Our taxi flew down the dark highway, a moon-lit Pacific pounded the beach on the right, steep cliffs on our left glowed in the lunar light. We cut through a break in the cliff and drove up a steep hill to a hotel on a quiet street.
We were in Lima.
We were embarking on an 11-day GAdventure tour to explore Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, Iquitos, and other cultural and archaeological sites with a final few days on the Amazon. Eleven days doesn’t sound long. But when you pack each day with destinations, experiences, new foods, sights, a few pre-dawn regional flights, all while spending each day with a random bunch of people you’ve never met before, it starts to add up.
We’d arrived a couple days before we were to meet the rest of our group. Just like everyone had warned us, Lima was loud, tied up with traffic, and polluted.
But there were parades around every corner; splendid pageantries of indigenous costumes and music. We ate tasty ceviches, roamed among the catacombs under the ancient San Francisco church, discovered the joy of hot cinnamon-dusted churros, and, just like Hemingway, drank legendary Pisco Sours in the faded elegance of the Gran Hotel Bolivar. We felt safe wherever we wandered. We were smitten.
A few days later, we met the rest of our fellow-travelers. We were a United Nations assemblage of ten; four from the U.S., ourselves and one other from Canada, two from Latvia and our indispensable Peruvian guide who could, we would discover, magically make tickets appear, coordinate cabs, and provide the cultural context to everything we saw.
We left the next morning for Cusco. At 11,152 feet, Cusco, a UNESCO world heritage site, is Peru’s most-visited city. The next two days were packed with sites and excursions. Our group bonded, one meal and one shared experience at a time.
We boarded the Peru Rail train in the ancient village of Ollantaytambo, taking the one-and-a-half hour morning train ride instead of sweating through a four-day hike to Machu Picchu. The train pulled into the center of Machu Picchu Pueblo. Sitting in a deep gorge, with no roads in, the town is virtually an island. It is the closest access point to the historical site of Machu Picchu.
The next morning we would join a long line of travelers to board perfectly-coordinated busses for a dizzying switch-back ride up, up, and up to the actual site. Arriving at that mountain-top kingdom is nothing short of breathtaking. It is inconceivable that someone could dream up such a place, and then somehow, impossibly, bring it into existence. Each new bit of information regarding the placement of temples, the alignment of stars and the exact marking of the solstice, only served to deepen the wonder.
No photos could begin to contain the scene falling away from our feet.
I watched our group. Whatever our nationality, reasons, or ages, we were all as awestruck and wide-eyed as children.
Our next adventure took us inland to Iquitos, a bustling humid city of half-a-million citizens. Iquitos can only be reached by plane or via the world’s biggest river, the Amazon. We left at dawn, landing two hours later into a city buzzing with auto rickshaws. A short bus ride through a tropical deluge delivered us to our home for the next two nights, the 124’ Amatista Riverboat.
Lined with caramel-varnished woods, our cool cabin felt like we’d walked into our very own jewelry box. The window-walls of the dining room sparkled with glasses on linen-topped tables.
But better than all the beauty of the boat was one fact; we were on the Amazon. We watched, mesmerized, as pods porpoised beside our boat. Howler monkeys, egrets, herons and other birdlife filled our binoculars as naturalist guides zoomed us up rivers in Zodiacs. We went on guided walks and saw dinosaur-sized house plants and lily pads with the same diameter as a child’s wading pool.
That last night we sat on the upper deck of the Amatista. Our Pisco Sours glowed as the sun sank.
In only eleven days, we’d accumulated a lifetime of memories, each story made richer because it was shared with our new friends.
Our collective dreams had become our shared adventures.
PHOTOS by Colleen Friesen
#1 Peruvian Dancers
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