Sunday, March 28, 2010

Our Amazonian Escapade - Part 2


Our Amazonian adventure was full of surprises. David and I had our own guide, Elias, whereas everyone else had to join others to join groups of 6 or more people. We thought it was because we were on our honeymoon, but it turned out that because David had a French passport, they thought we would need a French speaking guide. Well, we ended up speaking in English the whole time with Elias (thank God!), and felt lucky to have our own private tour of the rainforest.

The first night, we took the Twilight River excursion, where we were introduced to the rainforest's nocturnal creatures. We got into a boat with some others from the lodge and for about 45 minutes, we were looking out for caimans and owls. Also, we got to admire the beautiful starlit sky. The stars of the southern hemisphere seemed so much bigger and literally sparkled like diamonds. Really amazing.

The next morning, we were to be ready by 6.30am for our Canopy Walk. Elias told us that the best time for this would be in the early morning as we would be able to admire the birds, monkeys and all other animals while they are active. So, after a great buffet breakfast, we headed off into the rainforest for this exciting adventure. The lodge has about eight hanging bridges, about 20-30 metres above the ground, some of which are really long. We could only walk one at a time, and as I walked, I could feel the bridge moving slowly. The last thing I wanted was to fall into some massive trees filled with insects, snakes or monkeys! I ended up having great fun doing the canopy walks.


We saw so many types of birds, including woodpeckers and toucans and also were able to admire different flowers and plants. Not to forget the giant ants, some bees and beehives, and wild mushrooms!



After lunch, we went on the Anaconda Walk. The excursion is named this way because some time back, someone in the lodge found an anaconda snake in a region of the lodge, and ever since, they identify the walkway this way. While we didn't come across an anaconda, we did see a black snake quickly glide past us into some plant!

We then did the Hacienda Concepcion, where we took a boat to the Botanical Garden to learn about different species of plants and their medicinal value. Although I am not a big fan of botany, I did find it interesting to know about the different uses of plants.


We also took a canoe to observe turtles, caimans and other wold species. I really enjoyed this excursion, as it was an eye opener for me in many ways.


My favorite of all the excursions we did was Gamitana Creek. Gamitana is a type of fish that is found in the Amazonian region, so our excursion consisted of some fishing in the river. I definitely did not like that idea too much, but Elias assured me that they do not kill the fish, but always put it back into the water. So, we first set off for a 1 hour trail, which was then followed by some canoeing.


Along the way, we did spot a few caimans (yuck, I hate reptiles!), and I prayed that I wouldn't fall into the water (to the delight of the caimans and other creatures). We saw many colorful birds, were greeted by their chirps that sounded so musical, and it truly felt like nothing else existed between us and the nature. Feeling that way is something rare for me, as I live in an international city, where there are almost always people, buildings, traffic and noise. This, on the other hand, was nature at its best.

After canoeing for a while, we got off the boat and visited a local family's house. They had a garden that consisted of banana trees, and I was so thrilled to see various types of bananas there, including the red ones! Elias said that we could have some, so I gladly helped myself to a couple. Then, we walked around the gardens and the plantations, before we settled for a picninc lunch, prepared by the lodge. Elias helped to set it up, and we ate in a hut. It felt really good to be away from it all, and the picnic was also very good.


In the afternoon, we returned to the lodge, and decided to have a massage. A young Peruvian lady came to escort us one at a tome to Ena Spa, the outdoor massage parlour, which had a view of Madre de Dios. She did a good job, and it felt so good to relax this way after 2 or 3 days of exploring the rainforest. As you can see, I felt refreshed!


The food at the lodge was top class. The service was great and very personal. The presentation of the food was very good, and many local ingredients were creatively used in the cuisine. All the weight I had lost during the first part of the trip, I managed to gain back here! Well, what matters is that I had a great time with the food here!


My entire experience at the lodge was simply fantastic. It was one of the most unique experiences in my life, as I never imagined that I would spend days in the Amazonian rainforest! What I also found very impressive was that all the guides are required to do a project whereby they choose a specific subject of interest, do thorough research and write reports and make presentations on their findings. It is an important contribution to the environment as it helps others understand specific environment related problems and provides opportunities to fix them. Elias, for example, was passionate about palm trees and so, during his free time, he did research on these trees. Great way to keep the guides challenged too!

Our time at the Amazonian rainforest came to an end, and I will always look back at it as an enriching and fun experience. We made our way back to the capital of Peru, which I will write about next!

Do enjoy the video of our Amazonian excursions:


For those of you who receive email updates, you can watch the video here:




Thursday, March 25, 2010

Our Amazonian Escapade - Part 1


We finally made it to the last leg of our tour, Puerto Maldonado and the Amazonian rainforest. To be honest, while creating the itinerary, I was slightly nervous about this part of the trip, as I just didn't know what to expect. I had never stayed in a very wild place before, and this definitely was a first. I am actually glad that I went without expectations because I ended up being pleasantly (and sometimes unpleasantly) surprised by what I saw and experienced.

We caught our flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado in the early morning and were to be picked up by a staff member from our Amazonian lodge, Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica. All this while, we had really enjoyed the cool climate in Peru (18-20 degrees), and had gotten used to the beautiful weather. Well, as soon as we stepped off our plane, an all too familiar feeling of discomfort came. I could immediately feel the same type of humidity from back home in Singapore, and the temperature was around 30 degrees. At first glance, Puerto Maldonado bore an uncanny resemblance to a typical Indian city, with three-wheeler autos, bicycle rickshaws, scooters, banana trees, small shops on the road sides, and locals walking around. We were welcomed by the very friendly Lindel, who accompanied us on our boat ride to our lodge and gave us freshly made banana chips (again, another similarity with India!). Our lodge itself was situated away from the city, and was within the Amazonian rainforest.


The boat ride to our lodge was fantastic. We were sailing on a high speed boat on the Madre de Dios, and truly enjoyed the breeze and tender splashes of water. As we approached the lodge, my heart started beating faster, and I couldn't help praying to God that I wouldn't encounter any lizards or creepy creatures like that. Our skipper dropped us off at our lodge, and I was surprised to see how beautiful and well managed the site was! The hospitality was also remarkable, as we were warmly welcomed by the staff and offered complimentary passionfruit drinks as we checked-in. We were then taken to our little chalet (cabana in Spanish, which was located close to the river. The cabin was beautiful, and I could really feel that this was how a real holiday should be.


There are some things about the lodge that I need to explain about. The Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica lodge is an environment-friendly lodge that works towards preserving nature. Therefore, most places on site have no electricity, and during the night hours, people walk around with lanterns or torches, and the dining area is also very dim with candles and laterns (romantic, eh!). All cabins are protected by mosquito nets to prevent being bitten by strange creatures. There are no locks and keys provided, so make sure you don't bring any valuable items when you go there. There are also animals such as rodents and birds hanging around the lodge, and in our case, there was even a snake hiding under somebody's cabin (yikes!!!). There are no telephones in the cabins, so if urgent attention is required, all you have to do is blow on the whistle they give you, or run to the reception area.

So, as you can see, this place is quite different from any other hotels I have stayed at before. We were assured by the staff that it was very safe, but still, I felt a bit uneasy and dreaded the night time. Well, the first night, we came across some animal's "waste" in our bathroom, which was pretty massive in size. We immediately got the staff to clear that out. The following morning, while taking a shower (took one as fast as I could), something fell on me, and I screamed and David came running from the bed to check on me. It turned out to be just a moth!!! Hahahaha. And finally, one evening, I was on my own in the cabin, taking a nap, as David wanted to go out for some night adventure. Imagine my horror when I woke up to find a frog in the bathroom! I immediately gathered my torch and a shawl, dashed to the gift shop and tried to explain that I desperately wanted someone to get rid of the frog. The gift shop girl also screamed and said she was scared of frogs (she lives and works there!!!). She got the housekeeping staff to go to our room and "check" on the frog. I must say they were amused over my reaction of seeing a frog in the room! I refused to go back to my cabin and decided to wait in the dining area for David to come back. No way was I going to go through that all over again, by myself! Once David came back, we had a nice dinner and headed back to our cabin. The frog was gone (Thank God!), but we huddled together to sleep on a single bed to feel more secure. David too, didn't feel very comfortable with these strange things, so we were on the constant lookout for each other the whole time :).

You can watch the video of our Amazonian home right here:



For those of you receiving email updates, you can watch the video by clicking this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKECdGBiEQA

I will write about our excursions in the rainforest in my next entry. Do look out for it!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Sacred Valley


Most of us have heard of the mysterious Machu Picchu, and to go there was truly a dream come true. Like I said before, Peru had long been a dream destination for me, and one of the reasons for that was Machu Picchu. Although Machu Picchu is the most well known icon of Peru, I found out that Peru has so many other treasures, some of which are steeped in the Sacred Valley.

Just the name, Sacred Valley, made the whole place sound so enchanting to me. I literally could not wait to step out of my plane and start exploring the region. We arrived in Cusco in the morning, and were scheduled to meet a guide to take us around for 2 hours. Cusco, I must say, is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. The city used to be the capital of the Incan empire, and is very well designed in Spanish colonial style. Cusco is filled with steep cobble stoned streets, with walls made out of Inca stone. Walking up and down can be quite tiring, but the view from the top is definitely well worth it. Due to time contraint, however, we took a local taxi up to first walked up to Sacsayhuaman, where some of the largest Inca ruins are. This place was amazing as it had stunning views of Cusco and the surrounding mountains. Not only that, the low laying clouds also made it very picturesque. We saw a statue of the "White Christ" and walked around the ruins before walking down the steep roads to the city centre.


Once in the city centre, we were taken to Hatum Rumiyoc street where we got to see the famous 12 angled Inca stone.



We then continued walking around before heading off to Ollantaytambo by car to catch our train to Aguas Calientes. The route along the way was so scenic, and we stopped to take some photos.


Anyone who plans to visit Machu Picchu must take the train to this Aguas Calientes, and tickets must be purchased in advance. There are different rates available for different categories of trains such as "Backpackers", the moderate "Vista Dome" and the luxurious "Hiram Bingham". Getting into Machu Picchu can be difficult as they place quotas on the number of people who can visit at a time, so I cannot stress enough that planning is essential for this part of the tour. The company that offers train services to Aguas Calientes is Perurail, and you can find out more information about this by checking their website.


Our Vista Dome train left punctually at 3pm and we found the service to be good and professional. The journey itself was quite fascinating as we made our way through tunnels, and I couldn't help feeling slightly intimidated by the high mountains. We arrived in Aguas Calientes at around 5.45pm and set off to look for our hotel. We managed to find it, a very decent place that was well located in the city. The city itself is only full of souvenir shops, markets and restaurants catered towards tourists, and this was the only place in the whole trip that I felt was invaded by tourists. That very evening we purchased our bus tickets so that we would avoid the long queues in the wee hours of the morning. Visiting Machu Picchu needs good planning because: there is a quota on the number of tourists who can go up to the site and also climb Wayna Picchu, 22 buses are scheduled from 6am to take tourists up, crowds start gathering from 4am onwards, and people become uncvilized and "conveniently" cut into queues. So, with an early ticket purchase, we managed to minimize our bus queue time. Still, after a quick breakfast at 5am the following morning, we made it to the bus stop at 5.20am, and lots of people had already gathered around. We quickly took a spot and waited patiently for the buses to pick us up at 6am. They did arrive on time, all 22 of them, to take tourists from all over the world to Peru's most treasured possession. The bus ride up was really, really impressive. Just steep zig zag roads leading up to Machu Picchu. You would definitely need to be skilled for that kind of driving!

We arrived at the site at around 6.45am. The moment we got off the bus, the place became so chaotic. All the tourists starting running towards the entrance, trying to beat the rest, to be able to climb up Wayna Picchu. After going through security checks, we quickly made our way through the labyrinth structures, and finally got a glimpse of the actual site! At 7 in the morning, it was truly beautiful. We, however, had to make it quickly to Wayna Picchu (they allow 200 people to climb up in the morning, and 200 in the afternoon, not more), so that we would be able to enjoy biews of Machu Picchu.

We did make it, and were number 85 and 86 on the list! Hurray! They took down our nationalities, and then off we were to climb up the steep cliff. Although I started off energetically, I soon started to become tired. This was because of the large steps to take while climbing up. Along the way, we stopped every now and then to enjoy the spectacular view of the winding roads leading up to Machu Picchu. Finally, about an hour and a half later, we reached the top of Wayna Picchu. We chilled out there a bit and enjoyed the views. The whole experience was so special!

After about 25 minutes or so, we decided to go back down so that we could actually walk around the ruins of Machu Picchu. It was quite challenging to walk down the high steps, so I was extra careful. The sun started to come up too, and within a matter of minutes, it became very warm.

Once at Macchu Pichu, we started to explore the ruins, took lots of photos, and admired the structures. Although the site is very impressive, I couldn't help comparing it to other ancient places I had been to, such as the Egyptian and Hindu temples, that have intricate carvings and designs on them. The Inca architecture did not include carvings or drawings, and so was just an assembly of Inca stones. Mind you, it must have been a lot of hard work, just lifting and transporting the stones from one place to another!


We got our passports stamped with the Machu Picchu logo and then took a 1.30pm bus back to Aguas Calientes. This was the first time in the whole trip that I felt exhausted. I was really happy once we got to a restaurant, and was thrilled to have a fruit cocktail. It was so good! We then took a train back to Ollantaytambo, where we stayed at Casa Andina's private luxury collection hotel. Although the service itself was not that great, the hotel was very classy and our room was just amazing. I think it was the largest bed I have ever slept on! It was massive! I was so tired that I felt the best way to relax would be by taking a nice hot bath in the bath tub. I tell you, this is the perfect remedy for tiredness. It made me feel so good! We then went to have dinner at the hotel's restaurant. It was the best food we had in Peru, along with live music. I got a zucchini lasagna and the chocolate desert was to die for! Soooo good!!!


After having a good night's sleep, we had a great buffet breakfast the following morning. We then headed off to explore the Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo. To visit sites in and around Cusco, you can purchase the Boleto Turistico, which makes the prices slightly cheaper. Ollantaytambo was very beautiful, and offered great views of the valley.


We then proceeded on to Pisac, which also has Incan ruins, but is most famous for its Sunday market. The place was bustling with activity as vendors tried their utmost to convince tourists to buy their products. I bought some home decoration things as well as some simple jewelry for myself and as gifts.


After this, we went back to Cusco, to spend the night there. We had a really lovely walk around the city, had some dinner and then went to bed. Overall, the Sacred Valley experience is something that I will never forget. I loved it all and would be happy to go back again to be lost among the Incan ruins!

Do watch the video of my visit to the Sacred Valley:



For those of you receiving this update by email, click on the below link to watch the video:




Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Puno...Peru's folkloric capital

Before going to the Sacred Valley, we had the time to explore Puno, which is the main city in the Lake Titicaca region. Our Casa Andina hotel was perfectly located, right in the city centre, therefore making it very convenient to explore the city by foot. My first impression of Puno was that it had some resemblance to certain Indian cities, notably, Trichy. Many streets had very narrow paths and sidewalks, similar to "sandhu" in Trichy. People in this part of Peru also seemed very attached to their roots, and the city streets were filled with loads of kids, market and shop vendors, Peruvian ladies walking their kids or grandkids around. Very bustling. The city itself is not modern, but has a rather unfinished look. I found out that many buildings were purposely left unfinished so that the residents would not have to pay taxes! If only that kind of rule applied to Switzerland! Sigh!



As Puno is situated between Lake Titicaca and the mountains, many buildings and houses are located on very steep streets. Walking up these streets can be quite tiring, so we opted for a three wheeler (again, similar to the auto in India) to take us up the hills to enjoy a nice panoramic view of the lake and the city. The cobblestoned streets were very bumpy, making the drive in the three wheeler all the more fun. I thoroughly enjoyed this ride. The driver was kind enough to wait for us to go up and take photos, and offered to bring us back. Now, I can tell you that going downhill in the three-wheeler was a thrilling experience! I was sorry when the whole experience was over!

Next up...the Sacred Valley! Be ready!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Faces of Peru


When I travel, I love having contact with the locals. It is always great to see people's way of living, their clothes, their customs and traditions, and most of all, the little kids.

I found the people of Peru to be very warm and hospitable in most parts of the country, whereas in certain regions like Colca, I felt that the people were more reserved. What I loved most in this region, though, was the red cheeks of the little kids. They were so adorable! Most women were dressed in their traditional clothes, except for the city folks, and it was lovely to see them in their braids, bowler hats, balloon-like skirts and alpaca wool accessories.

I have compiled a bunch of photos to show you the different faces of Peru. Do enjoy the photo montage!



For those of you who receive email updates, you can watch the montage by clicking the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1whUOtJCq8

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Revamped!


I am slowly learning the tricks of the trade and have managed to redesign my blog! I hope you all like the new layout. I have added new features and links, so do check them out!

Those of you who are curious about the image I used for my blog title, this is actually a photo taken by David of a lotus design on the interior of a gopuram in the Madurai Meenakshi temple in India.



Do let me know your comments and feedback about my new layout!

I will continue with my Peruvian adventure on my next entry!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I want an alpaca for a pet!!!

While I find certain animals to be cute, especially when they are fat and fluffy, I prefer to admire them from a distance. I am not too fond of being close to animals as I can get very scared and panic.

There is one exception though...and that is the alpaca. They have got to be one of the cutest animals I have seen! They are part of the camelid family and smaller and cuter than llamas. we were told that alpaca fibre is very valuable as it presents very high quality and these animals are specifically bred for their fibre and meat :(. The alpaca meat is considered a delicacy in the Andean region, and as we walked past many restaurants, they were often presented as the highlight of the menu. I can't believe people actually eat it. Poor things!

Alpaca wool is amongst the most expensive and there are many shops in Peru that sell all sorts of clothing and accessories made out of this material. Farmers usually just shave off the alpaca's hair and use this for weaving. In fact, Julio's family (see previous post) also breeds alpaca and makes clothing out of their wool.

Check out these cute creatures below! I wished I could just take one back with me!!! The brown one is a llama.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hidden Treasures of Ancient Peru

Prior to the Incas, parts of Peru, Bolivia and Chile were occupied by the Aymara people. Today, most of the Aymara people live in the region of Lake Titicaca. We found out through our hotel that there was a very interesting site to see, some 40km away from Puno, and so, we decided to spend half a day at Sillustani.

Sillustani is a pre-Incan burial ground that is situated by Lake Umayo. The tombs are built in the form of towers, and are known as chullpas. These chullpas symbolized the connection between life and death. While observing the architecture of the chullpas, I found that there were some similarities in the beliefs of the pre-Incan people and those of the ancient Egyptians. For example, corpses were mummified (in a fetal position), and lizards were carved on the chullpas, as they were considered the symbol of life (In Egypt, the key was the symbol of life).

We walked around the ruins while listening to our energetic and bubbly guide, Delphine. The weather, I must say, was simply awesome. The late afternoon sun was slowly setting and creating a beautiful blend of colors in the sky. We were brought to see Lake Umayo, which looked really pure and untouched. In the middle of the lake was a small isolated island. Delphine told us that the island was supposed to serve as a natural reserve, and so, some locals tried to leave some llamas and alpacas on the island, but these naughty animals tried escaping by swimming off in the lake. They then had to appoint someone on the island to take care of the llamas and alpacas.


After this enriching visit, we started to head off towards Puno. On the way, we decided to meet a Quechua family and visit their humble home. We were warmly welcomed by Julio, Isabel and their 7 year old daughter, Melissa. At the entrance of the house, there were lots of fluffy alpacas, and I felt so tempted to cuddle them. The house was built by Julio himself and was constructed with stone. As you can see in the below video, we were shown their room (whereall three huddle and sleep together to keep warm), and the guestroom which featured more modern amenities like a western toilet and also had electricty, unlike the other room. Then, we saw the kitchen, and the area where Julio and Isabel work. They make clothing out of Alpaca wool, and also sometimes, sell the alpaca to markets.

Julio then wanted to show us how they make quinoa flour, which is one of the main ingredients in Peruvian cuisine. It reminded me of my mom grinding Indian spices, using the grey stone and receiver. It was very interesting to watch this process. We were then treated to a simple meal, and Isabel had set out various food items on the table for us to try. There were varieties of potatoes, and the most unique ingredient there was chalk. Yes, you heard me right, CHALK!

The chalk was mashed and mixed with water to become a paste. This chalk paste is apparently a popular accompaniment to potato dishes, and is supposed to be good for the health. Although I was slightly hesitant to try it (we are talking about chalk after all!), I decided to give it a try and had some with boiled potatoes. A bit bland, but still good! Julio then let us sample some cheese he made himself, and David being the proud French that he is, wanted to test it to give his verdict. He actually liked it :)!


Isabel then showed us her impressive weaving. She weaved many hats, sweaters and scarves using alpaca wool. I fell in love with an alpaca hat and decided to buy it. I knew that no one else in Europe would be rocking a Peruvian hat, and this definitely would stand out, hehe!

We bid good bye to our Quechua family and made our way back to Puno. It was such a great experience. I was touched by the family's hospitality- they live in such simple conditions and yet give visitors the best that they have, rather than keeping that for themselves. They are always smiling and seem very happy with the simple things in life (similar to the Punjabis in Amritsar). It's too bad that in many developed nations, people are so materialistic and forget the simple things in life! We've got a thing or two to learn from these folks!



For those receiving email updates, click the below link to watch the video:
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Paradise on Earth

If anyone asked me what my favorite destination in Peru was, it would have to be Lake Titicaca. Although I loved every part of Peru, the time I spent in Lake Titicaca and its islands of Uros and Taquile is what remains closest to my heart.

We arrived in Puno late at night and planned to take the 6 am boat the following day to the floating island of Uros on Lake Titicaca. As it turned out, David had food poisoning and I had a bad headache due to the high altitude, and we therefore could not take the boat as scheduled. We made arrangements with Casa Andina to organize a private boat with a guide (you can't go to the islands without a guide) for us to visit Uros and Taquile islands. At 9am, our guide, Susanna, came to pick us up from the hotel. She advised us to buy some fruits, bread and snacks to take with us on the boat so that we could share them with the island folks. Apparently, these people have a preference for food, instead of money. We bought some bananas, apples, bread and juice and then got on our boat.

It was such an amazing day. I felt so happy that the weather was kind to us: bright clear blue sky, 22 degrees and plenty of sunlight. Also, I was glad that we ended up taking the boat at a later time, as we were practically the only tourists! All others had taken the 6am boat, as advised by books like Lonely Planet, and I really appreciated being able to have the islands just for us. Our driver and guide were very pleasant, and Susanna was also very informative and motherly towards us.


Lake Titicaca was simply stunning. It is a large lake that stretches across Peru and Bolivia, and is also one of the highest lakes in the world, with an altitude of over 3,800 metres above sea level. Trust me, that really is high!

We reached the floating island of Uros within 45 minutes. The Quechua women gave us a warm welcome and were very thrilled to meet us. Everyone immediately started to talk to us and were eager to show their talents to us. They explained that the island is man-made and is made out of dried reed plants. I found it so strange to walk on the floating island. I guess I needed to get used to its floating. This explanation was followed by a demonstration on building the island, which was very interesting to watch. We then went on to one of the locals' huts and were given traditional clothes to try on. I was so thrilled to be able to wear the bowler hat, the large blouse and skirt. I almost felt right at home with the Quechua people! They did comment that I could pass off as one of them, hehe! David, on the other hand, stood out like a sore thumb! After posing for photos with our Quechua family, we proceeded to take a boat ride around the island. Our boat was also made out of reed, and as you can see in the photo, it looked very unique and pretty. We had a lovely ride on the lake, and were even serenaded with a song by the Quechua ladies on the island. We then bought some small souvenirs from these people, shared some food with them and continued on to Taquile.


Taquile is further away, so we spent a few hours to get there from Uros. I could really feel the vastness of Lake Titicaca, and was in awe of its beauty. I spent some time relaxing on the outdoors of the boat, enjoying the spectacular view and the sun. This to me, was the perfect holiday!

As we approached Taquile, I started to get really dizzy and just did not feel like my normal self. The altitude of this natural island is 4,050 meters above sea level, and I could really feel that it was affecting me. Susanna was very kind and patient and gently guided me up the steps of the hilly island to reach the main centre. Once there, we sat down at a small cafe to have drinks, and I opted to have some coca tea. This is the best remedy for altitude sickness (alternatively, you could chew the coca leaves), as it increases oxygen absorption in blood. It is therefore widely available in this region. Susanna soaked some coca leaves for me in boiling water and placed these leaves on my forehead and back of my neck. Almost instantly, I felt much better, and felt alert and cheerful again. Susanna showed great concern towards me, and she even gave me a great head and shoulder massage, which was exactly what I needed. After this small break, we continued to explore the island. It was very quiet and peaceful. People were very friendly and kids, especially, were very excited to talk to us. We had a fabulous time at this island and I didn't feel like going back so soon (you could even arrange to spend a night at a local family's house at a very low cost). We had to make a move though as our boat driver was waiting for us at the other side of the island.


As we made our way back to Puno, we enjoyed watching the beautiful sunset. It was starting to become very cold and dark, and by 5pm, it was pitch black. We finally reached Puno, had some light dinner there and headed off to our room to doze off.

All in all, Lake Titicaca was truly amazing, and I would love to go back there again. Do catch our experience in the video below!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Arequipa - The White City

After our Colca adventure, we returned to Arequipa in the early evening, just in time for a nice stroll around the city. Arequipa is the second biggest city in Peru, after Lima, and the second most popular city in the country, after Cusco. The city is known as "white city" as it has many buildings that are built of sillar, a white stone.

We were very lucky to catch the city at sunset. The blend of orange, pink and blue in the sky made a beautiful backdrop for this city, and the three volcanoes, El Misti, Chachani and Picchu Pichhu stood majestically, overlooking Arequipa, which is 2,380 meters above sea level.

Our Casa Andina hotel was centrally located, and within a few minutes, we were at Plaza de Armas, the main city square. This square is surrounded by Spanish colonial buildings, a cathedral and shops and restaurants. In the square, the locals were relaxing, chit chatting and munching on snacks while watching the passers by. It was quite a lively scene. We had a light dinner and then headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.


The following morning, we set off early to discover the city during the day time. We went to the Monaestario de Santa Catalina, which is a huge monastery that is very beautifully designed with its colorful walls, gardens and interior decoration. Upon reaching the top level, there was a magnificent view of El Misti. After the monastery, we headed off to the Museum of Juanita, the Ice Maiden, and learnt more about Inca traditions and rituals. It was interesting, although I found some practices, such as the human sacrifice, to be quite harsh.

I also saw lots of art galleries and decided to get a small painting for our apartment in Geneva. I got a beautiful drawing of Quechua ladies by a local painter, but I have yet to display it on my wall!


After spending time visiting Arequipa, we had a quick sandwich at a local eatery. We were to take a flight to Puno, in the Lake Titicaca region, in the late afternoon, and hence had to be back at the hotel in time for our transfer. All in all, I had a great time in Arequipa, and eagerly awaited to discover Lake Titicaca. That's coming up next!

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Preethi Venkatramani
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