Monday, April 18, 2011

I'm back!

Oh hi! I'm back from a wonderful three week vacation in South America, where I saw beautiful scenery and animals, met some wonderful people, and accomplished a major personal goal (note: if you are thinking of hiking the Inca Trail, I recommend training on a stair master - I'm not as fit as I thought I was!). Although I saw many handicrafts, I was hoping to bring home some textiles for my sewing but I don't like using animal-based fabrics, and most of their fabric is made with alpaca wool. The whole trip was very well organized and I experienced no problems. We had a bit of rain (it was the end of the rainy season), but otherwise it was warm and sunny.

Here's a rundown of my itinerary:

Day 1: Arrived in Lima, where I stayed in the Miraflores district, an upper-middle class area with lots of parks, restaurants, shopping, and bars. The Miraflores area was quite nice and I felt safe. Downtown Lima has some interesting architecture but I didn't feel as safe there (probably shouldn't have been walking around by myself, a young-looking pale-skinned tattooed woman drew a bit of attention).
Day 2: Flight to Cuzco. Our hotel was a few blocks from the main square. I really liked Cuzco and felt very safe there. Lots of handicraft shopping.
Day 3: Travel to Ollantaytambo/Sacred Valley/Pisac. Visited some Inca ruins, handicraft markets, and a local cemetery. Adjusted to the higher altitude in preparation for the Inca Trail.
Day 4-7: Hiking the Inca Trail. Trekked 80km over 3.5 days - 3 nights of camping and no showers (although each morning a porter would bring us hot tea and a bucket of hot water for washing up). Day 1 wasn't too bad, a nice sunny day and we saw Inca ruins along the way. Day 2 was the most difficult, reaching the peak ("Dead Woman's Pass") at 4200m mid-afternoon. Day 3 rained all day, which made the descent a bit tricky because the stones were very slippery (I fell a few times). Day 4 we woke at 3:30am in order to line up to finish the trail and enter Machu Picchu. The rest of Day 4 was spent exploring Machu Picchu and returning to Cuzco. The challenge of the trek was worth it, to be above the clouds in the cloud forest and to see Machu Picchu was truly stunning. For the hike, we employed 25 porters, 3 guides and 2 cooks, who were all incredible. We were well fed and taken care of. The porters carried all our camping gear and food, and would race ahead of us to set up camp before we arrived.
Day 8: Back in Cuzco.
Day 9-10: In the Amazon Rainforest. Stayed in a really neat lodge (no electricity or hot water!) and saw plenty of birds and monkeys. Visited a shaman to learn about natural medicine.
Day 11: Back in Lima. Our remaining group went on a city tour and to a dinner show (La Dama Juana) in Miraflores.
Day 12: Flight from Lima to Quito. By the time we arrived in Quito it was too late to do anything other than going out for dinner.
Day 13-17: Stayed on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and visited different islands in the Galapagos. It was very hot and I got a bad sunburn but it was worth it! Fortunately, did not get motion sickness on the boat. The food was fantastic and we had a good balance of day excursions on the islands and rest time.
Day 13: Baltra and Santa Cruz (main inhabited island) islands. Visited the Darwin Research Centre. Really enjoyed the tortoise and iguana breeding centres, and went shopping in the port town of Puero Ayora.
Day 14: Floreana island. Visited Post Office Bay and Punta Cormorant. Went snorkeling for the first time ever - one of the highlights of my trip.
Day 15: Espanola island. Saw plenty of birds, went snorkeling, visited an iguana breeding ground and albatross breeding ground.
Day 16: Santa Fe island. Saw plenty of land iguanas, a bachelor sea lion colony, and cacti. Went snorkeling again.
Day 17: Travel back to Quito.
Day 18: Departed Quito and had a long journey back to Toronto, almost missed my connecting flight in Miami because of being flagged at customs.

You can take a look at my pictures here (I still have 3 rolls of film and an underwater camera to develop).

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