A long blog about a long vacation(s)

February 7, 2012

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It is hard to write a blog about 29 days of travel in South America—so much happened! I decided to break it town into the areas that we went.
Machu Picchu and Cusco
We started our trip off in the Sacred Valley in the small and quaint, yet incredibly important town of Cusco, at one point the Incan Empire. We attempted to adjust to the 10,000 ft altitude for a few days (ha!) before our 4 day trek to Machu Picchu commenced. 

There was only one other couple in our group along with our guide and 9, yes, you read that correctly 9 porters to carry our gear. My husband and I each hired a porter to carry our clothes & sleeping bags and mats (we left our larger backpacks in Cusco) and while my hubby Eric originally poo-pooed the idea of hiring men to carry our gear, I don´t think we I could have made it without that help! The trek was INTENSE. We would be up at 5:00 AM, breakfast at 6:00 and be on the trail by 6:30 AM. Our porters would pack up camp and later that morning they would literally run past us on the trail (with 40 lbs on their backs!) to beat us to our lunch spot and have a piping hot, 3 course, delicious meal ready for us. Our chef was phenomenal! 


I had read about the difficulty of the trail and how steep it was at parts, and Eric and I were concerned about his bad knee acting up on him, so we had thought to bring a knee brace. Ironically, on day 2 as we started descending the 13,860 Dead Woman´s Pass, my right knee decided it wasn´t going to handle the 3,000 plus stone steps well and started to give out on me. Oh yeah, and it was also raining. 2 nasty falls and a few hours later, I made it to the bottom of that pass. No broken bones!!!! 

 Due to the rain, our guide found out that a mudslide had taken out the trail to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu and we could not finish our trek the way we were supposed to. We were devastated, but the alternate plan wasn´t too terrible: we would camp just outside of the town of Aguas Calientes and the next morning be up at 3:00 AM to be able to catch the first 5:30 AM bus to Machu Picchu. It worked out pretty well, actually! The only thing I regret is not having a photo of me washing my hair and face with a bar of hand soap in a water spigot in our camp site next to the train tracks. Hello, hobos! 

 Machu Picchu was phenomenal, but I was so tired from the 3 prior days that I think some of the glitter that I was expecting to feel was not there. After our guide led us on the official tour, our crew of 4 sat in the sun for about an hour, ate our sandwiches, then decided we were ready for a celebratory beer(s). 

 The entire experience was so wonderful, and our tour company, Llama Path, did a great job. Overall I was humbled immensely by our porters who could do this backbreaking work with smiles on their faces.

Note: in doing research for this trip I learned that many companies barely pay their porters, load up their bags with more gear than is legally allowed, and don t give them adequate food, water, and gear.  Eric and I were adamant about going with a company that treated their porters fairly and we were appalled by some of the other porters we saw on the trails and the way that they were treated.
After the trip we treated ourselves for a few days to a gorgeous little hotel in Cusco called Inka Punu and thoroughly enjoyed the bathtub to soak our sore muscles!
Iquitos and the Amazon Jungle
While the Machu Picchu trek was my dream, seeing the Amazon was Eric´s, so we flew to northern Peru to Iquitos. After the beauty and comfort of Cusco, Iquitos was chaotic, hot and dirty.

One of my photographer friends, Laura Grier of Beautiful Day Photography had given me the contact info for the guide she used on the Amazon, so we contacted him and he took us on a tour of the floating slums of Belen. Fascinating!

Luis also set us up with a 4 day trip out into the Natural Reserve Pacaya-Samiria. In my head I had imagined we were going to stay at a lodge that was like a rustic hotel out in the jungle. That´s not quite what we had! The next morning we were on a small wooden boat with another traveling couple, our guide, his assistant, our chef, her daughter, and some (live) chickens.

Our boat went as far as it could up a river until a “field” of floating plants choked the motor and we could go no further. Another, smaller, wooden boat met us and our guide and the boat driver proceeded to use their machetes to hack through the plants. It was unnerving and thankfully I´m not terrified of spiders because those pretty floating plants were covered with pretty spiders and at least once we saw a poisonous snake. We pulled up to our lodge and it was pretty much as rough as our camping trip up in the Andes, only this time there were mosquitoes to contend with.  Even with 35% Deet, cargo pants, thick rubber boots, 2 long sleeved shirts, and a hat that covered my neck, those buggers still got us! 

Our guide had us going from morning till night with different excursions and while it was definitely interesting, the jungle just isn´t my scene. I told my husband repeatedly “it wants to kill us”. We didn´t get lucky (?) in seeing any alligators or anacondas, and when we went Piranha fishing, the only thing we caught were Catfish. I forced myself to swim when we happened across some local kids swimming.

 After the jungle we hung in Iquitos for a few days then caught a fast boat down the Amazon to Leticia, Colombia. Leticia is a port town that shares a tiny section of the Amazon with Colombia, Peru, and Brazil. Not too many gringos in that part!

Cartagena, Colombia
A few years ago we spent Christmas in Medellin with one of my friends. Everyone asked us if we had been to Cartagena and that it was a “must see” so we made it a point to hit Cartagena. We caught a flight from Leticia and spent a few days walking around the charming historic old town and enjoying a bit of rest.

In Leticia I threw out my ugly flip flops, bought some pretty sandals, got a pedicure and told Eric that I was done with ugly clothes & feet!! Cartagena after Iquitos felt like Disneyland after the ghetto! We arrived in the evening and at night the romantic sounds of horse drawn carriages with old fashioned candle lit lanterns created the music and ambiance for our stroll through the beautiful streets. It was magical and perfect. Until the aggressive drug dealers started approaching us and we realized that many of the horses were malnourished!! My utopia bubble burst, but that’s all part of life, you know? There’s no such thing as perfect.

Our second night we took a Chiva bus which is and open air, party bus that looks like it was built & painted by The Muppets that has a live band and booze on board as it takes you to see the sites of the city. Our Spanish is terrible (even after my 3 months of lessons prior to the trip) but the Colombians, Chileans, Paraguayans, & Argentinians were lovely to us and included us in the impromptu dance sessions at the sites we visited and they even translated some of the things we didn’t understand. We forgot to take our camera that night and I’m so bummed about that. We felt totally safe in Cartagena’s  historical center with the police everywhere, and only had one instance outside of the city that felt truly sketchy.

4 years ago Eric and I spent Christmas & New Years in Medellin with a friend of mine (Cecilia) and her family.  Cecilia and I had worked together for a few years and I finally took her up on the offer to visit Colombia. We fell in love with her family and friends and the people in Medellin and we new we’d end up going back someday.

As it turned out, Cecilia’s mother’s 100th birthday party was taking place one day after our scheduled return date, so we extended our tickets by 3 days and headed back to Medellin.

It was nice to go from staying in hotels and eating in restaurants to staying with a family and cooking at their home. We ran errands for the party, purchased the flowers from the flower mart, decorated the room where the part was held, and had a great time celebrating her 100 years!


The day after the party we drove out to the town of Guatape and took the stairs up the huge rock to see the beautiful views of the lake district surrounding it.

As I look back on this blog I realize that we actually had 4 different vacations. We are so blessed and thankful that we were able to have these beautiful experiences and I owe a gigantic thank you to my incredible associate Nira who kept the Amber Event ship steaming full speed ahead to the 2012 wedding season. There are some wonderful weddings with wonderful clients coming up!

Also, a huge thank you to my clients who allowed their wedding planner to be gone for one month. You all rock! Let’s get married!

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