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Winding It Down

We are spending our last evening in Lima--in about four hours we will get into a taxi and head out to the airport, for our last flight of the trip, which is back to North Carolina. Our six month trip has come to its end. While I have more to say about our trip, as well as plenty of photos I want to post, let me describe our adventure in Peru (i.e. this isn´t the last entry).

We have had a great time in Peru. Reading the Lonely Planet guide, which has a longer than usual Dangers And Annoyances section for Peru, as well as embassy website, we certainly had our reservations about Peru. We thought that it might be a bit on the less secure side. Yet, we have had no issues in Peru, and have found Peruvians to be considerably more affluent as well as more courteous and friendly than Bolivians. Beyond that, the bus system and roads here have been eons ahead of Bolivia; our night bus from Ariquipa in the south to Lima (which in particular was warned about in the LP) had more security measures than most flights we have gotten onto. For example, they were pretty thorough about searching every passenger, they had GPS monitoring on the bus for the trip, and a security officer came through the bus prior to departure taking every passenger´s photo, which I´m sure is a deterent to those considering a midnight hijacking.

After leaving Puno as early as possible after a single night´s stay (it turns out that our cheap hospedaje became a per-hour hospedaje after midnight, as Jess found out with loud neighbors), we headed up to Cusco, which was nearly ten hours away by bus. Both the trip to Cusco and then back out through the same valley on our way to Ariquipa were very scenic as we crossed over a high mountain pass then dropped in a verdantly green valley filled with adobe villages and farmland. We ended up staying in Cusco for three nights; we found a great hostel where we met several very nice European folks and enjoyed several days´ good company. Cusco itself is a pretty fun city; like La Paz, it is built into a valley, though not as dramatically as La Paz. Its center is very colonial and beautiful, and the hills leading up from the center are lined with narrow little passageways that seem to be straight out of history. Naturally, most people come to Cusco to visit Machu Pichu, but landslides have closed the famous park until probably April; we could have visited other less famous ruins, but we were too cheap to pay for the tours, especially considering they required an additional $25 entrance fee each. We´ve seen enough ruins anyhow on this trip; as my friend Will would describe castle ruins, they ain´t nothing but piles of rocks. Besides, there are enough ruins scattered around Cusco proper that you get the idea, and seeing those piles of rocks are free.

At any rate, we could have definitely spent more time in Cusco, it is the kind of chill town that weeks slip by in before people realize it. It is very easy to do absolutely nothing in Cusco, especially in the afternoons when the clouds gather, and as rain starts to fall, and there are plenty of cafes and coffee shops to relax in. For us, we did a fair amount of walking and exploring, but definitely we could have done more. We spent a fair amount of time with our friends, just enjoying a fun city and good conversations over food and drink. Alas, we had to continue on, so we bought tickets to the town of Ariqipa, which is Peru´s second largest city yet seems more like an overgrown town. The big attraction of Ariquipa is that it is a couple of hours away from two very deep canyons that are billed as being the deepest and the second deepest in the world. One of our days we spent walking around Ariqipa, which is a beautiful city; the other day we took a single day tour out to one of the canyons. After all, it´s not everyday that you are just outside the world´s deepest canyon, and besides, I was curious about the comparison it would have to the Grand Canyon. The tour itself was nice, we stopped in a couple of villages for photos and food, and of course we headed out to the canyon. Actually, honestly, with no bias, I can say that while we did come to a section of the canyon that was very deep, the scenery as a whole wasn´t as impressive as the Grand Canyon. At that park, you can stand on the lip of the canyon all along its length, and you can look straight down 1000 or more feet; that is not to mention the vibrant colors of the Grand Canyon. This Peruvian canyon didn´t have the vibrant colors, though its green walls were beautiful; most places were not that deep, only sections that passed through higher mountains. It was beautiful territory; the valleys were filled with little villages and hills covered in terraces that likely dated back to Incan times. We really did enjoy the tour.

From Ariquipa, we continued on to Lima, in the forementioned night bus. We´ve had quite a good time here. We spent our first two nights in a hostel, which was a very nice hostel considering we paid $5 each per night. Last night, though, we decided that we needed to finish our trip in something a little more luxurious than a 10-bed dorm room, so we found a decently priced hotel (these are surprisingly expensive in Lima), which I´d thought was a 3-star hotel from what I saw online, but was surprised to see was a 4-star hotel. Indeed, it was quite nice, in particular its restaurant, where we rang up quite a bill to celebrate our last night of the trip. But back to our explorations of Lima: our first full day, we explored the Miraflores area of Lima, which is definitely the more affluent area. Prices there were much more expensive, and the area itself felt a lot like any European country or America. There were Starbucks and KFC abounding, very nice cars drove around, and the beachside cliffs had ritzy condos along sidewalks with running paths, complete with ladies in fancy tights jogging. Though we felt a little out of place, being that we are a bit grungy these days, we still enjoyed walking around the area. For lunch we found a little restaurant where we tried the classic Peruvian dish, cerviche, which is raw fish marinated in lime juice; it was wonderful.

Our explorations of central Lima have been a little more of the edgy experience that we definitely prefer. Lima is a massive city (it has over 8.2 million people living in it), and even though our hotel is definitely in the center, it is still a long way from the Plaza de Armas, which in Peru and Bolivia is every city´s center. In Lima, this is the nexus of not only the touristy colonial buildings but apparently a good number of government buildings. We wanted to get into the center, but it was quite a hike, so we instead jumped onto one of the micros (minibuses), which was quite an adventure. First, it´s never really clear where their destination is (they follow circuits) because they don´t seem to have any labeling; also, even if our Spanish was better than it is, we still didn´t know exactly how to describe where we wanted to go, so we just offered money and told them norte (north). Our first trip into the center didn´t go as planned when the micro took a left midway and headed away from the center, but after that trip we understood the system enough to get back to the hotel last evening as well as head back into the center this morning. As I´ve mentioned before, taking the public transport is all part of the immersion process and important for getting a feeling for a city.

Exploring Lima has been quite fun, from taking a tour of the creepy catacombs beneath one of Lima´s oldest cathedrals to strolling through this city´s numerous, well-kept plazas and parks. I even taught a young Peruvian a cuss word in English when I muttered it as our bus made an unexpected stop and bounced my head off the seat in front of me; he repeated it very well. Jess and I understand that this is a huge city with plenty of poor folks; we saw the shantytowns on our way into the city, unpowered shacks out in the bland desert that surrounds this city, whole areas of what they call young cities here, where the quality of life is surely much less than what we´ve seen inside Lima. We have understood that with such poverty in the outskirts, opportunistic crime is an issue. On the other hand, we haven´t felt like Lima deserves a worse reputation than a city such as Phnom Penh in Cambodia, for example. There is an edge here, yes, but that is what we like.

At any rate, we are sad to be bidding this city farewell this evening, for it is the last destination of our trip; therefore we are bidding farewell to our adventure as well. But there are many things from home that we have missed and are looking forward to returning to: our families, our dog, having a routine again, washing machines. We were discussing it this afternoon strolling around in Lima: it´s sad to have our trip come to an end, but there is something about the anticipation of both an upcoming trip as well as the return home that is great. Once you´ve been out for six months, for example, that anticipation fades, and being somewhere great like South America becomes familiar, the background of your life. That is when you know it´s time to head elsewhere, to another country, to your own backyard. That anticipation is quite a great thing.

Until next time, be safe.


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Welcome Home!

It has been wonderful to see the world vicariously through you guys. Thank you very much. Will re-read your blogs over the long winter months to come and enjoy every page as much as the first time. Have fun at your home, your dog will be so happy to see you again. Keep in touch. Kindest regards, Joanne and gang

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