I guess this title is a little deceiving, as we didn’t really get to see too much of Puno at all.  By the next afternoon the sickness had dissipated enough to warrant heading outside in search of snacks, and to also catch a glimpse of Lake Titicaca.

Most of the tourists depart early in the morning to see the lake tribes and return late in the evening.  This means that most of the shops nearby are closed the rest of the day.  We took a  couple photos, grabbed some bananas and dinner rolls, and headed back to the hotel.  On the way we caught an example of globalization initiatives by one of Canada’s finest brands:

After our tour mates returned to the hotel, we got together to head out for a traditional Peruvian dinner: Guinea Pig!   It seems so interesting to me that these little fellows are kept around the house as pets, until one night you can’t decide what you’d like for dinner, and your pet’s cute furriness suddenly begins to look…delicious!

Here is a photo of one of our friends demonstrating the typical spread – the guinea pig is flayed out on a plate – claws covered delicately in tinfoil.  This restaurant was first class, and they gutted the beast for you – covering its empty body with a fresh and tasty salad.  Also notice the side serving of Peruvian tater tots with cheese sauce?!  SO GOOD!

Notice the head and teeth are intact.  Our guide Alim showed us the traditional way of eating this part of the head, and the neat crafts you can do with it afterward:

Notice it is in the shape of a condor, the sacred bird of the Incas!  Guinea pig looks very unappetizing, but its really just like dark meat with a fried skin.  Not quite like chicken, but not really unlike it either.

So Machu Picchu was NOT the finale of our trip, but I think it might have been better if it were.  After our hike we had a couple additional days in Cusco to recuperate and relax before heading south to Lake Titicaca.  The plan was to take a 7 hour journey by bus to the town of Puno where we would take a boat cruise of  the lake, which is the highest navigable lake in the world. The scenery changed dramatically as we went from jungle to mountain, to an almost desert-like environment.   All seemed to be going well until the last stretch, when we were inexplicably stopped in what appeared to be a traffic jam.  After waiting for an hour, our guide discovered that the traffic jam was part of a protest by local Puno residents, who had blocked the entrance to the city by throwing masses of boulders on the highway.  They told us if we attempted to pass, our vehicle would be stoned.

Our only option was to backpack the last 30 minutes into the city.  Ugh. I normally wouldn’t mind, but my stomach was kinda sore.

In any case, we unloaded our gear and began the walk.   It was very disconcerting seeing the blockages on the road, but even moreso seeing the numbers of people at the clifftop ready to throw rocks at us.

The area was dusty and polluted, not to mention the extremely high altitude, which made it very difficult to breathe.  At this point, my stomach started hurting a bit more.  Within about 10 minutes I was unable to walk, the pain was so strong.  Luckily, my tour mates grabbed my bags and helped me onto our bus, which our guide had somehow procured and was ready and waiting for us.  It really warmed my heart to see the numbers of local men and women who rushed out of their homes and shops to come to my aid, bringing coca leaves, smelling salts, and all manner of medicine to help.  I was surprised to see the level of care and concern these people had for me – a stranger in the middle of nowhere.  Despite the discomfort (ok – PAIN), this was one of the best memories I have of the kindness of the Peruvian people.

Luckily we had an AMAZING GAP Adventures guide, as well as the best medical insurance money could buy.  Within 15 minutes of our arrival to the hotel, a doctor had arrived from the local hospital to treat me, with our guide acting as interpreter.  I ended up having a vicious intestinal infection, complete with delirium, shakes, fever, and a racing heart.  A cardiologist was also called in to make sure I wouldn’t have a heart attack.  A little over the top, I’m sure – but it was great to be in good hands!  A needle in my bum, handfulls of pills, and a good sleep later, I was ready to rock on the next adventure!

I think many travellers are divided on the issue of group tours.  There seems to be a wide variance on the types of tours you can take, and along with that the types of people that tend to take these tours.  Many travelers shudder at the thought of taking a group tour, imagining them to be like your grandma taking a bus to Branson, Missouri, or a huge group of Japanese tourists checking out the Path in downtown Toronto.  As a  teenager, I took an EF tour with my highschool to Italy and Greece.  As a 14 year old, a group tour really is the ONLY way to go, and for me, it was a wonderful introduction into the world of travel.  As adults, Mike and I have done lots of travelling, but have never particpated in a group tour – save for a bus jaunt to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam (if you can count an overnight  boat tour as a group tour).

The worries  that travelers have about group travel are many:

1) Will we have time to do what we want to do, away from the group?

2) Will we be annoyed with the other people in the group, and unable to escape?

3) Will we miss out on the “real” experience of travelling by going from chain hotel to chain hotel on an airconditioned bus?

4) Will we not see how “real” people live, and eat local cuisine?

On the other hand, there are unquestionably lots of great advantages to travelling in a group:

1) Travel arrangements are made for you, and the hotels and attractions are usually vetted and pre-paid

2) You have the chance to learn alot more about the place you are visiting by having a good guide – much more interactive than reading it out of a book

3) There is safety in numbers

4) If you have an issue, the organization will have a back-up plan

Because Peru is such a large country with a wide variety of must-see sites, we knew it would take at least 2 domestic flights, and a great deal of inner-country travel to see everything we wanted to see – and that is a heck of a lot of planning.  Also, we only have 2 weeks.  And to hike the Inca Trail, you are obligated by law to have a guide.  We decided that an experienced tour company would have figured out the most efficient way of seeing all the highlights with the minimum amount of wasted time.  We spent a lot of time investigating different companies, and reading up on the experience of fellow travellers.  GAP Adventures is without a doubt one of the most well-respected tour companies in the world.  They are also a Canadian company, and head office is conveniently located a 10 minute walk from my house.  They have a HUGE variety of tours to choose from, so if you are into active adventures, have kids, want to volunteer, or  take in a cultural festival around the world, GAP seems to have everything covered.

We decided on a trip called Quest of the Gods, which will start us off in Lima, then off to the Amazon Rainforest (COOL!).  Then onto Cuzco, and from there a 4 day hike to see the legendary Machu Picchu.  We will also get a chance to go to Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world.  Altogether a whirlwind 14 day tour.  Exciting!!!!

So by the time I’ve gotten around to writing this, its pretty much old news. Well, 21 days old by my Facebook counter anyway. Getting married this way was definitely a good idea. So relaxed, so laid back, and so….us. I guess neither of us could imagine having a huge wedding with all the bells and whistles, and years of planning and budgeting, not to mention the insane stress-factor. This could not have been any LESS stressful. We started the day with a long hike, then just relaxed for the afternoon, got cleaned up, and got hitched! We just wanted the day to be about us, and about our love for each other, and avoid all the other drama and pitfalls that can so easily happen. So it was a pretty fabulous day. And even though it rained (HARD), it was still perfect.

Since we were in Bali for a few days to get married and have a mini-honeymoon, we decided to go all out. We stayed at The Four Seasons Sayan. Located in the central part of the island, which is the cultural centre of Bali, as well as its agricultrual heartland. Mostly jungle, there are also many rice paddies surrounding the village. Its amazing. The entrance to the hotel is enough to blow your mind. To get into the main building you must cross a walkway that is placed high above a jungle valley. The views are spectacular.

The building has a very modern design which blends into the landscape. For the first two nights we stayed in a suite. Each suite has 2 levels, and 2 patios overlooking the Ayung River. The last 3 nights we had a villa with a private plunge pool overlooking the valley. It was fabulous! And peaceful…at least for the first night. Our visit happened to coincide with a local Hindu Festival. Which is cool, except it meant that from sundown to sunup, for two nights, we had to listen to the most bizzarre stuff being blasted on loudspeakers across the village. Traditional Hindu music is okay with me, but the creepy laughtracks were…creepy, and the whistling was really insane. I couldn’t wait to go home and get a good night’s sleep!
The most impressive thing about the hotel was the level of service. Everyone knows your name! For the first two days I was Miss O’Mara. And by 5pm the third day I was Mrs. Hurren. People we hadn’t even interacted with knew us on sight! It was incredible! I even asked the manager if there was a photo of us behind the desk that the staff had to study! He laughed, and said it was Balinese culture…they are just really great with faces.

On our last day we checked out and went to the Hotel’s Jimbaran location, which was conveniently closer to the airport to kill time. There we sat on the beach all day, soaked in the sun and generally relaxed. They even provide showers for us before flying out. While we loved Jimbaran, we preferred the Sayan location…it had a much more chill vibe that I loved. And the nibblies at the bar were better in Sayan!

I arrived home from the grocery store to find this on our desk:

Now, I’m pretty sure it was not there before I had left. I’m also positive Mike would never, EVER buy me a stuffed bunny. On a second trip to the grocery store today (long story involving my attempt to cook), I found the answer. Piled on a luggage cart were half a dozen boxes marked “Easter Bunnies”, containing my bunny’s twin brothers and sisters. It would appear that everyone in the building received these bunnies as well. So…at this point Im just trying to understand the decision-making process. Did everyone get bunnies? Just the Westerners? Just the Christians? Cause I’m pretty sure I didn’t tick any “Practicing Christian” box upon my arrival. What must the Muslim and Punjabi residents think of this gift? Its not like we received red envelopes of money at Chinese New Year, or bowls of milk at Thaipusam. I’m not complaining at all, I like my new friend. It just struck me as being really bizarre.

In our kitchen is a garbage chute. Above the chute is an illustrated diagram of all the items one cannot throw down the chute. Among them is listed recyclables, cardboard, plastics, bricks and fire. Bricks and FIRE. It is forbidden to throw out FIRE. And BRICKS. Thankfully, all of the bricks I had brought from Canada I threw out in the airport washroom (along with my chewing gum).

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