By: Jennifer Wilson
By: Jennifer Wilson
By: Jennifer Wilson
When we talk about our trip of a lifetime, people usually ask, "Why did you choose Peru?" The answer is more diverse than the country itself, which offers Pacific coastal wonders, Andes mountain ranges and rain forest jungle adventure; all with an ancient Inca presence.
My 17-year-old daughter and I chose a package with G.A.P. Tours out of San Francisco. The trip included airfare, lodging and a number of meals for $2,000 a person. What you paid up front in initial cost, you got back threefold with the exchange rate in Peru, which is 3 soles to $1.
We began our adventure in the capital city of Lima, which just like other large cities offers many unique districts; some metropolitan, some artsy, some poor, but all equally noisy and busy. We tried some of the local cuisine, lomos saltado (beef stir fry), empanadas and aji de gallina (chicken in a cream sauce served with rice). The highlight of our day in Lima was watching the surfers on the Pacific Ocean and sampling the popular Peruvian soft drink called Inca Cola. It looks like Mountain Dew but tastes like bubble gum – too sweet for us.
After meeting up with the rest of our 11-person tour group and toasting our travels with pisco sours (popular Peruvian alcoholic drink), we left Lima and traveled to Puerto Maldanado, the southernmost rain forest jungle town. After a bumpy hourlong bus ride, we came to the end of the road along the Rio de Madre (a tributary to the Amazon River).
Our lodge was still another three hours up river by boat, but they served us a tasty lunch of fried chicken, rice and plantains in individual wicker baskets. We munched contentedly and enjoyed seeing the nature of the river; caymans, capybaras, bats and many types of birds.
Our jungle lodge had running water, but no electricity. At night, we traveled around outdoors by flashlight and indoors by candle light. It was pleasant lying under the mosquito netting, drifting off to sleep to the sounds of never-ending raindrops and creature calls.
During our stay, we went on daytime and nighttime eco hikes, revealing monkeys, toucans, snakes, spiders, giant snails and many types of ants. We learned how the rain forest provides elixirs and remedies for many common ailments and how the rubber boom nearly damaged the fragile ecosystem of the jungle.
From the jungle we flew into the mountains to Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire. The altitude was an issue for some of us, myself included. At 10,500 feet, the air was thin and my blood could not carry enough oxygen to the rest of my body. Though I was one of the worst affected in my group, the dizziness passed after a few days. Immediately in and around Cusco, we visited many Inca ruins and learned about the fall of the Incan Empire caused by the Spanish invasion in the mid-1500s.
We sampled a traditional ceremonial dish of roasted guinea pig, which tasted similar to duck. After our bodies had a change to acclimatize, we ventured farther up in the Andes mountains to the Inca site kept hidden from the Spanish, called Machu Picchu. This archaeological site was hidden from the rest of the world until 1911, when it was discovered by Hiram Bingham, the American historian.
As with all the other Inca sites, this one is famed for its architectural advancement, but it is widely debated by scholars as to its true purpose for the Incas.
Regardless of the what and where, it is truly a spectacle to behold and is best viewed at daybreak as the morning sun peaks up over the Urubamba mountain range.
This adventure was designed for those who like a physical challenge. We did a lot of walking in less-than-ideal conditions (mud, stone trails, heights, cliffs), but alternative accommodations were available for those less active. The people of Peru are warm and friendly; very proud of their Inca heritage. Their bad English is just as good as your bad Spanish, so communicating was never much of an issue. When there was a problem, our bilingual tour guides were able to sort things out just fine.
The end of May and beginning of June are the best times to go as Peru sees the least amount of rain at that time. Packing can be somewhat of a challenge as the temperatures are radically different from coast to mountain to jungle. Finally, bring an extra bag to cart home all the great woven alpaca products or better yet, buy a woven bag there.
Some things you'll just have to get used to:
– Coke (no Pepsi);
– No Diet Coke;
– Coffee is instant (tea is more popular);
– Drink only bottled water (brush your teeth with it, too); and
– Used toilet paper does not get flushed, it goes in the garbage.
Jennipher Wilson of Loda is a CPR instructor. Marisa, her daughter, is a senior at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High.