Throwback Thursday: Everybody’s Gone Surfin’. Surfin’ P-E-R-U

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

I happen to be having a love affair at the moment and it’s called Peru.  I just can not get enough of it.  Which is why you happen to be getting 2 Throwback Thursdays back to back.  There’s just so much we did in this one little big country that I’d feel ashamed of myself for leaving any of it out.

A quick side note on if you’re ever questioning where to take a 3-4 week vacation and get the biggest bang for your buck?  Peru.  Hands down, no questions asked.  This is one of the most diverse countries we’ve ever seen.  It Has.It.All.  History, culture, mountains, deserts, and sea sides.  Which is exactly where we found ourselves during our last stop in Peru.  A beautiful little ocean-side town called Mancora.  It surprised me that after weeks and weeks of getting sick of island and beaches and craving nothing more than a few good bustling cities, I couldn’t wait to get back to the shore.

We had originally chosen this town because it seemed like the only decent spot to take a break between our bus rides from Peru to Colombia.  In fact, as we stepped off our bus and were immediately harassed by about 20 tuk tuk drivers we questioned if we made the right decision in stopping there at all.  But as soon as we were checked into our ocean front hostel, met another traveling couple that we quickly fell for as travel buddies, and even let our 21 year old selves out for a game of beer pong one night, it was very apparent that this stop was exactly what we needed.

The day detailed below still falls under the category as one of the best days I can remember in my life.  Filled with friends, adventure, fun (plus cheap food and beer), I almost find myself packing my bag again to go back.

You can find the original post here.

Wednesday September 11, 2013


Photo courtesy of Nicolas Castellanos

Remember when I mentioned before that all great plans normally start over a drink?  Or four?  That’s how we woke up this morning with plans to go surfing in the Pacific after hearing last night that Kyle and Hannah had intentions of going.  It might not be Californi-a, and there may not be any Beach Boys hanging around, but there was water and a few crashing waves, and we were going to take advantage of it, however we always had in our minds that cradling in lacrosse isnt easy.

Forget the fact that neither Matt or I had had ever taking a surfing lesson before, or had never ever sat on a surf before.  A two hour rental of a board was only $3.50, so how can you not sign up for some time on the water at that price? But luckily, both of us had bought our wet suits. You can visit Buy4Outdoors website and buy one for yourself. Being reminded of the fact that I am no longer 22 years old, I sat at one of the picnic tables trying to stifle my headache while eating some yogurt and granola while I waited for everyone else to show up. In addition to our group of four, we were also having a new guy, Nicolas, who I’d never met before but made friends with Kyle at the hostel, join us.

Once we all gathered, it was down to the beach where we each handed over 10 soles and got a surf board in return.  We were about to head down to the water which I already knew was, to me, arctic cold.  I was not looking forward to getting in.  Thankfully we were called back by the shop owner to grab wetsuits that were hanging on the wall.  We hadn’t even known they were included in the rental.  Watching everyone try to shimmy into theirs was almost worth the cost of the rental itself.  Nicolas had one that was shredded throughout, giving him the appearance of a surfing villain, and Kyle had to struggle into one that had no zipper, basically turning himself into a contortionist just to get it on.

surf boards at Loki del Mar

Matt & Jessica in wetsuits

Kyle with a nip slip

 Dragging our boards out in front of the one crest on the beach,  all of us were given a quick lesson by Kyle who had been on a surf board once before.  Most of us weren’t paying much attention (possibly Matt and I), but instead kept making random quotes from the movie ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’.  “The less you do, the more you do.  Let’s see you pop up.  Do less, try it again.  You’re doing too much, do less.  Remember, don’t do anything.  Well, you gotta do more than that, cause now you’re just laying.”, referring to a scene where Paul Rudd’s character is trying to teach Jason Segel’s character to surf with the most illogical and unhelpful instructions ever.  Five minutes of fooling around like this, and then we were ready for the water.

surf lessons from Kyle

beach in Mancora Peru

Pushing our boards out into the water, we joined the 20 other people out already that morning, all trying to catch waves in the one area that the rolled through.  The one area that was shallow and had sharp jagged coral that was exposed at low tide.  Completely ready to ‘do more by doing less’, I paddled out to where the waves seem to be breaking, not even really sure what to do once I got there.  The paddle in itself was a little tiring, so as I finally approached the cresting waves where the much more educated surfers were riding them back to shore, I had no problem sitting a few of them out while I took a breather.

Then, I was ready for some giants.  But as soon as I was theoretically ready to ride the waves, they all disappeared.  The current however, was still going strong.  Most of the next hour was spent floating towards shore in calm and flat seas, and then paddling back out to deeper water where I hoped for some rollers to come in.  My patience did pay off as a few waves did start building awhile later, but then I ran in to the fact that everyone out there was trying to catch the same wave.  Trying to space yourself out from the others was half the work and the few times I did feel ready to get up, I was almost diving out of the way of people who had caught the wave before me and were careening right at me.  Overall I was able to push myself up on my knees twice, but I never rode any giants.

Finally succumbing to the cold and the exhaustion, I let myself float back to the beach on the current and tried to ride the last little breaking wave that builds up just before shore.  It was a little more than I was expecting and the force threw me from my board as I tumbled a few times before resurfacing again.  Luckily, the only thing hurt was my pride, and anyone within eye shot didn’t let on that they had seen my lack of grace.  Not long after, everyone else joined me on the sand as we peel off our wet suits and tried to fight fatigue.  A lunch of ceviche and Lomo Saltada were also quickly devoured since I think we had all just used up the calories we’re used to exerting in a day, on two hours out in the water.

I thought the rest of the day would be full of lounging and relaxing, but Loki had other ideas for us.  While we were all lounging by the pool and enjoying a mid-afternoon happy hour beer, one of the staff members came to drag us all out to participate in yoga.  Surprisingly, Matt did not persist.  This may have been because the girl in front of him was wearing a short skirt while practicing her downward facing dog.

yoga at loki

 Photo courtesy of Loki del Mar.

There were two more things on our list to do that night.  We all wanted to catch a sunset out on the beach (yes, even after watching them from the boat every night for how long now?, you still don’t get sick of it dipping behind the horizon), and also watching a little show from Kyle.  Did we forget to mention that he’s a fire poi performer?  This is where little balls of fire sitting at the bottom of a chain are swung around in a variety of rhythmical and geometrical patterns.  Kind of like the little girls in gymnastics, but instead of a pretty little ribbon fluttering around them it’s two balls of fire instead.  We were very intrigued.

The sunset itself was magnificent.  We all grabbed a cold beer from a street vendor and made our way to a quiet patch of sand as we watched the determined and hardcore surfers catching waves in the last rays of the sun.  Couples strode with arms wrapped around each other, and horses gently trotted through the damp sand on the beach.  This is just one more place we have come across that is literally picture perfect.

horses on beach, Mancora Peru

surfers at sunset, Mancora Peru

Kyle taking photos, Mancora Peru

our group on the beach, Mancora Peru

no camping sign on beach, Mancora Peru

 When the sky had just about grown dark, it was time for our show to begin.  As we circled around him, Kyle ignited his balls of fire, and as some music played in the background, we all stared with amazement as he began swinging them through the air, creating lasting trails of light as they twisted and dipped.  It was such a fun thing to see, and even members of the neighboring hotel were inching toward the beach to try and catch glimpses.  The only unfortunate part of the whole thing was that because he didn’t have the proper fuel with him and was forced to use basically a lamp oil instead, the flames did not want to stay blazing for more than a minute at a time.  Over and over he’d have to stop to relight them and continue the show.  It was still well worth it though, and we’ll make sure to force a second performance out of him when we drop in on them in London next year while we’re (hopefully) doing some land travels through Europe.

Kyle doing fire poi, Mancora Peru

 With such a full day that we’ve packed in, I guess there’s nothing left to do but go back to the hostel and watch the nightly ritual of the blood bombs, drinking for your country where scores are tallied on a board based on how many drinks each country buys.  Sadly, I don’t think the United States will be represented tonight.

blood bombs, Loki del Mar, Mancora Peru

reed boats Lake Titicaca

Throwback Thursday: The Floating Islands of Uros, Lake Titicaca

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

This post only finds us a few days after our Machu Picchu climb (and one really cool walking tour of Cuzco), but it was just something I felt deserved it’s own throwback.  The time we went to Lake Titicaca.  An actual downfall from the sights we had been seeing but something I have to look back on and smile because it was so bad that in it’s own way it was spectacular.  A nice history lesson thrown in with a story of probably one of the worst towns we have ever visited along with knowingly falling into a huge tourist trap, all because we had two spare days of time on our hands.

What can I say though?  It may have been the bad side, but at least I’ll always be able to say that I’ve been to Lake Titicaca.  And now I have a hilarious story to look back at and shake my head whenever I’m reminded of it.

You can find the original post here.

Thursday September 5, 2013

reed boats Lake Titicaca

Does anyone remember back to their 6th or 7th grade geography lessons where you first started learning about countries other than your own?  And in there you would be introduced to funny sounding places like Zimbabwe or Uranus (ok, so that was more of a science lesson) or best of all, Lake Titicaca.  A mix of English and Spanish naughty words that you’d run home and repeat in front of your parents because you couldn’t get in trouble if you were only echoing the name of what you learned in class.  Something everyone would snicker at during the lesson and your teacher would stand up a little bit straighter themselves, and remind you to act like adults?  Yes, it was fun for us all, and I’m sure I’d be able to keep just as straight of a face during a lesson of it today as when I was 13 years old.  To give a quick history lesson though, the name itself is derived from Titi, an Aymara mountain cat, and the Quechua word caca, meaning rock.  This refers to the sacred rock on Isla del Sol which was worshipped by the Pre-Inca people on that island.

We had been warned not to come here.  Not to Lake Titicaca necessarily, that’s supposed to be beautiful.  No, we warned not to come to Puno Peru.  That it’s dirty and desolate and not worth seeing.  Our friends that had given us this information were not wrong.  They said, “Yes, visit Lake Titicaca, but be sure to see it from the Bolivian side, that’s the only part worth seeing”.  This could not work in our favor for two reasons.  The first is that we’re running on a four week schedule and already trying to cram three countries into that (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia), and a fourth would be just asking a little too much.  The other is, and thank goodness I was so into reading Bumfuzzle’s adventures or I may not have known, that Americans and Americans only must procure a Visa to get into Boliva at the cost of $135 per person.  We’re still on a relatively tight budget with our land traveling, and that would have come close to breaking it.  Add in the extra bus rides, the blah blah blah.  It just wouldn’t have worked out.

But we couldn’t not go.  It would be like road tripping through Israel (as so many of us do) and coming within 30 miles of the Dead Sea but saying, “Meh.  Maybe I’ll catch it on the next time around”.  You can’t do that.  It’s something you must see, even if it’s just for the bragging right’s alone.  Plus the bus company happened to be running a special between Cusco and Puno, and that just sealed the deal.  We tried to look on the positive side of things and say ‘It can’t really be that bad, right?’ as we waited at the terminal for yet another overnight bus.  2 nights without hostels = bus tickets paid.

We should have known right away that things wouldn’t be as great as we hoped when, while sitting in the bus terminal with another set of backpackers, we all watched the local news which was showing footage of Puno from a few days earlier where the lake had frozen.  Yes.  It had gotten so cold there that the shores on this massive body of water had turned to ice.  Our groups looked at each other with shock, each of us probably wondering if our tickets were refundable.  After we had boarded the bus and were dropped off at our destination at 4:30 am we found the conditions were fortunately not quite as cold as forecast, but I was ready to check into the hostel that I had found online which advertised 24 hour reception and no check-in time.  Hooray, there might be a warm bed waiting for me soon!  We’re used to the hostels which proclaim they’re within one or two blocks of the city center to be relatively nice and in upstanding neighborhoods.  This one was not.  Our taxi sped away as we stood on a pitch black street, excitedly ringing the buzzer while we listened to what sounded like shotguns echoing just a few streets away.  It felt like forever before anyone finally came to the door.  Paying just a few dollars extra we booked a private room, and just as the sky was beginning to light we were ushered to our room which had no heat and I passed out under the covers while wearing three layers of clothes and still shivering.

Our next bus wasn’t scheduled to depart until the following night, so we spent our first day in Puno just roaming down the streets to see what we could find.  It definitely was not a classy town, and we couldn’t find much to occupy our time outside.  The Plaza de Armas was largely undesirable and there were no good spots to see the lake within walking distance.  One of the only good things to come of the day is that I found a woman selling knit goods, and Matt let me buy a llama skirt.  I really have no idea where my recent obsession for these items has come from, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the Disney flick ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’, which of course takes place in Peru.  Haven’t seen it yet?  I suggest you give it a watch.  Just as funny for adults as it is for kids.  The other thing is that we found a large shopping center with a food court, and in that food court was a Chinese restaurant that offered orange chicken.  We have not been able to find that in any of the million chaufas around.  Leftovers were brought back to our room where we enjoyed them while watching a movie on my laptop while lying in bed.  It’s the simple things in life….

Ok, now on to the reason we came.  One of the draws of Lake Titicaca is that it is the highest navigable lake in the world at over 12,500 ft above sea level.  Many of the tourist visiting the lake will take ferrys to some of the nearby islands to get a feel for the local culture that has been developing here for thousands of years where the inhabitants have been worshiping the lake’s mystical powers since Pre-Inca times.  The best place to get a feel for these cultures are Isla del Sol (where the scared rock is, on the Bolivian side) or Taquile on the Peruvian side.  We were going to neither.  Our visit was going to be to the floating reed city of Uros.  Partially because a floating reed city sounded pretty cool, and partially because we didn’t get up early enough to make the 30 mile journey by water to Taquile.  We’d heard that Uros can be a little less than authentic and very heavy on tourism, but again, this trip was soley for bragging rights.  Boarding a ferry with about six other tourist and a few locals, we were off to the floating city.

ferry in Puno Peru

Looking back to Puno

Peruvian woman on ferry

 As we traveled through the narrow channel and the reeds, the water suddenly opened up and we were in a bay where the town, the boats, everything, was made from reeds.  One could only stand there awed and confounded as you wonder how this is done.  From their homes to their transportation, to the ground beneath their feet, everything was made from this material.  Having our sturdy fiberglass ship pull up alongside of one of these little floating islands, you step off and probe the ground with your feet for any secrets it might hold on how this is possible.  The pondering though, is unnecessary.   As soon as every traveler was on floating ground, we were told to gather in a circle for an introduction to the history of Lake Titicaca and the floating Islas de Los Uros.  It was a good thing that we had read up on our guidebook because the whole speech was in Spanish without any kind of interpreter.  Also, luckily for us, there were many visuals where on a much smaller scale, it was shown to us how these little islands were put together.  Since I’m sure I can’t give a good technical explanation of it, especially since it was in my second language that I haven’t quite learned yet, here’s a little excerpt from Wikipedia:

“The islets are made of totora reeds, which grow in the lake. The dense roots that the plants develop and interweave form a natural layer called Khili (about one to two meters thick) that support the islands. They are anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. The reeds at the bottoms of the islands rot away fairly quickly, so new reeds are added to the top constantly, about every three months; this is what makes it exciting for tourists when walking on the island. This is especially important in the rainy season when the reeds rot much faster. The islands last about thirty years.

Each step on an island sinks about 2-4″ depending on the density of the ground underfoot. As the reeds dry, they break up more and more as they are walked upon. As the reed breaks up and moisture gets to it, it rots, and a new layer has to be added to it. It is a lot of work to maintain the islands. Because the people living there are so infiltrated with tourists now, they have less time to maintain everything, so they have to work even harder in order to keep up with the tourists and with the maintenance of their island. Tourism provides financial opportunities for the natives, while simultaneously challenging their traditional lifestyle.”

introduction to Los Uros

reed mountain cat Los Uros

 Following the introduction to the islands, we were broken into smaller groups of 1-2 people where one of the women who resides on that particular island shows you around and answers questions.  Thankfully ours spoke English, so we were able to follow along as she showed us the hut that her family lived in, the one bed they all shared, and the two sets of clothing she owned for different occasions.  While walking past her home, she also introduced us to their pet eagle, who looked like it was eyeing Matt up and down for lunch.  When she finished talking about her day to day life, she led us to a small area where a blanket and table were sprawled out, showcasing items for sale that her or her husband had made.

This was the tough part of the tour.  How do you tell someone who’s basically living off the proceeds from tourism that, not only do you live on a boat and don’t currently have the extra space or a need for a baby mobile made with reed canoes (cutest thing ever, when I have a baby I’m going to come back here just to buy one), or that you’re living out of a backpack at the moment which is already overstuffed with the wheel of cheese you bought in Cusco and there is no room for anything new?  The answer?  You can’t tell them no.  You would just feel like the biggest jerk ever.  Matt eyed all the goods in front of him and took a fancy to a textile that showed the history of the island.  Our guide told us that it had taken her 30 days to make, and knowing that we could easily fold it down and hopefully hang it in a future home, we gave her $30 USD for it and wished her well as we rejoined the group for a ride in one of the fancy ‘Mercedes’ reed boats to the capital city.  As we pushed off, the women of the island gathered together to sing us a native song as we departed.  It was all for tourism, I know, but still kind of nice to enjoy.

Matt & an eagle on Los Uros

Uros native selling goods

fishing pond in Los Uros Lake Titicaca

reed boat, Los Uros, Lake Titicaca

Los Uros native singing us goodbye

 The capital city, we were told, was a place for the locals to join for festivities and parties, although to me it just felt like one large tourist trap on a floating piece of land.  The only thing it consisted of were stalls filled with more goods for sale, exactly like the ones we had just left, and restaurants where you could purchase the same kind of food you’d find on the streets of Puno.  There were no more stories or explanations of the culture, just ‘Please spend the rest of your money here’.  It was slightly disappointing, especially considering our stay on the previous island had been a total of under 30 minutes.  A few people wandered the stalls and looked at the goods, while the others went to purchase beverages from the restaurants.  We just sat at the plastic chairs and waited for our ferry to come pick us back up

The only interesting part of the day was where all the men in our tour group were momentarily stolen away to help launch a new, yet very basic, reed boat.  Coupled with two or three local men, the four guys in our group grunted, pushed, pulled and shoved this massive raft into the water.  Participating in local culture, see that’s what we were looking for on this visit.

As soon as this local boat was floating, our fiberglass one was back to pick us up.  We boarded the top deck and stared at the little floating cities our whole way out of the bay.  Was the trip here worth it?  It’s hard to say.  On one had we were witness to cultures and some traditions, such as their living structures, that have been in place for thousands of years.  On the other hand, they had made it so commercial that you felt though even though you were there to observe it, it was played up soley for your viewing pleasure.  A song and dance and a hand outstretched for a tip after.  So would I do it again?  Of course!  I now have the bragging rights that I’ve been to Lake Titicaca (snicker).

launching a reed boat in Los Uros, Lake Titicaca

reed boat floating in Lake Titicaca

overlooking Machu Picchu at sunrise

Throwback Thursday: Stinky & Smiling on Machu Picchu

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

It was only one week into our backpacking trip of Peru but we had already covered many miles and seen some pretty amazing things. After a few days of seeing what Lima had in store for us we hopped an overnight bus to end up at the Nazca Lines and took a full tour there before riding another overnight bus to the snow capped crests of Arequipa for a little R&R.

Before our big trek up Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu we spent a few days acclimating to the elevation in Cuzco and took in the hot springs of Aguas Calientes. I was falling in love with travel all over again.  The excitement, the unknown, and the discovery of so much that’s new to me.  If I thought my senses had been blown away before I’d even gotten to Machu Picchu, I don’t even know what word would describe what they were after.  This still ranks as the number one thing we’ve ever done in our lives and on our travels.

In some people’s, most likely those who’ve never been there, view it as a tourist trap/bucket list item that gets thrown around as a place you have to see before you die even though it isn’t all that great in person.  Trust me, this is not the pyramids of Giza and you will not be let down.  This little spot high up in the Andes mountains truly is magical.  If you only had the opportunity to visit one of the current wonders of the world, make this it.  I promise you will never regret it.

You can find the original post here.

Monday September 2, 2013

tour of Machu Picchu

*You’ll have to excuse some of the photos in today’s post.  There aren’t as many breathtaking photos as I wanted to include or that this place deserves, a lot of these pictures focus on a practical purpose to show our experience there more than the beauty.  But those pretty photos do have a time and place, so stay tuned tomorrow for Picturesque Machu Picchu. (Now up, click here!)


If you’ve never been to Machu Picchu before, there’s a fair amount of planning and organizing that goes into it. Tickets need to be purchased and they need to be done in advance. Find yourself at the top of this mountain without a ticket in your hand, and you’ll be told to turn around and go back home (or just back to town, really) because tickets aren’t sold at the entrance. Only 2,000 people a day are allowed to enter the sacred grounds, and if you want to climb the neighboring mountains of Huayna Picchu or Wayna Picchu, which we definitely did, you’d better secure those tickets weeks in advance because only 200 people a day are allowed to make that climb. So there we were, still back at Matt’s mom’s house in Michigan, frustratingly trying to get our tickets booked and subsequently getting turned down because we didn’t have Verified by Visa. After a few days and a few phone calls, everything was taken care of and the date we originally wanted to visit was pushed back to four days later because we didn’t book quick enough. That’s seriously how quickly they go.

Our whole schedule in Peru up to this point has been planned around these tickets; what cities we could visit, how long we could stay in them. In short, you don’t just drive up to the sun gate and say, “I wanna get in”. So after booking plane tickets, bus tickets, and now train tickets, we were finally ready to go to Machu Picchu.

Since our climb up Huayna Picchu was scheduled to let us into the entrance of that area between 7 and 8 am, we had set the alarm for 5:30, making sure to pack our bags before we left the hostel since we’d still be at Macchu Picchu when checkout time came and wouldn’t be able to come back to pack after. Eating the tradition free breakfast that most of these hostels offer of bread, jam, and tea, we stuck a liter of water and a couple of granola bars into my messenger bag and set off to take one final bus up the zig-zag road to the entrance. Matt had wanted to do that walk as well, possibly even just to save the $40 in those bus tickets, but I warned that by straining ourselves on that walk/climb up, we’d have no energy left for the mountain. If we hadn’t purchased our bus tickets the night before because he didn’t know about the hiking trail at the time, I doubt he would have listened to my reasoning. He usually doesn’t.

Stepping off the bus at the top we already were running behind at 6:45, and had no idea where the entrance to Huayna Picchu was. Handing over our tickets and passports while passing through a turnstiles like we were entering Disneyworld, we started quickly scrambling up random steps, trying to follow the signs for where we needed to go, until we were greeted with this.

Machu Piccu just after sunrise

overlooking Machu Picchu at sunrise

Did your jaw just drop?, because mine just did. Not only as we saw it, but as I was going back through my photos to post this as well. Imagine how it looked in person. I was awestruck. But only for a minute, because we were still running behind schedule and I was going to be damned if I missed my hike up the mountain. Stopping other early risers that were there with their tour guides, we got directions to where we needed to be and joined a line of about 50 people ahead of us. Looks like we weren’t going to miss our climb after all.

waiting to enter Huyana Picchu

One of the things we noticed as we were waiting in line was how hot it was already getting now that the sun was coming up. Almost every person we had talked to that had been here already spout on about overcast skies, mist, rain, and even snow. We thought we’d be freezing our asses off, and dressed appropriately for that. Matt was in jeans and a long sleeve shirt, and I had layered with running pants and a lightweight hoodie. Something else also occurred to me after we were given our pass and started making our way up Huayna Picchu. “Uh oh”, I glanced at Matt, “I think I forgot to put on deodorant today”. “What do you mean?”, he gawked at me. “How could you forget to put on deodorant?” I replied that we were in a rush that morning, it had been in the bottom of his bag (we keep all our toiletries together), and ooops, I must have slipped my mind as we were rushing out the door. He stared at me with some slight disgust and made sure to put a few more feet between us, as well as keep me downwind of him. I couldn’t be any worse than those people that just hiked the Inca Trail though, right? They must be going on three days now without showers.

first glances back at Machu Picchu

The groups of people that had been slightly spaced out as we began this trek now all crammed together as our path turned from wide dirt trails into steep stone steps. When the sign at the beginning listed the difficulty of this hike as ‘medium’, they were lying. It was frickin’ hard. Higher and higher we climbed at 45 degree angles, although honestly, it could have been steeper, because it felt like we were going almost vertical. Add that to the altitude of straining ourselves at over 7,000 ft, and I’m glad we spent at least two days in Cusco acclimatizing ourselves. It almost became a challenge, for me at least, to not stop. When people ahead of us would get to a small patch of dirt and stand to the side huffing and puffing while they tried not to lose consciousness, I trekked right past them with a smile and a nod, since the extra energy it would take to actually say hello would probably put me right there next to them. Each person we passed felt like a small triumph, especially since in my lack of an exercise world, I don’t think I could run a mile if you pointed a gun at me right now.

climbing the steep steps at Hauyna Picchu

After more steps than I cared to count, we made it up to a viewing area with only one need to stop and take a breath.  The request was actually from Matt, but I was happy to have a minute of deep breathing forced upon me.  Being able to stand for a few minutes without the pressure to keep moving, I’m surprised my legs didn’t give out from under me.  By now they were feeling a little like Jell-o and I had to wonder what the rest of the day was going to be like if I was already feeling this weak at 8:00 in the morning.  Realizing we needed to really slow ourselves down, we let ourselves sit and rest for awhile while taking in the spectacular views.  Matt must have grasped what a special occasion it was to be here because he even suggested multiple times that we get our photo taken together.  The same guy that I can usually only get photos of him walking away because he refuses to pose for them.  I know, I’m just as shocked as you are.

overlooking Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Panoramic from Huayna Picchu

kissing in front of Machu Picchu

 From there it was only farther up.  Not quite as hard with the steep stairs we had just come from, but something that was, um, a little more interesting.  To continue further up the mountain, we had to climb through a cave.  And not just any cave, but one where the entrance and exit were just big enough to squeeze one person through at a time, but only if they were crouched down and basically crawling.  Inside was actually quite spacious, at least compared to the opening, and I believe that rituals used to take place in there.  The exit was a little more fun as it was almost vertical and felt like you were going through a rock tube.  It is definitely not a spot for those with claustrophobia, and I think there have since been other ways built around it.

entering the cave on Huayna Picchu

exiting cave in Huayna Picchu

 From there it was just a few steps up a cricketey wooden ladder, scaling up a few boulders, and we were at the very top!  The views were nothing short of majestic, and we enjoyed it in seclusion with the 20 other people that were scaling boulders next to us, shimmying, jumping, and crab crawling from one place to the next.  While this spot does afford some beautiful views, actual solitude does not come with it.  Nor does the ability to sit and enjoy those views before you for hours on end, because the person behind you wants your spot too.  We did allot ourselves 2-3 minutes on one of the highest perchable places, had another photo taken, and then inched our way across and down the boulders to make room for others.

Matt pointing at mountains

top of Huayna Picchu

top of Huayna Picchu

boulders at top of Huayna Picchu

 Now it was time for the even harder part.  Getting back down.  Those steep steps that we had huffed and puffed to get to the top of, now looked like a vertical death trap on the way back down.  I can see why they advise against climbing here during wet weather.  One slip on the slick rock and you would be a goner.  Even with the wire handrail at my side, I didn’t  trust myself, or my biceps really, to let the one hand on there be all that kept me from tumbling into the valley below.  Following in the footsteps, literally, of the people in front of us, we took their lead and faced ourselves backwards while slowly climbing down, using both our hands and feet as we scaled down it like a ladder.

stone hut on Huayna Picchu

overlooking Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu

looking down vertical stairs

 To the bottom left, you can see the stairs and people climbing down them.

vertical steps

 Here’s another view of them from a photo that Matt’s mom found online.


Once we got to the bottom I had no idea how my legs were supporting the weight of my body since with each step we had taken down, they’d shiver and wobble below me.  It was almost like when I did cross-country back in high school, how my legs would go numb after the first mile and a half and I couldn’t even tell I was running anymore.  Which is probably why, as our other hiking companions were crawling their way back into the ruins of Machu Picchu, we decided to take on Wayna Picchu as well.  Or whatever the smaller mountain there is called.  The signs here are so utterly confusing that we gave up trying to figure out which mountain was which five minutes after we got here.  It was still worth the taxing climb since this mountain is much less popular, and you are rewarded with beautiful views from the top in actual solitude.  If you ever find yourself here with a packed picnic, I suggest this is where you eat it.

view from Wayna Picchu

 Decending this smaller mountain and getting back to the ruins, we realized what a mistake we’d made about not pacing ourselves, not packing a lunch, and definitely not bringing enough water.  The 1 liter we were sharing between the two of us was now just about empty, and we still had a lot of ground to cover in the hot sun.  Following the exit signs as we left the mountains, we had no idea which was the best way to tour the ruins or if there was one spot to start that was better than the other.  For a little while we had our Peru guidebook in our hands and we leafed through the pages and tried to make sense of the map.  When that didn’t work, we tried to fall in behind tour groups that were already in place.  Big surprise of the day, even with all the gringo tourist there, the only thing we could overhear was Spanish.  I think I caught a whiff of German, and maybe even a little Polish, but absolutely no English.

You may be asking why we didn’t just spring the few dollars for a tour of our own.  We’ve heard they’re very informative and well with the money, but truth be told, by that point I don’t think we had the energy to trudge around for the next 2-3 hours while getting a full breakdown of the place.  I don’t think our bodies could handled it.  I don’t think our brains could have handled it.  At this point we were just happy to do a little wandering on our own.  In the areas we could tell held high importance, we stood around for a tour group to come by and I would do my best to pick up on a few words and translate them to Matt.  Not the most informative way to see Machu Picchu, but we still felt fortunate just to be standing there at all.

stone wall Machu Picchu

pit of death

 I’m pretty sure this translated to ‘Pit of Death’.


It was a very large compound, and we’d aimlessly amble up and down and left and….OMG, they have llamas!!  Excuse me one moment, I’ll be right back.

llama grazing Machu Picchu

Jessica petting llama

 Where was I?  Oh, right.  So we had no real destination, but would just walk through the paths, take random turns, sometimes backtrack, but mostly just tried to see absolutely everything there was before our hearts gave out and we died of heat stroke.  Which if you remember my last post from Cusco, yes, I can die happy now.

stone wall in front of Huayna Picchu

Matt & Jessica overlooking Machu Picchu

 Back on the bus I asked Matt how he felt now about shelling out money for those tickets instead of walking up and down like he had originally wanted.  Face still flushed and panting he replied “Best $40 I ever spent”.  Don’t worry, even though I was right on this, he still won’t listen to me in the future.

Heads resting on our seats as we gazed out the window where the ruins fell slowly out of view, we took to talking about how incredibly lucky we were to be able to come here and how it was worth every penny, including that overpriced train we were about to hop back on.  When Matt asked me what I’d remember most about Machu Picchu, I came back that I couldn’t quite choose between the sunrise over the mountains when we first walked in, or the view from the top of Huayna Picchu, or even the llamas I was able to hunt down and pet.  When I reversed the question to him, he responded “That my wife forgot to wear deodorant”.  Well, at least he’ll remember something.



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Throwback Thursday: American Backpackers in Lima

Now that we’re sitting in Indiantown Marina and it’s obvious that we’re going to be here for quite a long time while we fix up Daze Off to sail, I don’t want to bore you with stories that are only related to boat work (but don’t worry, they’re still coming).   I know that’s what some of you crave, but if you’re like me, you also need a little fun in there.  A little travel and a little adventure.

So for the foreseeable future while we are doing nothing much more than boat work I will be adding a Throwback Thursday post in every week as well.  Cataloging our trip so far, giving you that needed sense of travel and adventure, and for those of you that haven’t started with us from the beginning, catch you up on some of the most important or memorable parts of our travels.

Although Matt and I were loving our time in Guatemala, we knew we had a good 4-5 month stay before hurricane season would allow us to travel again and wanted to do a bit of land traveling.  We knew we’d be hitting most of the neighboring countries by boat eventually so we began to look at areas that Serendipity or any future boat would most likely never take us.  South America sounded very appealing, and after doing a lot of research as well as talking to our friends on Skebenga that had traveled some of it’s regions, we landed on a four week trip that would land us in Peru and eventually depart out of Colombia.

To get by on this extra vacation as cheap as possible we used Spirit Airlines for our flights and found out that every single flight connects in Fort Lauderdale. Since we would need to go from Guatemala, to Florida, then to Peru, we threw in a few weeks of visiting home in Michigan to our itinerary before catching another Spirit flight down to Ft. Lauderdale again.  Our flight out happened to fall on my birthday, leaving us with an 8 hour layover on my birthday, except who would happen to be around other than our own Anna Bianca, picking us up from the airport for a trip to the beach and a yummy Cuban lunch before depositing us back in time for our flight out.

Arriving in Lima at 11 pm we had no plans of finding a hotel or hostel for the evening, but instead spent the night on the tiled floor of the airport.  I was quite content with the situation though, now being able to check off a new country, continent, and hell, even a new hemisphere off my travel list.  Waking up just a little less than refreshed the next day we were ready to take on Lima.

You can find the original post here.


Sunday August 25, 2013

Lima Presidential Palace

Looks like the security guards at the airport thought that six hours straight was enough to let us sleep on the floor in front of Radio Shack before nudging us awake at 5:30 this morning and telling us to move on.  Or at least, that’s the body language Matt picked up on since the guard was talking to him in Spanish and I was still passed out.  Honestly, I’m kind of surprised they let us stay there that long considering it was still a relatively busy area in the airport and people were constantly walking by.  Guess they’re still a little lenient with airport sleepers here in Peru, because I don’t think I could see security being ok with people sleeping right next to the food court back in the States.

Still having no idea how far away our hostel was located or the best/cheapest way to get there, we moved over to a table at Starbucks where I got a plain black coffee just to be able to access the internet and answer our questions.  The security guard was still giving us sideways  glances, probably expecting us to wait and see if he left so we could steal our sleeping spot back.  Tempting, but it now looked like we were up for the day.

Quick side note on our spending while we’re here in South America.  As not to completely break our bank and keep our monthly budget not a whole lot higher than the $1,500 – $2,000 a month we allow ourselves right now, we’ve tried to set in place some strict spending rules while we’re away.  We know there will be bus tickets and entry fees to get into places we want to see, but we’re going to try to live in the guidelines of $10/person or less for lodging each night, and $10/person or less for food each day.  Having researched many many hostels before we left, the lodging shouldn’t be much of a problem if we stick to dorm rooms.  The food?  Well, I don’t see any fancy restaurants in our future.  But this is also another reason why we began scouring the internet for cheap ways to get to our hostel downtown.  A taxi would obviously be the most expensive.  There were collectivos, similar to what took to Morales the other month, but we didn’t know if they came to the airport, and more importantly, did not know how to direct them to our hostel.  There’s also an underground metro system, but apparently you have to buy a card, and we just didn’t want to mess with that.  So, taxi it was.

We found a driver right outside the door, an English speaking one, and although we were able to talk him down about six dollars, I’m still guessing we got the much higher tourist rate for the ten minutes it took us to get downtown.  Walking up to the hostel’s door, it was locked with no sign of life inside, so we meandered through the park across the street, giving it a good hour before we went back to try again.  When the door was still locked on our second trip back, we started getting frustrated, until a person passing by on the street pointed to the buzzer we hadn’t noticed right next to the door.  Ahhh, yes.  We Americans are so very observant.

Italian Art Museum, Lima

 Italian Art Museum that was across from our hostel.


Getting checked into the hostel and finding out our room wouldn’t be available for another seven hours, we left our bags in a lounge area behind the desk (after having done a quick clothing change there as well) and hit the streets of Lima to see what we could explore.  My new messenger back was stocked full with our Peru guide, a Spanish to English Dictionary, my camera, and even a long sleeve shirt for me to throw on in case it got cold, but with the sun coming out and warming up the streets I had no reason to think I would need it.  Opening up the guidebook once we were outside, it said the Plaza de Armas was a spot well worth visiting.  Trying to follow the street maps given we were quickly lost and needed to ask directions.  As it turns out, the street cop that I tried my terrible Spanish on ended up speaking perfect English.  He directed us toward the Plaza and also told us not to miss out on the Basilica de San Francisco and the tour of the catacombs housed below.

home in Lima

The streets were full of homes with these enclosed balconies.  I want one!


When we did find ourselves dropped out into the Plaza de Armas, we were astounded.  It was huge, stunning, and not at all what we were expecting.  Besides the large courtyard with a fountain in the center, two sides of the square were surrounded by bright yellow buildings full of restaurants and shops, and the other two sides housed the Lima Cathedral, and the Presidential Palace.  Each were striking in their stature, and it didn’t even take us two seconds to run into the Cathedral to check it out.  The size itself was impressive as it stands with two large towers marking the entrance and vaulted ceilings with rows of pillars on the inside.  Lining both sides of the church and making their way up to the altar are gated off alcoves that contain sculptures and carvings that are so intricate that I could imagine someone spending their whole lifetime only completing one.

Lima Cathedral

carving in Lima Cathedral

 Back outside we were making our way up the few blocks to the Basilica when we heard music in the streets.  Matt grabbed my arm and quickly dragged me along to where the sound was coming from.  Just outside of the Basilica, coincidentally, was some kind of parade going on.  We didn’t know what it was representing or whom it might be honoring, but it was a treat to enjoy it just the same.  We didn’t know how long it had been going before we came, but we were able to see about three different groups in costumes, dancing and parading through the streets.  One of the groups seemed more tribal, with fancy feathered headdresses and dancing in what looked to us, like Native American type moves.  Then there were woman and little girls in white shirts with very brightly colored ribbons that twirled around them as they spun in circles.  The last one, well, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it.  It was mostly men with one girl in the center, and they seemed to have a ten step coreographed move that ended with the guys opening their jackets wide, as if they were about to flash innocent onlookers.  Stranger part though, was the diablo-esque masks on their face and the bottles of beer in their hands.

native dancers in Lima

Ribbon dancers, Lima

Ribbon girls, Limabeer dancers, Lima 1beer dancers, Lima 2

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 When the parade ended we marched back up the street to the Basilica to see if we could get in on one of the tours.  For an English speaking guide we waited about 15 minutes, but then joined a group of about 20 people as we began to wander through the halls.  This church was built in the late 1600’s, and as we walked through it was pointed out that many of the tiles and paintings lining the walls  were original to the building.  For one part of the tour, we stopped in front of a painting of Jesus and the 12 disciples at the last supper, but according to this painting, the food du jour was guinea pig (a traditional Peruvian meal) served with a tall glass of pisco sour.  Maybe the margarita type drink would be ok for me to switch out with wine, but I don’t think guinea pig would be high on my list of things to eat as my last meal.

Our tour strolled through a few more rooms with just as many amazing amounts of art, architecture, and history, before we were finally led down to the catacombs below.  These were a part of Lima’s original cemeteries, which were built under churches.  Some of the guides estimate that there are over 75,000 bodies buried below Basilica de San Francisco alone, and we were about to go see them!  Only a small portion of the catacombs are open to visitors, but one of the rooms we were taken through showed how they were able to fit so many remains in there.  There was a long row made into a pit that sits next to the current walkway, and the 100 ft long area is sectioned off by stone into smaller pits that were maybe four feet wide by eight feet long.  Bodies would be placed in there, and as soon as that one filled up, they moved to the next pit, and so on.  Once it was time to start back at the beginning, those bodies would have decomposed down to bones and it made room for new ones on top.  At some point it was ‘organized’ where the bones were separated and put together in like categories.  Skulls over here, femurs over there….  Which is what we saw as we walked through.  Pit next to pit overflowing with human bones.  And since I’m a strange person that’s into gross medical stuff, I wasn’t creeped out or disgusted at all.  My mind instead wandered to things like ‘I wonder which pit of bones would be the best to hide in if an earthquake collapsed all the exits and I need to stash the granola bars in my purse before anyone finds out I have them and tries to take them.’   Cause my mind likes to wander like that.

inside San Francisco Church

 Inside the church.

Basilica de San Francisco

They didn’t allow any photos on the tour, so I could only get one of the outside.


When we walked back onto the streets once more, we found that the temperature had dropped dramatically.  My long sleeve shirt was soon on, along with a scarf, and I was almost wishing I had gloves on me as well.  I’m sure it was only in the mid to low 60’s, but apparently that’s how much my blood has thinned now.  I didn’t have too much time to think about it though, since we were cutting it very close on being able to catch the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace, which happens at noon every day, although the friendly street cop told us to get there at quarter to.  The Presidential Palace is an impressive looking building that is the official residence and office of Peru’s President.  Here’s some interesting information I found about the palace on ‘Time – Travel’: “Back in the time of the Incas, the site had strategic and spiritual meaning, which is why the last Inca chief in Lima also lived here. Pizarro, the conqueror of the Incas, so liked the site that he kept it for the first Spanish palace, whose construction began in 1535. Since then, Government Palace has been rebuilt numerous times; the current French-inspired mansion was constructed in the 1930s.”.

It was nice we had the guy tell us to get there early because for a few minutes we were able to walk right up to the gates, as we were the only ones waiting outside it at the time, and snap a few close up photos of the building before the crowds came.  And boy did they.  Not even five minutes later, there were hundreds of people gathering in front of the palace to watch the show that was about to start.  Guards ushered everyone off the sidewalk and into the street (which was closed to cars in that area), but luckily we were still able to keep our spot in the front row.  It started with some high kicks from guards strutting around right in front of the palace facade, and then exiting just next to them was a full marching band.  For awhile I was so intent on watching the band that I didn’t even notice any guards that might be changing.  But then I was pulled away by Matt to watch something even more interesting.  There was a little old lady at the back of the crowd that was walking by and whacking people with her purse, for no apparent reason!  At first I thought she was just trying to cut to the front, but she’d wander in and out of the people, her only mission to clobber people with her bag.  Once the police tried to escort her away, she began whacking them as well!  You could tell there were two shows going on, with half of the crowd watching the changing of the guard, and half of the crowd watching her.

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changing of the guard, Lima Peru

 By now our stomachs were growling as we realized we had not eaten anything since our airport Pizza Hut dinner last night.  Drifting through the streets and keeping an eye out for food, we came across plenty of little street vendors that were in the business of selling knit items like winter hats and leggings…and, oh my god,… llama gloves!  I don’t even know how long ago this conversation started between Matt and I, probably when I couldn’t find any winter gloves at Meijer in the middle of August, but I told him that it was likely we’d want some for this trip since we would be visiting cold places, and if we couldn’t find them in the States we’d just have to buy him llama gloves once we got to Peru.  I had been totally joking, I didn’t even know they made them.  But here they were, little knit gloves with images of llamas on the front.  It must be fate.  Although Matt, who still didn’t find them necessary at the moment, said he could live without them.  Ho hum.

Also along the streets we found little vendors selling empanadas for only $0.40 and each settled on one of those until we could find something better to eat, which, between our little dance of ‘Where do you want to eat?’  ‘I don’t know, where do you want to eat?’, can sometimes be hours.  Rounding the next street corner though, we saw what looked to be some kind of food festival going on with rows of chefs in front of one long table, all preparing different dishes.  The prices looked to be in our budget and there was definitely local fare there, so we decided to give it a shot.  Can you guess what dish ended up with?  The guinea pig.  We promised ourselves we’d try it at least once while in Peru to say that we did it, and this seemed to be as good of a time as any.  Splitting the dish since we didn’t know how we’d like it, we also got a pitcher of chicha morada (a natural beverage made out of purple corn) and brought it to an open table in the back.  The meat in the guinea pig itself wasn’t bad, kind of like eating the dark meat from a chicken or turkey, although it was kind of hard to pull it off from the body, and the little paw of the guinea pig that was sticking out at me kind of grossed me out.

Which makes the next set of events even more surprising.  We ate the toe nails.  I know, I know, eeewww!  And they were, too.  But back when we were visiting Matt’s grandma, she told us of her own time spent in Peru and how the toe nails of guinea pigs were a treat for the little kids to eat, and they’d snack on them the same way we eat potato chips.  I think they ones they got were a little more deep fried than ours, and it was definitely and experience that I can say I did once but I will never try again.

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guinea pig lunch

 Since the town center of Lima seemed to be getting colder by the minute and we were not in any way dressed for it, we started making our way back toward the hostel where we could at least visit a few museums inside until our room was ready.  On the way back we passed through one more main plaza, Plaza San Martin.  There was one thing there that I quickly wanted to take a look at before moving on, and it was something I had actually read on another cruisers website (Bumfuzzle) when they also were doing land travels through this area.  Here’s a quote from their blog:  “Right across the street was another big plaza, this one with a statue in the middle that I found pretty amusing. The statue is of Madre Patria, the symbolic mother of Peru, and when it was commissioned the artist was told to give her a crown of flames. However the word for flame is llama, just like the animal. So here on the good lady’s head sits a tiny little llama with giant flames shooting out next to it. My favorite part is that they simply left the llama on there. That takes a good sense of humor.”.   Gotta love the important information that gets shared between cruisers.

Maria Patria statue

 Not a great shot (I didn’t have my zoom lens), but you can just make out a llama on top of her head.

Plaza de San Martin

Plaza de San Martin


Crossing through the giant outdoor mall between us and our hostel, we purchased tickets from a kiosk to get ourselves to Nazca tomorrow, and probably made the girl at the desk wish she’d never see us again after asking a million questions and coming back three times after checking things out on the internet.  I was ready to go back to the hostel and just sit for the rest of the day, but Matt wanted to go to the art museum since it was still fairly early in the day (about three o’clock).  I managed to gather just enough energy, since I’ve only slept about nine hours in the past two days, to force myself to trudge through MALI.  The fact that the $4 entrance fee was reduced to $0.40 on Sundays, didn’t hurt either.  There were many impressive works of art inside,  with a good portion of them featured by prominent Peruvian artist José Sabogal.  The top floor of the museum was closed off for renovations, so it didn’t take us more than an hour to get through, and by then I was more than ready for some rest.

sitting in MALI

Lima, Peru, Backpacking, South America

Our 54 Hour Bus Ride to Colombia

Saturday September 14, 2013

Lima, Peru, Backpacking, South America

So you know how I was just talking a few days ago about how there was no way we could add Bolivia to our list because it was going to be hard enough squeezing three countries into our visit? Â Well, make that two now. Â We’ve decided to skip out on Ecuador since we feel that if we do both that and Colombia, we won’t really get the full experience of either country. Â I don’t think either of us expected that we’d have spent over two weeks in Peru, but there was so much to see and so much to catch our interest that we couldn’t just whiz through it, only stopping in one or two places. Â This is what we feel would happen if we tried to fill two countries into our last two weeks. Â Sure, we could spend one day in about two different towns in each country, but that would be it. Â Even from where we’re sitting in Mancora, going to Bogota is almost 800 miles just in travel as the crow flies. Â Traveling there in a bus at speeds of 40 mph while you wind through mountains and treatcherous terrain, and it becomes a very long trip. Â Another 300 miles from Bogota to where our plane departs in Medellin and I think it’s safe to say that just a couple of those days will be eaten up by travel. If I had to do it again, I would just get a jet card membership at Jettly to lessen my travel time.

So we’re leaving out Ecuador.  People just keep giving so much praise to Colombia that we want to be able to experience it just as much as we’ve done Peru.  Which, I should note, we could easily spend our next two weeks here and not get bored.  I am SO glad that we chose this country to visit.  It was really hard to say good-bye this morning, and if we hadn’t already purchased our forwarding bus tickets back in Lima, I probably would have been able to talk Matt into a few more days here.  But we had no other option than to leave at two o’clock that afternoon, so we made the most of what time we had left there.  Packing our bags was no easy feat, I swear they grow bigger each city we stop at.  Which I guess technically they are, since we seem to buy some kind of souvenier at each place we stop.  In Mancora, it was a blanket sized sarong that we’ll now be able to lay on beaches with, without the fear of dragging sand back to the boat since it will shake right off of it, unlike a towel.  After that was finished we paid our bill at the hostel and spent our remaining time laying on the beach and going out for one more lunch.  I am really, really going to miss this place.

enjoying a Cristal beer on the beach in Mancora Peru

lunch in Mancora Peru

I think I’m going to miss you most, $4 meal (including beer).

Having just a little bit of Peruvian money left as we arrived at the bus station, we filled our backpacks with a few more snacks and drinks for the ride.  When our bus finally pulled into the station an hour and a half late, it was not at all what we were expecting.  For a direct ride that was going to take over 2 days, we thought it might be more luxurious than the normal buses we were riding, not that they had been at all bad, but come on.  2 straight days on a bus?  It better be a pretty frickin comfortable ride.  But this was not the double decker bus we were used to.  This was a bottom of the line bus.

When we approached our seats, we found a younger Latin girl already in it.  We pointed to the seat numbers on the bus and then at the matching numbers on our tickets, and waited while she moved 50 different pieces of belongings to the open seats on the other side of the aisle, including a fuzzy blanket that had me spending the first hour of our ride pulling pink colored fuzzies off my clothes.  It also turns out that our new seats disrupted a conversation with the people sitting in front of us that she had been talking too.  No matter to her, she just continued the conversation over us at a louder volume.  Yes, I know it’s part of the Latin culture to be loud and talkative, but if there’s one thing that can instantly get on my nerves, it’s loud or high pitched noises.  It’s why I tend to avoid crowds in general. She, happened to be both.

A few hours later my stomach began to growl and I was about to pull out one of my snacks except that I expected dinner to be served at any moment.  It was normally served around 6 pm, and I was getting extremely excited to have a hot meal and a cold drink placed in front of me.  Except it never came!  Even though we were using the same bus line we had been since we’d gotten to Peru, this particular class of bus did not serve food either.  It was looking like it was going to be a very long 2 days.  As we pulled into customs and immigration that evening to check out of Peru and into Ecuador, there was a quick run to the tienda across the street for some Doritos and Coke.  Just when we had been starting to eat healthier meals, we were thrown back into old habits of chips and pop for dinner.

The next morning around 10:30 we made a stop in a large town in Ecuador called Quito to unload passengers and take on some new ones.  I was tempted to run into the streets to see what kind of street vendor food I could pick up, but I had no idea how much time we were stopped for.  When we were picked up in Mancora, I don’t think the process took more than five minutes.  I decided not to get off.  Getting on though, was another young gringo couple close to our age.  I was elated when I found out they held the seats right next to us.  Finally, someone we could talk to.  They went through the same process we did of having to kick out the same Latina girl and also subsequently spent the next hour picking pink fuzzies from their clothes.  We found out the name of our new friends were Ardun and Jen, and they hailed from Australia.

As our bus set off and bumped along again, we found out that just like Hannah and Kyle, they’re taking a few months to take on South and Central America.  Except unlike our other friends, their lives basically revolve around traveling.  A few years ago, they actually road tripped across the United States by living in a Dodge Ram camper and even wrote a book about it called Boon Dockers.  The four of us got along great, and during our one stop of the day for lunch, we had a great time recounting our stories from our South American travels so far.  Jen and I also united while, during our check in to Colombia that night, we tried to stall the bus driver from leaving as the guys ran down to a street vendor to grab us all dinner.  For a moment there, we thought the four of us were going to be stranded on the side of the road.

Jen & Ardun Ward

 (Photo courtesy of Jen & Ardun Ward)

Even though there were the occasional leg cramps and having to hunt down toilet paper since the bus didn’t supply any, the trip was looking up.  We’d learned to stash food when we could, they finally added subtitles to the movies, and we had some great and interesting people to talk to.  I was feeling quite content when my eyes began drooping just after 10 and and settled in for another night’s sleep.  I didn’t find it too unusual, when just after midnight, the bus rolled to a stop.  I figured it was a requested bathroom or food stop since we were in front of a gas station.  One of the stewards walked down the aisle to give a quick speech, and people began floating on and off the bus, and smiling and laughing as they talked to each other.  Pretty routine I figured, and tried to go back to bed.

The bright lights and talking had woken Jen and Arudun up though, and I overheard a conversation she started with the bilingual guy behind her, trying to get more information of what was going on.  “Oh nothing”, he replied, “We’re all fine, it’s nothing”.  “But I just heard the steward say ‘peligro'”, she countered, “That’s the word for danger”.  That’s when the guy broke down told her what was really going on.  There were reports of guerrillas that had stopped and robbed three buses ahead of us, and we could be next in line.  We were stopping  at this gas station to take on military protection.  It was at that time that we all looked forward to see one of the military men boarding, a loaded AK 47 in his hand.

Through more persuading, we learned that the intended plan was to bring three military men on board with us.  Two would board the bus, standing at the front and the back, and another would be stowed below with our luggage.  Matt and I looked at each other in utter shock.  Our thoughts turned to everything we had on us.  Two cameras, two computers, two e-readers, and $600 in cash.  We started scanning the seats for any crevices we thought we might be able to hide our belongings in, but we knew the search was fruitless.  If we were stopped, the guerrillas would find it.  We settled on stuffing a good portion of the cash in the seat back, while I tucked $50 into my underwear.  We’d heard that if stopped, they line all passengers up next to the bus and make you empty your pockets, plus take off your shoes and socks.  I couldn’t think of any other place that hiding money might be safe.

As we started moving again, my breaths were short and shallow.  It was one of those things that I had a feeling deep down inside that everything would be fine, but the armed guard next to me reminded me that it might not.  I wasn’t worried for my safety, apparently after they ransack the bus they send you back on your way, just minus all your belongings.  But loosing all our belongings would still be a pretty big blow to us.  All the curtains were pulled shut inside the bus and every light was turned off except a few red bulbs running along the aisle.  Most people took the cue of what a sobering situation it was and kept quiet.  Not the Latina girl that had been seat hopping.  She made it a point to stand in the aisle in her glittery tank top, loudly talking with the person in the seat behind her and making sure the good looking military guy could see her every time she tossed her hair back and laughed.  I kind of wanted to smack her.

An hour later we rolled again to a stop.  We had made it out of the danger zone unscathed.  The military men were unloaded and we continued on our way once more.  I know part of me still should have been a little scared and a little alert, but by this point, I was just exhausted.  Young Latina girl had finally quieted herself, and I was ready for sleep.

The next morning we said goodbye to Ardun and Jen as they departed the bus in Cali, and we still had a few hours left until Bogota.  By now the bus was nearly empty and we were able to space ourselves out a bit more as well.  Loud Latina girl was gone, also having got off in Cali, and I was able to spend the remaining hours of the afternoon sleeping in something other than the fetal position, and getting some work done on my computer.  We’d covered a lot of miles, skipped one country, and almost had all our belongings stolen, but 54 hours after first boarding our bus, we were ready to explore Colombia.  Once we get to our hostel, eat, shower, and sleep.