June 25, 2002
Sorry it has taken so long for me to
send you some feedback about our trip. We had a great time, but
we were exhausted, and it has taken a week to catch up on everything
and have a moment to relax. Then we got thrown into having company
for 4 days, so I am just now sitting down to write.
As I mentioned to you, the only glitch
we had was the breakfast at the Sanctuary Lodge. Everyone who
worked with us in Peru was very friendly, competent, and accommodating.
The hotels were more than sufficient -- we probably would have
been very happy with the next step down, actually. We are not
accustomed to traveling in 4 and 5 star hotels in this country,
but didn't really know what the standards were in Peru. I am
also very glad I learned some Spanish. We were surprised at how
many times the hotel and restaurant personnel, as well as some
of the transfer drivers, did not know any English at all. But
my Spanish proved sufficient, particularly with the help of a
small dictionary, so that really made it more fun.
Humboldt penguins, Ballestas
The only part of our trip that was somewhat
disappointing was the first part, the Nazca Lines. In retrospect,
we would have skipped that. The seven hour bus ride was too much
of an investment (time-wise) for the 30-minute plane trip over
the lines. The day we were there was quite windy and dusty, which
obscured the view somewhat, but it was really the lack of any
on-the-ground display, museum, models, etc. that made the site
less than we had hoped. The hotel at Paracas was lovely, but
we really didn't get to enjoy it because we didn't get there
until 8:30 at night, due to the 3+ hour trip back from Nazca.
All in all, I'd say that part of Peru needs better access to
make it a really worth while for a casual traveler.
The Islas Ballestas tour was great --
we saw a lot of sea lions and Humboldt penguins. The afternoon
tour, of the Reserve, was pretty much a waste of time, as there
wasn't much to see except the desert which we had seen plenty
of on the way down from Lima.
Mt. Misti, Arequipa.
I'm really glad we went to Arequipa.
Besides the fact that the countryside is beautiful, and the terracing
even more elaborate than around Cuzco, we were fascinated by
the museum film and display about the mummy, Juanita. The convent
there was also quite interesting. The drive to Chivay, and then
to the Cross of the Condor was quite rugged, but worth it because
we had great views of the condors.
A couple of notes to mention to other
travelers: I didn't realize how many roadside vendors there would
be selling textiles. Every scenic pullout had its vendors, and
it was obvious that the guides planned for those areas to be
the stops. If I had realized that these people are not really
trying to take advantage of tourists, but are rather trying to
earn a meagre living through crafts, I would have brought more
small bills and planned to buy more. I didn't really understand
until we were halfway through the trip, and I wish I had bought
more in the Arequipa area.
Pre-inca terraces, Colca
Photo: Marcia Brandes.
Also, regarding changing money, this
is information others might like to have, for whatever it is
worth. I have in the past gotten a very good exchange rate using
credit cards, but I found that on this trip my credit card companies
gave me a much poorer rate of exchange than the hotels did. I
don't know if this is because I was in S.A. rather than Europe,
or if they have changed their policies. And the advice to carry
traveler's checks is good for safety, but not for economy, as
the rate for cashing them was not as good as for U.S. dollars.
Here is an example of the rate difference: Thomas Cook -- before
I left -- 2.85 soles per $1. My credit card purchases -- 2.9
soles per $1. Hotel travelers check rates -- 3.25 soles per $1.
Hotel cash rates -- 3.4 soles per $1. Some stores had exchange
rates of 3.5 soles per $1 for purchases. Next time I would take
Back to the trip. Everyone talks about
the possibility of getting altitude sickness in Cuzco, but Chivay
is 1,000 feet higher and the drive there goes through a pass
that is almost 16,000 feet high. We were both affected by the
altitude in Chivay, although not so severely that it hindered
Condors observing tourists
at the Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon.
We also picked up "Montezuma's
Revenge" (which I suppose in Peru should be labeled Tupac
Amaru's Revenge), even though we tried to be very careful. Fortunately,
Cipro kocked it right out, and I would really recommend to others
that they take a small prescription for that. Travelers clinics
will prescribe it and it is definitely worth while.
By the time we got to Cuzco, we were
well accustomed to the altitude, so that didn't present a problem.
Steve, unfortunately, was a little stubborn about taking the
Cipro, so when we climbed to Machu Picchu he hadn't had anything
to eat for the previous 48 hours. So the climb was somewhat more
difficult that he had anticipated, due to his weakened condition,
but we made it and it was definitely worth it. We both felt we
had earned the right to see Machu Picchu. We took advantage of
being in the high-rent district at the Sanctuary Lodge by climbing
to the guard house at 6:00 am the next morning to watch the sunrise.
That was quite special, and my photos came out very nicely. The
only part that was disappointing was to find out that the hotel
is owned by a British company that is paying pennies for the
privilege. We had hoped the profits would be going to preserve
Example of the terrain,
Royal Inca Trail.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.
Steve had a hard time with the street
vendors in Cuzco, particularly the children. It might be a good
idea in the notes to include a little more info on how to deal
with them. Steve was more abrupt than I would have been -- I
tried to be more polite and still say no (I'm a mom; I know how
to say "no"). Rossana, in Cuzco, was very attentive,
and made sure we were well taken care of. We enjoyed the folk
dancing at the art center, but we could have done without the
dinner & show the last night in Cuzco; it was Totally Tourist
and not that great.
On the other hand, we enjoyed the meals
we had overlooking the plaza and the people-watching. You were
certainly correct that there isn't anything to worry about in
finding good food in Peru. I gained two pounds, in spite of all
the walking & hiking we did! Our guide around Cuzco and Machu
Picchu was very knowledgable and we liked him a lot.
The jungle experience was a nice departure
from what we had already seen, and I'm very glad we ended with
that, rather than having the Cuzco part split in two as was originally
planned. It rained a lot, but we had a great guide, and it was
a good change of pace.
Madre de Dios River,
flying into Puerto Maldonado.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.
We were quite impressed with the job
Rainforest Expeditions is doing; we particularly liked the visit
to the native medicinal plant hospital. Since the macaws didn't
land at the clay lick while we were there, I was very glad I
had picked Tambopata rather than Manu, because the chicos that
had been raised there, although they live in the wild now, were
very tame and hung around the lodge a lot, letting us feed them
and perching on our shoulders. (When it came right down to it,
that was the reason I had picked Tambopata over Manu -- I know
you can't trust wild birds to be there for the photo ops.)
We had both purchased malaria medication
because of advice from the travel clinics here, but our guide
told us there was no malaria in the Tambopata region, so we discontinued
it. One thing that I found extrememly helpful was a hat that
I purchased at REI before I left; it is like a baseball cap,
but mosquito netting rolls out of the bill. It was a great relief
not to have to worry about bugs around my face, and I've already
loaned it to someone else.
Taking bananas to market
along the Tambopata River.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.
From reading the news, it looks as if
our timing to and from Peru was perfect. There were strikes before
we got there, and strikes (and particularly bad problems in Arequipa)
just after we left. We had some very interesting discussions
with several of our guides about the political situation. I was
particularly glad that we got to spend several days with each
guide, as it meant we got to know them on a personal basis a
lot better. It really is a shame that such nice people have to
put up with such rotten politicians.
We are very glad we went to Peru, and
I am writing about our trip in a newsletter Steve and I edit
that goes to 1000 people, so maybe we can spread the word. Thanks
for helping us put together a memorable trip.
-- Marcia Brandes
"... we enjoyed
the meals we had overlooking the plaza and the people-watching."
Marcia Brandes. All rights reserved.