Puno and Lake Titicaca

On Tuesday, Sean, Flo, and Jen departed by bus for Puno/Lake Titicaca with our guide Gaspar and 3 others from our Geckos group (Barry&Candace from South Africa (now living in Vancouver), and Michael from Australia).

We spent a night in Puno and were picked up the next morning by some man-powered tuktuks who brought us down to our boat on Lake Titicaca.


Lake Titicaca is located on the border of Peru and Bolivia.  It is one of the highest lakes in the world (3800m) and is also the largest lake (by volume) in South America.

Uros Islands 
The Uros Islands are a series of about 45 man-made floating islands.  They are constructed from the tortora reeds that grow in the lake, and were originally created for the Uru people to escape threats from other tribes on the mainland.  The floating islands continue to house hundreds of Uru people, with about 5 families living on each island.  

It was amazing to delicately (and skeptically) step out from the boat onto a big pile of reeds, not knowing what to expect. The reeds felt soft and squishy underfoot, yet they seemed to easily support each step.  Before we knew it, it simply felt like we were walking in a field of thick grass.


Amantani Island
We then visited the beautiful Amantani island where there are no dogs, cars, hotels, or machines. The hillsides are terraced and agriculture is still done by hand.  The island is inhabited by about 4000 Quechua-speaking people.  

Sean, Flo, and I home-stayed with a local girl named Valeria and her family.  In the afternoon our Geckos group played volleyball against the locals, and later that evening we got dressed up in their traditional clothes and attended a local dance in the community centre.

40 days to go

It seems that in Dom's bike crash, he broke a bone in his hand.  Since he was still able to move his fingers after the accident, everyone here was certain that it was only a sprain.  Thanks to "Alberta Health Link"s recommendation, he decided to go to the doctor's for an X-Ray anyway, and Tada!! …Broken pinky :(

Now the only thing left is to wait 40 days…. July 7 the cast can come off :)

On an interesting note, it only costs 40 soles (~$16USD) to get an x-ray here!  It additionally only costed a total of 210 soles ($80USD) for all of the doctors' consultations and cast materials!!

Machu Picchu

There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu: Traditional Inca Trail, the Inca Jungle Trek, the Salkantay trail, or the train (just to name a few).  However, everyone enjoys the ultimate day when they are exploring this majestic city that remained untouched by the Spanish invaders. 

Most groups have a 2 hour tour of the city, but the best part is to find a place to sit, enjoy the view, and take in the site.  There are a lot of tourists there, but if you go outside of the centre, you can easily avoid the masses… If you plan to go, be sure to also visit the Inca bridge and the sun gate - they are definitely worth it!!  As for climbing Huayna Pitchu and/or Machu Picchu mountain, you now need to pay extra and reserve a place to have access to ascending them.

Note: In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.

Inca Jungle to Machu Picchu (Dom)

In French we often use the expression "Jamais deux sans trois" (Never a second without a third)…. therefore, this was my third journey to Machu Picchu.  Since I had already done both the 2-day and 4-days traditional Inca Trails, I decided to do another adventure tour called the Inca Jungle. The nice thing about this trek is that it allowed me to meet up with Jen at Machu Picchu.

Day 1: Biking

The first day of this trek consisted of a 69km bike ride on a freshly asphalted road that took us from an altitude of 4300m down to 1700m.  There were many nice views, lots of zig zags.. overall a very enjoyable ride… even if you crashed your bike. 
We had the same full-body-gear as when we did the Maras Moray bike ride…. and I am so happy we did.  When I was about 2/3 of the way down the pass, I managed to hit the cement ditch.  Here is a description of the scene: 
I was turning on one of the switchbacks while a truck was doing the same in the opposite direction and there was also a river flowing on top of the road.  As I was turning, I managed to splash my shoe, so I looked down …… error….. when I looked up I was inches from the cement ditch.  At that point the only thing I could do was embrace the accident, so into the ditch I went.  It hurt a bit but, not as much as it should have!  After cleaning up my scrapes, I mounted the bike and mostly finished the bike ride.  I had to stop at the end, because my right hand was swollen and hurting. 

On a funny note, at the hostel, when I asked for some ice to help reduce the swelling of my hand, they gave me a cold beer ;)

If I had gone with any other tour agency, they would have only provided very basic safety helmets/equipment.. I would have scraped the entire left side of my face on cement, and that would have really hurt... So if anyone's looking for a good bike tour operator in Cusco: http://www.lorenzoexpeditions.com

Day 2: Hiking an Inca trail and enjoying hot springs

On our second day, we trekked from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa.  On our hike we passed by some coffee farms, coca plantations, and walked on part on an Inca trail.  This was a lot easier but was also really enjoyable.  We finished the day, swimming in some hot springs near Santa Teresa.

Day 3: Zip Lines and hiking to Aguas Calientes

The third day started by crossing mountains on 6 zip lines.

After the zip lines, we were driven to the hydro electric plant where we started our journey to Aguas Calientes along the railway.  The view from the train track is amazing as you are located on a small valley right beside mountains that just seem to appear out of thin air.  Along the way, we visited a really small Inca site and finished our journey at Aguas Calientes (the city at the base of Machu Picchu).

Day 4: Machu Picchu

We awoke at 4am and started walking up toward Machu Picchu so that we could arrive at 6am (when the doors open) and be the first to explore the site.  Our experience at Machu Picchu will be in another post as Jen and I visited it together: after meeting up on the path to the the Sun Gate.

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (Jen, Flo, Sean)

Sean, Flo, and I began the infamous Inca Trail on May 24th… a 4 day / 3 night journey to one of the new 7 wonders of the world - Machu Picchu.  

Our total Geckos group consisted of 38 people: 14 tourists, our awesome guide Juve, assistant guide Frank, a cook, an assistant cook, and 20 porters.  

The Inca Trail is a 45km trek across 90% of the original pathways that were built by the Incas to access Machu Picchu from the Sacred Valley (Ollantaytambo).  It was an amazing experience filled with unbelievable views and opportunities to explore several other Inca Ruin sites along the way.  Through the eyes and stories of our Quechuan guide, Juve, we rediscovered the ancient paths and lands once occupied by his ancestors over 500 years ago.

Here's the Inca Trail breakdown:
Day 1 - 12km - 5.5h from "kilometre 82" (2400m) up to first camp (3000m)

Unfortunately, 2 people from our group had to turn back after the first day/night (along with the assistant guide and a porter) due to asthma/altitude issues.

Day 2 - 12km - 7h from first camp (3000m) up to the 1st Pass (4200m), and down to the second camp (2600m).

Day 3 - 15km - 7.5h from the second camp (2600m) up to the 2nd Pass (3900m), lunch at the 3rd pass, down to the 3rd camp (2200m). 

Day 4 - 6km - 2h from the 3rd camp (2200m) up to the Sun Gate (2740m), and down to Machu Picchu (2400m).

Interesting Note:  According to Juve, there is a race along the Inca Trail each year (around September).  The record time is held by a porter - 3h 45mins.  The fastest foreigner record is around 6h.

The porters:  Our tents and everything all set up before we arrived at camp, carrying 25kg each, running down the trails wearing only basic sandals. 

The food:  Every meal consisted of 3 courses that were all amazing.. some of the most memorable dishes: guacamole with homemade tortilla chips, all of the soups, potato-california-rolls, quinoa risotto, russian salad, strawberry cake, jello, apple pie.. and so much more!!  The porters carried up heavy propane tanks and stoves to make this all possible!

 Our Guide:  We really lucked out... our guide, Juve, was really amazing!!  Incase anyone is interested, please check out his website: www.incatrekkers.com.

On our way down from the Sun Gate we saw a baby bear!   

And we finally managed to meet up with Dom along the Sun Gate trail… only to discover he had a close encounter with a cement ditch on his journey to Machu Picchu.. it sure was a relief to see him in one piece though :)


Two kilometres from the Plaza des Armas in Cusco, you can find the Sacsayhuaman ruins. The Inca (king) built Sacsayhuaman to represent the head of a puma while the Incan capital city Cusco forms the puma's body. Due to destruction of the site during the Spanish invasion, only about 20% of the original Sacsayhuaman site remains... but it is still really impressive (just look at the size of the rocks).

We had lots of fun on the original Inca slides,

and making weird shadows on the giant rock faces ;)

Sacred Valley

With the help of the Geckos guide, Gaspar, we rented a taxi for the day and headed out to the sacred valley of the Incas.  On this trip we hit 3 major sites: The Pisac market (which we also visited last Sunday), the ruins of Pisac, and Ollantaytambo.

Since we went on Wednesday, the Pisac market did not have the local fruit & veggy stands (which are only there Tue/Thrs/Sun).  However Sean and Flo were able to pick up some some souvenirs, and Jen made a new friend ;)


At the top of the mountain behind the Pisac market are the Inca ruins which overlook the valley.  Researchers believed that Písac defended the southern entrance to the Sacred Valley, while Ollantaytambo defended the north. 


The city of Ollantaytambo was our last stop for the day. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region and built the town and a ceremonial centre. The two most unique things are the massive ceremonial stones (which were cut and transported from the top of a nearby mountain), and the face of Wiracochan in the mountain overlooking Ollantaytambo.  Wiracochian was the messenger of Viracocha (the pre-Incan's/Incan's god of creation).

Finally after a long day, we returned to Cusco.

Mercado San Pedro

In the heart of Cusco, there is an old market that is really interesting to see. It is divided into multiple sections: meat (dried pig heads, cow tongues), spices, chocolate, cheese, fruits/vegetables, flowers, bread, etc.

Cusco With Sean and Flo

Sean and Flo arrived in Cusco and Jen will be joining their Geckos Inca Highlands Tour for the next 2 weeks. With their tour we did a quick walking tour of downtown Cusco.

Plaza de Armas

Santo Domingo Church

San Blas

Spanish Classes & our Family

Our first week of spanish school is over and we only have good things to say about it.  We went to the school that Dominic attended 7 years ago (Excel - http://www.excel-spanishlanguageprograms-peru.org) and were totally satisfied.  In the first week on top of learning spanish, we managed to do salsa lessons, a Peruvian cook class, and a ceramics/pottery class.  In our spanish classes, our teachers Luis and Nati didn't just teach us a lot of Spanish, they also taught us a lot about the culture of Peru and Cusco.

In the cooking classes the teachers first took us to the local market to buy the ingredients.  We then went to one of the teachers' houses where they taught us how to prepare "Aji de Gallina" and Deliciosa de Maracuya".  The most surprising thing about the class was that we used Clorox bleach to clean the vegetables…. this is allows us to eat the peel of the fruits/vegetables.


In the pottery classes, an attendant from the school took us to a another local school where we could experience what Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze scene in the movie Ghost ;)  We did not keep all the wonderful things we made as they would be a bit awkward to carry around in our backpacks for a year, but the experience was what we were looking for anyways!


Finally the school also paired us with the Covarrubias Flores family. Isabel and German where very kind and helpful. They greeted us with open arms and made us feel at home. Isabel's cooking made us discover dishes like Rocoto Rellano, Arroz Cubano,  Escaveche de Gallina, and Papa Moraya (papa blanca - a potatoes that was dried up and then is rehydrated). They also made us taste a new fruit every morning… mmm Granadilla …. :)