Vernon Volumes text

Vernon Volumes text

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Peru 2023 with Adventures by Disney

Our Peru adventure started on Thursday, December 21st. Flights were uneventful with American Airlines and we arrived at the Westin Lima Hotel fairly late at night. 

Friday, December 22nd, we had originally planned to do surfing in the morning, but decided to cancel it. We were worried it would be too much, and also concerned we’d get injured and would miss the ABD. We walked around town and stopped at Restaurant Huaca Pucllana for lunch. The restaurant served Peruvian food and had an amazing panoramic view of the adobe and clay ruins of the pyramid. The food was delicous. We all loved the potato and meat appetizer. Paige got a huge juicy burger, Connor ordered a chicken and quinoa bowl, and I had a chicken chili dish. Andrea sampled a bit from everyone’s entrees and we had plenty of food. 

After lunch we finished walking to the bike tour meeting spot and met our guide Ronnie. It was nice to have an English speaking local to chat with. We were surprised that most people don’t speak English and it is quite a bit different from our previous foreign adventures where there were English speakers everywhere. Ronnie got us set up on our bikes and after a few other Americans showed up, we departed. There were decent bike lanes and we were more comfortable than we had been with some previous bike tours, but it did get a little scary when we had to cross traffic. Peru traffic was busy, lots of cars and motorcycles zipping around with everyone honking, and cars don't stop for pedestrians.

The bike tour took us around Lima to the coast (Miraflores) and a lighthouse, then to a bridge and an artsy part of town (Barranco), and we ended at an ice cream shop. It was a good tour overall, and our guide did a nice job of keeping us safe and showing us the sights. It was one of the better bike tours we’ve done and the weather was perfect for it. 

After the tour, we went back to the hotel to clean up and relax. We had all been overstimulated out in the city, so decided to get room service before going to bed. 

Saturday, December 23rd, we slept in a little and then headed over to the tour company for our Sea Lion excursion. While we waited, I purchased a bottle of a local favorite "Inca Kola". We all tried it and agreed it tastes like bubble gum.

Our group departed on a small open topped boat, and we motored out to San Lorenzo Island. The initial cruise out was calm as the island blocked much of the Pacific swell in the harbor. Once we got around the island, it got choppier, but thankfully none of us got seasick. The sea lions were everywhere and were climbing all over each other and making quite a ruckus. The guide told us there were 8246 seals total in the area and typically around 4000 on the island. We saw lots of seabirds including Humboldt Penguins, and their guano covered the rocks, coloring them white. 

Andrea prepared us for it, since she had read some of the reviews for the excursion, but we were still disgusted by the smell. It was earthy, sour, and strong. We all had planned to get in the water, but Connor and Andrea got grossed out and they stayed on the boat. I’d chatted with a lady on the ride out named Merita, and Paige and I jumped in with her. It was a bit overwhelming for me since the sea lions were approaching us, I was trying to hang on the Paige, and I was worried Merita was going to float in to the rocks. Merita didn’t know how to swim, and she was super excited, yelling for Andrea to take her picture. 

The sea lions were all different sizes, some were the size of a medium dog, but some were pretty huge. Most of the ones around us were medium sized, and I think they were playful and curious, but they still looked dangerous with their sharp teeth. We had been instructed to float with our toes up, and some of the sea lions came to sniff and nibble the toes, but none of them ever touched Paige or me. Eventually Paige and Merita went back on the boat and I stayed in the water, hoping for some interaction with the sea lions. After one jumped up and belly flopped right next to me, I got a little freaked out and decided I’d had enough. It was amazing to get so close to them, and definitely a memorable experience. 

We cleaned up at the hotel and then Paige and I set out on an adventure to find some food. We found a bakery nearby and picked out some Cokes, a cupcake, empanadas, and a sandwich. The staff were friendly, but knew zero English, so we had to communicate using Google translation on our phones. Paige and I figured it out and everyone liked our food so much that all four of us headed back over in the evening to get some more. The best part was our favorable exchange rate and reasonable prices. The food was surprisingly cheap, and we got a lot for our money, much different from our recent European experience over the summer. 

In the late afternoon, we met our ABD guides Mike and Harvey in the hotel lobby and learned that our group was going to be on the slightly smaller side with around 25. We were happy to hear that there were going to be quite a few teenagers around our kids’ ages. 

Sunday, December 24th, was Christmas Eve and we had to be up early to get our bags out of the room and to get to the airport. 

Our flight to Cusco was fairly short and easy, and then we took a bus to the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. We stopped at a scenic spot for a couple of pictures up in the Andes mountains.

At the Center for Traditional Textiles, we enjoyed a catered lunch with traditional Peruvian foods. We enjoyed some tasty dishes, including alpaca. Connor did an awesome job introducing our family to the group and we got to know some of our fellow adventurers while we ate.

We watched a demonstration of alpaca wool making techniques, Paige and a few of the other kids participated in a natural dye making demonstration, and then the kids dressed up in some traditional Peruvian wool outfits and we had a fashion show. Before we left, the kids bought some bracelets and Andrea picked out a travel bag that was a handy size. 

The bus took us to our hotel, Sol Y Luna, and we got our keys and checked in to our casitas. We had two separate casitas next door to each other, and we decided to have a boy room and a girl room. The kids got along well in Lima, but it was time to give them a break from each other. After unpacking and cleaning up, we went to have our Christmas Eve dinner at the restaurant. 

Monday, Christmas Day December 25th, we got up early and enjoyed the breakfast at the hotel. The breakfasts were amazing. 

We set off on the bus for our rafting adventure on the Urubamba River. We expected the rafting to be a quiet ride, but the river was actually pretty exciting with some rapids that were class 3. Our guide Harvey was in our boat and Connor convinced us to go on the offensive, and Harvey agreed. We paddled up on all the other rafts and splashed them with our oars. It was actually a little warm in all our gear, so I think everyone enjoyed the chilly water battle, and we got to pin the blame on Harvey.

Around the halfway mark, we pulled off to the side so our guides could go up ahead and scout the most dangerous rapids. After about 20 minutes they returned and our raft was the second in to the churning rapids. Our guide had to shout his commands to be heard over the rushing water and as we entered the rapids, we saw that the raft ahead of us got stuck on some boulders. I’m not sure if maybe our guide planned to bump them to help dislodge them, or if the rapids just pushed us that way, but we headed right towards them. The teenagers in their boat were laughing and thought it was hilarious, but their mom was screaming in terror as we collided with them. Paige and I got tangled in the oars of the other boat, but thankfully we bounced off and we didn’t get stuck with them. We continued our run downstream and we careened off a few big rocks and got stuck for a few seconds at one point, but with some shifting around, we got dislodged and made it through. 

We stopped after the rapids, and it was entertaining watching the other rafters make their way down. One of the teenage girls fell in, but thankfully was rescued quickly by her brother. The rest of the journey wasn’t as dangerous, and we even had Paige riding up front through a wavy section where we all got drenched. Both kids jumped in the water to cool off, and Connor jammed his knee because he didn't realize it was as shallow as it was.

Overall, it was an awesome day of rafting. The weather was perfect and cool, the water was cold, but felt good in our heavy protective gear. The scenery was beautiful, but the river was pretty dirty and polluted, and we were told to be careful not to swallow any if it got in our mouths. 

We changed in to dry clothes and had a snack, before boarding the bus and heading to our tour at Ollantaytambo Town & Ruins. Harvey and Mike took us up the Incan ruins and talked to us about the craftsmanship and the purpose of all the structures. It was quite a climb, but we all made it, despite the altitude. 

We ate a picnic lunch, then took the bus back to the hotel. On the way back, we stopped at a local bar where they prepared some of the traditional corn based alcoholic drinks. The leftover corn is fed to guinea pigs, and the little pigs had their own little house and were free to run around the room. They were cute, and were scampering around squeaking as Harvey discussed the process of making the drinks, and how Peruvians use alcohol in their culture. 

In the evening we went to an outdoor restaurant and watched as they prepared our dinner using hot rocks in a pit. They spread various meats on the rocks and buried everything. We were a little appalled to see the gutted and skinned guinea pigs along with the other meats, especially after we’d just hung out with their friends at the bar. While the food cooked, we enjoyed an Incan dance and music performance, then we watched as they uncovered all the food. I'm no expert, but I don't think everything got fully cooked and it was whisked away to be made presentable. I also believe they finished the cooking using more modern technologies. 

We gave it a try, but we all agreed that the guinea pig wasn’t bad, but not something we would choose to eat. There wasn’t a lot of meat on the little bones, and it was like eating dark chicken meat. 

Tuesday, December 26th, we got to sleep in a little before we started our adventures at 8:30. We took the bus to the Moray Ruins where Incans used terraces at different elevations to experiment with crop yields. 

We walked down the path, and took a few action shots while we were there. Paige took a jumping shot with some of the kids, although one wasn't very cooperative. 

Shawn took an action shot with Connor and Tony. Mike is apparently a Star Wars fan, and we were encouraged to pretend we were hitting Connor with imaginary light-sabers while jumping. I just pretended that I was going to strike Connor, but apparently Mike stabbed Connor straight through the chest.

We went to the Salt Pans of Maras where we saw how the locals extracted salt from the salty stream that flowed through a salt deposit in a nearby mountain. We purchased some pink and black salt from one of the vendors, after trying a few different varieties. We hiked down the mountain and through a little ramshackle village, and then rode the bus back to the hotel. 

Lunch was at the outdoor restaurant, and we watched a horse riding demonstration while we ate. Some of the kids were given an opportunity to take pics with the horses and Paige got to ride one around for a few laps. We had the afternoon to ourselves and considered going with the group to a nearby food market for shopping, but a nap sounded better so we just relaxed until dinner. 

For dinner, the kids put on chef gear and tried some local juices and then made pizza. The adults learned how to make a Peruvian alcoholic drink and ceviche. The kids got messy and it was one of the first group opportunities for the kids to interact and goof off together. 

After dinner, the kids played soccer with Harvey’s mini soccer ball and they had a hotly contested and competitive boys vs girls match. Both kids were wearing their new white Nikes and they were pretty filthy afterwards. Connor worked hard afterwards cleaning them in the bathtub, but they will probably never be the same. 

Wednesday, December 27th, we set out early for Machu Picchu. We rode the bus to the train station and then took the 1.5 hour train ride down to Machu Picchu. The train ride was surprisingly comfortable and they even gave out snacks and had drink service. We arrived at the Machu Picchu town and then had to take a shuttle bus up the steep and winding gravel road. It was a bit terrifying as there was no railing or barrier, and the narrow road had multiple twists where we could see down the steep canyon to the river below. 

Machu Picchu was quite a sight, and after hiking up the steps from the entrance, we had a view into the ruins where we took most of our pics. I’ve seen many people with disappointing foggy and obscured views, so we appreciated how lucky we were to have a beautiful day for our tour. We had packed lots of layers, my big Nikon camera, four water bottles, and rain jackets for everyone. It was actually a warm day, and we stuffed everything in our bag, which probably weighed a ton. Thankfully Connor was an Alpha male and he hauled the backpack most of the tour. We had two bonus local expert guides, Coco and Louis, that explained the history of the area, and they showed us around the ruins and explained the significance of what we were seeing. From up high, we didn’t realize how large the town was, and going down in to it we had an entirely different perspective. 

When we finished the tour, we ate lunch at a buffet restaurant just outside the entrance, then we rode the bus down the mountain to the Machu Picchu city. We had about 45 minutes to do some shopping, although we were encouraged to wait until the next day since there would likely be a better selection and prices in Cusco. Connor fell in love with a stuffed guinea pig and Paige couldn’t live without a soft alpaca wool blanket, so we ended up buying a few things. 

Connor hung out with "Quacky" a bit at Machu Picchu while we waited for the train. They played the hand slapping game, although Quacky never wanted his hands to be on top. Quacky loved to play a game on Connor's phone and Connor was sweet about indulging and entertaining him.

At around 4:30 we boarded our train for the ride back. I was expecting a relaxing ride with a possible nap, but they surprised us with access to a car at the front of the train that had an outdoor viewing area. The kids loved a spot at the very front of the car that was outside in the wind and the elements. Everyone took turns, leaning over the side and feeling the rushing air as we took in the views. We also got to enjoy a musical performance and dancers. 

For dinner, the kids went with the other junior adventurers for movie night. They ate burgers and watched Zootopia. A fancy three course dinner was available for the adults, but Andrea and I were tired and didn’t feel like getting back out after our showers. Instead, we begged for a burger in the room and although the hotel doesn’t have room service, our tour guides sweet talked them in to it. 

Thursday, December 28th, we got up early and packed all of our things up in preparation for our journey to Cusco. Before leaving, we snapped a few pics in front of our Casitas and around the property. It was beautiful there, and it was definitely one of our favorite ABD locations.

We had a short bus ride before our first stop at the Pisac Market. Our guide Harvey told us that on our last day at the farewell dinner we’d have a white elephant gift style exchange and they gave everyone 20 Peruvian Soles to spend in the market. 

We shopped for around an hour going through all the stalls and looking at everything. After a dozen stalls we started to notice that we’d see the same things over and over, but there were some handmade items and we found a few things for the gift exchange. On the bus ride, Harvey had explained some bargaining techniques and encouraged us to give it a try. Andrea did an impressive job haggling over prices and we got a few of our items for less than the starting price. At one stall, we’d talked the lady down to 15 soles, but we couldn’t make exact change and handed her a 20. She had to run to another place to find change, but came back with a 10 sole note and asked if we could give her 5 soles back to make it work. We had a few coins, but not enough so we told her to keep the change. It was kind of funny, we talked her down and then paid even more than where we started. 

While waiting for the bus, Paige made friends with a cute old dog that was hanging out in the sidewalk. The dogs in Peru have been everywhere and it’s unclear how many are strays versus how many are just wandering around for fun. We have seen very few leashes and most dogs are just out lounging around in the streets, sidewalks, on piles of dirt, or even on rooftops. Most of the dogs are filthy and not interested in strangers, but a few have wandered over for pets and it’s hard to resist. 

We stopped at a scenic overlook for some pictures of the Sacred Valley, before our next stop at the Camelids Center. 

We have been looking forward to interacting with the alpacas and llamas, and it did not disappoint. Everyone was given big handfuls of grasses and the animals all crowded around and chowed down. We loved seeing all the different sizes, colors, and shapes of the Camelids. None of them were too keen on getting pets or scratches, but they weren’t shy and we definitely got up close and personal with them. Our guides told us there was a selfie contest, and we did our best to get selfies, although that’s not something we’re very good at. 

After our time with the animals, we took part in an Incan ceremony, listened to a presentation on local art and alpaca wool, and did some shopping. 

Paige already purchased a stuffed alpaca earlier in the trip, but found an even cuter one and couldn’t resist. Paige is cute as well, and we couldn't resist her begging. Andrea talked the lady down a little from the starting price, and Paige was thrilled.

We rode the bus to downtown Cusco and then we ate one of our favorite meals at a local restaurant. Andrea and I had the Asian inspired Peruvian fried rice, Paige had some pasta, and Connor had beef ribs. There was an extra fried rice that was apparently brought out by mistake, and Connor ate some of that too.

We checked in to the Palacio del Inka Hotel and then unpacked and relaxed for a bit before heading back out in the evening. We have experienced the Peruvian cuisine and we’ve loved it, but the kids love McDonald’s and we thought it sounded good for dinner, and it was.  

Friday, December 29th, was our last day of the tour and with our group. We got up fairly early and enjoyed the breakfast at the hotel. A local lady was selling some handmade items in the hotel's courtyard and she'd brought a 6 month old baby alpaca with her. Its fur was unbelievably soft, and it was adorable. I bought a pair of llama socks from the lady, for our "White Llama" gift exchange.

We took a bus ride up a hill to the Stones of Sacsayhuaman, which was a pre-Incan site with many stone constructions, and I got to ride next to Quacky on the way. 

We heard a story of some kids that had explored the caves and tunnels in the area and then Mike took us through a tunnel in the rocks.  Andrea bailed out on it and just walked around to the exit outside, along with some of the others, but I made it through with the kids. We held on to each other in a line and it was completely black in the cave, and got fairly narrow at a few spots. 

Everyone headed up the hill, and we climbed up some of the glacier shaped stones, and slid down some of the naturally made “slides”. They've been worn smooth over the years as generations of kids have slid down them over the years.

We walked over to some ancient stone ruins and also took a picture with Peru's Statue of Christ.

The guides wanted some sassy photos in that spot, so the girls went first and then the boys did our best.

We walked with our group down the hillside back to Cusco's downtown and to a local gentleman’s house. 

The homeowner and an English speaking colleague demonstrated some of the Peruvian instruments and then we had an opportunity to put together our own flutes. It was difficult and most people needed help from our Peruvian hosts. We all tried to learn and play “happy birthday” together, but it was completely unrecognizable and we were all dizzy and lightheaded trying to huff and puff in the thin mountain air. 

After continuing the rest of the way down in to the city, we were dismissed to find lunch on our own. Connor and Paige got some Starbucks and I walked them back to the hotel so they could eat it and relax in their room. Andrea and I did a little shopping and then had pizza at a local restaurant. It was surprisingly good, and hit the spot. We did a little packing in the room and then we got ready for our farewell dinner. 

The farewell dinner this trip included a “white elephant” gift exchange, which was renamed to a “white llama” gift exchange to be more Peruvian. We all wrapped the gifts we’d purchased with random things we found in the hotels, using the hair dryer bag, a pillowcase, some papers, toilet paper, etc. It had been fun trying to find, and barter, for the gifts. It was also a little stressful, since there were so many different ages of guests that were included in our group. We dropped our gifts off at the table when we arrived at dinner, and then we had some appetizers as we were entertained by Peruvian dancers in traditional costumes. 

The grand finale of the performance is when the dancers grabbed some of the guests and pulled them out to dance. I was one of the first ones grabbed, and it was a little awkward, but I did my best. Peruvian and Incan music is not exactly like the gangster rap that I prefer dancing to, so I don’t think I impressed anyone, but hopefully I didn’t disgrace our family. Andrea cleverly got up and started snapping some pics and videos, so she dodged the dancing. However, Paige was one of the first kids grabbed and pulled out on the dance floor. I grabbed Connor too before he could think of an escape. It turned out to be a lot of fun, and all the kids were good sports about it. 

After our dancing, we snapped a group picture with the performers and then we dug in to the dinner. Once we finished eating, our gift exchange started. Connor and Paige had both contributed stuffed guinea pigs, Andrea contributed a stitched bag along with a pen and keychain, I purchased a pair of baby alpaca wool socks with llamas on them. We all had randomly assigned numbers, and our kids got to pick gifts early on, and they both picked their own gifts. I had also planned to pick my gift, but one of the teenage girls opened them, so I had to steal the socks from her. I really didn’t expect anyone to want them, but her sister stole them from me, so I stole an Inca Kola shirt. Andrea tried to steal a cute Alpaca head hat, but it got stolen away from her. She opened up a gift from the table afterwards and ended up with a wooden flute, which was not stolen. I think everyone had their fill of flutes. The kids had their guinea pigs stolen, but managed to steal other stuffed animals and in the end they both ended up with the stuffed animals they’d brought. 

The group moved to a room with a projector and we enjoyed a slideshow and video that our guides put together about our week together. Mike lost his voice and wasn’t able to speak, but he shared a heartfelt and well written farewell note with us. Everyone shared some of their favorite memories from the adventure and it was a fitting way to finish our vacation together. 

Saturday, December 30th, we got to sleep in as our flight to Lima didn’t depart until the afternoon. I took a walk around town, then we got one more Starbucks drink before heading to the airport. 

The flights home went great, everything on time, and no issues. 

Our first flight was on Saturday, Cusco to Lima, and we spent the night in Lima in a hotel that was next door to the airport. Our flight to Miami was early in the morning on Sunday, December 31st, and we got to watch some of the NFL games on our iPads and phones while we waited in Miami for the last leg of our journey. We arrived home late on New Year's Eve and Millie Mae's pet sitter Ms. Deb brought her over shortly after we arrived home, so we got to see her right away.

Overall, Peru was one of our favorite Adventure by Disney vacations. It was a fun and exciting adventure and we got to experience the Peruvian culture in depth and in a different way than we ever would have on our own. Mike and Harvey worked hard to bring the group together and make sure everyone was having fun.

We all ranked our favorite ABD trips in order, so we could see how well Peru stacked up against past adventures and to see which ones were favorites and which were not stacking up as well. I expected that they'd be fairly similar, but there was quite a bit of variation between us. Arizona was the only one that was low on everyone's list.

At the end of 2023, these were our rankings:

  1. Costa Rica
  2. Danube
  3. Peru
  4. Disneyland
  5. Iceland
  6. Canada
  7. Wyoming
  8. Arizona/Utah
  1. Costa Rica
  2. Iceland
  3. Peru
  4. Danube
  5. Wyoming
  6. Disneyland & Canada (tie)
  7. Arizona/Utah
            1. Costa Rica
            2. Peru
            3. Wyoming
            4. Iceland
            5. Danube
            6. Arizona/Utah
            7. Disneyland 
            1. Costa Rica
            2. Peru
            3. Danube
            4. Disneyland
            5. Iceland
            6. Wyoming
            7. Arizona/Utah