless...just about 1/2 hour of flying time, then a quick stop on the deplaning here. We had a relatively quick turnaround and then took off for Lima at about 4:15. The views of the Andes at the beginning of the flight were pretty surprise there given what we saw while hiking!

We got into Lima and quickly realized that our flight hadn't started check in as we had 5 hours before flight time. Given that, we had dinner at McDonald's and Subway and then moved back downstairs to wait for the counter to open. We realized that a bunch of people weeded already lined up at about 7:15, got in line and eventually made it through by about 8:30. We then proceeded to the gate, charged our iStuff and Mom & Dad had a last Peruvian beer (we were disappointed that they didn't have Cusquena). We boarded the plane about about 10:15 and basically survived the Redeye with as much sleep as we could get...Dylan won as he took some NyQuil.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Amazon Rain Forest - Day 3 - Macaws

Last full day in Peru!

We woke up for a 6:30 breakfast again (it was back to Alex getting up and Dylan complaining about it today...) and then hiked down to the water to hop into a boat for a 10 minute ride down river. The place where we got off was really muddy, but we quickly hiked up and out of that and then had about an hour of walking through the jungle until we got to a couple of blinds from which we hoped to see some birds. There was another group already there...they had left the lodge at 5:00 am.

Fairly soon after we got there, a couple of Macaws flew through the air and landed in a tree near the clay lick...they just sat there for along time, and were soon joined by a couple of others. Unfortunately, the other group refused to stay behind the blinds and eventually scared them off. After a while, the second group left for the lodge and then the Macaws came back...there were three varieties, one of which Delford, our guide, had only seen once this year and not at all last year at this particular lick (they were green and blue). Another interesting fact about macaws is that they mate for life at about 3 years of age and live to be upwards of 50 years old! We definitely only saw them flying only in pairs. They stayed in the trees for the time we were there, but we were able to get some good views thanks to the telescope our guides brought. It was a pleasant morning, although I think he kids would rather have stayed at the lodge.

We hiked back to the river, took the boat back to the lodge and then all took showers and put on our only clean clothes. It felt great! Since it was only 11:30, we had plenty of time to hang out, read and talk with some of the other guests before lunch at 1. After that, we came back to our room for some reading and then nap.

After an excellent nap, we headed down to the main lodge to play some May I. We decided to blow off the afternoon hike to a mammal salt lick as the kids (and mom & dad, to be honest) had had enough...we're ready to go home and just want to rest until that long trip, which starts in the morning.

Mom & Alex did decide to go on the "cayman hunt" at 8 pm. Dylan and Persie went to bed and dad hung out at the bar with our new friends from Connecticut, Tom & Carole. The cayman hunt was successful, as they saw three of the beasts, including one that was really a "deer in the headlights." They also saw a couple of big was worth the trip. When they got back, Alex went to bed and mom and dad had one last beer with Tom & Carole before heading off to bed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Amazon Rain Forest - Day 2 - Fire Ants, tarantula, and piranhas!

We got up at 6:30 and headed to the dining room for breakfast (eggs, bread, jam, etc.). At about 7, we started off from the lodge on a hike. We wore Wellington's as the trail was really muddy. We saw a bunch of wildlife on this ants (who protect the tree they live on to the extent that it is totally free of other plants, twigs, ), a tarantula (very cool...large & hairy - there's some video of it going back into it's hole), some small, black monkeys (saddleback tamarin), piranhas, sardines, a strangling fig (which was hollow since it killed the tree that it started around), leaf carrier ants, brazil nut trees, and a capo of the largest in the rain forest. The walk included a nasty wait on a dock to cross a "lake" which was actually a isolated part of the river...another group had taken all of the boats! Or guides finally improvised by cutting down a tree with a machete and using it as a pole...they were short a paddle.

When we got back from the walk, we had lunch, then took a nap. Dad went on a "medicinal plants" walk, and mom went to see a farm across the river, but the kids just hung out, mostly swinging in the hammocks. Mom & dad hung out with the adults at the bar for a bit before dinner...there is a nice couple from Connecticut and some good folks from Canada (here through GAP Adventures), many of whom are teachers. Nice life, that....being a teacher, having the summer off, traveling all over the world....

We had dinner then Dylan sprinted for bed shortly thereafter, quickly followed by everyone else. Dad and Dylan weren't feeling that great, but hopefully it was just from being tired from the day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Amazon Rain Forest - Day 1 - Getting There

We had a nice late sleep-in (7:30 or so), a good 'ole Hotel Mabey breakfast (although dad was disappointed that there were no eggs), finished some last minute packing, and then met Sara from Amazonas Explorer at 9 for our ride to the airport. The ride was quick and we got through checking our bags (including getting Alex's staff wrapped in green plastic...that was an adventure) and headed in to our gate. Security was quick and we had plenty of time to hang around reading, writing, etc. Mom even found the colored frog that she wanted to get for someone from work!

Our flight was quick (about 45 minutes) and as soon as we got off the plane we noticed a big difference in the was hot and humid...mostly humid! The airport was tiny, and our bags were the last ones off the plane, so it was empty by the time we left. Mariana, one of our guides, and ....., the other, were there to greet us as well as a number of other Refugios Amazonas guests. We took a short bus ride to their Puerto Modonaldo headquarters and left most of our bags there. After getting some juice (passion fruit, I think), we boarded the bus again for a 45 minute drive on a dirt road, shared with many motorcycles (seemingly the preferred mode of transportation here), to the "port" on the river (the Tambopata River). We then got on a really long, narrow boat, with a big outboard motor, for a ride up the river to the lodge.

Did I mention that it was raining on and off throughout this time? First rain we'd seen, really, but when we were getting on the boat, it was coming down pretty good...enough so that the guides put down the plastic sides to keep the rain off us. We were given a leaf filled with a rice based lunch...very yummy...and told to just throw it over the edge when we were done...kind of weird, but kind of fun as well. We rode for about an hour when we had to stop to get off and "check in" to the reservation in which the lodge is located. Once we did that, we were off for another hour or so on the travel time on the boat was just under three hours. On this part of the trip, we saw capybara (some of the biggest hamster/rodents ever and one of the things Dylan really wanted to see), a couple of cayman (their word for alligators), lots of birds, and even a family of red howling monkeys...pretty neat!

Finally, we arrived at the lodge at about 5:30 or 6:00 pm. We had a five minute walk up from the river and were very excited to see where we would be staying for the next few days...our last in Peru! The initial impression was stunning, particularly since we were in the middle of the rain forest! The main building is large, has a bar right in front, a dining room in back and is very open. Our rooms we're quickly assigned and they were also very fact, one wall is just not there!

We had a lovely evening...Mom & Dad had a couple of Pisco sours, the kids swung on the hammocks upstairs, and we even got to talk to a number of other adults about their (and our) various travels through Peru. One family, who's mother grew up here, and who's father is Belgian, had a 10 year old who was happy to see some other kids...they all played Sorry! on the boat ride and swung together in the lodge.

We had dinner...excellent lasagna, and then retired to watch the Peru / Uruguay soccer game (Peru lost 0-2) with all the staff in the back of the lodge. Actually, only Dad and Alex watched the talked with folks in the dining room, and Dylan and Persie swung...after that, it was off to bed (at about 9). Dad took a cold shower before getting under the mosquito nets, which was great!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Machu Picchu

We woke at about 6:30 after a great night's sleep, got ready, had a quick breakfast and met Willow at 7. Persie was the tough one to get up today....Dylan was actually easy for once!

We hopped on a bus about 2 minutes from our hotel and zoomed right up to Machu Picchu. The crowds were not what we expected...even Willow commented that there weren't many people there. Willow gave us a long overview using a map that depicted the site as it might have been when people were living there, then walked us around a number of different areas...the sun dial, the schools, the 32 cornered stone, the temple of the sun (which turns trapezoids into perfect squares on the summer and winter solstices...pretty cool), the Condor again, the irrigation system, the many rocks that were cut into silhouettes of the mountains, the history of the Incas, etc. It was a good hour and a half tour. Willow clearly knew his stuff and was proud of his Cechuan heritage. He spent a little too much time talking at points for the kids, but overall, was very knowledgable.

We then headed back down the mountain to Aguas Calientes where we got on an 11 am train for Ollantaytambo. The ride was good except for the fact that Alex had an upset stomach and Dylan, Mom, and Persie had to sit in the hot sun the whole way...bummer! There was also a very strange dancing show and a fashion show on the train (see the videos below)! We walked up the hill to one of the restaurants we had seen the previous day (the kids didn't like the food at the river restaurant), had lunch and then got our bags at the hotel and headed out to Cusco in an Amazonas Explorer van.

The ride was longer than we thought (about 2 hours), but we did get to stop at one point to get some sweets (sugared "pop corn" that Willow and the driver ate...they only offered us one for the five of us) and to see the mountain ranges through which we had been hiking...they are quite something!

We arrived at Hotel Mabey, checked in, took a nap, and then repacked everything for the Amazon, where we can only take 10 kilos per person on the boat to Refugios Amazonas. We then headed out to dinner at Inca Fe...the kids favorite restaurant the last time we were in Cusco. We had a nice meal there (although the bill took such a long time coming that dad stayed for it while everyone else started walking home), read some of our new bookend all crashed pretty quickly.

About two hours later (11 pm), Dylan came into mom and dad's room with a stomach ache. Mom switched rooms with him and he stayed with Dad...he was farting up a storm (thanks for bringing into my bed, D!) so dad gave him some Pepto Bismal and he soon got better. At about 2 am, he went back to his own room and we all slept out the rest of the night.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Inca Trail

We had a tough night sleep as the wedding party was rocking next door until about 3 am. Ah well....can't feel badly about people being happy, I suppose. We got up at around 6:30, had breakfast, and waited to meet our guide for the next few days..."Willow." He showed up at about 7:10 and was all business, we got our things together (we actually had to leave four bags at the hotel...we were only allowed to take our day packs and one small Amazonas Explorer duffle bag to Machu Picchu) and then headed to the train station, which was only a few blocks down the hill.

The train to Km 104 took about an hour and a half. All of a sudden, the train stopped and Willow said it was time to get off...we grabbed our things and got off the train in the middle of no where...we were the only people to get off here and there was no station of any kind.

We put on sun screen, bug spray and packed our bags (Willow had arranged for the one duffle bag to be dropped at our hotel for the night) and started up the trail. This was a very different hike than those we had been doing. There was way more vegetation along the trail and it was much steeper. The first two hours was very hot and all up hill...fortunately, there were a couple of huts in which we could rest...we would have been hard pressed to make it otherwise. Willow set a quick pace for this part of the hike, which was all in the sun (as a side note, he is a former Inca Trail porter, who had, at one point, the ability to hike the entire Inca Trail in about 7 hours) as he wanted us to get through it more quickly. There were tons of stairs going both up and down, but mostly up...we decided that these were harder to hike than the other trails we'd been doing. Alex even thought they were stupid to make the stairs, but it provided the ability for the trail to be much more direct than the others.

Eventually, after much cajoling of Persie and Alex (who was still not feeling great), we made it to a waterfall. The kids had a chance to cool off here and then we headed up to Winya Wayna, an Incan site that was a farming research facility for Machu Picchu. This is a multiple terraced site that is quite spectacular to see, if only for it's size and location. After climbing the 345 or so steps to the top, we had a nice lunch in the shade and learned about the site from Willow.

We headed off after lunch and soon came to a "hiker's lodge" that services Inca Trail hikers. It's right a the bottom of the infamous 3,000 step descent from a pass high about Winya Wayna. It didn't look like much compared to the AMC huts we're used to, so we just stopped to pee and then moved on. This section of the trail was much flatter and in the trees, so the kids felt a lot better about it and moved much more quickly.

After about an hour and a half, we arrived at a spot from where Willow told us it was all uphill for twenty minute to the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu (Inti Punku). We quickly moved throughout the "oh my god" section (hand over hand stair climbing) and before we knew it, were at Ina Punta (Alex timed us in 7 minutes and 30 seconds!).

Machu Picchu is an impressive sight from high above, as you are at Inti Punku. It is a city that once housed 1000 people and it is poised at the top of a mountain. There are many terraces visible as well as houses, temples, etc. The sun was in the wrong place for good pictures, but we took them anyway and then headed down the trail to the actual site. Willow didn't really want to do much touring as our pass only allowed us to finish the trail and take a bus down to Aguas Calientes, but since it was late and there weren't many people there, we convinced him to show us some things. We toured for about an hour and saw a number of significant parts of the site including the Temple of the Sun, and the Monument to the Condor. It's amazing what the Cechuans were able to build under the direction of the Inca. The lasting impression I have is one of incredibly hard work...

We headed down to town on a bus to find our hotel, had a quick pizza dinner and then went to bed. Mom & Dad's room was right on the river, so it was a good night's sleep...the kids were a few rooms down and also slept well after a number of difficult hiking days...we figured out that we had hiked 58 kilometers (more than the standard 43 km Inca Trail, which is typically done in four days) in five days through all sorts of altitude changes. Very impressive for ones so young!