It's a creekmore world

Peru Day 1-2: Thrilled to be on the road again

Creekmores above Cusco

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This family is back on the road!  As we wind through beltway rush-hour traffic to National Airport for the first of our threee flights to Lima, Peru, I think about our last trip to Italy.  That was a full year ago, cancer forced us to delay all travel plans in between, and it feels fantastic to get back on the road.

Our destination is, of course, magical Peru.  I’ve devised a two week itinerary that brings us to the top of the world in the Andes near Machu Picchu, the wild pacific coast where South American civilization was born thousands of years ago, and finally deep in the Amazon jungle basin.

Travel planning and jitters

Yes, we brought fake teeth on vacation.  Don't you?
As we process through security at the airport, I look at all the crap in my bag and have a small worry that I haven’t adequately prepared.  This trip, with it’s very fast and packed itinerary, has taken a ton of advance travel planning.  Transportation around Peru is inexpensive but tricky to figure out even with Spanish, which I don’t speak.  The mid-range hotels don’t communicate via email very well.

I know there are already a few gaps in our accommodations and transport that I will have to figure out while we are there there.  And taking kids adds a dimension of complexity and less margin for error.  Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

Gear preparation is tricky too.  We venture near snow-capped peaks, rainy highlands, desert sand dunes and of course the amazon jungle so there are lots of different clothes needed.   But we need to backpack, partly for security:  we don’t want to stand out as rich tourists.  But mostly it’s just not realistic to roll heavy luggage around cobblestone streets.

We have had all our shots for Yellow Fever, Hepatitis and Typhoid but we need to take malaria medications, our regular meds and a ton of bug spray and sun screen.  Traveler’s medical service in Washington D.C., with whom we are on a first name basis and love, gave us prescriptions for altitude sickness medications and antibiotics.

gear, batteries and cords
As always we come with a lot of electronics.  The kids bring Nintendos and and the adults, Kindles (although this is the last time I’ll bring my kindle device.  I prefer to use the Kindle phone app for reading now.)  Everyone has a music player and the adults have smartphones.  Video and photo equipment, this computer, and lots of cords and power adapters fill our bags.  We need the electronics for this blog mostly, but skype, a headset and a computer have saved our ass in difficult situations many times.

Touch down in Lima

If you fall asleep next to daddy on the airplane , he will cover you with Justin Beiber stickers from your J-14 magazine.
It’s great to be a family on the road.  We get so much close time together, but with a fresh context that takes all the impatience and annoyance out of the sometimes repetitive, day-to-day, family experience.

The girls are amazing on the flight.  Both have been travelling since they were less than a year old and it shows.  They ask the stewardesses for playing cards, nap and watch a movie on my computer with few complaints.

We have a long layover in Raleigh, but a very short one in Miami.  It’s not the best itinerary, but it’s what we’ve come to expect for the frequent flyer tickets we are using.  (Lima, Peru is only 30k frequent flyer miles round-trip on American Airlines; one of the best deals out there for miles.)

Lima comes quickly and we shuffle through passport control for our bags.  The girls’ and Trish’s bags arrive and we stand around waiting for mine, our main bag.   When the crowd thins, and there are no new bags being put on the conveyor belt, I begin to worry.   A missing bag, especially mine, could be disastrous for us.  There is gear and stuff inside that we need.  I try to take a mental inventor.  What did I put in my carry-on?  What did I pack away?  What can we replace?

Waiting at Lima airport for Daddy's bag.  It never arrives. So we head to Cusco.
I’m not the only one.  At least 20 other people are filling out claim forms for bags left in Miami.   An incredibly unobservant and rude representative declares that I cut the line and will not help me.  ( I didn’t.)  As my anger rises, someone else assists me, thank god because I would have had a tantrum.    I’m given a piece of paper with a number to call and a bag locater code.  Supposedly they will deliver my bags to the hotel we will be at for the next few days.

Part of me considers delaying the trip to pick up my bag from Lima in the morning.  I’m skeptical that they will send my bag deep in the mountains of Peru.  And we only stay in the same place for a day or two at a time, so I don’t know how they will keep up with us if it doesn’t come tomorrow.  But a day’s delay throws off all our itinerary and reservations.  We decide to go forward and figure it out without the bag.

Cusco

Our driver from our Lima hotel, Mami Panchita’s,, has waited for us even though we are 90 minutes late.   The hotel is sweet, although the sheets are very damp, but it doesn’t really matter because we leave again in the morning and are exhausted.

Cusco is the hub for the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu region.  It’s called the ancient capital of Peru and was a major Inca, and then Spanish, city.  It’s at 12,000 feet altitude, high in the Andes.  It’s a city people rave about, with it’s laid-back style, parades and processions, nuevo-andean cuisine, new construction and old architecture that merges centuries of styles and designs.

Unfortunately, it’s not a place we will see a lot of.  I tried to fit in a day of Cusco, but it just didn’t work.  Our driver picks us up at the airport, and after helping us reserve bus tickets for five days from now when we are done with the Sacred Valley, we begin our journey toward Machu Picchu and the Urubamba river valley.

We stop and see some Llamas
Not 20 minutes outside Cusco we stop at the side of the road to see a Llama farmer.  Lily and Emma love them, although Lily holds out her highest hopes for seeing lots of Alpacas, which are related but not the same.

Salinas and Moray

I’ve scheduled a slight detour on the way to our destination town; Ollantaytambo (usually shortened to Ollanta and pronounced locally with ‘L’ not a ‘Y’ like you would think.)  The Urubamba river valley, usually called called the sacred valley, is, as we have been told, one of the most georgeous spots on earth.  It’s a narrow valley with steep sides and a muddy, white water river that the Inca’s used for irrigation and transport.  And it still is.

The Salinas salt mines and our first glimpse of the sacred valley.

There are Inca ruins up and down the valley including the major ones we will visit, Machu Picchu, Pisac, Ollantaytambo and hundreds of smaller ones on every clifside.  Today we are seeing two unusual spots, often combined together because of proximity:  the salt mines at Salinas and the Inca agricultural ‘laboratory’  at Moray.

The beautiful copper water leaves salt deposits everywhere.
Salinas is a salt mine that once provided salt for most of the sacred valley inhabitants.  It’s now used for animal salt licks but the process remains almost exactly the same as it was centuries ago.

An underground spring passes through rock and ground that is loaded with salt, carrying it to the surface where it emerges on the side of a mountain.  From here, the residents have carved hundreds of pools, each connected with little rivulets and micro-canals so that they can be filled with the super-saturated salt water.  They cut off the flow and the pool evaporates in the direct sunlight.  It takes a few weeks to get from water to salt crystals.

The walk is amazing.
The effect is unreal.  We’ve never seen anything like it.  The sides of each canal are coated in sparkling white salt crystals, and the water is a clear copper-brown.  We get on our hands and knees and just stare at the beauty.  The hike up and back takes about 40 minutes.

Moray is a small area near Salinas where Inca’s built a series of concentric circular terraces, which are speculated to have been agricultural laboratories.  Each terrace is a little hotter and less windy, allowing for simulation of micro-climates.  Presumably they could learn by experimentation and duplicate the results elsewhere in the Sacred Valley, increasing agricultural yield.

Moray is an Inca agricultural 'laboratory; with several beautiful terraced concentric circles.
I’m probably reading too many cheap novels. but Moray has a mystical feeling to it, less laboratory, and more ancient site for the occult.   The sun goes in over the Western peaks and the wind picks up, and we are treated to our first of many cold, damp showers.  This is the end of the rainy season and weather changes unpredictably.

We also get our first experience with altitude sickness – well, not so much sickness, as mild headaches and the experience of being winded.  Moray takes some climbing effort.  The circles are about 300 feet deep and there are a few stairs, but the Creekmores opt for the more challenging climbing route.  It leaves everybody winded.

Dad gets winded in the high altitude.

Ollantaytambo

The two main tourist cities in the Sacred Valley (aside from Cusco, which isn’t technically in the valley) are Urubamba, it’s name from the river, and Aguas Callentes, it’s name from local hot springs.  Urubamba  is big and has little charm but the best restaurants and the highest class of hotel.  Aquas Callientes is the gateway to Machu Picchu and is a horrible tourist trap with high prices.  It’s also only accessible by an expensive train ride, so you only stay there when you are doing Machu Picchu.

Our new home for a few days, Ollantaytambo.  Those are Incan ruins of the same name on the  mountain.
Instead I opted to put us for 4 nights (3 really, the other one is in Aquas Callentes when we do Machu Picchu) at Ollantaytambo, a cute little town that feels remote and has a couple of good places to eat and stay.  It’s also very centrally located.

KB hostel is in the center of town and operated by a North American proprietor with solid internet and a decent breakfast.  The owner, KB, was helpful by email in advance in setting up some of our drivers (like the one today that picked us up at the airport and did Salinas and Moray.)  He also specializes in bike tours and camping.

KB hostel is anything but a hostel.  It’s an adorable 8 room bed-and-breakfast style place with a tiny but beautiful courtyard.   The help seems to speak either english or spanish, so translating is a pain.   But we can get our needs met.

Bag recovery and exploding pants

When we arrive at the hotel, my hopes are up that my bag ha arrived.  It isn’t.  Trish goes out on the town to get some ATM money, coffee for us and a snack for the kids.  I stay at the hotel and begin the process of tracking my bag.  American Airlines is surprised that I don’t have my bag yet.  ‘According to their system’ I got my bag today, but they ackowledge that that only means they gave it to a local company to do the transportation.  Several calls later, I get mixed messages:  “My bags are in Lima”.  “My bags are in Cusco.”  “My bags are lost.”

The girls are so happy to be travelling.
Disheartened, we decide to get dinner and try again in the morning.  I buy a pair of $5 chinese-manufactured pants from the mini market.  In addition to having no other clothes, the pair of pants I wore broke at the fly.  In fact, as I cross the little street, my fly button explodes off and hits a cute young Peruvian woman, who giggles uncontrollably at my misfortune.  I can’t do anything but laugh.

We get dinner at a local place that serves tourist food:  pizza, spaghetti bolognese, and burritos.   If you’ve read our other travels, you’ll know eating with Emma and Lily is not one of the highlights of our travel.  Lily eats like a normal kid, but Emma eats only a few things.  Fortunately rice and beans, and pizza are on her list.

It’s the first hot meal we’ve had in 36 hours, and my spirits rise.  As always, sleep comes easily even though it’s only 9pm.  I hope my bag comes tomorrow.

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