Gringo Trail

The town of Ica holds very mixed feelings for me. We arrived at night and I was unable to see the setting of the so-called “oasis” of Huacachina that we stayed at outside of town. When I woke in the morning I realized that the hotel was situated on a small lagoon surrounded by mountain sized sand dunes. It was surreal. Sadly, this was the point in the trip where I got food poisoning (most likely traced back to a bowl of soup!?) so we had to hold off on the sand boarding for a few days and lay out by the pool. As soon as my stomach had settled somewhat, we took off for the dunes on a dune buggy!

The buggy ride felt like a roller coaster as we sped over the sandy dunes, catching air at the top of hills and whipping around corners. We occasionally stopped and the guide showed us how to use the sand boards to go down the hills both on our stomachs and on our feet. I was never able to make it down a full hill standing, and quickly learned to keep my mouth closed, as much as I wanted to scream the whole way down each hill. A mouth full of sand is nowhere near as pleasant as a mouth full of water or snow.

Getting back to the hotel and jumping straight into the cold pool was one of the best feelings in the world; almost as great as diving into the sea after hiking the Gorge of Samaria last summer. That night though, we had a bus to catch to Arequipa.

We found a pretty cool hostel in Arequipa and explored the city for a day. Definitely the prettiest city we had seen so far, Chris and I indulged in fruit smoothies and Moroccan food. After a day of wandering the “white city” we took off on a two day tour of Colca Canyon. At over 4,000 meters high, acclimating to the altitude took a full day. Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and has many inhabitants who must be totally used to the altitude. For us, it took a lot of coca tea, coca leaves, and coca candy. For thirty cents you could buy a giant bag of coca leaves to chew from a street vendor in Chivay.

Mmm, mmm, coca tea

There were thermal springs we visited in the canyon and I don’t know which was better: the steaming hot natural springs on a cold winter’s night, or the view of being at the bottom of the canyon looking up at the giant walls of stone around us. The next day, we drove deeper into the canyon and visited some villages, condors, and viewpoints before returning to Arequipa and taking off for the city of Puno.

Puno is a city that sits on Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world. Chris and I splurged a little for a hotel here, with a hot shower, cable tv, and a soft squishy bed since we were only staying in Puno one night. The next morning, after an extremely fancy hotel breakfast, we took off for Las Islas de Uros. I never really researched them before we went, so it was a big surprise for me that Uros is a string of “floating” islands. Basically, the Peruanos that live on Lake Titicaca build the islands that their homes sit on out of floating reeds. They are rafts anchored to the lake floor. Thousands of people live on these strings of floating reeds out on the lake. We took a boat to the islands, took a small tour of some of the houses (also made of reeds, and the beds as well) and then got to eat lunch on one of the islands. It was the freshest fried trout I have ever had, hot, crunchy and salty and most likely picked from the lake minutes earlier. Chris and I tore it apart with our hands and I can honestly say that it was my favorite meal of the entire month in Peru.

Model of one of the Uros Islands

When we left Puno, Chris and I headed to Cusco to meet his brother to celebrate Chris’ birthday! This was my second time in Cusco, and it was very different without food poisoning. I am leaving off here, more on Cusco later.


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