While I am sipping a Sierra Nevada in the Admiral's Club in DFW's D Terminal, I am finally finding the time to write this brief entry that is as much meant to remind me in the months to come of the logistics of my Peru trip as it might serve as some inspiration for you to go out and seek some adventure.
Looking back on my Peru trip, I am still amazed how everything came together with such ease. The internet has most certainly made foreign travel an easier proposition, with information at our fingertips that we could have never found just 20 years ago. I had decided on this trip after seeing a post on FlyerTalk in regard to good connections to Cuzco. Hmm, I thought, I wonder how much a ticket would cost me? When I say "cost," I was thinking along the lines of "how many frequent flier miles would I have to invest," since I had already requalified for Executive Platinum for 2012 and thus could actually burn a few of my (tidy stash of) miles. A quick search on American's website yielded a huge surprise: On two dates in early December, one week apart, I could snag a First Class ticket (not Economy) from Lubbock all the way to Cuzco and back for a paltry 35,000 miles. To put this in perspective: With my EXP bonus, I will be credited a little more than 23,000 miles for today's trip to Germany (my reason for being in the AC) and back. Buying an Economy ticket would have cost me, for the same dates, about $1,600. The $80 in taxes that I had to ante up covered two internal Peruvian airport departure taxes fo $16 each plus the international departure tax out of Lima, at $36. The rest was the usual silliness fees.
So, the flight was easy. But how about getting to Machu Picchu? Martha and Alan had hired a tour organizer for their trip this summer, and from talking to them I realized that travel from Cuzco to MP is not as easy as just hopping on a local bus. The guidebook, which I finally pulled out maybe five days before my departure, only reinforced that. Limited entry tickets to MP, the need for a private driver or taxi, expensive and limited train travel—they all started to rear their ugly heads. So I did what M&A had done, scour the internet and find a tour operator (and there are many for Peru, a tourist destination!). Yure Chavez was very quick in replying to my inquiry only four days before my departure, and he suggested a trip that pretty much coincided with what the guidebook described. I was ready to pull the trigger, at a land-cost of close to a grand for five days—mind you, time was advancing quickly now, and the last thing I wanted to do was jeopardize my chances of actually seeing Machu Picchu because all the tickets were sold out. But then there were problems with making my lousy deposit—no credit cards, no PayPal, only a bank transfer to a bank in AZ or NM which involved a fee, plus another 3% convenience fee. Well, the thrifty (and also the independent and stubborn) Jürgen came out of me, and I said to myself, dammit, I can book this myself! And so I did, thanks to the internet. Four hotels, each at $35 to $40, via hotels.com and bookit.com; the train via perurail.com; and the attempt to reserve MP tickets via the government website—which turned out to be futile since the site has problems accepting payments. With the help of one of the inn-keepers (Chrissie from the Apulodge in Ollantaytambo) I even arranged for a driver for a day.
So when I arrived in Lima at almost 1 a.m. after flying LBB-DFW-MIA-LIM, I knew that only a few hours later I'd be in Cuzco and at least have a hotel. With an early-morning flight at 7 a.m. I simply bunked out in the terminal, a safe, clean place where other travelers were catching some zzzs, too. After getting to Cuzco, I started to walk away from the airport to avoid the usual tourist trappings and hailed a taxi a mile later. My $40 hotel—clean, with a good bed and a hot shower, and a fabulous buffet breakfast—was awaiting me. Note: Peruvian hotels have early check-in and check-out times; this one had to be vacated by 9:30 a.m., and at 10:00 a.m. was the check-in. Of course, it is light by 5 a.m.
While in Cuzco my most immediate concern was to snag MP tickets, and after a bit of a wild-goose chase that took me to three or four different places upon the advice of the guidebook, the hotel, police officers, and a tourism employee, I ended up in a tour operator's den just off the Plaza de las Armas who arranged for my two one-day tickets for a surcharge of about $3 per day. Money well spent!
The last worry that I had was the train, as the railroad's website (the thing is owned by the same company that also owns the Orient Express) is rather adamant that no luggage larger than a small backpack and weighing no more than about 12 pounds will be allowed on the train. With that in mind (and also to lighten my own load) I had packed in the minimalist fashion. Those who know me have observed me usually carrying everything plus the kitchen sink and a bicycle around, so this was definitely a challenge. I used a simple GoLite backpack (without internal or external frame) to pack two wool Icebreaker undershirts, another Icebreaker zippered wool top, two ExOfficio travel shirts, one extra pair of lightweight zip-off travel pants, a few pieces of underwear, and several DeFeet's Woollie Boollie socks. A light pair of Cushe slip-ons provided relief after the hiking boots came off after a long day in the ruins. Additionally, I used one of Patagonia's super-light down jackets and a GoLite GoreTex raincoat. I never needed the (fairly heavy) umbrella, but the Marmot GoreTex rain hat came in handy as a sun hat that shielded my neck. Add the toothbrush kit, a small GoLite day pack, a guide book, a flashlight, various adapters, the iPod, and the Nook, and I had a tidy bundle that did not set off the alarms in the train. I surprised myself. The magic about wool is that you can wear it for days on end, sweat in it like crazy (and I did!), dry off, and then repeat the cycle, and you still don't stink! And today's Merino wool garments are so soft you'd think you wear silk or the softest organic cotton you can imagine. The stuff ain't cheap, but it's magical.
Knowing Spanish obviously helped, and with my various drivers it worked the intended effect—one comes across as less of a tourist or gringo. But if you don't speak Spanish, you'll be just fine in Peru, where many, many people speak English. It's a tourist destination, after all, and it's not France! (Just kidding!)
The whole trip cost me about $800, plus the 35,000 miles. That includes five nights' hotels (the cheapest, in Lima on my last night, the very pleasant Hostal Las Fresas at $13!), the train ($100), entry fees to all the sites mentioned in my blog entries (maybe somewhere around $150), my driver for the day and his tip ($110), the bus up to MP ($45), various taxis, transfers, and other buses, good meals and quite a few beers (not cheap in the expat bars), and a few souvenirs. I figure that's not too bad for a week-long trip of a lifetime, in First Class at times, on the airport floor at others. You got to go with the flow, and you need to be a bit flexible. Had I gone with Yure's outfit it would have been a few hundred more. Travel doesn't have to be expensive to be rewarding.
If you want more information because you are thinking that you might want to go to Peru, well, you know how to get a hold of me.
And now it's time to drink the last of my (second) Sierra Nevada and get ready for my Business Class flight to London. If my memory doesn't fail me I wrote an explanation of how one can invest a moderate amount of money into one's travel and then start to travel upfront, but I'm always happy to explain....