Breathtaking mountaintops. Incredibly deep canyons. Impossibly vast deserts. Sprawling urban landscapes. Gravity-defying floating islands. Ancient ruins that felt more at home in myth than reality.
My trip to Peru had it all.
To say this adventure was a life changing experience would be an understatement. I know that sounds cliche’, but I truly mean it. Nine months ago, I was one of those guys sitting at a desk thinking “some day I’m going to see the world”…and then did absolutely nothing about it. Well, after taking control of my life back in June, I decided it was time to stop waiting and start doing. I wanted to live a life worth living.
Eight weeks ago, a trip to Peru wasn’t even on my radar.
However, thanks to having complete freedom over when and where I get to spend my time (and 32,500 AA points), I was able to book a last minute trip to Peru with Cash, my best friend since first grade. During our seventeen days there, we hiked down into the world’s second deepest canyon (and back out again), slept in a poolside bungalo, mountain biked through the Sacred Valley, visited more than a dozen Inca ruins, rode snowboards down sand dunes, stayed in ten different towns, took nine different forms of transportation, ate all kinds of exotic (and bizarre foods), and partied our butts off a few times.
Not bad for less than $1000!
This is going to be quite the lengthy post, including my thoughts as a first time traveler, the stats from my adventure, lessons learned, etc. If you don’t want to read all about it, just stick to these top two sections: they have the video and pictures to prove that I had the time of my life.
Exercising Around Peru
While exploring the various locations, ruins, cities, and villages of Peru, I knew I wanted to do something special in each location to tie everything together. Because this is Nerd Fitness, and I’m getting ready to travel the world, it only made sense to exercise all over the place.
Heavily inspired by Where the Hell is Matt, maybe one of the best viral videos ever created, here’s a look back at how I spent my seventeen days in Peru:
Now, I tried this video with about twenty different songs, and the only one that felt right was “Eye of the Tiger.” If you happen to live in a country that YouTube won’t allow to view the video, fear not: you can view it here.
Peru in Pictures
My friend Cash is a fantastic photographer, and he took about twenty gigs worth of photos. He’s in the process of sending them to me now (which I’ll be adding to my flickr page), but in the meantime here are thirteen that stuck out to me. He’s put some cool effects on some of them, but these are all real pictures taken in real places.
Lessons Learned as a First Time Traveler
This was my first time spending more than a week out of the country on a vacation, my first time not staying in a nice sheltered hotel for a trip, and my first time to South America. Here are some things I’ve learned as a first time extended traveler out of the country:
There are ATMs EVERYWHERE. I was worried about not being able to get enough cash, so I brought a bunch of US dollars and hit up the ATM in the airport for a bunch of Peruvian Soles in case I couldn’t get money out elsewhere. Not necessary, as there are ATMs everywhere, including small towns on the sides of mountains. My Charles Schwab checking account offers free ATM usage at any ATM worldwide (which is why I switched to them). If you’re a frequent world traveler, I’d look into getting one of these accounts.
Everybody is friendly, I never felt unsafe. I didn’t know what to expect; I’m sure Cash and I stuck out like sore thumbs while visiting some of the more remote locations on our adventure. However, everybody was incredibly nice and very accommodating, and never once did I think i was going to get mugged, robbed, or anything of that sort. We also kept an eye on our stuff, stayed out of the incredibly sketchy parts of town, and behaved ourselves (our moms are so proud).
Spanish was helpful but not necessary - I’m probably 70% proficient in Spanish, and had no problem carrying on conversations with locals. However, even if I didn’t speak Spanish I still would have been fine as so many speak the language that “hablas ingles?” is a question usually answered with “yes, what can I help you with.” I’m still glad I speak Spanish, but this gives me hope for the rest of my adventures where I don’t speak the native language.
Traveling during the slow season rules – I was worried that it would be boring traveling during Peru’s “slow season.” Wrong. Things were still quite lively and fun, except that every restaurant, hostel, and bar practically fought for our business with reduced rates, special offers, and free drinks. No place was too crowded, Machu Picchu wasn’t overflowing with people, and we often had cheap dorm style rooms completely to ourselves. It was a budget traveler’s dream.
Always ask questions - I was usually good about this, but it’s important to always ask every question imaginable before you book a tour/room/excursion. We got a great deal on a sightseeing bus from Puno to Cusco through a dealer…who conveniently neglected to tell us that although the bus “makes five stops at fabulous Inca ruins!!!” we had to pay extra to actually get off the bus and visit each of them them. In Cusco, we spoke to three different adventure travel agencies about a bike tour; before booking it, we went to one last place, where Dougie (our savior) informed us that the bike path was actually almost completely closed, so we would have only biked for an hour (instead of an entire day’s worth) before being loaded back into a bus and driven to our final location. ALWAYS ask “what’s included? what’s NOT included?”
Peru can be experienced incredibly cheaply - you’ll see below, but our seventeen day trip cost less than $1000, including EVERYTHING I did down there (that amount also includes the first aid supplies and snacks I brought with me from the US). Clean hostels with hot showers and complimentary breakfast could be had in many cities for less than $10 per night. Four course meals with a free glass of wine were often only $6. A 12-hour overnight luxury bus cost us less than $25. If we had cut out some of the extra adventures (like $100 for mountain biking, for example), we could have done this trip even cheaper.
For those of you who are wondering my itinerary while in Peru, here’s where we went and when:
- Lima – Oct 27th
- Huacachina – October 27th
- Overnight bus – October 28th
- Arequipa – October 29th
- Colca Canyon – October 30th
- Arequipa – October 31st-November 2nd
- Puno – November 2nd-November 3rd
- Cusco - November 4th – November 6th
- Ollantaytambo - November 7th
- Aguas Callientes – November 8th
- Ollantaytambo – November 9th
- Cusco – November 10th
- Red-eye flight – November 11th
New Foods Eaten:
- Guinea pig – kind of like chicken, but with very little meat. Meh.
- Trout from Lake Titicaca – I don’t eat fish, but this was delicious. Pleasant surprise.
- Beef heart – If I didn’t now it was beef heart I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between this and normal steak.
- Alpaca – tasted like a sweeter, but much tougher type of steak. Not bad!
- Mountain biking
- Soccer –
- Body weight exercises
- English – 100% proficiency
- Spanish – 70% proficiency
Total Cost of Adventure – $998.72
- Two red-eye flights (32,500 American Airline Miles)
- 14 nights of lodging
- One overnight bus trip
- All other modes of transportation
- Mountain biking tour ($105)
- Two day hike ($40)
- All meals
- Drinks at bars and clubs
What’s next for Steve?
Now that Peru is crossed off the Epic Quest of Awesome list, people have been asking me what’s next. Here’s a rough timeline, although almost none of this is set in stone:
- December 15th – Move out of my apartment in Atlanta, drive home to Massachusetts with my car and a few boxes of things, where I’ll be selling my car to my Mom. Hang out in MA through Xmas and New Year’s.
- January 6-10th - Rock Boat XI out of Tampa, FL
- January 15th – Use award travel on Airtran to book a one-way to Las Vegas, spend a day or two playing poker? Why not!
- January 17th – book a one way on Southwest for $49 to San Diego
- January 17-31st – Hang out in San Diego with my brother (he doesn’t know this yet, but NOW HE DOES)
- February 1st? – Book a one-way flight to Sydney, Australia using AA or British Airways points
It’s funny, I have a very definitive plan as to the direction my business is heading and how I’ll get there, but I have absolutely no clue how the next 6-12 months of my life are going to play out.
Oh well, I’ll just wing it.