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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Iris Willow in Peru

Hola amigos y familia,
Feliz ano Nuevo! I figured it was about time for another little update from me in South America. A few things have changed since my last update. Three weeks ago, Bert's six month StartUp Chile program ended and we left Santiago to spend three weeks in Peru. We had a great time in Santiago, but were really ready to travel and it was perfect timing since many of my English students are on summer vacation from med December until March. So headed off to Peru.
We had a fabulous time in Peru. We were a little worried about heading to Peru in January, as it is the rainy season there and they've been know to have flash floods requiring tourist evacuations in past years, but we got lucky. It was actually kind of nice to travel in off-season, although the weather was chilly, a big change from the hot weather we left behind in Chile. We had a bit of a rough start to the trip when we arrived 12 hours late for our flight out of Santiago (thanks military time!) and thus had to forfeit the entire roundtrip ticket and purchase a pricey last minute one-way ticket there (and return to Santiago by 30 hour bus). But we finally made it to Cusco, the takeoff point for treks to Machu Picchu where we spent a couple days adjusting to the super high mountain altitude (10,900ft). Cusco has an interesting mix of Inca and Colonial architecture, but is pretty touristy, so you are constantly bombarded by people wanting to sell you everything from Alpaca sweaters, ponchos and massages. It can get pretty overwhelming, so we took a day trip outside Cusco to the luscious Sacred Valley where we visited two Inca ruins full of grassy terraces and impressive stonework.
Bert Fan & Iris Willow -- Christmas in Santiago

After adjusting to the altitude, we left Cusco for a four day Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu which was action packed and tons of fun. On the first day they drove us up to the top of a mountain that was over 15,000ft high and we coasted down on mountain bikes. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate with us and we got absolutely drenched as we biked down the twisty turny fog-filled and sometimes flooded mountain roads, but it was a blast! Then after lunch we went rafting on some super wild class 3-4 rapids in the Wilkamayu (Sacred) River. Since it was the rainy season, the river was moving super quickly, which was exciting and a little terrifying at the same time. About five minutes into the trip, we flipped and all fell out which was quite the rush, but luckily our experienced guide was able to pull us all back in to continue bouncing down the river. The next day was spent hiking on one of the Inca trails along the side of a mountain, which was really beautiful. We ended the day at a hot springs beside the river - the perfect way to ease our aching knees. The third day we ziplined between two mountains and over the Wilkamayu river, before walking to Aguas Calientes, the gateway town to Machu Picchu. The next morning we got up early to get to the gate of Machu Picchu just before it opened. When we arrived, it was fog covered and rainy, so you would see a part of the ruins and the next minute they were out of sight, but slowly the fog lifted and we were surrounded by the magical Inca city hidden away in the mountains. It was fun exploring the ruins, but we really enjoyed the view from Huayna Picchu, one of the mountains guarding over ancient Inca city. It was neat to see the city as a whole from afar.

Next, we headed to visit the Amazon Jungle outside Puerto Maldonado. We did a three-day jungle tour with an amazing local guide and since it was the slow season, we had the tour completely to ourselves! The first day we canoed around a jungle lake where we saw bats, birds and monkeys. The next day we traveled three ours up the Tambopata river to stay at their remote jungle lodge where we went on jungle walks and night boat rides to see caymen. The highlight was a visit to a huge clay lick where colorful wild parrots and mecaws frequent to lick the minerals out of the earth. We saw so many beautiful colorful birds. We spent our last night at a jungle lodge in Puerto Maldonado that was home to several mischievous monkeys that we made friends with.

After the jungle, we headed to Lake Titicaca. We spent one night on small island called Isla Traquile, which as it name suggests, was amazingly tranquil. We hiked around the island, which was filled with locals who wore beautiful colorful hand-woven hats, belts and pouches. We also stumbled upon a beautiful little beach, where we spent some time relaxing looking out at the lovely blue lake.
Our last stop was in Arequipa, Peru's second largest city were we took an overnight trip to the amazing Colca Canyon, which is the second deepest canyon in the world - over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and is a morning hangout spot for Condors. It was lovely to watch these giant birds swoop and circle through the canyon, we were lucky that is wasn't raining and we were able to see many of them!

Now, we're back in Santiago for a few days to show Bert's parents around our home for the past six months. On Sunday, we head off on an amazing cruise around the southern portion of South America with them, starting in Valparaiso, Chile and ending in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I'll be sure to send an update after that trip and hopefully will get some pics up from Peru soon! Drop me a line and let me know what you're up too.

ciao ciao,
iris

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