Family reunion in Peru

Despite our detour to reach Peru (see previous blog), we reached Arequipa 3 days before the arrival of my mom and brother which gave us plenty of time to scout the city, try out local beers and roam the streets in search for the best restaurants.

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We took our car to the carwash, put away our inflatable mattress, blankets and cooking utensils and made space for our 2 passengers that will join us for the next 2 weeks. We were ready for it!

Did you know?

After 9 months on the road, it feels great to see familiar faces!

 

After a welcoming lunch on a nice terrace (they were almost as happy to see blue skies & sun as to see us), we explored the city of Arequipa with the most memorable sight being the Santa Catalina monastery. We went there late afternoon, to get lost in the silent little alleys while the sun was setting and made the red, white and blue colors even more vivid.

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Benefit number 1 of family visiting: At night we went to a really nice restaurant of a famous Peruvian chef where everything tasted fantastic, including the cocktails. The long journey and the copious portions made us unfortunately have to skip desert and go to bed early, which was a big bummer for me as I was already 2 days mouthwatering at the thought of dulce de leche, meringue and chocolate in 1 single dish :-) .

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New day, new energy! Ready to explore Arequipa’s central market with its abundance of colors, vendors, scents, … before hitting the road.

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A gorgeous drive brought us in Cabanaconde, a little town from which we were going to start our 2 day hike into the Colca Canyon the day after. But first: beers, pizzas and nice talks. After 9 months, we had a lot to talk about :-) .

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On day 1 we needed to descent the entire canyon, which was very beautiful, very hot, and unfortunately also very hard on the knees. A bit too hard for the oldest of the 4 of us… so hard that even the (freezing cold!) swimming pool did not ease the pain and we needed to book a donkey ride to get our mom out of the canyon the next day.

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The boys couldn’t risk it of course to be slowed down as the Belgian Red Devils were playing at 8am. And so the rest of us left in the dark, at 5am in the morning to almost race up the hill. The estimated 3 hour demanding hike was brought back to 2 hours, but 2 of us recovered from it quite quickly. We will not point fingers to the one who was having a harder time, but let’s say uphill hiking is clearly not a part of the soccer training :-) .

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More beautiful roads to follow, this time from the Colca Canyon all the way to Lake Titicaca, to cross the border with Bolivia just before closing time (the 1 hour time difference and loss of the little immigration paper made it a close call!) to reach the lakeside town of Copacabana after dark.

So it was only during our morning stroll that we could enjoy the views on the lake and the nice little town which had a car baptism going on. All the cars were decorated with flowers and sprinkled with beer or sparkling wine.

Did you know?

Lake Titicaca is world’s highest navigable lake, at an altitude of 3800m. It is also extremely big, with its surface of 8000m², it makes you feel like you are looking at the sea.

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We took a boat ride to Isla del Sol, where we had to conquer more stairs, but were rewarded with views on the snowcapped peaks of the Cordillera Real.

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Another nice dinner and we were ready to hit the road again the next day, to pass the traffic hellhole of La Paz. Strange that with traffic like on a Monday morning on the Brussels ring road we still managed to get a fine for speeding! But benefit number 2 of family visiting: the amount was split in 4 :-) .

So far our memories of La Paz, as our final destination was a few hours past La Paz: Coroico. As soon as we past La Cumbre (4700m), the highest point that we were going to encounter during this family visit, the scenery started to change, lush green forest, but at the same time misty clouds rolled in. Our passengers were very pleased with this sudden drop of visibility, which made us decide to take the new paved road down the valley, and not the old, famous Death Road that Benjamin and I wanted to take.

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Did you know?

The Yungas road gets its nickname “Death Road” as it is listed as the “world’s most dangerous road”. In 2006, one estimate stated that 200 to 300 travellers were killed yearly along the road. The road includes cross markings on many of the spots where vehicles have fallen. Now a newer road has been built so car and truck transport on this road is limited but many cyclists take it now. Nevertheless, it remains dangerous as every year you have cyclists that die on the road.

While we were descending this Death Road the day after, I guess my brother was even more thankful for yesterday’s clouds as some stretches were really narrow, with steeps cliffs next to it. I must admit that I was also a bit less brave than the day before when being in control myself, knowing that a steering mistake or braking maneuver like the one I had in New Zealand could lead to serious consequences. So this time it was my turn to be the slowest 😉 .

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Some glad-we-survived-beers in the end and we were up for benefit number 3 of family visiting: enjoying the things that come with a better hotel and that we don’t have in our car hotel, that is a swimming pool (again very cold but what a view!) and a sauna (which had the same view by the way, nice!).

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We ended our swift visit to Bolivia back in Cabanaconde with watching another soccer game of the Belgian Red Devils in the European Championship, while on our way to Cuzco, Peru’s most visited city, and we could easily understand why. The city bursts of colonial houses, beautiful plazas, picturesque alleys, … and all of this is located in a nice valley, surrounded by hills.

Cuzcenos like to celebrate and we were lucky to be there on the most important festival of the year, Inti Raymi.

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Did you know?

Inti Raymi is the festival of the sun, every sun solstice they re-enact a ancient Inca ritual to worship and honor the sun. The day before all the locals dress up in (mainly red) ponchos and the streets are filled with parades, food stalls, music bands, … and alcohol.

 

We enjoyed watching the festivities and participating in eating and drinking. We also tried Peru’s local specialty “cuy”, which is the Spanish word for Guinea pig. It looks less tasty than it is, as the taste is comparable with rabbit or chicken, but as there are a lot of tiny little bones with tiny pieces of meat wrapped around them, I don’t think that I will order it again :-) .

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From Cuzco we took a few days to explore the Sacred Valley, which has a lot of interesting sights:

–          Pissac: A hilltop Inca citadel with agricultural terraces

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–          Moray: More terraces that form a perfect arena

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–          Salinas de Maras: Thousands of salt pans that have been used for salt extraction since Inca times

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–          Chinchero: A typical Andean village with Inca ruins and wonderful mountain views

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–          Ollantaytambo: Huge steep terraces that look down on the village with cobble stones, ancient water system and 2 Inca sites.

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–          And last but not least Machu Picchu: The world famous Inca site high up in the mountains. We left the bus for what it was and took thousands of steps to reach it. And as if that was not enough we climbed the Machu Picchu mountain for an incredible overview.

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Impressed by all these ancient sites, we turned back to Cuzco for the last moments of family time and the last supper. But it was definitely a good one! We went to a tapas place, where everything tasted delicious and the wine flowed abundantly.

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The next morning it was time for the real goodbye, with hugs & kisses that needed to be given very quickly as the airline decided to take off 2 hours earlier than planned.

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And so off they went… and we went back to the two of us, which suddenly felt very quiet & empty… Our first sense of home sickness?! Or not really knowing what’s next on our itinerary?
Whatever it was, we decided to focus on the latter (as the first is harder to work on because we do not yet want to end our adventures abroad) by making new travel plans: a summer break in Cuba it was!

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