14 Tips For Having the Most Romantic Valentine’s Day Ever!

Last Friday morning we officially said our “see ya laters” to Cusco and began the first portion of the journey that would lead us to Chile.  It was bittersweet to leave the first stop on our RTW journey, but we were very excited for what awaited us!  The itinerary went as follows: drive with friends of our host from Cusco to Puno (an estimated five hours), and then from Puno to Tacna (an estimated ten hours), the southernmost city in Peru.  Everything was planned a little bit last-minute as we had a busy week prior with our friends Dan and Nichole visiting.  We had nothing planned after that but knew we had to make our way from Tacna across the Chilean border to Arica.  That gave us almost entire week to make it down the coast of Chile to the capital of Santiago, where we will fly even further south to Puerto Montt this upcoming Friday.  Now, back to us leaving Cusco.  We had absolutely no idea that one of the craziest days of our lives lay ahead of us on the only day we had actually planned out over the course of the week. As you also know, Saturday was Valentine’s Day.  To help capture the essence of the events that followed our embarkation on Friday, Karen and I are happy to present to you the simple process for creating an unforgettably romantic date chock-full of cupid’s arrows.

Tips For Having the Most Romantic Valentine’s Day Ever:

1.  Hire a private driver to take you from Cusco to Tacna. Make it to Puno (the first stop on the way) and hear your driver tell you that you are ahead of schedule and only have six more hours to go.

2.  While in Puno, treat your lady friend to some ice cream and enjoy it on a sunny day in the central plaza.

3.  Take the “shortcut” from Puno to Tacna, which will “save time” getting you to your destination.

4.  Roll through an assortment of very small mountain towns, in which every person gives a completely different answer as to the length of time remaining on your journey.

5.  Drive through “detours” on the route, which include fording streams (Oregon Trail style) that are deep enough to allow water into the car and begin soaking your feet.  Watch as local llamas are wading through the waters with their legs completely covered.

6.  Every hour or so, ask your driver how much time is remaining and receive the same answer of “about three hours.”

7.  Drive up to the top of a snow-covered mountain at 14,000 feet, drive your station wagon through the cake-like mud and putter out in a giant water-filled crater.

8.  Try various strategies for over an hour to get the car removed, only to soak through every pair of dry socks that you have, lowering your body temperature enough to begin shaking.  Teeth chattering yet?  Perfect, you’re setting the mood nicely.

9.  Run out of feasible options (with no cell phone service in the mountains) around 1:30am, and huddle together using your dog’s body as a temporary blanket.  Turn off the car to go to sleep and wait for help to arrive in the morning.

10.  Within the hour, awake to hear a truck coming up the mountain and yell “CAR!”

11.  Get towed out by the truck, only to begin silently weeping as your car battery stalls.  Watch the battery turn over just in time to catch up to the truck.

12. Drive over a rock plateau and get stuck again after the truck has already left.  Watch as your wife spends Valentine’s Day chiseling rock from underneath the car at 4am.

13.  Take one more cat nap in the car before cruising into Tacna just 12 hours after your estimated arrival time.

14.  Remember that you’re together, everyone is safe, and everything will be all right!

In our minds, we had a timeline for how and when we would arrive in Chile.  However, God’s timeline was much different than our own!  But the most amazing part is what ensued after the madness.  We arrived in Tacna fairly early on Saturday morning.  From there, we met a driver (he also happened to be a police officer) who was not only able to get us across the border to Arica with Sofi’s crate, but he even made a call to a friend to find out every detail we needed to get Sofi into Chile.  He drove us to a couple different offices to get the necessary paperwork to make the following day a breeze.  On top of that, this man introduced us to another friend who ended up driving us from Arica to Iquique, our second stop in Chile.  And, wouldn’t you know it, this gentleman was a bus driver who had permits for securing Sofi’s crate to the top of his car.  God’s timeline was certainly different than our own, but it was perfect.  Everything happens for a reason!

Advertisements

The Sacred Valley, Quillabamba, Machu Picchu, Oh My!

Two days after our travel companions Dan and Nichole arrived last weekend, we embarked on an epic four-day adventure culminating with Machu Picchu.  Now, it’s important to know that there are a variety of options for visiting the sacred Inca site.  You can do it simple and cheap via a one (albeit long) day trip on the train. You can schedule a much longer trip, oftentimes seven or eight days, in which you visit all of the Inca ruin sites from Cusco all the way to Aguas Calientes, the city nearest Machu Picchu.  Or, you can do a private tour in which you determine the length of your journey, as well as the stops along the way.  The best choice for you will depend on your agenda, the time you have available, and your preference for a more or less rigid schedule.

For us, we determined that a four day trip made the most sense and we knew we wanted to visit Machu Picchu in a less conventional way.  This meant that we were going to take the private car tour.  Our host’s father, Daniel, has long been a tour guide in Cusco and he has a wealth of knowledge regarding the Inca (or more accurately, Quechua) people.  So, the five of us (and our driver, Carlos) left early on Monday morning to head to a few sites in the Sacred Valley. We visited Chinchero, Moray and Ollantaytambo during the day before heading to the jungle of Quillabamba on Monday night.  We spent all of Tuesday in Quillabamba and stayed for one more night before heading to our next stop in Cocalmayo/Santa Teresa on Wednesday afternoon.  At this point in the journey, we left our vehicle and hiked from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes on Wednesday evening.  This set us up for a beautiful Thursday morning at Machu Picchu, followed by a long trek home that night.

The four days we spent on the road seemed like a month because of the immense activities we experienced.  Since we don’t have a month to read about it, let me sum up why the Kimble-Rudenga itinerary was perfect for us (and may be perfect for you, too!):

1. Flexibility.   You aren’t tied to a specific timeline through private car transport.  There are options to stop off somewhere for lunch, spend extra time at certain sites and even pull off of the road if someone is getting carsick.  A private tour puts you in control of your schedule.

2. The ability to travel off the beaten path.  More than half of our four days was spent at sites that the train surpasses on the way to Machu Picchu.  The jungle in Quillabamba and the natural hot springs at Cocalmayo are “must-sees,” and you wouldn’t get to see them taking a direct route!

3. Enhanced knowledge of the Inca sites.  Daniel was constantly dropping knowledge during the car ride and at all of the archaeological sites.

4.  A more personal experience.  There’s definitely a different feeling when you have one tour guide for four people versus a large group.  Everything was so interactive (like climbing trees to pick your own avocado!) and being in a smaller group allowed for us to ask questions and really understand the culture and history.

5.  Better bang for your buck.  The price of the train ticket alone (not including entrance to the sites) is about a third of the cost of what we paid for our four-day excursion.

6.  Cultural experiences.  We made various stops at fruit stands and markets along our route, giving us an opportunity to try so many new things (ever tasted a pacay?).  Not to mention we were able to visit local farmers in Quillabamba and enjoy organic coffee, fruits, meats and vegetables!

7.  You can bring your dog!  Sofi experienced every bit of our four-day trip with the exception of Machu Picchu, so she definitely recommends a private car.

8.  Insane scenery.  Our route to Quillabamba allowed for a pass through the snow-capped mountains at over 14,000 feet!

9.  Working off the “car” legs.  The mountains don’t allow for cars to make it past Santa Teresa, so we enjoyed a 10-kilometer hike to Aguas Calientes.  The path follows the train tracks and gives a little sneak peak of Machu Picchu near the end of the trail.

10.  Memorable videos.  Daniel encouraged us to take time for pictures and videos, so we never felt rushed.  See below for a video of our journey from start to finish!

Going Where No Gringo Has Gone Before

In just a few short days in Cusco, the Kimbles have managed to turn a few heads.  Staying with our new family (we truly feel a part of Manuel’s family and are even going with them to visit relatives tomorrow), we’ve been able to witness the authenticity of their culture.  The touristy area of Cusco is about a mile and a half from our house, so we can be pretty far removed from that area whenever we want.

On the first morning of our arrival, we walked outside with Manuel and his father, Daniel.  They were showing us around their neighborhood and we quickly noticed something on top of the mountain behind their house.  Manuel told us it was a chapel and if we were interested, we could hike up to see it.  So, the following morning we took Sofi on a hike up the mountain to see this chapel.  It was a heck of a hike for Sofi, so in the interest of making sure she wasn’t too worn out, Karen waited with her near the top and I headed the last bit of the hike to check it out.  The views from the top were absolutely breathtaking.

We can "cross" this off the list ;)

We can “cross” this off our list 🙂

Perhaps even more exciting than the view, however, is the fact that several mountains are connected at the top and just waiting for me to run all over them in the coming weeks.  Later that night when we were eating dinner with the family, we told Manuel that we had hiked the mountain and that I had reached the chapel.  His response was epic: “Adam, you are most certainly the only gringo who has ever been to that chapel!”  Manuel uses that term in an endearing way to exhibit just how unusual it is to see us doing the things we are doing here.  I was happy to know that I had inadvertently set the FKT (Fastest Known Time) for a gringo to reach the top of that mountain.  And just this morning, Karen shared in that FKT as we broke our previous time and reached the chapel once again.

Which leads me to my next point.  It is clear to everyone here (people and dogs alike) that we are not locals.  When we trudged up that mountain, we had some not-so-friendly encounters with the street dogs.  For your reference, there are street dogs everywhere you look in Cusco, but the more territorial ones are up in the mountains where farmers use them to protect their land.  It’s one thing to walk down Avenida El Sol (the main street in downtown Cusco) with Sofi and get looks from nearly everyone we pass.  I can only guess they are thinking “A dog on a leash?  Whaaat?”  But it’s another thing to be surrounded by a group of growling street dogs who think you’re trying to steal from their owners.  Luckily, Karen has seen plenty of the Dog Whisperer, so she knows a few tricks to get them to back down.

Don't let these guys fool you.  They're the nice ones.

Don’t let these guys fool you. They’re the nice ones.

Perhaps the funniest encounter we’ve had since arriving in Cusco took place on Friday morning. Karen and I went to attend weekday mass at La Catedral del Cuzco, the beautiful Cusco Cathedral in the middle of Plaza de Armas (the town square).  We went up to the cathedral to enter around 7:30 am but were stopped by a guard who told us that we could not enter until 10 am.  Fortunately Karen speaks some Spanish, so she was able to tell the guard that we wanted to attend mass and didn’t understand why we couldn’t enter.  The guard then let us into the cathedral, and explained that she had assumed we were just tourists trying to come in to take pictures.  I thought the longer hair and beard were going to help overcome my touristic appearance, but maybe I need a few more weeks to make that happen!

The beautiful Cusco Cathedral. Even prettier on the inside!

Having already accumulated a  plethora of interesting encounters, we are excited to see what comes next.  Just this morning I visited a market with Manuel and heard: “This is the market where all the locals shop.  You are the only gringo in here!” Our new goal just might be to become famous with the locals in Peru for doing things that no other gringos have done before!

Your Glass is Either Half-Full or You’re Never Leaving the Airport

Yesterday was, by all accounts, one of the craziest travel days of our lives.  And amidst all of it, the one theme that surfaced was the goodness of mankind!  It all started in Chicago when our flight to Toronto (yes, our cheapest flight path took us from Chicago>Toronto>Lima) was delayed.  We only had about an hour and a half for our connection as it was, so any delay was cutting things pretty close.  Karen wisely asked the United Airlines employees if there was any way they could help us while we waited during the delay.  There were no other flights going out on time, but they were able to move us from the back of the plane to the row just behind first-class.  At that point we were both concerned about getting to Lima on time because Sofi arrived on a different flight about two hours before us.  After the plane landed, Karen and I started bobbing and weaving past the first-class passengers as we sprinted into the terminal in true Amazing Race style.  Our faith and prayers paid off as our arrival gate happened to be very close to the international connections area, which then led us to our final gate.  We sweated our way into the gate as the final group of passengers was boarding!  Karen’s decision to get us moved up was crucial because we never would have made it behind 30 more rows of people getting off the plane.  We felt victorious as we boarded the plane, but that feeling was about to be whisked away once we got to Lima…

At about 2:45am local time (same as US Eastern time) we landed in Lima, Peru. Making our way through customs, we went to talk with the SENASA office, which is in some respects the Peruvian equivalent of the USDA.  In our minds the conversation went as follows: “where do we collect our dog?” followed by “oh, she’s right over here good sir.”  We had done our research ahead of time and even had our host in Peru speak with the airport to collect the details of how everything would work.  However, things did not go as we had planned and we had to roll with a handful of punches.  If old school (pre-biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear) Mike Tyson had been in the ring with us, those punches would have knocked us out by about 6am.   But as crazy as the next part of this story goes, everything happens for a reason and we fully understood that after the commotion ended and we could properly reflect on the situation.

What happened next took place over the course of 12 hours, so I’ll save most of the details for the memoir (coming in the fall of 2015…just kidding).  Instead, let’s focus on a countdown of the top five Lowlights and Highlights between the hours of 3am and 3:45pm, when we took off on the flight that replaced the original 5am flight we had booked.

Top 5 Lowlights:

5.  12 hours and a missed flight…enough said.

4.  Karen sitting in our cab by herself (without me or the cab driver, to be mentioned later in the Highlights section) for two hours in the loading dock at the cargo area.

3.  We were operating on limited plane sleep and hadn’t eaten or drank anything since arriving in Lima.  But, if I’m planning to be on Survivor, the training has to start sometime!

2.  Being able to see Sofi in her crate on two separate occasions, but being told on both occasions that we didn’t have all of the proper signatures and paperwork to claim her.

1.  Five round trips between the airport and the cargo warehouse, with intermittent trips between eight different offices within the cargo warehouse.  Of these trips, several of them proved completely useless as we didn’t have the information we needed from the other offices to get proper approvals. This also resulted in an additional $260 paid to these parties.*

*A future post will outline the various costs we’ve incurred for bringing Sofi on this adventure.

image

A little paperwork from Lima.

Top 5 Highlights (to end positively as our experience did):

5.  I ran with our cab driver from the cargo warehouse to the airport because traffic was so bad that running was faster.  If you know my passion for running, this was a pleasant (and sweaty) surprise!

4.  Eating Papa John’s and annihilating two liters of water shortly before our flight to Cusco.

3.  Our Peruvian host, Manuel, spending half the day at the airport because we were unable to reach him by phone to let him know we missed our original flight.  After spending half the day waiting for us, he was completely positive upon picking us up and told us to make no mention of the difficulties.  Instead, he gave us local herbal tea to help with the altitude (11,000 ft. in Cusco). What a host!

2.  Karem (no relation to Karen, though her name is the Spanish translation of Karen), our angel from Lan Airways.  Her résumé included the following: walking outside to find us a cab driver to ensure we weren’t ripped off, holding our bags for us behind the counter while we ran all over everywhere, booking us standby on a later flight at no additional cost, calling our host Manuel to inform him of what happened, and calling our cab driver before she left work at 11am to make sure we had completed our mission.

1.  Our cab driver, Raul, who stayed with us for seven hours during this crazy adventure!  SEVEN HOURS.  He was a Godsend and though he spoke little English, Karem told him what we needed to do.  Raul was the one speaking with every contact at the offices we encountered, and he led us every step of the way until we got Sofi.  As a matter of fact, he actually told us (via translation from Karem) that he wasn’t going to leave until Sofi was in our possession.  Wow.  After Sofi had been released to us, we found him feeding her dog food and water, which I can only guess he produced out of thin air.

image (1)

If you are ever in Lima and need a ride, CALL THIS MAN.

The moral of the story?  People are inherently good.  The main purpose of our journey is to discover that truth all over the world, and the message came pretty early in Peru.  Crazy things will happen in life and if you maintain a positive attitude and have faith, everything will always work out for the best.