Adventures in Realistic Expectations: Ecuador and Peru Part II ✈️

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After the unique time we had in Ecuador, we were putting A LOT of weight on the second half of the trip-Peru. We began in Cusco, this incredible, mountainous town at 12,000 some feet in elevation that felt like being back in time. Though we live and work between 6,000 and 8,000+ feet in elevation, I immediately came down with a special case of altitude sickness, the headache was blinding and awful, and I was largely stuck in the room. Mom was able to tour the city and capture some of the moments I was so sad to miss. As I looked out the window like an angst-filled teenager missing prom, some type of parade took place in the street below. Though we still have no idea what was being celebrated, people stopped to create art with flower petals and this is forever imprinted in our minds.

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Thankfully, the next day, we hopped the train to the magical Machu Picchu. The train itself is an adventure, not only are the views the entire way indescribable, they have created their version of in-flight shopping and they hold a fashion show with items available for purchase…so much Alpaca. I wanted it all, but I have to say it is super itchy! The train pulls up to the town at the base of Machu Picchu and at first, it looks forgettable, a means to get to the wonder of the world. We soon realize that this town is one of the most vibrant, special small towns that most certainly deserves to stand on its own two feet. We’ve been all over the world and have never seen anything like this place. A town, a river that is completely surrounded by the most mystical mountains jutting straight up to the heavens, topped by a constant mist that just adds to the allure. If you are going to Machu Picchu, stay in Aguas Caliente for a few days, you will thank me. Years later, as I write this, I remember like it was yesterday walking the oddly angled streets, the smell of guinea pig cooking, seeing the warm smiles of the lovely people who inhabit this place and an overwhelming desire to sell everything and move there (until I saw a large, orange, arachnid in our room, you might be starting to see a pattern).

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The rules of visiting Machu Picchu have changed, but in 2009, we were able to take the bus up the mountain in the afternoon as the hordes of day-trippers were on their way out which enhanced the experience significantly. One cannot talk about this place without talking about the drive up. Some athletic people say that the most adventurous way to see it is to hike in; those people haven’t taken the bus. The switchiest switchbacks in the world, on a one-lane road, in a large bus, speeding with an increasingly massive drop mere inches from the wheels. The other passengers were not amused, and intelligently feared for their lives as we sat in the back of the bus as usual, hands in the air and laughing incessantly. We reach the top and enter, and for the first time in our lives, we are speechless. We are not religious, but this is a place where spirituality permeates everything and everyone. We wandered with our jaws on the ground, trying to take photos that will show a fraction of how spectacular it is. For hours, we attempted to pet Alpacas, stopping to sit and just wonder at the natural and man-made awesomeness and then wandering on. Eventually, they kicked us out; otherwise, we would have pitched a tent right there and stayed forever.

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After the thrill-ride of a drive back down as changed people and a good nights, sleep, we did what all people who have been spiritually changed do, we went shopping. All jokes aside, this is our favorite type of shopping; we have spent countless hours and days in local, open-air markets all over the world. In our opinion, this is one of the greatest ways to get to really know a place. The color, smells, flavors, people, the price haggling, and this was a good market. As per usual, we ended up buying another bag to fit all of the other treasures that we found, most of which now sit in my “You can’t get rid of that I got it in __________”pile, though I never use it. As we were perusing and purchasing, we experienced a sudden onslaught of what appeared to be miniature mosquitos with a not so miniature bite. Usually mosquitos, avoid me, yea I’m not sweet, I get it, but this was a serious exception. I was covered in these bites, mostly on my legs. A little After Bite and a good night’s sleep would do the trick, right? Woke up with my legs swollen to twice their normal size, turns out that a combination of mosquito bites and an allergy to laundry detergent is bad. I had a fever and we feared that the infection would spread/worsen, but it’s always a tough call to go to a doctor in a foreign country where sanitation standards may not be the same. We decided to try to get back to the US, though it would be a challenge as I was not able to walk well. Good news is, I got a sweet wheelchair in the Lima airport and a lot of sympathy and horrified looks at my legs and eventually made it back to the States. I was seen by a doctor who, as usual, wondered why I do the things I do with severe allergies, like travel to crazy places.

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Here’s the lesson for this journey, don’t shy away from travel/adventure if you have health issues or special needs, just learn from me and prepare. I now travel with significant medical supplies including clean needles should I require hospitalization abroad along with a sleep sack. *Note- A sleep sack will not protect you from bed bugs, I’ll save that story for another day. I would like to say that this is the only trip where wacky stuff and bad luck affected us, but that is not the case, as you’ll see if you come back. It’s all part of the adventure, it is a funny memory and one of oh so many, where I can say, “so glad I survived.” It’s all part of the fun, don’t you think?

-Generations of Adventure

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Adventures in Realistic Expectations: Ecuador and Peru Part I ✈️

In October of 2009, my Mom and I go through the motions of heading to the airport, parking, security, heading to the gate, spending 5$ on each bottle of water, boarding and then…the dreaded, feared and infamous pilot announcement that the check engine light has come on.

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Dugout canoe in the jungle. 🇪🇨

Fast forward what felt like a week, many delays, a very unnecessary night spent in Miami and we secure a speedboat in an attempt to catch up with our river boat that has already started working its way up the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon with all of the other passengers in tow. We later learned they saw pink dolphins and had lovely weather right up until we got onboard, which still, 9 years later, irritates us endlessly, as this turns out to be pretty much the only wildlife sighting.

From my trip journal: “Spotted some of the first wildlife, a horse and 2 Chihuahua looking dogs. It’s pouring and I’m sitting in a lawn chair on the top deck of The Manatee, a boat that I can safely say looks NOTHING like it did in the brochure. A wide variety of bugs crawl across the Astroturf looking for prey, which is me. The good news about being out in the open, is that it’s not anywhere else on the boat with a roof where every inch is covered in spider webs and unfortunately the evil beings that live in them. This includes inside our cabin where I am forced to cover everything but my eyes to prevent what all other spider fearers know is a real possibility, you know what I’m talking about. I’m surrounded by Spanish speakers who, lucky for me, do not yet know I speak Spanish which is always a fun time.”

Now going into this I’m picturing that I’m J-Lo in Anaconda the movie (my mom can be Ice-Cube). Excitement, adventure, beauty, exotic animals galore, as you’ll quickly learn, this was not our lot. Adventure, yes, but not always the kind you seek out.

As I mentioned before, the rainforest may have been teeming with colorful wildlife, but we sure as heck wouldn’t have known it. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs, just the highlights, good and bad:

-Shooting a 5-foot blow dart gun in the middle of the jungle with locals that I like to imagine had poison darts in it.

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Blow dart gun in the jungle. 🇪🇨

-Checking swinging from a vine in the jungle like Tarzan off the ol’ bucket list, surprisingly challenging, no wonder he was so jacked.

-Guide :“Who wants to get out and swim? There are only Electric Eels, Caiman Alligators, Sting Rays, and Pirahna- probably not the blood sucking kind.” Everyone else: “That’s a no. Me: *Grabs pool noodle and cannonballs in much to my mother’s dismay. I swear I only felt a couple of things brush by me while I took a nice, mid torrential downpour swim.

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Swimming in a tributary of the Amazon with Sting Rays, Caiman Alligators, Piranha, and Electric Eels. 🇪🇨

-Me and Mom: “Do we need our boots for this little nature walk to see more plants?” Guide: “No.” Us: *Full blown army ant attack sending us literally running and screaming in shockingly searing pain that lasted for some time. This led to one of our most proud socks and sandals moments.

-Meeting a 30-year-old Grandmother and having a couple of beers with her at the bar on the boat, only to learn that reproducing at age 15 is culturally expected in Ecuador.

-A horror movie moment including spiders and a canoe in a lake full of Caiman Alligators at night, which honestly deserves its own post, stay tuned for my spider series.

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Beautiful welcoming committee to the terrifying spider canoe experience. 🇪🇨

Looking from the outside in, none of these things seem super shocking as it is a jungle, hello, and I like to think that had we seen more than all the bugs and some sleeping bats, it might have seemed that the challenges would have been worth it.

We emerge from the dark, damp jungle and what felt very much like a Joseph Conrad novel, to spend a couple of days in Quito. We experienced having a foot on each side of the equator, which was not nearly as hot as they made it seem like it would be in 4th grade geography. We shopped at local markets and ate and enjoyed not fearing spiders crawling into your ears while you sleep and laying eggs, which I maintain, is a rational fear.

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Quito. 🇪🇨
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Market in Quito. 🇪🇨

 

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Walking the equator. 🇪🇨

The lesson here is, have realistic expectations, be prepared to find the joy in the little things, the company, checking things off your bucket list and having incredible (incredibly stupid) stories to tell when you come back that will always be better than your friends’ stories. Lastly, this is probably obvious to people who are not me but, DO NOT go to the jungle if you have a pathological fear of spiders. You’re welcome.

Stay tuned for the hi jinks that ensued as we continued our adventure to Peru!

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Quito. 🇪🇨