I’ve traveled to Peru many times to visit family for Christmas and New Years, but this time it was different — six of my closest friends traveled with me to Peru to explore Lima, Cusco, the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, and the Amazon. I heard stories about how difficult the Inca Trail was, but Kim and I were in good shape so it should’ve be an easy hike, right? We also brought a boat-load of insect repellant for the Amazon to keep away mosquitos, so we shouldn’t have gotten stung…
Little did I know that what we were about to experience would be the toughest adventure of our lives. From hiking to 4,215 meters in altitude in one day, to getting over 40 mosquito bites, Peru absolutely kicked our butts. But the physical strain was only the beginning; the Inca Trail will even test your relationship with your girlfriend or boyfriend — I swear there was one day where Kim wanted to throw me off a cliff. This was no beach-side vacation.
But if you overcome the physical and mental challenges, you’ll emerge from Peru with stronger friendships, a closer relationship, and a new perspective on life.
This is the story of our adventure in Peru.
The band of 7:
Jun (that’s me!): You can call me the leader of this band of misfits. Actually, I have a feeling the only reason I was brought on this trip is because I speak Spanish, we stayed at my Uncle’s house in Lima saving us on hotel costs, and because I’m attached at the hip with my girlfriend Kim.
Kim: My lovely and beautiful girlfriend. She may seem delicate on the outside, but she’s surprisingly adventurous and up for any challenge. Her physical stamina and our relationship were put through a test.
Michael: Michael is an outdoors veteran as he’s been on camping trip with his dad for years. His backpack contained headlamps, insect repellant, iodine pills, a camel back, and many other necessities for camping. My backpack had 1 little flashlight that I had to share with Kim… more on that later.
Kat: Kat and Kim are best friends from college. Kim secretly told me, “If Kat can do this, then for sure I can do this as well.” I organized the entire trip, but Kat was the one that did the most research and knew what to expect.
Andrea: Andrea is by far my favorite person in the world (sorry Kim, ). Not only is she the sweetest person you’ll ever meet, but she is also a part-time drug dealer. Throughout the trip we got cuts, stings, dizziness (from the altitude), headaches, and cramps. But all of these symptoms lasted no longer than a couple of hours thanks to Andrea and her bag full of magical pills. Don’t leave home without Andrea.
Brenton: My brother from another mother. Brenton and I met online (I swear it wasn’t a dating site). Brenton and his girlfriend Cat traveled South America a year ago, but jumped on the chance to explore Peru again. They already traveled the Inca Trail and Lake Titicaca, so they decided to skip the Inca Trail on this trip and meet us up in Iquitos for the Amazon.
Cat: Oh, I forgot to mention that Brenton and Cat are super athletes — I swear I’ve never met a couple that is more in shape than them. I was kind of glad that they weren’t hiking the Inca Trail with us because Cat alone would have left me in her dust. Cat is also as good at Spanish as me.
This is what we signed up for:
- Day 1: arrive in Lima
- Day 2: explore Lima
- Day 3: arrive in Cusco, explore, and get acclimated to the altitude
- Day 4 – 7: 4-day Inca Trail, finishing with a tour of Machu Picchu
- Day 8 – 10: arrive in Iquitos and explore the Amazon
- Day 11: return to Los Angeles, CA
Layover in El Salvador
While everyone else had lunch in Lima, Kim and I were stuck with a 6-hour layover in El Salvador. But it was actually a great experience because Kim made a friend on the airplane that wanted to explore El Salvador with us.
Kim met Elize on the plane, a 20 something year old who is traveling by herself to meet her boyfriend in Peru. They were doing a variation of the Inca Trail, one where you can hike it on your own (without a guide) and go at your own pace. She researched some places in El Salvador to explore during our 6-hour layover and recommended the Central American University to learn about the civil war history.
Like many Latin American countries, as soon as you leave the airport you’re swarmed by cab drivers competing for your business. If it’s your first time in this environment, follow these simple rules to make sure you stay safe and get a good price.
How to get a taxi in Latin or South America
- Ask an airport attendant where you can find airport approved taxi drivers and how much it will cost to get to your destination
- If the airport can order a taxi driver for you, then use this method as it’s safest
- Walk towards the taxi drivers, tell them where you’re going, and offer 20% less than what the airport attendant suggested for the price of your trip
- Someone is bound to take your business
- Make sure the taxi is within the airport — if the taxi driver leads you outside of the airport premises, then run away as fast as you can
If you’re just stopping by a destination for an hour or two like we were, then ask your taxi driver to return to pick you up. The advantage is that you know the taxi driver is safe and that he’ll give you a low price to return to the airport.
Lima has been my escape from reality ever since I was a kid. Growing up, my grandparents lived in a bazillion bedroom house, complete with secret passageways and two dogs.
Recently, my Tio Roly (Uncle Roly) sold the house for a modest condo in a new building in the San Isidro district of Lima. I can’t thank my Uncle and Grandma enough for letting 7 people stay with them in their small 3-bedroom condo.
Plaza de Armas in Lima
Tio Roly is awesome — he works as a tour guide for Mickey Tours, a Peruvian travel agency focused on travelers visiting from Japan, so he knows the best tourist spots in Lima and even got us a tour-sized van equipped with a microphone to show us around the city.
Our first stop was the Plaza de Armas in Lima, which is the birthplace of the city of Lima and is surrounded by lots of churches, the government palace, and a bunch of other landmarks.
The Larco Museum
Our next stop was el Museo Larco in Lima, which is a pre-Colombian museum that features artwork from many civilizations throughout a 4,000 year period.
Kim’s favorite artwork was of course the erotic pottery.
Larcomar is an outdoor mall where young people go to hang out: play bowling, watch movies, and do some shopping. I love it because it sits at the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. It’s a beautiful spot to enjoy a walk and visit the Park of Love.
Karaoke with Megumi
To end the night, we went to a Karaoke lounge with my cousin Megumi. Megumi can sing, my brother can sing, my grandma, mother, and even father can sing, but unfortunately, I just wasn’t given that talent. Nevertheless, I’ll never let a small thing like not-being-able-to-sing stop me from doing karaoke.
Off to Cusco tomorrow
Though it was only for a day, my friends and I truly enjoyed the time we spent with my family. Andrea became ridiculously good at Spanish; I think I even overheard her have a full conversation with Tio Roly in Spanish.
Next up we’re off to Cusco where the beginning of our adventure awaits us: our quest to eat Cui (Peruvian Guinea pig), souvenir shops (learn where to get the best gifts), and battling altitude sickness.
See you then!
–> Read part 2 here <–
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