(Note: this was a travel day, so no pictures.)
We usually wait until the end of a trip to write an overview, but this trip is almost like two separate and distinct trips. While there might be comparisons between the two countries, Peru is pretty unique.
First a bit about travel. All modes of transportation seem to be on Peruvian time. Some are on time, some are not, and "hurry up and wait" is the mantra of the day. Today, our earliest wake-up call yet, 4:00 am, got us to the airport in time to make our connection back to Lima. Arriving in Lima, we had a four hour layover (extended by another hour because of delay) to fly to Quito, capital of Ecuador. Thank goodness for Priority Pass which allowed us to spend most of this time in a nice lounge and get caught up on our blog!
The difference in airports is night and day. Lima’s is old, dirty, no women’s bathroom had more than two or three stalls, (can’t really speak for the mens, but similar from reports), and in general, not great. Customs took a long time, etc. Cuzco is similar but a little more updated. It is much smaller so easier to navigate.
Quito has a brand new airport built about five years ago, beautiful, clean (bathrooms big and nice), and customs a breeze. It is 45 minutes outside of town, as the old one, inside the city was getting way too small. It is now a nice park.
Food: Andean food is based on the plants they grow—many varieties and colors of corn, over 300 varieties of potatoes, most vegetables we recognize (and a few we don’t), many fruits including guava, passion fruit, watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe,papaya, etc. as well as their juices. Meats include alpaca steak, beef stew, pork, and the infamous cuy mentioned previously. It tends to be a very starchy diet, often getting rice, a few varieties of potatoes, beans and corn in the same meal. Fish is wide and varied and their primary source of protein. Ceviche is easy to find in restaurants, but not usually eaten by the indigenous people.
People: very proud of their cultural heritage, especially in Cuzco and surroundings where most are Incan. People who work in shops and stalls dress in pants and dresses, and regular style shirts, but the colorful costumes,hats and skirts worn by women and children are not for the benefit of the tourists (although some may argue that point), but their national costume. They are, for the most part, polite, honest and extremely hard working, just trying to get by. We really enjoyed our experiences interacting with them, mostly in stores, but also in the streets.
Altitude: probably the single most influential factor in how much you enjoy this part of the trip. We brought altitude pills that made a tiny difference, but Jim was lightheaded the first day, Wendy had two days of minor headaches, and both huffed and puffed walking uphill, and on long hikes. Although the guides stopped often, a few people had a hard time keeping up. The up and down, (and up and down) changes didn’t help, but by the time we left Cuzco, we noticed breathing was easier. Several in our group had more severe symptoms and took advantage of oxygen available at the hotels.
Andes: as we said before, these are spectacular mountains. They are beautiful everywhere, and watching the scenery change with the altitude was impressive—from high snow-capped peaks, to glaciers, to the lower deciduous covered mountains, and finding little houses and buildings tucked away in the middle of a 14000 ft. mountain was an awesome sight.
All in all, the splendor of Peru and its people will not be forgotten.