Peru - Getting There

A Chinese dancing lion celebrating CNY

This is the first post (probably of many) on our recent trip to Peru. So you are probably wondering why the first picture is of a ceremonial dancing lion celebrating Chinese New Year. No it isn't a mistake. Patience. I'll get to it.

I don't know why it took so long for us to get around to doing a trip to Peru. I've always wanted to go there to hike or climb in the Cordillera Blanca, one of the world's great mountain ranges. I had a terrific time about ten years ago when I went on a climbing trip to the Cordillera Real in neighboring Bolivia. But not long after that trip we moved to Singapore and my mountain trips were focused on New Zealand and Nepal. Then when we came back, we did trips to Europe, going to the Pyranees in 2010 and the Alps in 2011 and 2012. Besides the attraction of the mountains, Machu Picchu is a natural place for us to want to visit as well. I am really interested in history and Sandy and I have been to see many famous antiquities: the Colliseum and Pantheon in Rome, Pompeii near Naples, the Acropolis in Athens, the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta Warriors in China and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The lobby of the Palacio del Inka in Cusco

Some of Sandy's family (her sister's husband's brother's wife Barb and her kids) had gone to Peru last spring. They hiked the Inca Trail trek and visited Machu Picchu. When we were in the Madison last summer they raved about the trip. And besides, any travel article that you read that has a bucket list for places that you have to visit during your life time always includes Machu Picchu. I figured that we had to go eventually.

I've always been on the mailing list for Mountain Travel/Sobek. They are the original adventure travel company that popularized treking in Nepal way back in the 1970's. They are still in business. In fact they are probably the most deluxe of adventure travel companies. We had never done a trip with them but when I got an email which advertized a lodge-to-lodge trek in Peru, Sandy was very interested. We did our research and ended up booking the trip. Sandy didn't have to twist my arm too much even if I had to skip Consimworld Expo to go.

Sandy having lunch at our hotel in Cusco

Our trip would be exactly two weeks long. We would start with a few days on our own to visit the city of Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire. Since Cusco is at an altitude of eleven thousand feet that would help us to acclimatize to the high elevations in the Andes. Rather than the more common (and much more crowded) Inca Trail, we planned to do a week-long trek through the Cordillera Vilcabamba. We would cross the crest of the Andes at a fifteen thousand foot pass below Salkantay, a fantastic twenty thousand foot peak. Then we would hike down the Santa Theresa Valley. The climax of the trip at the end of the trek would be a full day to visit Machu Picchu.

We spent a lot of time working on our packing. Mountain Travel stressed that each of us got one duffel bag for the trek and that we had to get it down to only ten kilograms. That's just twenty two pounds for those of you who are metrically challenged. We had to get everything that we didn't carry in our day packs during the trek into that one duffle each. That included clothes for a week, tennis shoes for after the hike, toilet articles, hiking and cold weather gear (which was significant since we had to cross a 15,000 foot pass), evening clothes for dinner, books, electronics, luggage, locks. Everything. We are efficient packers when we travel, especially Sandy, but this was a challenge. The night before we left I weighed both of our duffel bags, packed and ready for the trek. We came in at twenty one and twenty two pounds. We made it!

The Cathedral in Plaza de Armas

We had an early morning flight out of Boise. We would fly to Denver, then to Houston. From there we had a long international flight to Lima - all on United Airlines. We were a little nervous. Our record over the past three years was that every single major trip that we had taken on United had at least one major delay. Coming back from the Pyranees in 2010 I had been stuck overnight in Newark. On our 2012 trip to the Alps we got to Switzerland a day late. Several trips to the midwest had major snafus. We had our fingers crossed for this trip.

We got out of Boise on time but then things went wrong. We had a close connection in Denver but weren't worried because there were several later flights out of Denver to Houston that still connected with our flight to Lima. We just underestimated the problems United could come up with. As soon as we landed in Denver we found out that our flight to Houston was delayed. No problem. We had a long layover in Houston. But then it was delayed again, and again. Sandy got nervous and we went to the customer service counter to see if we could switch to one of the other flights. The problem was that the other flights from Denver to Houston were all full. Now it was time for full fledged worry.

Sandy be stylin' with her new Quecha friends

The delay was now so long that we were going to miss our connection in Houston. This was especially painful since there were two other flights that left after our scheduled departure that would make it on time. But they were already full. We were offered the waiting list, but there was no hope that would come through because everyone from our flight was trying to switch to one of the other flights. The only thing that saved us was that Sandy used to be United Global Services while we lived in Singapore because she did so much international travel . She convinced the agent to look at other airlines. She rebooked us to Lima on an American Airlines flight out of Dallas. As we were doing this I was listening to the guy at the next position pleading that he needed to get to Houston to catch a flight to Lima. All they gave him was the wait list for the other Houston flights. I suspect that we made it to Peru on time and that he didn't.

We weren't home free yet. We got our flight to Dallas. We didn't have seat assignments and we kept being told that we had to wait till the flight was boarding till we could get them. If the flight was oversold we could still be out of luck. But fortunately we did get seats, even though we were split up. At least we got to Peru.

The Jesuit Church of la Compania de Jesus in Plaza de Armas

We spent quite a bit of time waiting at our gate for an agent to show up to give us our seat assignments. At least we were entertained while we waited. At the gate next to us was a new American Airlines flight to Hong Kong. To promote their new flight, they had two guys in a ceremonial lion suit who were doing the standard Chinese New Year dance to recorded drumming music. We were both having flashbacks to Singapore where such performances were done all around the city during CNY. So that explains the picture at the beginning of this post.

The rest of the trip was straightforward. We got on the flight to Lima. It was a long flight (Peru is WAY south) but we got there. We arrived later than we were supposed to, midnight instead of ten pm. But we got our luggage, got through customs and immigration, and were in Peru. The airport hotel was a life saver. We just exited the terminal and crossed the street and there it was. Much easier than the airport hotels at Chicago O'Hare or Miami. We checked in, got up to our room, and crashed.

I don't think we're in Kuna anymore, Toto

Next morning there were no problems with our flight to Cusco. An MTS representative met us at the airport, standing outside the baggage area in the crowd of people who were all holding those little signs with people's names on them. It was just a short ride to our hotel, the Palacio del Inka. It's in a converted colonial mansion that is almost five hundred years old. A very cool building. The location was good too. Across the street was the Church of Santo Domingo, built on the ruins of Koricancha, the Inca Temple of the Sun. The minimart about a hundred feet from the main door of the hotel came in very handy for everything from buying diet Cokes to getting our laundry done. The Plaza de Armas, the center of the tourist district, was a ten minute walk away.

After checking in we hit the restaurant. They had an excellent one in the hotel and after a day and a half of airplane food, we were starved.

We had made it to Peru. It was nerve racking on the way when we weren't sure that we would make it, but everything had worked out in the end. Now we could relax and start our vacation!