Travel time is over. Sad but true. I've been wrapping up my travels over the last two weeks and haven't had a chance to hop on my computer until now. But I am back in the states and have more adventures to share.. all in good time!
For now, I finally had a chance to go through photos from the first part of our Peru/Bolivia adventure! It was probably one of the most adventurous and physically/mentally buffering trip I have ever been on. And one of the most stimulating too.
Since we saw and did so much.. I thought I would do a breakdown of the trip and gives some tips to anyone who might be traveling to Peru or Bolivia anytime soon. I don't usually like to include all the gory details of my travels but I thought it could be helpful to some! I really appreciated those in-depth blogs and/or articles as I did research for this trip. So I wanted to do the same!
Flight: HNL > IAH > LIM
Total Flight Time [excluding layovers]: 16 hours
Time zone: 5 hours ahead of Hawaii, 1 hour behind New York
Exchange rate: About 3 SOLES for every 1 USD
The nitty gritty:
After arriving in Lima we took an excruciating 18+ hour bus ride to Arequipa [a small city known for it's gastronomic cuisine, colonial style architecture, and canyons]. The bus ride cost us about 155 soles. If I were to do it again I would probably break down the bus ride and stop in a few towns along the coast. It would have made the long distances more bearable. That was probably our longest bus ride the entire trip. We learned our lesson after that bus ride.
Bussing it is the most common means of transportation in Peru for travelers. Renting a car is out of the question since everyone drives like maniacs and flights can get pricy [anywhere from 100-200USD one way!] We ended up using Cruz del Sur bus service for all of our bus travel throughout Peru. They seemed to be the most professional and well-rated bus company. And whenever you take the bus for long distances do not be stingy and pay a little extra for cama and/or semi-cama [the first class of bus services.] The seats recline and are much more spacious. *Note: always add a couple hours to bus times. If they say its a 15 hour bus ride.. it'll probably be closers to 18 hours like ours was.
Some points of interest in Arequipa include the Montesario de Santa Catalina, Plaza de Armas, and Colca Canyon. We didn't get a chance to see Colca Canyon since we were using the day to relax and roam the city. I really enjoyed the Montesario and thought the architecture was beautiful. We also ate at a couple of really cute restaurants including La Despensa, a cute little bakery/cafe with amazing ambiance and sweets!
Our next stop was Puno.. the city bordering Lake Titicaca and a 6-8 hour bus ride from Arequipa. Our bus ticket was about 75 soles. Puno doesn't get the best reputation as it is sort of an in-between city [to Cusco, Lake Titicaca, and/or La Paz, Bolivia.] But our main purpose for being there was Isla Amantanì.. an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. There are no hotels, restaurants, cars, or electricity on the island. Instead, it's known for it's unique Quechua community, textiles/ceramics, and home stays for travelers.
One of Peru's main industries is tourism so you are likely to come across a plethora of tourist companies and guides. Unfortunately, the only way to see/do something in a foreign country is to book a tour sometimes. I get it. I don't like it, but I get it. We had to do it several times on this trip. However, there are some ways around it. Instead of booking with a tour company to stay on Amantanì Island we went straight down to the docks and talked to a couple of guys who could get us on a boat. This way we could give money directly to the boatman and family we would be staying with on the island [rather than the tour company.]
The following day we hopped on a boat and headed for Amantanì. We stopped at Islas Uros, a community that once dated back to the pre-Inka civilization of the Uru's people. They built and lived on floating islands made out of dried totora reeds. Everything about it was fascinating. The islands, the culture, the textiles, etc. Unfortunately, Uru people no longer live on the islands full-time and the traditions are kept solely for tourism. With that being said, I tried to keep an open mind while I was there. It is for tourists therefore the experience is not 100% authentic. But I sort of adopted the mentality of taking in what I can and appreciating every situation for what it is. So.. I will never be able to experience Islas Uros any other way. I think if you have a similar mentality for most experiences you will enjoy any and everything.
We arrived on Amantanì Island in the afternoon and were greeted by a handful of local people, mostly women. We were assigned to our mama's and headed up to our respective houses. This was our first experience of hiking uphill in high-altitudes. Amantanì is a small, steep island with everyones houses sitting on an incline. Rough. Haha. After settling in we made our way up to Pachamama, one of the two major peaks on the island [with ruins from both Inka and Tiwanaku periods.] This was the first hike on our trip. Slowly but surely we made our way up the mountain and got to see some of the most breathtaking views [of both Peru and Bolivia!]
Our mama provided humble but delicious meals throughout our stay. It included a lot of andean cheese, soup, quinoa, and potatoes [personally, I am not a fan on andean cheese. It is much too salty and rubbery for my taste.] Towards the end of our stay our mama opened up to us about her husband passing and having to raise 4 children on her own. Having guests stay with her was/is her main source of income. She told us she has never been off the island and mainly speaks Quechua and very little Spanish [which made her easy to understand!] Life on that little island was very interesting to me. To think how quietly and simple they live [much like they have for centuries].. and a modern, bustling city is only a short boat ride away!
I think we were supposed to watch a performance done by the local community that evening. But because Carnival preparations were in full-swing it never happened. A little disappointing but not the end of the world. Before we went on our hike I noticed that they were all gathering in the courtyard to practice dances for Carnival and really wish I stayed. They were all dressed up and looked so beautiful! Another regret was not having purchased on of their traditional, embroidered tops. Probably one of the most beautiful, intricate piece of traditional clothing I saw while I was in Peru. There were several people selling it on our way up Pachamama and I decided to wait.. thinking I could get it in another town. But that particular style and embroidering can only be found there. It was my one regret from the trip.
After staying the night in our humble quarters we woke up early the next day and caught a small, local boat back to the Peninsula [for only 5 soles.] We then had to catch a minibus back to Puno before heading to Bolivia!
And to think.. this was only the first week of our trip! More to come in the Travel Diaries.
PS. No Alpaca or Llama sightings on this part of the trip! Ah!