The City in the Clouds

The drive was a doozy. It was 15 hours overnight through steep winding passes. The bus moved swiftly and constantly jerked side to side. While the reclining seats were lovely, it was hard not to get slightly ill on the long drive to Cusco. The poor mother and son who sat across the aisle from me couldn’t hold it together and were sick at least 3 times a piece. Eventually we arrived at our destination more than 11,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes. We had made it to Cusco; the capital of the ancient Inca Kingdom.

Cusco was more beautiful than I expected. Due to its proximity to Machu Picchu and other incredible mountain treks, it sees massive amounts of tourists. The streets seemed cleaner, the food options better, and the ambiance slightly more relaxed. HOWEVER, the altitude was immediately noticeable. Walking the shortest distances would leave you with winded. The massive hills throughout the city did not help with this. The thin air was not the only thing that could leave you breathless. The architecture of the city and its Spanish style cathedrals was magnificent.

I spent my first 2 days exploring the city and adjusting to the altitude. My hostel, The Wild Rover, was quite nice and it did live up to its party reputation. I was able to watch the NE Patriots defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game which was lovely. It was even sweeter watching it with a steelers fan who brought his own ‘terrible towel’ with him from home.
When I felt my body was ready for the mountains, I decided to book one of the more popular treks in the city’ the Inca Jungle Trek. It was a 4 day excursion that would end at Machu Picchu. I signed up with a few new friends and packed my HikePro. The next morning we loaded up a van and headed up higher into the mountains…


Where the Desert Meets the Sea; Paracas

Just a few hours south of Lima is the small coastal town of Paracas. What I was expecting was a nice little resort town with decent beaches, cafes, and some pleasant scenery. To my surprise, what I found was a massive desert. Right where the sands met the sea was the village of Paracas. It had a certain charm to it with a handful of shops and restaurants. Lucky for me, my hostel was located right on the beach.

(view out the back of the hostel)

I had a nice time my first 2 days meeting a group of fellow travelers at the hostel and exploring the town. We enjoyed Lomo Saltado (stir fried beef) and checked out the shops and stretches of beach. Its always great to meet and interact with people from all over the world. My small group in Paracas consisted of people from Ireland, Denmark, England, Scotland, and Norway. While beautiful scenery, new cities, and delicious cuisines are all highlights of traveling, this is what truly makes it a great experience. You get to interact with people with different ideas, perspectives, and stories. In the end, it’s the people who make these trips memorable.

On my 3rd day, I was off to explore what makes Paracas a unique destination in Peru; Islas Ballestas. These islands off the coast of Paracas are considered to be the ‘Poor man’s Galapagos’ due to the diverse wildlife that calls the island home. After a big night out, it was a little rough crawling out of bed and making it to the marina. Luckily, me and my Danish friend made our boat on time and were quickly steaming out into the Pacific. On the way to the islands we passed the north face of the Paracas Peninsula which was adorned with a massive prehistoric geoglyph. Dating back to 200 BCE, the 595 ft design looks like a giant candelabra and can be seen from nearly 12 miles offshore. No one knows the true purpose of the ancient symbol carved into the side of the sea cliff.

 

Our boat pushed on, and after 25min we arrived at the islands. Before we got to close you could hear and smell that the rock formations were buzzing with life. Overhead were hundreds of blue-footed booby, a bird unique for its hunting style. They will fly anywhere between 30-100ft searching for schools of fish. When they spot their prey they drop into a straight dive and hit the water at upwards of 60mph. This allows them to capture a fish almost 80ft under the water. It was pretty amazing to see them in action. When we approached the island we saw a wide variety of animals. There were pelicans, humboldt penguins, sea lions, fur seals, starfish, and more. The sea lions were amazing to see up close in their natural habitat. Some of the males were absolutely enormous.

 

Overall, Paracas was a fun little stop on my trip towards Cusco. For only 10$ I was able to see the unique wildlife of the Ballestas, a true ‘Poor man’s’ experience. But after a few days on the beach and enjoying the sun, I was heading out of the desert and into the mountains!