Marcia Brandes & Stephen Mills

28 May - 11 June 2002


Stephen Mills and Marcia Brandes on the Royal Inca Trail.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.


We made it to the Sun Gate -- Machu Picchu lies below...




Adventures in Peru by Marcia Brandes


Part 1: We need to go to Machu Picchu

Part 2: Why would anyone want to draw hummingbirds the size of football fields?

Part 3: We visit one of the gods

Part 4: Ancient mysteries

Part 5: Fresh jaguar tracks



Spider, Nazca Lines.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.


An unedited letter from Marcia Brandes to Inka's Empire Tours


June 25, 2002


Sorry it has taken so long for me to send you some feedback about our trip. We had a great time, but we were exhausted, and it has taken a week to catch up on everything and have a moment to relax. Then we got thrown into having company for 4 days, so I am just now sitting down to write.

As I mentioned to you, the only glitch we had was the breakfast at the Sanctuary Lodge. Everyone who worked with us in Peru was very friendly, competent, and accommodating. The hotels were more than sufficient -- we probably would have been very happy with the next step down, actually. We are not accustomed to traveling in 4 and 5 star hotels in this country, but didn't really know what the standards were in Peru. I am also very glad I learned some Spanish. We were surprised at how many times the hotel and restaurant personnel, as well as some of the transfer drivers, did not know any English at all. But my Spanish proved sufficient, particularly with the help of a small dictionary, so that really made it more fun.



Humboldt penguins, Ballestas Islands.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.


The only part of our trip that was somewhat disappointing was the first part, the Nazca Lines. In retrospect, we would have skipped that. The seven hour bus ride was too much of an investment (time-wise) for the 30-minute plane trip over the lines. The day we were there was quite windy and dusty, which obscured the view somewhat, but it was really the lack of any on-the-ground display, museum, models, etc. that made the site less than we had hoped. The hotel at Paracas was lovely, but we really didn't get to enjoy it because we didn't get there until 8:30 at night, due to the 3+ hour trip back from Nazca. All in all, I'd say that part of Peru needs better access to make it a really worth while for a casual traveler.

The Islas Ballestas tour was great -- we saw a lot of sea lions and Humboldt penguins. The afternoon tour, of the Reserve, was pretty much a waste of time, as there wasn't much to see except the desert which we had seen plenty of on the way down from Lima.



Mt. Misti, Arequipa.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.


I'm really glad we went to Arequipa. Besides the fact that the countryside is beautiful, and the terracing even more elaborate than around Cuzco, we were fascinated by the museum film and display about the mummy, Juanita. The convent there was also quite interesting. The drive to Chivay, and then to the Cross of the Condor was quite rugged, but worth it because we had great views of the condors.

A couple of notes to mention to other travelers: I didn't realize how many roadside vendors there would be selling textiles. Every scenic pullout had its vendors, and it was obvious that the guides planned for those areas to be the stops. If I had realized that these people are not really trying to take advantage of tourists, but are rather trying to earn a meagre living through crafts, I would have brought more small bills and planned to buy more. I didn't really understand until we were halfway through the trip, and I wish I had bought more in the Arequipa area.



Pre-inca terraces, Colca Valley.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.


Also, regarding changing money, this is information others might like to have, for whatever it is worth. I have in the past gotten a very good exchange rate using credit cards, but I found that on this trip my credit card companies gave me a much poorer rate of exchange than the hotels did. I don't know if this is because I was in S.A. rather than Europe, or if they have changed their policies. And the advice to carry traveler's checks is good for safety, but not for economy, as the rate for cashing them was not as good as for U.S. dollars. Here is an example of the rate difference: Thomas Cook -- before I left -- 2.85 soles per $1. My credit card purchases -- 2.9 soles per $1. Hotel travelers check rates -- 3.25 soles per $1. Hotel cash rates -- 3.4 soles per $1. Some stores had exchange rates of 3.5 soles per $1 for purchases. Next time I would take more cash.

Back to the trip. Everyone talks about the possibility of getting altitude sickness in Cuzco, but Chivay is 1,000 feet higher and the drive there goes through a pass that is almost 16,000 feet high. We were both affected by the altitude in Chivay, although not so severely that it hindered our activities.



Condors observing tourists at the Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.


We also picked up "Montezuma's Revenge" (which I suppose in Peru should be labeled Tupac Amaru's Revenge), even though we tried to be very careful. Fortunately, Cipro kocked it right out, and I would really recommend to others that they take a small prescription for that. Travelers clinics will prescribe it and it is definitely worth while.

By the time we got to Cuzco, we were well accustomed to the altitude, so that didn't present a problem. Steve, unfortunately, was a little stubborn about taking the Cipro, so when we climbed to Machu Picchu he hadn't had anything to eat for the previous 48 hours. So the climb was somewhat more difficult that he had anticipated, due to his weakened condition, but we made it and it was definitely worth it. We both felt we had earned the right to see Machu Picchu. We took advantage of being in the high-rent district at the Sanctuary Lodge by climbing to the guard house at 6:00 am the next morning to watch the sunrise. That was quite special, and my photos came out very nicely. The only part that was disappointing was to find out that the hotel is owned by a British company that is paying pennies for the privilege. We had hoped the profits would be going to preserve Machu Picchu.



Example of the terrain, Royal Inca Trail.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.


Steve had a hard time with the street vendors in Cuzco, particularly the children. It might be a good idea in the notes to include a little more info on how to deal with them. Steve was more abrupt than I would have been -- I tried to be more polite and still say no (I'm a mom; I know how to say "no"). Rossana, in Cuzco, was very attentive, and made sure we were well taken care of. We enjoyed the folk dancing at the art center, but we could have done without the dinner & show the last night in Cuzco; it was Totally Tourist and not that great.

On the other hand, we enjoyed the meals we had overlooking the plaza and the people-watching. You were certainly correct that there isn't anything to worry about in finding good food in Peru. I gained two pounds, in spite of all the walking & hiking we did! Our guide around Cuzco and Machu Picchu was very knowledgable and we liked him a lot.

The jungle experience was a nice departure from what we had already seen, and I'm very glad we ended with that, rather than having the Cuzco part split in two as was originally planned. It rained a lot, but we had a great guide, and it was a good change of pace.



Madre de Dios River, flying into Puerto Maldonado.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.


We were quite impressed with the job Rainforest Expeditions is doing; we particularly liked the visit to the native medicinal plant hospital. Since the macaws didn't land at the clay lick while we were there, I was very glad I had picked Tambopata rather than Manu, because the chicos that had been raised there, although they live in the wild now, were very tame and hung around the lodge a lot, letting us feed them and perching on our shoulders. (When it came right down to it, that was the reason I had picked Tambopata over Manu -- I know you can't trust wild birds to be there for the photo ops.)

We had both purchased malaria medication because of advice from the travel clinics here, but our guide told us there was no malaria in the Tambopata region, so we discontinued it. One thing that I found extrememly helpful was a hat that I purchased at REI before I left; it is like a baseball cap, but mosquito netting rolls out of the bill. It was a great relief not to have to worry about bugs around my face, and I've already loaned it to someone else.



Taking bananas to market along the Tambopata River.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.


From reading the news, it looks as if our timing to and from Peru was perfect. There were strikes before we got there, and strikes (and particularly bad problems in Arequipa) just after we left. We had some very interesting discussions with several of our guides about the political situation. I was particularly glad that we got to spend several days with each guide, as it meant we got to know them on a personal basis a lot better. It really is a shame that such nice people have to put up with such rotten politicians.

We are very glad we went to Peru, and I am writing about our trip in a newsletter Steve and I edit that goes to 1000 people, so maybe we can spread the word. Thanks for helping us put together a memorable trip.


-- Marcia Brandes



"... we enjoyed the meals we had overlooking the plaza and the people-watching."
Photo: Stephen Mills.



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