Archive for the ‘Peru’ Category


People have asked us over and over again what our favorite part of our trip has been.  I’ll give you the answer, unanimously agreed-upon, without a shadow of a doubt: Parque Ambue Ari.  That lovely animal refuge in the middle of nowhere Bolivia, that we didn’t even plan on going to, weren’t even sure we wanted to go, where we ended up spending seven weeks and where we’d go back to in a heartbeat.  I can’t express to anyone how much that place means for us, which is why we keep bringing up numerous stories, silly, disgusting, and serious, that start with the phrase: “in the jungle…”.  So many of the thoughts I’ve post today and I my previous post were cemented at that park.  In fact, I’d say every single one of them stems from living there: learning to live simply, to be productive in the morning, that friendships are life, to create balance, especially with nature, to have patience, to have trust, understanding, to be selfless.  If the job search really turns up nil, we just might go back to the Amazon Basin to take over the treehouse and be back with our friends, both human and fuzzy, escape the reality of this life, and immerse ourselves in another.

Now, in terms of other favorites, I think I can say that the city we’d most likely try to live in is Santiago, Chile, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we turn up there in a few years, future job pending.  The city is beautiful, close to the mountains and the beach, the food is great, and the people are ridiculously friendly, if hard to understand. They have great wine, there’s a rock climbing gym, fantastic public transportation, and active politics.  It’s also close to Argentina, which maybe wasn’t my favorite place, but I did like it quite a bit, I do miss the rock-climbing community there, as well as its beautiful outdoors and wine, so it’d be nice to hop over for a visit every now and then.

santiago, chile, from cerro santa lucia

And people ask what the most beautiful place we went to was, and that is a really difficult question.  I realized not long after we started backpacking that we were drawn to the beauty in nature.  That’s where we and everyone we met wanted to go.  I think we are drawn to nature’s beauty because even the rocks and the hills and the mountains cry out to God’s glory, and often in nature we can find peace, serenity;  balance in simplicity.  So, we went a lot of great places.  But highlights off the top of my head include incredible beauty of Iguazu Falls in Argentina, the overwhelming power sensed at the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentine Patagonia, the Fitz Roy range nearby, the Bolivian highlands, the Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu in Peru, and the beaches in northern Peru.

iguazu falls

And people ask: would we go back?  Where would we go?  The answer is, YES – if any opportunities present themselves I would leap on them.  However, I would like to take care of some things at home first (school, work experience) so that if we do go back it’d be in a sustainable way (i.e. permanent).   So, while we’re not exactly planning to go back (just the opposite, we’re planning on settling down and growing roots in Portland), its remaining an open possibility that I’ll work to keep that way, through school, work, and language skills.

As to where we would go, that depends on why we’re going.  I could work in Santiago and love it, but I could move to Bolivia or somewhere else as well, maybe focusing more on community development, and love that too.  I could own a vineyard and live in Argentina or Chile. 😉  But, we also really want to go to Central America sometime, starting in Columbia and working our way northward, ending with a long stint in Mexico – basically the second half of this trip we couldn’t accomplish this time around.   So, I guess our answer is, we’ll probably travel again sometime to any number of places, even ones we haven’t thought of yet, and in the meantime, we have a lot of great ideas for vacations. 🙂

So, I hope that helps to answer some of your questions.  Feel free to ask more, and we’d be happy to respond.


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Happy 4th of July!!

Just a quick post to link up some pictures we took around Riobamba and of the “Devil’s Nose” train ride HERE.

As I’m waiting for my shower to heat up (it’s already been at least 30 minutes, I’m starting to loose hope. Sad.), I thought I might as well share a few more thoughts on Riobamba.

Mainly,  a warning for anyone who cares: don’t bother coming here!  It’s an alright city, but overall it’s boring and uninteresting.  If you are really dead-set on the train, like I was, you can avoid coming here for more than to change a bus as well.  Here’s what I wish we had done: gone from Peru to Cuenca, a colonial city a few hours south of here. From Cuenca, we could have taken a bus directly to Alausi, stayed there (maybe not as nice as some options in Riobamba, but I bet you’d have about the same experience), and rode the train.  After the train ride (the whole thing takes only a few hours), we could have taken a bus to Riobamba, and transferred to a different bus on to Baños. Conversely, we could have stayed at the wonderful beach in Máncora one more day, to arrive in Riobamba on Saturday, ridden the train Sunday, and been on our way (the train only runs on Fridays, Sundays, and Wednesdays I believe).  That’s my advice.

Meanwhile, in Riobamba, we’ve done a lot of sleeping and movie watching.  Tyler’s been sick and can’t stray too far from a bathroom, and frankly, there’s not much else to do.  I wanted to go to Chimborazo (a nearby volcano) but the weather hasn’t been that great and its a bit pricy even just for transportation out there to hike around. Plus, well, I was so sunburned I was hobbling along, and again, Tyler and the bathroom. We did find a really good pizza place, and several nice plazas and churches and things like that. But, that just makes for a nice walk for a few hours.  We were excited to see that Chinese food is popular here, but then, it was not nearly as good as in Lima.  The noodles were, and this is not a joke, spaghetti noodles. And the people running the restaurant were Chinese (we could here them speaking), and there’s real noodles in Peru, so how hard can it possibly be to get them? Strange. And then there’s Ecuadorian food…why can’t we find anything good?  All we’ve seen is tons of pig face/various parts of roasted pork, and unappetizing looking starches.  Over, my impression is just sort of “blah.” Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed ourselves, it was just mainly in ways we could have enjoyed ourselves in any town anywhere; it’s just not a great travel destination, or even stop-over.  But, as a side-note, our second hotel, El Tren Dorado,was totally awesome and has an amazing breakfast!  I’m hoping, really hoping, it’s just this place and when we move on to the more popular town of Baños, and then to Quito, all things will improve.

And, there’s the business of trying to figure out the cultural differences here.  People have been generally quite friendly to us.  It’s been rare that anyone speaks English (which I love). But, from our bus ride experiences, people are also quite impatient, and extremely vocal.  I mean, we watched a lady yell at a guy on the bus for ‘overcharging’ her (long story), block his way, had him call his manager where she snatched up the phone and yelled at him, meanwhile another passenger started filming the whole thing with a professional looking camera and when the lady noticed, started talking to the camera about how she’s being overcharged and it’s an abuse, blah blah blah. All over $1. And that’s just the worst example, but people always seem to be yelling at the bus drivers to hurry up and to leave already. It’s been very entertaining.

Also, things seem somewhat more developed here, and also more westernized in a way I can’t quite articulate.  It’s almost like, in Bolivia, the people didn’t expect anything. They didn’t expect the bus to be clean, or on time, or to get good service. But they were honest, and shy, and fiercely held onto their traditions. Because of that, I always felt extremely safe in Bolivia, and like I could easily trust the people; they might try to overcharge you a bit if you’re a tourist, but they’re not going to completely take advantage of you, and they’re more likely to stare at you in confusion than think to rob you.  In Peru, things were more divided. Since Cusco was still part of the strong Andean culture, it was much the same, except a few people had figured out that tourists don’t just look funny, they have money and expensive things you can take from them. In Lima, people were snobbier, more likely to be rude to waiters and taxi drivers, and more likely to complain about bad services (because they had come to expect things to be a certain way).  Here, you can still see that the indigenous culture is strong, but it doesn’t have the same vibrancy as in Peru or Bolivia.  People seem care more about image, and you can see a greater Western influence, but not in the same ways we’ve seen elsewhere.  Basically, what it comes down to is first impressions, and we still haven’t ‘figured it out’ yet. So, more on that later.

On that note, I’ve given up on my shower and it’s time to back and get ready to go to Baños! More to come later.


Sharon and Tyler

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howdy from riobamba, ecuador

Hi Everyone!

Just wanted to send out a quick update on where we are now.  We sadly pulled ourselves away from the beach paradise of Máncora, Peru and crossed into Ecuador.  It was an interesting experience.
First, we bought our tickets from a travel agent with a well-known company, CIFA International.  We got on the bus in Máncora and it was quite nice.  A few hours later we reached the border (I mistakenly thought it was less than an hour away, but it was actually more like 3 hours away).  We were stamped out of Peru with no problems and into Ecuador easily enough (besides an old man trying to cut me in line!).  But then things started to get strange.  For one, we were the only people going to Riobamba…no other traveler’s were going to this city.  Usually not a good sign.  Then we were told we would have to change buses – something never mentioned when we bought the tickets but whatever, its South America, they have different concepts of ‘organization’ and ‘customer service’ here. The did leave behind some really helpful staff to make sure we got to the right place.  Then, instead of a bus, we got into a taxi.  Mmmhmmm.
Then we arrived at the bus ‘station’ where we got on a considerably less-nice bus than the previous one, and it was some random company.  Great.  Originally we were told we would get to Riobamba by 4:30 a.m. Not ideal, but we figured with border crossings and South American timekeeping, that could easily stretch into 5:30 or 6.  We were wrong.  Again.  The same thing happened when we arrived in Máncora: terrible bus company, we were supposed to arrive at 7 a.m. but got there just before 6 a.m. instead. We should have learned, but seeing as we were more or less used to terrible buses and had never arrived anywhere early before, we didn’t think much of it.  We arrived in Riobamba at about 3:15 a.m. Not at a bus terminal where we could wait and get oriented either.  Just on the side of the road in front of the company’s office, just as we did in Máncora.  So not ideal.  We were also stopped at least four times, if not five, by police and national police who searched our bus for drugs, asked for our ID, asked to see our bags, shown their flashlights everywhere, etc, etc en route.  We also had the delight of watching Fast and the Furious…5.  But, they did give us a tiny, cold bottle of Sprite.  That helped a bit, I guess.
So, we get into what I was dearly hoping was a refutable taxi (how good can it get at 3 a.m.?) and I whip out my book to see what hostel I marked to go to. I hadn’t.  So, I picked one at random. I’m thinking in my head, we should probably have the taxi wait for us to make sure we get in OK, but it was too late.  The city did not look pleasant or nice or pretty, but few cities give a good impression at that hour with that type of bus ride, so I let it go.  It can’t be as bad as Temuco (it isn’t), I think.  Well, we buzz and buzz and buzz at the hotel and no one is answering. We knock on the the glass, shake the doors, buzz obnoxiously, all to no avail.  So, my book says there’s other hotels nearby, and we start walking around with our giant backpacks and “mug me now!” foreigner signs.  I do not like what I see in the street – weird food stalls with people sitting around, far too late in the night. But, we decide to start asking at hotels anyway, what else can we do?
As we’re sort of arguing and knocking on the door of a random hotel, two guys in a car get out and start talking to us, exactly what I want to happen.  Then they start telling us, ‘no, don’t stay there, I think that place is dangerous, in fact, you shouldn’t be out here walking at night, this area is really dangerous at night…what are you looking for? You should leave as soon as possible, it’s dangerous, take a taxi to a good hotel, we can pay for it, or we can take you, no, we’ll get you a taxi, c’mon, you should leave…it’s dangerous.’ In the meantime another guy walks up (we’re drawing a small crowd at this point, must’ve looked like real idiots) and starts saying basically the same thing and they get us a taxi and tell the driver a different hotel further away for us to stay at.  I’m thinking, well, this will probably work out alright, but it’ll probably end up being really expensive.  Oh well, what else can you do at 3 in the morning?  We pay $4 (strangely, they’re on the US dollar here after the financial crisis in 2001) for a 5 minute cab ride, and end up paying $46 for a night in a hotel, that while it’s nice enough, is definitely not worth it.  And, of course, we sleep through breakfast since we went to bed so late.
But, after that things started to look up. We ate burritos for lunch and the guy at the restaurant was really nice; he gave us all sorts of suggestions of stuff to do and where to look for cheaper hotels. Then we walked down to the hotel we tried to get into the night before. While the city still doesn’t look “nice” it’s not so bad either, and we still haven’t seen much.  We found the train station and buy tickets to ride the train on Sunday – “the Devil’s Nose.” It’s supposed to have gorgeous views of the countryside, and a slightly terrifying downhill bit at the end.  We find out our train tickets include lunch, entrance to a museum, and we don’t have to get up as early as we thought we would, nor do we have to ride the bus as long as we thought. Then we look at hotels and find out the one we originally wanted is in many ways nicer than the previous one, for only $26, full buffet breakfast and wifi included.  Still more than we’re used to paying, but I think we’re both too tired of traveling to care. We also looked at a dirt cheap place but decided it was too sketchy and we’d rather stay somewhere nicer since our trip is nearing an end.
Tomorrow we head to the old part of the city for a big Saturday market, and will hopefully get to do a little hike around Volcán Chimborazo (6300m), which, fun fact, is the farthest point from the center of the Earth due to the Equatorial Ridge!  No plans of climbing the beast, but I would like to see its pretty face from base camp. 🙂
By Sunday night or Monday morning we’re heading to the nearby, and hopefully more charming, town of Baños (famous for its hot springs, not its bathrooms) where we’ll do some relaxing and hiking and hopefully something ridiculously awesome for my birthday.  We should be in Quito in a week…and from Quito…HOME!
That’s right, we decided to try to come home from Quito, hopefully in mid-July.  We’ve shopped around online and are going to check with some travel agencies there to see if we can get something cheaper, but we’re pretty much dead-set on being home in July, the sooner the better.  We’re still going to be quite flexible with dates, and even where we fly from based on price, but we’ll pass along the details when we get them!
After Ambue Ari in Bolivia, I guess we both just lost our motivation to keep traveling (common thing).  We had a lot of fun in La Paz mainly because we were constantly hanging out with people from the park, and after that Cusco was quite exciting, but it was also our last big “thing” we wanted to do in South America.  I think the fact that I skipped the town of Huaraz, absolutely famous for mountaineering, trekking, and hiking (Touch the Void, anyone?) for relaxing on the beach speaks heaps about just how burned out I am (and Tyler more so).  So, while I also still kind of wanted to run through Columbia and take a boat to Panama, I think I’ll just have to save it for another trip.  I’d like to see a bit of Ecuador, straddle the equator and go to the hands-on science museum there, see some volcanoes, relax in some hot springs, maybe sneak in one more trip the beach, maybe zip-line through the jungle, and then go home and snuggle my kitten while drinking real Northwest beer and eating phad thai.  And even these stops in Ecuador and the last few in Peru feel strained, like I’m just snapping pictures to snap pictures, getting stamps to get stamps, and trying to stay motivated enough to finish our little marathon.  I’d say that means it’s just about time to come home.  We’re excited to see everyone in just a few short weeks.
Sharon and Tyler

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the beach at huanchaco

¡Buendía a todos!

Once way back in the beginning of this trip, we were riding a city bus back from somewhere in Buenos Aires, and this ridiculous 80’s song came on in the bus, and the lyrics were basically “vamos a la playa…oh-oooh-oh-oh…”. Repeat for 3 minutes. We found it hilarious.  It’s been stuck in our head ever since, approximately 9 months later.  It didn’t help that the 80’s comeback hit Argentina hard, and that we kept hearing this song throughout the trip.  Even in Bolivia, and Peru, for some reason every morning when we’d head out for our trek with a guide, they would all shout “¡Vamos a la playa!” and laugh a little and then we’d leave.  Well, now we’re finally at a real playa.

We spent 2 brief days at Huanchaco, a small town just outside Trujillo in the north of Peru.  There’s not much to do there besides visit some adobe ruins, which we weren’t in the mood for, and take surfing lessons, which we also weren’t up for at the time.  But, we were content to sample ceviche and other seafood at incredibly cheap prices, and spend a lot of time just relaxing by the beach.  It was lovely – life moves so slow and is so relaxed at the beach, it’s like we finally have time to think about all we’ve done, and what we’re going to do next (Go home??!!).

Currently we’re in Máncora, a sort of resort(ish) town way up north in Peru, less than an hour from the border with Ecuador.  There’s more going on in this place than Huanchaco, and it’s warmer as well (I’m hoping the water is actually warm enough to swim in here!). I might even take a surfing lesson since it’s so cheap here. And, we’ve managed to already find sushi and Mexican restaurants, so I think we’ll do alright . We found a good deal at a really neat eco-lodge sort of place, and our room is pretty sweet.  We’re not on the beach, but we can just barely see it from our balcony, and we can hear it constantly. It’s fantastic. We have a hammock on our balcony, found an ice chest in the kitchen, and are getting ready to set up our own little bar and watch a movie out there as the sun sets. We don’t have many plans for while we’re here other than explore the beach and relax for a few days before we cross into Ecuador.  Supposedly there’s some sort of nature reserves nearby, as well as zip-lining, and a string of other beach towns along the coast. We’re looking forward to relaxing for a bit, and I personally am looking forward to correcting all the awkward tan-lines I’ve gotten on this trip. Should be fun!

In the meantime, there’s a few photos posted HERE with more to come later.

Also, for those of you curious, here’s that pesky song that’s been stuck in our heads!


Sharon and Tyler

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at long last, SUSHI!

Hello All!

Just a quick update to let y’all know that we made it safely to Lima a  few days ago, and seeing as it’s pretty lame here (the people are nice though), we’re already moving on tonight, waiting for our 11 p.m. bus to whisk us away to the (hopefully sunny) beach by mid-morning tomorrow.  We’ve had 2 rather uneventful nights here, the highlights being food-related: chinese food, tried an alright Peruvian wine, ceviche, pisco sours, lemon desserts, and sushi. The other highlights? That new penguin movie with Jim Carrey and the number of cats in the parks by our hostel.

For those of you interested, there’s photos from our last few days of Cusco, and all our time in Lima (get ready for lots of cat pictures) HERE.

And, in case I haven’t posted these, here’s pictures of the trek we did outside Cusco, and the famous Machu Picchu – HERE.

Tomorrow we’ll be just outside of the northern coastal town of Trujillo for a few days, then we’ll be moving up to the beaches around Mancora, near the border with Ecuador for another few days before crossing over.  More to come from under the sun!

Love, Sharon

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pisaq, outside cusco, peru

Just a quick update the let y’all know that we just posted the first round of photos from our latest place, Cusco, Peru, HERE.

So far, Cusco has been mostly good to us.  We have a great deal at a hotel: we have our own room, cable TV, wifi, our own bathroom, a balcony, and breakfast for 40 soles a night (less than US$15). The deal? For some reason the water shuts off at around 8 p.m. every night and doesn’t start back up again until about 6 a.m.  So, no showers before bed!  We’ve also had some good times getting juice and sandwiches at Yaju’u near the main square, getting amazing hot sandwiches, chicha morada (corn beer), and fries with curry mayo at Juanito’s in San Blas, buying far too many things in the markets and stores, watched the NBA finals at an Irish bar, where we ended up sharing a tiny table with a delightful family from Indiana, and then, unfortunately, we were robbed walking home.

The streets are really narrow here, so cars are always driving past about a foot away.  Literally steps from our hostel I heard a car pull up behind us, and as I started to move away an arm stuck out the back window and grabbed my backpack.  We tried to chase after them but to no avail, and as we didn’t remember the license plate number there was no point filing a police report.  Luckily, we weren’t hurt, and most of the stuff in the bag I was going to replace at some point in the near future anyway (granted, after we had jobs to pay for the things).  We did have to cancel a debit card but we have others, but, our camera full of pictures of the day tour we had just taken from the Sacred Valley were in there, and that was the hardest to take.  Especially since we were so close to home, and are so careful about our things.  But, after a day of shopping to replace the most important items, which are mostly better than the originals (I now have my dream backpack and a bright green Nikon Coolpix camera!), and a little retail therapy to boot, we feel fine, though I am a little nervous about walking down our street now.  We also spent today re-doing the tour so we could re-take the photos we lost as best we could.  We actually enjoyed the tour a  lot better the second time around, so it all pretty much worked out! Now just to replace my designer prescription glasses…hmmm…luckily my very wise mother-in-law recommended we bring our old glasses as spares, so I can manage with that for a few more weeks! Despite that awful event, we both still like Cusco somehow (even though I did just want to go home the night it happened).

Tomorrow we get up dark and early (4:30 a.m.) to do the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu.  We’ll spend 4 long days hiking about 44 miles through the mountains and jungle until we get to the town closest to Machu Picchu, the most famous Inca ruins of all.  After we hit the hot springs we’ll have yet another early morning to hike up the ruins before sunrise, and spend the day exploring and picture-taking.  Then we get to ride the sweet tourist train halfway back, and get a bus back to Cusco where we’ll spend probably 2 more days sightseeing a bit more.

So, that’s it for the next few days, we’ll be back late Sunday night and will be posting lots more pictures shortly thereafter!


Sharon and Tyler

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