A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Intro

Better late than never

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Over the years my good intentions to blog while I was on the ground in another country have remained unmet. Today I begin recording what remains of my memories, vow to do better in the future, and know that I probably won't.

My first trip to Peru was with my husband Rob. We were doing our second trip to Bolivia with a volunteer group that annually visits orphanages in Cochabamba. The year before we went on a boat trip in the Amazon after finishing the 2 week volunteer stint. This time we decided to fly to Peru and hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, since we were already *in the neighborhood*.

My intent is to post information in short, itemized sections, so that a reader planning a trip to Peru can easily identify whether information on a particular topic is here.

I fell in love with Peru during our first visit, have returned twice to date, and would happily go back again.

These pages are meant to be a source of information for folks planning a visit to Peru as well as a travel diary and scrapbook for myself. I tell myself that a good travel diary as a reference would have improved my posts, and hope this will make me to change my ways.

I beseech you to keep a travel journal. I wish I could refresh the details in my memory by reading back through a journal. Alas, I did not keep one, and much has faded. I will share with you what remains.

Posted by renja 09:50 Archived in Peru Tagged peru machu_picchu cusco sacred_valley Comments (0)

Planning

Research, research and more research

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Surprise...
Some surprises are good, such as: surprise parties, rainbows, and delay-free flights. Other surprises are bad, for example: airport security pointing out that your passport is expired, that the photos on the web site made the hotel's bathroom plumbing appear much more functional, or that the trekking company you signed on with has a reputation for swindling tourists.

While it is impossible to avoid all bad surprises, you can minimize their numbers with research, research, and more research. In my experience, bad surprises and research are inversely proportional; the more effort I put into identifying the hotels, transportation, and activities that are fraught with bad surprises, the fewer bad surprises I encounter. In some cases this means avoiding a place or activity. More often, it simply means going in with my eyes open.

Reduce the number of bad surprises

  • Buy a current guidebook Don't forget to read the chapter about dangers and annoyances; it can be entertaining, and I usually learn something that saves me troubles (i.e., bad surprises).
  • Use online reviews. While fraudulent postings that attempt to skew reviews are becoming problematic, I believe that with persistence and common sense you can still glean good information about places that you are interested in visiting.
  • Cross-reference hotels and activities that you discover in your guide book with online reviews for the same places. Businesses make changes,which can mean new owners/managers, changes in service, and sometimes closing down. If this happens after the date of publishing, good old fashioned cross-referencing can keep you up to date.
  • Check the State Department web site. It publishes information about political situations, disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and safety concerns that often don't make the 5:00 news at home but have the potential to mess up your day abroad.
  • Check your passport's expiration date. Sounds like a no brainer, right? Well, it turns out that this is pretty easy to overlook, and so it made the short list here. Keep in mind that some countries have a strict 6 month validity rule, which means that your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the intended length of stay, or you will be turned away at immigration upon arrival. Here is an interesting article about various passport validity rules around the world.
  • Investigate airport tax collection. Most South American countries require tourists to pay a departure tax at all airports. In Peru, airport taxes are levied on passengers embarking on both international and domestic flights. The tax for flights within Peru may be paid in either US dollars or local currency. The tax for international flights must be paid in cash, but both US dollars and local currency are accepted. Credit cards are NOT accepted. See Peruvian airport tax information. Note: Sometimes the tax is included in the ticket price of international flights, but I have never been able to figure out how to tell.
  • Purchase travel insurance. You probably won't need it, and you are likely simply buying peace of mind. However, should you become very ill or get in a bad accident, you will be covered. There is a large variety of combination medical-trip cancellation/interruption plans available to travelers. Medical evacuations are very, very expensive. Buy financial protection so that you can keep traveling!
  • Create an email account to use solely for travel. This affords you all the benefits of email without the worry that your real account will become compromised. Paper is heavy stuff. A travel-only email account is an easy way to maintain a backup copy of important travel documents, hotel reservations (and receipts), a copy of your passport, a list of URLs for attractions you might go see, and any other paperwork you might want access to but don't want to carry around.
  • Test out your walking shoes. Don't find yourself a 3 hour drive and 4 hour walk away from the nearest band-aid when you discover that your new boots make your feet bleed.

Related Links

Posted by renja 09:54 Archived in Peru Tagged peru planning Comments (0)

Find your travel style:

Luxurious, Fancy, Nice Yet Casual, No Frills, or The Cheapest Way Possible

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Luxury is not a travel category that I ever opt for. I don't have the disposable income to stay in luxury hotels, and we use the room for only sleeping and showering, so we don't miss the fancy amenities. I travel between the catagories of Nice Yet Casual and No Frills. The Cheapest Way Possible is simply too much work for me these days. There is an enormous amount of information available in books and on the web. While it might take a bit of practice, you can learn to pretty consistently identify the hotels and activities that match your preferences from the multitudes of information sources. With research and awareness of some of the pitfalls, you can make the trip you want be the trip you get.

Trade-offs
Over the years, I have chosen to travel The Cheapest Way Possible many times, including a few stays at inexpensive Lima hostels. I used the rooms only to sleep for about 5 hours before flying to Cusco at some ungodly early hour of the morning. I chose the hostels because of low price and the hugely appealing service of a driver who would meet us at the airport and deliver us to the hostel. On these 2 occasions, there was no level of bathroom badness that could have surprised me. And yet, neither turned out to be as bad as I was willing to tolerate for the low price. This is not to say that the bathrooms were clean or in good repair, because they weren't, and I would not have wanted to wade into one of them without flip flops.

Beware of the Extra Amenities Trap
Amusingly enough, my disappointing hotel experiences usually occur when I book a room that is a tad more expensive than what I usually opt for. Often times, spending a tad more than budget prices puts me into a gray area where the rooms look nice on the surface, but poor maintenance dashes my higher expectations.

Hot tubs and jacuzzis seem to be particularly susceptible to being used as a marketing tool to attract guests rather than as a real amenity for actual guests (who have likely paid in advance). I have twice stayed in places that offered a jacuzzi, and both times I was disappointed. In Cusco, the clean, bottom lit jaccuzzi in the web site photos was available for only about two hours every evening. Additionally, to use it required that a reservation be made by 10 a.m., and a that a $10.00/person fee be paid in addition to the room price. With all the stipulations, we didn't bother with it. I also think that the hotel counted on that reaction to keep maintenance costs of the jacuzzi at a minimum. My second attempt was at a boutique hotel in Urabamba. When we went and peered into the spa room, the hot tub was disassembled, and parts were strewn across the floor. There was no soaking to be done at that fine establishment either.

Photos don't always give the full picture
I have heard of hotels that post photos of other, nicer hotels on their web sites. Fortunately, I have never arrived to find that a hotel is clearly not the one in the web photos. However, I have had photos with carefully chosen angles, lighting, and omissions mislead me from the fact that a place is a complete dump. Alternatively, I have been absolutely blown away by the loveliness of an inn after worrying a bit about my choice because of the photos. It pays to cross reference photos and reviews from several sources.

During one trip, we splurged and stayed at a large hotel in Lima that had many attractive photos on their web site. True to the photos, the rooms were large, well lit and clean. After the sun went down, we discovered that the TV and both bedside lamps were solely ornamental. One lamp had no bulbs, and neither the other lamp nor the TV had electrical cords. While the TV simply didn't matter, we felt that for the price, it would have been nice to read before going to sleep without having to get back out of bed to turn out the lights. On the other hand, the bathroom was very clean, and the towels were both fluffier and larger than usual. Still, I would choose a table lamp with intact light bulbs over an extra-fluffy towel any night of the week.

Most often, my photo related disappointments involve plumbing; more specifically, that the bathroom fixtures appear to be much more functional in the nice photos on the hotel web site than they are in reality. Alas, the functionality of plumbing in the accommodations that are available at the price I am willing to pay are hit or miss. It seems that in Peru, plumbing issues and room price are to some extent inversely proportional.

Getting into hot water can be difficult
Another plumbing related problem area is the availability of hot water. Often times 24-hour hot water seems to mean that there are a couple of gallons of hot water available somewhere in the hotel for 24 hours each day. It does not mean that said hot water is routed to the plumbing in your room.

In Puno, we paid in advance for a room at a large hotel that touted large jetted tubs and 24-hour hot water in every room. We had been hiking the entire week before our stay, and were looking forward to soaking trail dust from all of the places where it didn't belong. It turned out that there was not enough hot water available (in the entire city) to fill even one of those tubs. The discovery that a long, steamy soak simply wasn't going to happen made us very sad. So, we opted for the shower. Still, getting even our hair washed before the shower stream went cold was challenging. The method that evolved was to remove the cap from the shampoo before turning on the water so that you were ready to quickly suds and rinse your hair during the initial 30-second hot water blast. Next, hurriedly wash the places you most wanted to hit during the following 10- second cool down. Then, for the length of time that you were willing to endure the final cold spray, scrub whatever was left. In the end, we did manage to get cleaned-up, if not warmed-up.

The least expensive place I have ever stayed in Peru was also the place with the best hot water. It was a hostel in Arequipa that charged $5 per bed. We knew that it fell solidly into Cheapest Way Possible category, but it got good reviews, so we took a chance. As advertised, the hostel had a small kitchen available for guest use, which looked like a fire hazard and prompted me plan an escape route). Marvel of marvels, it turned out that the web site spoke truth when it guaranteed 24 hour hot water. The water was hot, it was plentiful, and it had excellent pressure. Unfortunately, there were trade offs. Neither towels nor soap were supplied, the shower area was co-ed, and the bathmats were nothing but soaked and tattered rags on which it was unfathomable to set even a flip flop clad foot upon. However, the thing that most hampered our potential for a joyous frolic in a gush of unlimited, highly pressurized hot water was the thin coating of slime on the metalic stall walls. Because there were no hooks to hang our belongings from, circumventing the slime required some serious creativity. So daunting was the slime that one of my companions opted to skip the shower altogether, thus missing her opportunity get into the hottest water that we encountered during our entire 3 weeks in Peru.

The thrill of a frill
Clearly none of the above experiences were trip-destroyers, but they ended my expectations of getting many frills with only a little bit more money. I have come to believe that in Peru, obtaining frills is more expensive than suggested by the amenety lists on hotel web sites. Depending on your budget, spending a little more money than usual may only bump you into the gray area where the web photos are better than the actual amenities. Check hotel review sites for hints about the actual availability of amenities such as jacuzzis, but really, it's pretty hard to confirm this stuff. Go into your trip understanding that many places are old and have both economic and plumbing challenges. Don't let a few dashed expectations taint your view of this beautiful country. Most people and facilities try very hard to make you happy; this is particularly true when your traveling in the No Frills catagory. When I plan for a trip with no expectations of receiving frills, I usually end up being pretty pleased by friendly desk clerks, a clean room, flushing toilet, hot (potentially short) shower, clean towel, and breakfast. Any additional perks that turn up are good surprises.

Posted by renja 12:20 Comments (0)

Packing

Less stuff = more mobility

Leave the kitchen sink home

Travel Light; everything that you take must be lugged around on trains, buses, and foot trails. You will be much happier carrying less than dragging more.

My short list

Here is some stuff that I find useful when I travel to Peru.

  • Hand sanitizer
  • Roll of toilet paper
  • Headlamp
  • Extra batteries for headlamp
  • Small unbreakable drinking glass
  • First aid kit
  • Minimal toiletries
  • Minimal clothing
  • Empty, small-medium sized compactable bag
  • Empty compactable day pack
  • Maps
  • Camara

Why do I bring these particular items? Because they keep me pretty healthy and/or comfortable.

First up is hand sanitizer. As touted by public health notices posted in rest rooms everywhere, hand washing prevents the spread of disease. Except now we are in a place where the water is not potable, and a ratty hand towel hanging from a rusty nail sticking out from a muddy wall will perhaps give you pause. A small bottle of hand sanitizer will save you from infecting yourself with some dreaded gastric affliction.

Second, T.P. You should go into your trip knowing that in South America toilet paper is generally not provided. Be aware that there is a Murphy's Law of TP: If you desperately need it, and are not carrying any, then none will be offered. This law will manifest itself at a much more inconvenient time and place than you can possibly dream up on your own.

Moving on to the rest of the list, starting with a headlamp. Once a fellow traveler told me that they always carry a 60 watt light bulb with them because bedside lamps are often either dim or burned out. Hmmm, that sounds sort of...fragile. Take a headlamp—they are small, tough to break and hugely useful. You don't need a fancy one, in fact some headlamps made for kids cost only $10.00. However, if you are going trekking, you need one meant for that purpose, and some extra batteries.

A small, sturdy lightweight drinking glass is a nicety. Because I usually stay in *No frills* accommodations, drinking glasses, shower soap, and shampoo do not come with the room. I really, really like to rinse my toothbrush in a a bit of water when I brush my teeth, and the tap cannot (repeat, cannot) be used for this.

A basic first aid kit containing at least a few bandages and a spot of anti-biotic cream can save you the pain (and trouble) of an infected cut. Blister bandages can literally save a trek. These items are compact, light, and absolutely worth carrying. If you don't get injured, you will likely need to treat someone else who is. On remote trails, the blister bandages are a big hit. I've gotten many smiles by offering these sticky little patches of healing goodness to folks with blistered pods.

I include packets of oral rehydration powder in my first aid kit. Before leaving home, visit a travel clinic and learn about staying healthy abroad. They will likely give you some anti-biotics to treat gastric illnesses that don't subside quickly. Here's a link to a recipe for fluid rehydration to mix up if you don't have a packet of the powder.

Once you arrive you can buy any toiletries you didn't pack. However, having a few with you when you land in Lima at midnight (it doesn't seem possible to land in Lima from the U.S. at any other time of day) is comforting. You will be very happy to take a quick shower, brush your teeth and apply fresh deodorant before climbing into bed after the long, hard work of getting there.

Take minimal clothing because in Peru, laundry services are readily available and fairly inexpensive. Laundry services are magic; they allow you have clean clothes nearly every day in spite of having minimal items with you. Well, ok, laundries are not available everywhere, but they are available often enough to keep you looking pretty tidy and prevent a minimalistic wardrobe from becoming smelly. Laundries return your clothing both clean and dry, neither of which are guaranteed when you merely give stuff a quick scrub in your room's sink. Also, you won't have to utilize your on-board drying system (i.e., hang clothes off your pack) if the clothes aren't dry by check-out time.

You'll eventually be glad to have a spare empty bag. Like laundry services, baggage storage services are beautiful things. They can prevent extra stuff from become huge ball and chains. They are particularly useful when you are returning to a place after a jaunt away. For example, if you are taking a trek, ask the hotel/hostel where you will be staying afterward if you can store a subset of your stuff there until you arrive/return. Generally the answer is yes, and often there is no charge. You probably don't want to leave anything that you care much about because there is always the possibility you won't get it back. That said, I have always gotten all of my stuff back. But then, I've left only stuff that I (nor anyone else, it seems) care about.

Super compact day packs, of the type that stuff into their own tiny sack, are handy little things. Mostly used to carry a map, some water and stuff you need but don't want to carry in your hands, there is another reason to stash one in your pack. There is something about travel that causes the stuff you take along to expand after about the 3rd time you move to new a location. Stuff Expansion is both puzzling and inconvenient. Stuff Expansion usually hits at an inconvenient time, when you are heading off to catch an event, bus, plane or something else that isn't going to wait for you. You think your pack is re-packed, and you are proud of yourself for once again fitting all your stuff in, and still knowing where it all is within the pockets. You turn around and give your room one last glance, and there it is; a small pile of stuff that you forgot. Carrying the little pile loose will surely result in a lost sock, important document, or electrical converter plug. The extra bit of pack space you can instantly produce with one of these things is awesome, and can alleviate the pain of overflow until you get time to reorganize. Here's a link to the one sold at REI.

I live near Seattle, Washington, where there is a fantastic store called Metzger Maps. They can obtain a map to anywhere. Having a detailed map of huge cities like Lima, or more recently for us, Bangkok, is worth it's weight in gold. It saves time(hours searching for stuff), money(taxi rides in the wrong direction), and frustration (places never found, or incomprehensible/conflicting directions from locals). To help us find hostels or tourist sites easier, I often print out maps from Google maps, and toss them as we go. Good maps simplify travel.

And last but not least, remember your camera! Forgetting my camera would qualify as a desperate crisis, and is not a pretty picture (sorry, couldn't resist).

What not to wear

Once you're there, it will be pretty evident that on most occasions, bling doesn't belong. Leave anything that you care very much about at home. I wear my gold wedding band, but not the diamond band, and I take my most beat up wrist watch. I often pack my oldest shoes, often with the intent of leaving them there. The exception to this is hiking boots, which should, of course, be in good shape if you are planning on trekking. I usually take some clothing that I intend to give away in order to create space in my backpack for purchases. You can offer clothes to a guide or a church. I have always found it very easy to give away clothes.

Summary

Take a couple of good maps, pack light, buy what you need, ditch what you don't, take photos, and have fun!

Posted by renja 10:07 Comments (0)

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