Slideshow – Peru

Slideshow #2 of our Best Of albums, this time from our amazing month in Peru.  Enjoy the pics!

South America – The Numbers

Ok, so it’s been a while since we’ve left the South American continent, but here are some interesting numbers to tell the story of our time there.

  • 4 – Months we spent in South America
  • 68 – Number of beds we slept in
  • 5 – Countries Visited
  • 12 – Number of friends and family visited (Two of them in two different locations!)
  • 24 – Number of deeply discounted or comp’d hotel nights through Ted’s tourism connections
  • $6460 – Value of comp’d tourism industry activities through Ted’s tourism connections
  • 6 – Number of overnight buses (2 in Bolivia, 4 in Argentina)
  • 182.5 – Number of hours on a bus (that’s 7.6 full days on a bus)
  • 1 – Number of computers stolen
  • 2783 – Number of photos taken (and kept)
  • 7 – Number of flights
  • 1 – Number of big ships

South America well exceeded our expectations, and we’re on the hunt for ways we can get back for an extended period of time down the road.  Check out our Best Of pics from Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile for some highlights.

Industry Bloggin’

The latest from my contribution to World Nomad’s Responsible Tourism Blog can be found at the link below.   The post is my criticism of tourism to the Uros floating islands in Peru and Bolivia.  Check it out:

Floating Islands Would Be Better Off Sinking

Coca Isn’t All Bad

The coca plant is a highly utilized and hotly debated substance in Peru and Bolivia (and I’m sure Colombia as well). Of course, it is the raw product that is the basis for cocaine production, a problem that plagues these countries nationally and internationally. However, the coca plant in raw form has many legitimate and legal uses for the indigenous Andean cultures. In addition to being used in religious and cultural ceremonies, it is chewed by many workers as a way to sustain energy and keep awake. It is also known to help curb the effects of altitude sickness. We were often offered coca tea for breakfast which is essentially a couple leaves and some hot water.

The effects of chewing raw coca are nothing like those of taking the highly processed drug. Chewing coca leaves is like drinking coffee or coca-cola, only the effects are sustained for a much longer period of time. It also helps to curb hunger. Miners, for instance, are known to rely on coca leaves to endure the 24+ hour shifts they often work.

The problem surrounding coca is that it’s hard for the government to distinguish what coca is produced for legal purposes, and what coca is produced for illegal purposes. The Bolivian government is currently run by Evo Morales, a former coca farmer himself, and his policies for regulating coca production are much leaner than, say, the US Drug Enforcement Agency would prefer. But, even under his lenient policies, there are conflicts within the country about the right to produce the plant. During our time in La Paz, we were unable to reach a few of our desired activities because the local coca farmers were protesting and blocking major roadways in response to Morales’ recent ban of low-quality coca production (coca that would have gone to produce cocaine).

There is no doubt that Bolivia (and Peru to a lesser extent) needs to improve their fight against the cocaine production and exportation problem. But somehow, they need to do so without eliminating access to the legal and legitimate forms of the coca plant. When we’re on overnight buses going too fast along unmaintained roads that border steep cliffs, I want that bus driver chewing coca.

Industry Bloggin’

The latest installment of my World Nomads posts can be found at the link below.  The article is about our time on the Lake Titicaca islands and the community tourism project we visited.  Happy reading, if you’re interested.

When Community Tourism Gets Too Popular

Peru: In Review

Wowsa, where do we begin? Peru knocked our socks off. We loved it there and I am pretty darn sure we’ll be back again someday. Check out what we loved, what we didn’t, and of course, what we ate!

Top Ten

  1. The Salkantay Trek with the Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) – Pretty much the best trip we’ve ever done. Amazing scenery, great people, fabulous food, fancy lodges and spectacular hiking. What else can we say?
  2. Machu Picchu – Though technically part of our MLP trip, it deserves its own designation because it was just as good as we hoped it would be, and better.
  3. Getting to see and stay with family – What a treat to have a cousin living in Lima, Peru that was wonderful enough to host us and treat us like, well, family!
  4. Swimming in the Amazon River – There were a lot of amazing parts about our jungle lodge adventure that we loved, but getting to jump in the water and escape the jungle heat for just a few minutes was truly priceless.
  5. The Colca Canyon and the end-of-the-hike oasis – Just when you are getting hot, dusty and tired of walking, the blue-green pools of the Colca Canyon oasis are there to reward your amazing day of trekking with a refreshing soak.
  6. Kayaking around Isla Suasi
  7. The food (see below)
  8. Hot tubs on MLP trip – See, we can’t stop talking about this trip.
  9. Mountain biking in the Sacred Valley – Yep, that was a good day.
  10. Rooftop views of Arequipa sunsets against the surrounding volcanoes

Bottom Five

  1. The protests changing our plans in Cusco – Read Ted’s post about the protest delays. Not a big deal, but obviously not ideal.
  2. The jungle was HOT, too hot – We must sound like big whiners.
  3. Our grumpy host mom in Amantani – Sadly our ‘cultural tourism’ experience was a bit tarnished because we weren’t in the market for any local handicrafts.
  4. Uros floating islands – Tourism exploitation at its worst.
  5. Leaving the country – Could have easily stayed longer. That’s why I know we’ll be back!

Food and Drink – Favorite meals, dishes and drinks

This is really tough. Peru’s food is over-the-top. They are apparently in the middle of a culinary revolution down there. Nearly all the food was excellent – both in taste and presentation. I tell you, I think we need to start seeing some more Peruvian restaurants at home.

  1. Lomo Saltado – What I’d call the ‘national’ dish and served in nearly every restaurant serving traditional food, lomo saltado is strips of beef, served with onions and bell pepper in a delicious sauce/gravy over rice and/or french fries.
  2. Pisco Sours – The national drink. Made from grapes, Pisco is an alcohol that both Peru and Chile claimed to have created. The Peruvian version is made with sugar, simple syrup, sour mix, ice, and blended with egg white.
  3. Ceviche – When ceviche is good, it is really good.
  4. Pretty much all our meals on the Mountain Lodges of Peru Trip – We’ve never taken so many pictures of food in our lives.
  5. Amazing seafood restaurant with Ryan and Angela – One of the Lima food scene’s many gems. We were craving seafood and no one was disappointed!
  6. Eating Amazonian piranha that Ted caught earlier that afternoon.
  7. Set-menu lunches – We were served gigantic portions of delicious food and it cost us less than $2 a piece. Definitely a winner for those of us on a traveler’s budget.
  8. Machu Pizza – Well the name is cheesy but that didn’t stop us from going back again. Probably the best pizza and garlic bread we’ve had on our trip and served with dipping sauces made them even better.

Industry Bloggin’

The next installment of my posts for World Nomads.  The original can be found here, or copied below

Peru: Empowering Women Through Tourism

Women and the Impact of Tourism

Women in developing countries have it pretty tough.  Sometimes very tough.  Often viewed as 2nd-class citizens, commonly marginalized to very limited activities and privileges, some women struggle to earn even very basic rights.  One of the biggest challenges preventing women from rising to equal status is  dependence on their husbands, as men are the traditional breadwinners.  Particularly in rural communities, the only paying work available is manual labor, leaving women unable to earn even the smallest wages.  It’s an unfair cycle – no work, no money, no power, no decision making, no work, no money,…

For all the negative impacts tourism is blamed for (environmental degradation, cultural exploitation, economic dependence, etc), the empowerment of women is one of the industry’s most consistent and commendable positive influences.  Granted, many of the most common jobs for women in tourism are low-skilled, low-paying positions that may actually reinforce existing gender stereotypes.  But, when approached with cultural sensitivity and commitment to the community, responsible tourism can provide opportunities beyond some womens’ wildest dreams.

Women’s Empowerment Project in Peru

I recently visited with a phenomenal example of a women-supported tourism project in rural Peru.  The  Yanapana Foundation is a local NGO dedicated to supporting the communities along the Salkantay Trek through sustainable social programs and income-generating projects.  While the empowerment of women is not cited as part of the organization’s mission, many of its projects are focused on small business development for women-run cooperatives.

A bit of background: The Salkantay Trek is a stunning 4-6 day hike, beginning in the town of Mollepata, and culminating with a visit to Machu Picchu.  With many travelers looking for an alternative to the heavily trekked and regulated Inca Trail, the Salkantay has experienced a significant boom in recent years (and having recently finished a trip along the trek, I can personally vouch that you should absolutely choose the Salkantay over the Inca trail).  While traditionally trekked with tented camp accommodations, the Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) has pioneered a lodge-to-lodge version of the trek.  Before their first lodge was even built, MLP established the Yanapana Foundation, understanding that the well-being of their guests was tied directly to the well-being of the local communities.

The Impact

Ok, so what’s really happening to support women along the Salkantay?  Yanapana has helped to establish a cooperative of women weavers and garment makers.  Previously only making garments for family members, these women are now earning fair wages for creating clothing and blankets that are being sold to MLP guests and other trekkers on the Salkantay.  Yanapana has helped to create and build a women-owned and operated jam making business that supplies all of MLP’s lodges as well as local grocery stores.  Yanapana has also worked to provide language and professional training for women along the trek to assist them in obtaining jobs at MLP lodges.  Oh yeah, and then there are all the other community projects facilitated by the organization, including providing free health care to local communities, gathering clothes for children in need, cleaning up the trail, providing health services and school supplies in rural schools, and teaching sustainable farming techniques.

So this is an impressive list of projects, and surely the organization’s impact is substantial.  But what really moved me about the work of Yanapana was talking to the women who have been supported by its projects.  To look into Maria’s eyes while she tells me that her husband now treats her with respect and dignity, and that she feels empowered to be contributing to the family’s finances is a moving experience.  And to hear from Mercedes, the Yanapana Director (also a woman), that in 3 short years, they have transformed the lives of dozens of women along the Salkantay Trek, with grand plans to expand their impact, is inspiring to say the least.

This is all possible thanks to a responsible travel company who recognizes that its success is tied directly to the success of those in the communities that support it.  Whether MLP’s guests are purchasing goods made by the Yanapana cooperatives or not, simply by using MLP’s services, guests are supporting the empowerment of women and the well-being of local communities.  As a traveler, your choices of operators or hosts truly make a difference.  Do what you can to seek out providers that have a similar commitment to the people in your host communities, and if you can, give a little extra to support their work.  Your choice may have a bigger impact that you realize.

About the Author: Ted Martens

Ted’s journey into the travel and tourism industry started the summer after a two-month backpacking trip throughout Europe ignited a life-long passion for international travel. With a master’s degree in Tourism Development, Ted has focused his efforts on helping non-profit Sustainable Travel International promote responsible tourism across the globe as their Director of Outreach & Development. After working too hard for the past 5 years, he is on the road again, escaping the office for some field research… is the responsible travel movement taking seed across the globe, or not?

Isla Suasi

Through a connection that we made on the Mountain Lodges of Peru trip to Machu Picchu, Ted was able to arrange a fabulous 3 day/2 night stay on the private island of Isla Suasi.

Isla Suasi is an incredibly small, yet spectacularly beautiful island on the northeast end of Lake Titicaca. The hotel is the only building on the island besides the island owner’s private residence. It is exclusive, it is luxurious, and it was a treat!

Upon arriving by boat, we were served an amazing Andean barbeque lunch overlooking the beautiful blue water. That afternoon, and in fact throughout the stay, you could do as much or as little as you wanted. Activities options included: walking to the highest point of the island to watch the sunset, visiting the eucalyptus steam room, drinking wine and reading a book, kayaking around the island, taking a tour of the island’s owner’s home/museum, star-gazing, etc.

Ted and I took the opportunity to kayak around the island and we had such a great time doing it that we decided to do it again the next day! In general we relaxed, enjoyed the incredibly delicious food and the wonderfully helpful staff, and slept well in a our fantastic room.

The contrast between our homestay on the island of Amantani(where Ted had to show me how to “flush” a toilet with a bucket of water), and the five-star treatment and facilities that we experienced on Isla Suasi was certainly striking. However, as both types experiences are exceptions to our normal way of traveling, it reminds us to be thankful for what we normally may take for granted as well as to appreciate good fortune when we have the opportunity!


People in the Andes hate to break big bills (or even medium sized bills, for that matter). Never in my life have I been in such constant pursuit of small bills and change. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most ATMs don’t dispense small bills. Every purchase must be considered – can this person break a 50 Sole note? Can this restaurant accept a $20 bill? If there is even a small chance that a retailer might take a larger bill, you must try! Even though you may have decent change in your pocket right now, likely that won’t last for long.

And what happens when you don’t have smaller bills? You don’t get to buy what you want to buy. That’s right, on multiple occasions, I have been told that a store owner would rather not sell me a product than give me the change required for the bills I am presenting. A small example – along the Ecuadorian coast, I was thirsty for a Coke. I walked in to a small store where a 500ml (20oz) bottle of coke was for sale for US$0.50 (Ecuador’s currency is the US dollar). I had no change and no single bills, so I handed her a US$5 (not a $50, or a $20, or even a $10, but a $5!). Nope, no change, no Coke for me. This is not uncommon.

And the kicker…THEY HAVE THE CHANGE (most of the time) – they just don’t want to jeopardize their ability to make change in the future! Well, two can play at this game. It’s most fun to force the change out of your service providers. This works best when you have already consumed the products they are selling. I’ve had hotels tell me they don’t have change for my bigger bills, but since I’ve already stayed at their property, miraculously, change for my 100 Soles appears from the drawer after denying its existence just minutes prior. I’ve also gotten quite good at denying my ability to make change, even when I have it. Often time a store will request small change on top of your bill so they can give you a bigger bill back. For instance, if my lunch costs 56 Bolivianos, and I pay with a 100, they’ll ask for 6 Bs so they can give me a 50 back. Little do they know that I have 56 Bs exactly, but I am using a 100 so I can hold on to that precious 6 in change (and to make more change to be used later). AND, since I already ate their food, they somehow or other find a way to break that 100 after all.

Who would have thought that a $1 could be more valuable than a $10 bill, when you need the change?

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca (like Timbuktu and Kathmandu) is one of those names you hear in your life but are never quite sure if it is an actual place. We were pleasantly pleased to confirm that it is and we enjoyed spending nearly 10 days in and around the lake both on the Peruvian and Bolivian side.

The access city to the lake from Peru is called Puno. Puno is an intense and busy place for its smaller size, but we quite liked the buzz and as it is a popular tourist town, there were many great restaurants (our favorite being Machu Pizza!) and affordable hostels.

The most popular thing to do out of Puno is visit a few of the nearby islands, either on a day-trip or by doing an overnight homestay. We opted for the 2 day/1 night option which allowed us to stay on one of the islands with a family.

Upon departing Puno, nearly all the tourist boats first stop at the Uros floating islands. These islands are both fascinating and sad. Fascinating because they are literally floating through a combination of reeds and reed beds and sad because they are sustained only through mass tourism at this point. In the 1500s, people built and moved to these islands to avoid hostel neighbors and the Spanish invasion that was occurring throughout the region. At one point, these were living and breathing cultures that supported themselves by fishing and trading. However, now the society is a shadow of its former self, with only a small percentage of “islanders” actually living on the islands in huts made of reeds. Their only source of income is through the tourists that are dropped off each day for 30 minutes, and pressure to purchase their handicrafts or take a ride in one of their traditional boats is overt, and somewhat uncomfortable.

After Uros, the boat continued for another couple hours to the island of Amantani. Upon arriving, Ted and I were assigned to a family (based on a community-organized rotation system). Families look forward to hosting tourists for homestays because it is a significant source of income for small amount of work. Our family was quite lovely, however, our host mother was noticeably offended that Ted and I didn’t wish to purchase any of her homemade hats or scarves that she showed us over lunch. Though I understand that her hope is to sell her items on the few occasions a month that she has the opportunity to host visitors, Ted and I couldn’t help but notice how her attitude towards us after that point changed for the worse. Kinda a bummer.

We managed to entertain ourselves by exploring the small island by foot and visiting the highest sections of the island and capturing some amazing views and the sunset.

The next day we traveled to the island of Taquile which is quite close to Amantani. The people of Taquile are known nationwide for their incredible weavings – everything from hats and belts to bracelets and vests. They have a community-organized coop that pools all the work from various artists around the island and the whole island benefits from the tourism and the purchases. Quite impressive indeed!

After a half-day on Taquile, we headed back to dry land for another night in Puno. Though the islands are just a couple hours away by boat, the contrast between the modernity of Puno and the traditional agricultural and artisanal economies of Amantani and Taquile make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

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