Mancora, Peru

After our jungle expeditions we thought it was time to relax on a beach and get some book reading and surf watching done. So we headed up to Mancora, Peru to do just that. It was a great little beach town with loads of little coffee shops and delicious restaurants. We soaked up the life of official beach bums for a full week before moving on.

 

Amazon Rainforest

We went to the jungle. We survived. (Toughest part: the overnight bus ride where Isaiah and I took turns losing our lunch in the bathroom thanks to curvy mountains, a break-happy driver, and our Dramamine locked away in our luggage under the bus.)

Once there we recovered and saw monkeys and parrots and birds of all kinds. Our guides invited us up-close to giant tarantulas—not having realized we’d been running into those hairy friends from the comfort of our own bedroom for the past two years.

Amazon Rainforest - Tarantula Tours

We took boat rides and hikes and soaked up some delicious sunrises and sets. We went with Tarantula Tours and the guides’ vast knowledge made the trip. One of our guides had grown up in the depths of the jungle, never journeying into town (a 6-hour hike followed by 4-hour motorboat ride) until he was 11-years-old.

Amazon Rainforest - Tarantula Tours

He knew all about what plants you could eat and the healing properties they offered. He showed us the palm tree that actually moves up to 30 centimeters per year by putting down a new exposed root out front and losing one from the back. A walking tree.

Our time was enjoyed thoroughly. And with flashbacks of balancing ourselves in the tiny bus bathroom fresh in our minds, we left the jungle via plane.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Waking up at 4 in the morning on my dad’s birthday was worth its effort to get some looks at the famous Machu Picchu without hoards of other tourists in our view. We had arrived in Aguas Calientes, also now known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, the night before via train from Ollantaytambo.

Machu Picchu, Peru

We grabbed a quick breakfast and were in line by 4:45am for the half hour bus that takes you to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The buses don’t start running until 5:30am and Machu Picchu opens at 6am, so we waited.

Machu Picchu, Peru

It was a dreary day with rain spritzing on us, not ideal for our probably once-in-a-lifetime look at the old Inca ruins that are famous worldwide. That didn’t remove the sheer awe I felt walking into the old city and catching my first glimpse.

Machu Picchu, Peru

We just stood there and took it in, watching the clouds pass and return, casting their shadows across the meticulously maintained grounds of the old scholarly grounds of the Incas.

Machu Picchu, Peru

A couple of hours later, more groups began to arrive and the clouds had completely eliminated any such view of the city. Then I heard a huge collective gasp followed by claps and cheering as I looked out on the now-clear expanse of bright green lawn and the remains of the city that once was. Being a part of that collective appreciation of beauty and history (and cloud-clearing) caused emotion to well within me and soon my vision was blocked again, this time by my own tears.

Machu Picchu, Peru

We sat, we snacked, we snapped lots of photos, and we hired a guide for more background information. We walked out to the Inca Bridge and then climbed to the Sun Gate to look out over the masterpiece from a distance.

Machu Picchu, Peru

In the afternoon as it was nearing our time to grab our train back to Cuzco, the sun decided to come out and the skies cleared up, giving us quite a spectacular view to carry in our memories from our visit to Machu Picchu.

Copacabana, Bolivia and Ollantaytambo, Peru

After our salt flat tour, we took an overnight bus to La Paz, Bolivia, arriving early in the morning. Due to that day being a national holiday we didn’t know about, we quickly hopped on a bus heading to Copacabana before all modes of transportation shut down for the day. Little did we know, that decision would later having us crying for our lives.

It started out as a normal bus ride, with us feeling victorious that our long distance bus had arrived early, making it possible for us to catch a bus heading to Copacabana that same day. Copacabana is the town on Lake Titicaca and we were all looking forward to soaking in its beauty.

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I dozed off since sleep on a bus is rarely fully restful, but woke to our bus driver announcing that there was a road block due to a strike/protest and asking any of his passengers if they knew another way through. One man in the front spoke up, giving directions and we were on our way again.

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I drifted back to sleep, dreaming of spending a couple of peaceful days overlooking Lake Titicaca. Suddenly I was jolted awake as our bus stopped. I glanced out my window to a sheer drop-off what felt like inches away. The front window showed the tiny, pure dirt road that was serving as our alternative route. This narrow road wound around tight mountain curves and was clearly not meant for a huge bus.

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The four of us looked at each other nervously but tried to remind ourselves that this was surely normal and we just weren’t used to these tight conditions, especially with no guard rails. That didn’t last long, however, as soon as the local folks who were riding the bus with us started to scream out to the driver to “take it slow!” and “be careful!”

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The fact that the locals were getting nervous meant I needed to get myself off that bus. It was clear to me it was not worth the risk of one of our tires slipping over the edge. Just then we came upon a particularly tight corner pass, including needing to cross over a washed out section that had caused a deep divot. I looked behind us and saw a long line of 4×4 vehicles and a couple of smaller buses. It appeared we were the guinea pigs in this situation, not a preferred position.

At this point the locals were standing up and asking to be let off the bus, so the bus could attempt the pass without passengers and if all went well, we could re-board. Relieved at the chance to get off the bus, we four stood up and watched as the first handful of passengers scurried off the bus to the safety of solid ground. Then the driver shut the door and started moving forward.

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What? I am not one to stay quiet in many situations so I started shouting to the driver in Spanish, “We want to get off, sir! Please, let us off!” and when that wasn’t getting a response I let out a loud, “Sir, WE WANT TO LIVE!” This got some chuckles from a few local people, but only out of their shared nervousness about the situation and their equal desire to live.

I was furious but my cries weren’t being answered and the aisle was blocked with all the other people calling out to get off, to no avail. The driver inched forward and forward, and after some agonizing moments of holding our breath we had made it across the divot and around the tight bend.

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The few lucky ones who had escaped got back on the bus except for one particularly feisty and smart woman dressed in her traditional Incan clothing, who continued to jog ahead of the bus, long braids swinging, until at last she felt comfortable re-boarding and joining the rest of us who were now bonded from the terrorizing experience.

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A few minutes more and we reached the end of the alternative route, turned back onto a wide, hard-surfaced non-mountain road and everyone thanked their God, lucky stars, and the Pachamama for the chance to keep on living.

Then when we got to a body of water and our big bus started climbing aboard a long wooden boat with a tiny motor, we thought it odd but in comparison to what we just lived through, was quite easy to endure.

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We arrived in Copacabana safe and mostly sound and spent a relaxing couple of days there, with highlights of running into a fellow Goshen College grad as well as walking around the beautiful Isla del Sol (Island of Sun).

Next we crossed the border into Peru and its Sacred Valley. We all loved our time in the small, quaint town of Ollantaytambo with its delicious restaurants and cute cafes and narrow traditional little streets.

From Olly, as we liked to call it for ease of pronunciation, we would set off by train for our chance to finally see the big kahuna: Machu Picchu.

Bolivia Salt Flat Tour: Day 4

The last day of our tour started early as we explored Fish Island, which wasn’t really an island as it was surrounded by salt flats instead of water. Still, looking out at the vast expanse of white salt was quite stunning.

Then we drove farther out into the salt flats so you could hardly see anything else. This was not only unique but also provided the opportunity to take some silly pictures since the miles of nothing but salt really alter your sense of perspective.

Bolivia Salt Flat Tour: Day 3

Rock formations in the middle of deserts, flamingo-filled lagoons, and more mountains filled our third day of the Uyuni Salt Flats Tour. That evening we had our first really good night of sleep in a little hotel made completely of salt that was vacant except for the four of us.

Before heading to the hotel we were shown human remains and some small artifacts of a now extinct indigenous group that had once inhabited the area. They were of a slight build–probably not much more than four feet tall. The woman in charge of the “exhibit” wanted to turn it into more of a museum once she could raise the necessary funds, but at the moment it seemed there wasn’t much known about these ancient folks.

Bolivia Salt Flat Tour: Day 2

Bolivia Salt Falt Tour: Day 1

After trying our hand at mining in Potosí, we headed to Tupiza in order to start our much anticipated 4-day tour of the Bolivian salt flats.

Bolivia Salt Flat Tour, Day 1 - Llama

We were highly satisfied with the company we chose, Ciudad del Encanto Tours. It’s a family-run business where you communicate with the son to get everything set up and the dad is your driver, tour guide, and even cook when his wife needs to tend to their llamas at their home, like during our tour.

He was laid-back and professional and such a hard worker. His days started early and ended after we fell into bed. The food was delicious, the company was welcome, and the scenery was quite spectacular.

Potosí, Bolivia

After Sucre we buzzed over to Potosí, a small town known for its mining. You may have even heard of the documentary, The Devil’s Miner, which is about the lives of the miners in Potosí.

Potosi, Bolivia

We even got geared up and took a tour inside Cerro Rico, the mountain they mine. It was crazy to walk around inside the damp, low-ceiling mine and see real live miners going about their job, pushing little carts of minerals down a track just like in a movie or cartoon.

Our guide explained how the miners had to chew on coca leaves all day to keep up their energy and stave of their hunger. After all, they couldn’t go Number 2 down there without creating a toxic environment.

We also learned about their making offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth) as well as El Tío (name they give to the devil) to ask for their safety and more as they work away in the mines.

We just spent one night in Potosí before moving on to start a 4-day tour of the Bolivian salt flats, a highlight of our traveling so far.

Sucre, Bolivia

After jumping through some hoops and trying in three different cities, we finally got our tourists visas to visit Bolivia. With that excitement under our belts we were thrilled to have an easy and painless border crossing into Villazon, Bolivia.

Allison entering Bolivia at Villazon

From there we headed north to Sucre, where we’ve spent the last number of days. It’s a charming town filled with white buildings, pristine gardens, chocolate and plenty of coffee shops. But the best part is, it’s the place we met up with Marvin and Eve, Isaiah’s brother and his wife, who we’ll be traveling with for the next two weeks.

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