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My Dream Trip to Peru: Ancient Land of Mysteries

October 4-16, 2011

By Joe Laufer

If there was any one “premiere” destination on my “Bucket List” it had to be Machu Picchu. It seems to be right up there with the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal on most travelers’ bucket lists – more for its mysterious attraction and uniqueness than for its inherent greatness. So the opportunity finally arrived for me to check this one off my list. Ironically, as my tour through Peru progressed, I discovered that the rest of Peru had been neglected and overlooked because of all the hype about Machu Picchu. A more appropriate title for this travelogue, based on my experience on this tour, might be: “The many faces of Peru” or “Peru – more than Machu Picchu.” Don’t get me wrong – Machu Picchu was still the centerpiece of this tour – and in a special way in 2011, being the centennial of Hyram Bingham’s 1911 re-discovery of this ancient treasure. This travelogue, then, is my way of summarizing my many experiences during this challenging and exhausting adventure – one that I feel I undertook just in time, at age 76, when my body was beginning to rebel against the physical hurdles it was called upon to overcome.

Click here to see my top 30-picture oveview of my Peru Albums on Snapfish

I took 886 pictures while on tour. All of them are posted here via my Snapfish albums and placed in appropriate spots throughout this travelogue.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 - New Jersey to Lima via Miami

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi – my personal Patron Saint and hero. I didn’t do much to honor him, spending practically the whole day traveling. I was reminded that this was the second time I have been on a major international tour on October 4. Twenty-four years earlier on this date, in 1987, I had been in Seville and Palos, Spain on a Christopher Columbus Quincentenary expedition. On this current trip I started out early Tuesday morning with my group of 11 travelers. We left Vincentown in a mini-bus at 7:15 a.m., heading for JFK airport and an 11:40 a.m. flight to Miami. Collette Vacations set the time – and while I thought four hours to JFK was excessive, it ended up being reasonable because we went through Staten Island and Brooklyn, and arrived at JFK with little time to spare before we boarded our American Airlines flight. We arrived as scheduled in Miami at 2:40 in the afternoon, navigated the terminals of Miami International Airport, boarding our LAN airlines scheduled 6:00 p.m. flight a bit delayed, and arrived in Lima, Peru around Midnight. We were met by our capable Collette Vacations tour manager, twenty-nine-year-old Kevin Ferguson – definitely a “Peruvaphile” – who shepherded us to our hotel while orienting us to Lima along the way. Gus Haines, Hans Rottau, Fred Horner and I found our way to the hotel bar before retiring and introduced ourselves to the classic Peruvian drink – a Pisco Sour. It was a perfect way to end a long travel day and a great introduction to this magical country we were about to explore for 11 days – and we repeated the Pisco toast tradition every day in every bar we visited throughout this tour.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - Lima Peru

This travelogue is made up of about a dozen e-mails sent from Peru to family and friends throughout the tour. Now that I’m home, I am editing them into a single, hopefully coherent, travelogue. We were fortunate on this tour to have free access to computers at each of the six very modern hotels en-route. On average there were two or three computers, usually in the lobby, for guests. Only about six or seven of our travel group of 35 were “regulars” at the computers, so I was able to write most of my travelogue in daily doses. My first e-mail home to my wife, Penny, was sent after breakfast on October 5:

“Spent all day Tuesday traveling.  Arrived here on time late Tuesday night.  After a good sleep and great breakfast, we are about to take a neighborhood “get acquainted” walk.  Will get back to you when I have time to write more.  Hard to believe I’m in a new country for my list.  Peru seems to be a really fabulous country. Love, Joe.”

My first e-mail blast to about 50 friends, family and fellow travelers was sent late on Wednesday afternoon:

Well, here I am in a brand new country on my check list: Peru.  It becomes my 56th country to have visited in my lifetime.  I am here with 11 people from New Jersey that I recruited for this trip of a lifetime, joined with another 24 people from various places in the US as well as from England and Canada.  There is a group of 7 people from Scranton, PA, in that total -- coincidental because of my lifelong connections with that area.  In our get acquainted meeting today, most of the people indicated that they were fulfilling a "bucket list" dream….

Our Collette Vacations tour Manager, Kevin Ferguson, is a really great asset to our tour.  He gave us a thorough orientation at noon today and comes across as very knowledgeable about the history and culture of Peru. He is very well organized and has provided us with information and tools to help us get the most out of this trip of a lifetime. He took us on a walking tour of the neighborhood after breakfast, during which he brought us into a large grocery store to introduce us to a non-touristy slice of real Peruvian life and the foods that locals eat. We all left with our supply of bottled water, as we have been warned not to drink the local tap water anywhere we visit during the next 11 days.

At 2 this afternoon we boarded a bus for a guided tour of the magnificent city of Lima  -- and what a city this is.  Steeped in Inca and Spanish Colonial history, full of archeological ruins and monuments, we were regaled by our local tour guide as we drove through the colorful neighborhoods, along the Pacific shoreline and walked on historic streets and through Cathedrals, monasteries and souvenir gift shops.  The city hugs the coast and our visit to the waterfront park on a high cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean provided a memorable first impression of the uniqueness of the Lima landscape. Unfortunately, we are only here today, and will return briefly on the very last day of our tour before flying home on Oct. 15th.  Tomorrow morning we fly out of Lima for historic Cuzco, and our dream tour up to Machu Picchu the following day.  Our flight leaves at 8 a.m., so we will be rising for breakfast rather early. 

The weather here was slightly overcast, but the temperature was a little warmer than we expected, in the mid 70s -- so we started out not having to wear jackets or sweaters, but are prepared for a whole range of temperatures over our 11-day visit.  Tonight -- in fact, in about half an hour from now as I write from the Doubletree El Pardo Hotel computer center -- we are having a welcome dinner and Peruvian Cultural Show.  Our hotel is very nicely located in an area of Peru called Miraflores and is ultra-modern of the highest standards.  We have a nice group of people, and my group of 11 consists of individuals who have made several trips with me over the years.  If the rest of the trip goes as well as the first day and a half of travel and touring, we are in for a trip of a lifetime. 

Not included in my e-mail was a description of the cultural dinner show we attended in the Junius lounge of our hotel that first night. It is billed as “the best show in town,” which presents the magic of the unique folklore of Peru through a variety of dances, costumes and music. Everyone in our group marveled at the professionalism of this show, and we were dazzled by the acrobatics of a male “scissors dance,” in which the dancers hold two loose scissors or shears in their hands which clash together during the dance. It becomes something of a competition between two or three dancers for both complexity and skill. The whole show was fabulous.

Click here for my Snapfish album of these first two days - 68 photos

Thursday, October 6, 2011 - Cusco; Awana Kancha; Sacred Valley of the Incas; Urubama

We flew into Cusco this morning -- about an hour flight from Lima, over the beautiful Andes Mountains.  Because of the narrow roads we'd be navigating, our group had to break up into two and were each assigned a small 20-seat bus.  My entire group is in the "Joe" bus, along with 7 other people whose leader is also a "Joe" (Michalczyk), from Scranton, PA.  Our Collette tour manager told us that the day was to be a "National Geographic Alive" day -- and it sure was.  It was as though we were a National Geographic film crew on a quest for new vistas and ancient Peruvian history.

We are now in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Upon arrival at the airport, we immediately left Cusco and traveled through the valley to Awana Kancha, a refuge for llamas, alpacas, condors and other animals. One member of our party got a bite on her arm as she was posing for a picture with a Condor, the “official” bird of Peru, much as the Eagle is ours!  We fed the alpacas, and had an opportunity to visit a very nice gift store – more like a department store than a gift shop – for quality souvenirs. I bought an Inca necklace for my wife Penny.

We had lunch in a little cafe -- I had a ham and cheese "empanada" -- I'm trying whatever is different and edible!  The people are friendly -- they love tourists.  The natural beauty of this country jumps out at you wherever you go -- and we soon realized why we couldn't use a regular 50-passenger bus.  In the towns, we could hardly navigate the narrow streets with our tiny bus, sometimes having to back up to allow a confronting cart through.   Most of us are experiencing some discomfort from the altitude. I personally got very dizzy and short of breath for a few hours during our touring today.  We concluded our first day in the Valley of the Incas with a visit to the studios of a world-renowned Peruvian Sculptor, Pablo Seminario -- who spoke to us, showed us his work and who let us take pictures with him.  Some folks even purchased some of his really beautiful productions. Our tour manager has made Oxygen available for us at key spots along the way and assures us that "this too will soon pass" as our bodies acclimate to the high altitude.  One member of our group, Janet Mee, got ill midway through the day, but the crack Collette team had a doctor waiting for us at the hotel when we returned.  Our present accommodations are in the town of Yucay and are in a former Spanish monastery converted into a premier hotel (Sonesta Posada del Inca Yucay).  The setting is fabulous, and the rooms combine the monastic architecture of the past and the modern conveniences of the present.  It is a world-class hotel.  We had a fabulous dinner in the hotel dining room.

Friday, October 7, 2011 - Urubama; Quechua Village; Ollyantaytambo; Urubamba

Today we spent another full day gearing up for the big prize, tomorrow - Machu Picchu.  First we went to Pisac, a small town known for its Food Market.  Native Andean peasants and farmers bring their produce there to sell.  There was food of every kind in open burlap, freshly butchered meat on open tables, with some men using axes to cut the meat apart on tree stumps, while wild dog roamed around looking for scraps.  It definitely wouldn't pass a US health inspector’s visit, but gave us a taste of third-world life, with locals dressed in their native costumes and trade-mark Peruvian fedoras.  We then traveled to the outskirts of town to a quaint village off in the hinterlands of the Sacred Valley.  At the end of the paved road we took a three or four mile dirt road to a quaint rural community.  We each had donated money for 35 bags of food we purchased at the aforementioned food market in Urubamba.  We went to a primitive community hall where the locals gathered to meet us.  They gave us a demonstration of their weaving skills and treated us to homemade soup and mint tea.  We purchased some souvenirs they had made and had our pictures taken with them. I bought some dolls dressed in native costumes crafted by the local women for my granddaughters. The event reminded me of my visit to a poor village in Kenya a few years ago. 

My Snapfish album of our visit to the Andean Village - - - -30 photos

After this, we headed to the Incan archeological ruins in Ollyantaytambo. Hard to describe, but this was a pre-Columbian historic site. We had lunch in the village square, and then headed to  place where we sampled the local Corn Beer called Chicha, after seeing a demonstration of how it was made.  The scenery to and from these places was overwhelming.  We took the same route on narrow roads along the river that Hyram Bingham, the guy who re-discovered Machu Picchu did 100 years ago this past July.  I'm going to bed early tonight, as we get up at 4 a.m. to head to Machu Picchu tomorrow.  This has been a fantastic trip so far.

Saturday, October 8, 2011 - Urubamba; Aguas Calientes; Machu Picchu; Aguas Calientes

Click here for my Snapfish album of the Machu Picchu experience - 76 photos

We arose at 4 a.m., had a full breakfast in our hotel, took our bus about 40 miles to Ollyantaytambo, where we boarded a Peru Rail Sky Dome train for an hour´s ride along the same scenic route that Hyram Bingham took in 1911 to the base town of Aguas Calientes, to immediately board a bus which took us to the top of Machu Picchu on a windy dirt road for a 20-minute ride to the top.  Upon arrival at the top, we had our passports stamped with an image of Machu Picchu and the date. Our personal and extremely knowledgeable guide, Fidel, then took us on a narrated two hour climb and tour of the ancient ruins.  He pointed out the architecture, the use of the various structures, the agricultural uses of the area, the temple, the solar observatory and other dedicated Inca structures on the site. The stones and terraces I had often viewed in pictures now took on meaning as I moved from one section to another, learning uses, relationships and symbolism of these magnificent ruins.

Machu Picchu is one of the most historic places on earth -- a place I have always dreamed of visiting, and now have been given the opportunity to experience first-hand.  It is even more than I had imagined.  Something of a mystical experience! That I did it now, in my 76th year, is not without merit.  There were areas I wanted to visit on the site but couldn´t because my legs and ankles were not in shape to do it.  It was much more difficult to navigate than I had anticipated, but I did what I could!  The weather was not ideal, either.  At first I thought we were not going to see everything we were hoping to see because of the low, dark clouds and the rain.  Fortunately, the weather got better within an hour after we arrived.  It rained intermittently, but the good news was it was not hot, which we were warned might be the case, and the "ticks" which are a pain to the tourists did not come out (remember, we were in an Andean natural preserve - and with the heat comes the bugs).  So we all rationalized and said the rain and clouds were a blessing and we didn´t have to use the insect repellent and the sun screen we were advised to bring. 

I must have climbed the equivalent of about 200 steps - and having just gotten over pneumonia and a strained ankle, it was no picnic.  They sell adjustable walking sticks in all the tourist shops, and I´m glad I bought one, as it helped me keep my balance in some treacherous areas we navigated.  To cope with the inclement weather we came prepared with our travel umbrellas and ponchos.  The weather wasn´t going to deter us from experiencing our once-in-a-lifetime archeological adventures!  We got to see everything we came to see, minus a visit from the Inca "Sun God".  I got some great pictures.

Because of the weather, and the physical strain, I returned to the hotel  - having been challenged enough by the mountain – in order to revel in what we had seen in the comfort of our luxurious hotel room.  Some of our group remained at the top hoping the sun would come out, and it did, mid-afternoon. At the beautiful Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel I had a balcony overlooking the Vilcanota River – with a beautiful view of the rapids.  Our hotel is at the foot of the mountain -- the Machu Picchu shuttle dropped us off right at the door.  We will be here overnight and for half a day tomorrow.  We are having a special dinner tonight.  Tomorrow morning I am taking a 3-hour bird walk through a rain forest here in Machu Picchu.  Our accommodations here are fabulous. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011 - Aguas Calientes; Cusco

It is 10 a.m. on Sunday and I just got back after a 3 hour bird watching walk - only six of us opted to go.  It was great!  At the end of the bird walk we toured a small, but extremely informative, museum which revealed the entire history of the Machu Picchu settlement from its establishment by the Incas, its re-discovery in 1911, and the restoration of its ruins as they are today. I have just finished breakfast.  We are in a 5 star hotel - one of the best I´ve ever been in.  We were told that regular tourists pay $750 per night per room here. My view out my picture window is of the beautiful River that Hiram Bingham, the discoverer of Machu Picchu, used in 1911.  I was so happy yesterday when Kevin Ferguson, our tour director, lent me his phone in the hotel lobby to call home. The hotel is equipped with WIFI.  There was a slight delay - but what a delight when I first talked with my daughter, Kerry, then my wife, Penny, and then with the grandkids

  My trip is going very well and everything is almost perfect.  It is probably one of my most aggressive trips ever, but at the same time, the most beautiful from a nature point of view. We are in the next time zone over going East - so it is an hour earlier here than it is in New Jersey. 

At 1:30 we departed Aguas Calientes by train, for the 2-hour ride back to Ollyantaytambo. While on the train we were entertained by a costumed character and treated to a fashion show – with an opportunity to buy Peruvian made garments. We boarded our bus for our trip to Cusco.  Along the way we stopped at some very impressive Inca ruins to learn more about the unbelievable architectural achievements of that society.  The route took us by some very impressive natural vistas, including snow-capped mountain peaks and beautiful lakes. We passed farms where farmers were still plowing primitively using Oxen to pull their hand-guided plows. The beauty of this country is unparalleled. 

Collette Vacations tries to include at least one charitable stop along the way, and this trip was no exception.  We visited a girls´ orphanage in a small town on the outskirts of Cusco where we were entertained by the girls, and we shared our gifts with them.  The orphanage (Hogar de Mercedes girls home) is run by Marian Nuns, and they were most grateful for the help we gave them.  Our travel group was touched by the work the nuns are doing there and the gratefulness of the girls.  They hugged and kissed us as we left - really not wanting us to go.  There were about 50 orphans ranging between the ages of 6 and 16.  

Click here for my Snapfish album of this portion of tour ---53 photos

Under the cover of darkness we arrived in Cusco, the center of Inca Culture in the mid-1500s, before the Spanish arrived -- and continuing as a cultural center during the Colonial period. Hiram Bingham made his exploration headquarters here.   Our hotel, the Sonesta, is very centrally located and, in keeping with the trend, is an ultra modern 4-star hotel.  Tired after a long day on the road, we headed to bed to get the rest need for an early breakfast call today.

Monday, October 10, 2011 - Cusco; Quechua Village; Ollyantaytambo; Cusco

We began today by touring another major Inca archeological site called Sacsayhuaman.  Our guide was Fidel, who was very knowledgeable about everything dealing with the Incas.  Many of our group indicated that what we saw today was almost as impressive as Machu Picchu itself - it just didn´t get the popular attention of the rest of the world that it deserved. We were most impressed by the precision of the stone-cutting and the design of the structure in synch with the position of the sun, stars and constellations.

From here we went to a mountain-top quarry called Q’enqo, where the Incas made their precision cuts of stones used in their unique buildings, and then we returned to the town square where we visited the magnificent Cathedral dating back to the arrival of the Spaniards.  After lunch, we headed out to two archeological wonders: one, the Inca Terraces at Moray, where the Incas experimented with different agricultural products (where the weather was very windy and rainy, curtailing our ability to fully appreciate the site) and the other, The Sacred Valley Salt Mines – a one-of-a-kind venue consisting of hundreds of rectangular pools of white salt-water stacked in terraces.  Both sites were unique and awe-inspiring.  We returned to Cusco for dinner at a restaurant in the town square, with entertainment by musicians and dancers performing Inca cultural classics. 

Several of our group, including myself, are experiencing the effects of the high altitude.  We are at 12,000 feet, and it is causing shortness of breath and other effects.  The hotel provides oxygen for us, and I took advantage of it this morning before we left on our tours. It slows us down, and some are also getting headaches.  This is probably the most aggressive tour I`ve ever taken.  I should have done it 20 years ago when I was in better shape. Our tour director is doing everything possible to keep the pace reasonable for those of us who are being affected by our response to the altitude.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - Cusco; Juliaca; Puno

Around noon today we headed to the Cusco airport for a flight south to the town of Juliaca, from which we took a coach to the town of Puno. We are about to tackle the next unique landscape of Peru, Lake Tititcaca. It was mainly a travel day, and we arrived at our very pleasant resort hotel, the Sonesta Posada del Inca hotel in Puno, right on the banks of the lake. As we drove from the airport to our hotel, we were less than impressed with Juliaca, basically an industrial town. Here, as in several places throughout Peru, we noticed a lot of unfinished homes in which people were living. Kevin told us that it was a way of evading property taxes. Currently the government is looking at reversing the law, and taxing unfinished houses in order to encourage the completion of construction.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - Puno; Lake Titicaca; Uros Island; Sillustani; Puno

Last night was tough on lots of people for breathing.  Most of my group, including me, had to take oxygen.  I have a beautiful view of the lake from my room. The sun is shining and weather pretty nice.   Only a few days are left in the tour and I think despite having seen so much history and beauty, everyone is about ready to head for home.

We awakened this morning to a beautiful day on Lake Titicaca.  After a nice breakfast we boarded two boats to take us for about a half hour ride on this magnificent lake, which is the highest commercially navigable lake in the world - at about 12,500 feet above sea level. By water volume, the lake is also the largest lake in South America. The boats took us to the floating straw islands of the Uros people of Peru.  One of the unique wonders of the world, these man-made islands  - about 45 of them --made of about 7 ft. of straw are each inhabited by about 7 families on average.  We landed at one and were given demonstrations by native inhabitants, taken to their individual homes - all made of straw and offered entertainment by them.  I had seen pictures of these islands and their uniquely designed straw boats in the Spanish textbook I used in the 1960s and never thought I would experience them first-hand.  Walking on the straw is like walking on a mattress. 

After visiting the straw home of a resident, we boarded one of their classic straw boats (which holds about 20 people) - a double decker - I was on the upper level - we then visited a second island which was more of a common public island than a family island.  Then back to our hotel for lunch.  After lunch we boarded our bus to go about an hour away to some pre-Incan ruins.  It was a really unique experience in a very remote area, with a large lake.  It was an ancient Inca burial ground featuring stone “chullpas” or towers which served as tombs. The site had recently been upgraded and modernized for tourists.  Again, something you would only see in National Geographic Magazine.  The altitude affected many of us, and some of us, me included, had to truncate our climb to the top - bit still I saw lots.

Click here for my Snapfish photos of Lake Titicaca and the Peruvian vistas en-route to Paracas - 307 photos

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a compound of native dwellings in Atun Colla to visit a family and see how they lived.  We were invited into their home, and they prepared some native foods for us.  It was very similar to a visit we made to a native compound in Kenya.  It is hard to believe how primitively these people live.  I tasted some homemade cheese the lady of the house made, and was challenged by our tour manager to eat a potato dipped in a clay mixture - supposedly having some positive medicinal effects.  Back at the hotel at the end of the day we had dinner and headed to bed to rest up for the final two days of our outstanding tour.

Thursday, October 13, 2011 - Puno; Juliaca; Lima; Paracas

This was pretty much an all day travel day, as we flew from Juliaca to Lima (about a one-hour flight), and then immediately took our coach down to Paracas.  What a relief to be back at sea level.  Everyone immediately perked up and felt full alive again.  We boarded a bus at the airport and proceeded down the Pacific Coast on the Pan American Highway for about five hours (the roadside scenery was relatively barren) to a fabulous resort hotel in the town of Pisco, the Doubletree Paracas Hotel. I found myself comparing it to the Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. It was very much family oriented (lots of kids there) and focused on family entertainment. I have an Ocean view suite and the large pool is just outside the stairs to the balcony leading to my room.  Quite elegant!  We had a great meal upon arrival on an outdoor patio because the dining room was overcrowded with families on holiday.

On this first day at this elegant tropical resort, we arrived too late to enjoy much of the ambiance of the venue, except for the luxury of our accommodations. Several of us spent some time chatting at the glass-enclosed poolside bar before retiring.

Friday, October 14 - Paracas National Reserve

Today we rose early to proceed further down the coast to Nasca, the place which has the geogliphs created by the Pre-Inca inhabitants of these parts. These are monstrous images of birds, whales, a dog, and dozens of other symbols scattered over acres of barren desert.  Google "Nasca Lines" and you will immediately recognize what I´m talking about, because Peru is the only place in the world you will find them.  To get here we went through miles and miles of barren wasteland or desert.  Upon arrival, some of our group who did not want to purchase a 30 minute airplane ride to view them went up a tower to get a close up view of one of the geogliphs.  I was among about 20 of us who purchased a $115 ticket for the 30 min. tour in a 4-seater plane. 

First, a word about the “Nazca Lines”. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so named in 1994. It wasn’t recognized for its significance until the 1930’s when it was first viewed from the air. There are all kinds of explanations for its significance, but the general consensus is that it has some kind of ancient religious meaning. Scholars believe that the Nazca lines were created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 A.D. The images range between simple lines to geometric figures and pictorial representations of a hummingbird, condor, heron, astronaut, spider, pelican, dog, hands, monkey and lizard.

Click here for my Snapfish Photos of the Nasca Lines portion of our tour - 158 photos

We had to weigh in for the plane ride because they wanted to accommodate 4 passengers in addition to the pilot and co-pilot – but the average weight had to be under 200 lbs. So anyone over 200 lbs. had to be matched with someone of much lower weight. Fred Horner and I took the middle two seats of our plane, while two lighter women occupied the rear two seats. It was a bumpy 35-minute ride -- like the ones you take over the Grand Canyon.  But what a treat to see these 1500 year old - or more - images in the desert!  One or two of our group got air sickness, but, thank God, I didn´t.   I had seen a documentary about them on the History Channel and now I can say I saw them in person. Our co-pilot pointed out the geogliphs as we flew over them, and we had an illustrated guide in our hands. It was an amazing site from the air. How they were made, how they lasted so long and what they mean remains a mystery!

After this archeological treat, we traveled to an oasis in the middle of this desert to a Hacienda owned by and Italian millionaire.  There we had a Luau type lunch in a beautiful setting.  It was fabulous.  We then drove back for 4 hours to our Oceanside resort in Pisco. 

Saturday, October 15 - Paracas National Reserve; Ballestas Island; Lima

Today we took a boat ride to the Ballestas Islands, known as the Gallapagos of Peru -- having many of the characteristics of the Gallapagos off of the coast of Ecuador.  We saw thousands of birds perching on the top of these volcanic islands. There were Penguins, Pelicans, Petrels, Boobys, Terns, Gulls and many other birds, and plenty of sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks. This was our final natural adventure of this tour, completing land, water and air explorations, including the fabled Machu Picchu experience. 

Click here for my Snapfish Photos of Ballestas Island and the end of our trip. - 194 photos

After our boat trip, we returned north to Lima, where we had our elegant farewell dinner at Rosa Nautica, the waterfront restaurant that juts out into the Pacific Ocean below the cliffs of Miraflora where we began our journey 11 days earlier. Some of us spoke at the meal, giving tributes to Kevin Ferguson for his excellent leadership throughout the tour and expressing our appreciation for the camaraderie that developed throughout the tour among all participants. We then headed to the airport for a late night flight to Miami, returning to Newark on Sunday.  We were back in Vincentown before 5:00 p.m.


I hope I didn’t communicate a negative picture of this trip by calling attention the many obstacles we had to overcome to see the marvels of nature at their best.  It was, after all, an extremely worthwhile experience, but at a cost. 

Peru is truly a country of contrasts.  The natural contrasts include the Nasca lines, the ancient Inca villages, the hidden mountaintop refuges, the desert and the lush farms.  The historical contrasts we saw were mind boggling, including the pre-Inca, Inca, and Post Inca eras -- treasures which have been preserved for future generations.  The Spanish colonial town squares, cathedrals and villages are magnificent, and the monuments to the revolutionary period heroes abound.  I have never seen so much history in one place as I have here. 

Peru has been a key piece in the mosaic I have been creating through my travels. The mosaic would definitely be incomplete without the Peru and Machu Picchu pieces. I am gratified that I was given the opportunity to check this venue off my “Bucket List” – thanks to Penny and everyone else who made this dream a reality.

A Postscript on Altitude

Throughout the travelogue I have made references about altitude in Peru.  Most members of our group had been affected by the altitude.  At Lake Titicaca we were at 12,000 feet.  We traveled up to 12,800 the day before to visit an archeological site.  That is about the highest tolerable limit humans can go. In Lima we were at 11,000 feet and Machu Pichu, being in the Sacred Valley of the Incas is 8,000 feet.  Each hotel we have stayed at has oxygen available at all times.  Most of us have used it at least once - but several have used it as much as 3 times in a given day.  At Lake Titicaca the Oxygen was in use 24 hours a day by our group. 

The other antidote for altitude sickness is Coca Tea.  On our first day in Lima, I bought a box of Coca Teabags, and would take a tea bag and shove it into my bottle of water, shake it up, and consume that all day.  We also consumed at least three bottles of water a day.  The signs of altitude sickness are shortness of breath - that has really affected me, just coming off of a bout with pneumonia and not really fully recovered.  Another is rapid heart palpitations; another, feeling very tired most of the time.; and also, a bloody nose.  Only one member of my group experienced this on the tour. Obviously, altitude sickness takes away from the full enjoyment of this magnificent trip.  Oh, there´s one more antidote, Diamox, a pill prescribed by my doctor.  I took several, usually at night upon retiring, because, in my opinion, the side-effects weren´t worth the benefits. 

We learned that Peru has the highest population of people living at the higher altitudes. I think that after this experience, I will encourage anyone else who would like to experience these magnificent sites do so early in life, provided they are physically fit and willing to prepare with several months of strenuous physical exercise.  It’s not for the weak of body!  Believe me - and most of my group will agree with me.

A Final Cultural Contrast – Peru, USA and Peru, South America

Our Collette tour manager, Kevin Ferguson, left us with this message: if you'd like to see when Peru (the country) brings its culture to Peru, Nebraska (pop. 569); here is a great YouTube video from the Peruvian Tourism Board. It'll make you smile and bring back memories of the country.












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