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Ruins, Adventure, Ceviche And Waves

July 20, 2012

We drove hundreds of kilometers through deep valleys and super-high mountain passes to get to Puno and Cusco, two of the most visited spots in Peru. Puno is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest-altitude navigable lake, at an elevation of 12,421 feet above sea level.

The water is a clear, cold blue, and the area is famous for its floating man-made reed islands, the Islas de Uros. There are over 2000 people who live on these islands, and they have to constantly renew the top layers of reeds as the old ones on the bottom rot out.

Of course, Michael asked if he could row one of the boats, and the villagers let him!

We saw flamingos during our drive through the altiplano between the Colca Canyon and Puno. Who would have thought flamingos would be so high up, and in such a cold area? I always associate flamingos with Florida.

After visiting Puno, we drove to Cusco, one of the loveliest cities we’ve visited so far, with respect to architecture, ruins and ancient culture. We happened to arrive there just two days before Peru’s largest festival, called Inti Raymi and held in Cusco, which is a celebration in honor of the sun god and the Incan new year, which begins after the summer solstice. The streets were shut down every day with parades, dancing and music. Celebrants were out in full force in gorgeous costumes full of eye-popping colors.


We left Cusco to visit Machu Picchu, the tourism highlight of our entire trip to Peru. We  woke up at 4.30 am to get to the ruins at first light, before it’s overrun with a million other tourists, and it was worth it.

The most breathtaking — and most expensive — train ride I’ve ever taken: Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.

There’s an old Incan “bridge” that can be seen if you hike 20 minutes off the main ruins. Rumor has it that the bridge used to be open to tourists until a few years ago, when one fell to his death while crossing it. Now it’s gated off, and the approach to the bridge has ropes that you can hold onto for balance, since the drop off the side of the path is several hundred meters down.

Not for the faint of heart

We hiked up Montana Machu Picchu, the big mountain behind and 1640 feet above the Machu Picchu ruins. One full hour of climbing uneven stone stairs with areas of sheer drop-offs brought us to a view of Machu Picchu that could only be rivalled by a helicopter ride. And I’m afraid of heights!

That’s tiny Machu Picchu to the left, behind me!

Machu Picchu is a must-see if you’re visiting Peru, but the area all around Cusco, called the Sacred Valley, contains scores of beautiful, worthwhile ruins and sites of interest. Two of our favorites were the Maras Salt Mines, and the ruins at Moray. The salt mines at Maras are pre-Incan and still operational. Each rectangular area belongs to one family. How do they remember which one’s theirs, since none of the rectangles are marked? And how do they know their neighbors haven’t skimmed a little of their salt off the top?! The view of the mines from above is otherworldly.

The Moray ruins are a series of agricultural terraces carved out in symmetrical, round forms. The depth between the center of the ruins and the uppermost levels can create a temperature difference of up to 15 degrees Celsius, so it’s thought that the area was used to test crops in different microclimates.

After getting to see our most-wanted sites, we were happy to head north again, and back towards the coast. We were finally on our way back to our home, the ocean! We made a pit stop of a couple of days in Lima to satisfy our craving for world-class international food, including fusion Peruvian cuisine, burritos and ice cream. Then we headed further north along the coast.

A funny thing happened to us on the way — actually, a couple of funny things.

First: a few hours after leaving Lima, we had our first encounter with corrupt road police, which other overlanders had warned us about. We’d heard that the worst ones were north of Lima. Miraculously, through all of our driving south of Lima up to the Chilean border, we’d been stopped dozens of times for road checks but never asked for money. This time, we were stopped by a policeman who tried to fool us into thinking that the kind of insurance we had (private vehicle insurance) didn’t match our license plate (happens to be a plate allowing use of the car for transporting goods). We knew he was bluffing, but we decided to pretend we didn’t speak Spanish. Friends had told us this would make them lose their patience, and they would most likely let us drive away. The cop kept saying he was going to give us a ticket for a 300 soles fine (about $70 US), but we could just pay him 30% of this and he would let us go. We went on pretending to not understand him for ten minutes, and then we remembered a piece of paper an overlanding Swiss couple had given us months before, that we kept in our glove compartment. It’s a completely fake, made-up form with the European Union flag on it, and spaces to fill out the police officer’s name, the nature and amount of the fine, etc. We showed it to the policeman and said in broken Spanish that our embassy needed us to fill out the form if we were to pay any fines, and the cop immediately dropped his requests for money and sent us on our way. The flag on the fake form didn’t even match our passports, which we’d already shown him.

Second: the same day as the corrupt cop incident, we were heading to a beach called Playa Centinela, to camp at a hotel we’d heard was located in front of a point break. We arrived in the adjacent small town right before sunset, and headed out onto a dirt road toward the beach. We came upon a big puddle and, not knowing how deep it was at the deepest point, decided not to risk getting stuck, and headed back to town. We drove away from the puddle in reverse, right into an irrigation ditch! Both wheels on the passenger side were in the ditch, and walled in front and back by the road. We couldn’t just push the car out, or use blocks to get it out, since the wheels were too deep and walled in.

There was a small field next to us, full of cows and donkeys. We went over to the field and asked a guy with a pickup truck to help pull us out. He said his truck wasn’t strong enough, so he called the police to come help us. We waited about half an hour for the police, and in this time, a group of fifteen villagers had gathered and everyone had an opinion about what to do. One of them was driving a cab, and tried to pull us out backwards, but our muffler was stuck in the mud and we didn’t want to break it. The cops finally came, and we decided to have some of the people push the passenger side up so it was level, and then have the cops tow us out from the front. It worked! Everyone cheered.

Villagers lending a hand

The villagers joked about us buying them all a case of beer; we told them of course we would buy them all beer. They led us to a small store in the tiny, dirt-road village; them on foot and us driving behind. Even the cops came. When we got out of the car, someone told us, “Some of us don’t want beer, we’re all brothers of the church and we don’t drink.” We were thinking, oh no, they want money instead. But then I asked them, “What would you prefer, juice?” They thought for a minute, and then said, “Soft drinks!” So we bought a bunch of three-liter soft drinks for them all, including the cops, and stood around outside the store drinking with them.

One of the guys had a friend who happened to work at the hotel on the beach we’d been trying to find before we got stuck, and he was going out there right that minute. He led us out to the hotel, through the puddle that we’d turned away from, which ended up being no more than five inches deep. We stayed at the hotel, Fundo Centinela, and surfed a fun, completely empty point break for three days. We were the only guests, and we hung out and ate all our meals with the owner and his wife and son. They made us amazing ceviche, and a tasty pollo estofado. It was an adventure getting there, and a truly unique experience staying at the Fundo.


La familia Fundo Centinela: Elisabeth, Daniel and Pedro

After all that driving and  (mis)adventure, we were ready for some serious relaxation. A little over one week ago, we arrived in Puerto Malabrigo, home to one of the longest waves in the world. A big swell started coming in today, and we’re happy as clams. We’ve been surfing the longest waves of our lives, reading, and getting to know the owner of the hotel, Juan, who made us a very delicious ceviche. Good waves, good food, and good company. What more could we want?


Waves like this every day, with only a few other surfers!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Faith Magwood permalink
    July 20, 2012 11:20 pm

    Fabulous! Thank you for sharing your adventures with us.

    Chatted with your mother this morning and wished her well on HER great adventure–five months of segregation and intensive TM courses so she can become a TM teacher. She sounded very enthusiastic about it. Hope it works well for her.

    Lots of love, Faith and Jon

    • July 22, 2012 1:22 pm

      Great to hear from you. Mom said she had a good long chat with you. We’re excited for her – an exact opposite adventure from ours.

  2. Doris Foo permalink
    July 21, 2012 10:05 am

    Delphine & Michael,
    It’s amazing. Life is for living & you’re definitely doing it. You are truly blessed. Keep safe.
    Love always, Mum Doris

    • July 23, 2012 2:54 pm

      Hi Mum Doris! We can’t wait to meet up with you hopefully in Singapore. Wish you could be here with us. Love you so much!

  3. July 26, 2012 8:15 pm

    Your photos are wonderful. Those ruins are incredible, and I really like the agricultural terraces. They’re so interesting and picturesque.

  4. The Langs permalink
    July 30, 2012 10:03 am

    What could be better than living vicariously through your cousins’ photos and blogs? We thoroughly enjoy them. Stay well and happy, you two. Love, Elizabeth.

    • July 30, 2012 10:08 am

      We love hearing from both of you. You two stay well and happy, too! Looking forward to visiting you when we’re back from travelling.

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