If you google “Moquegua, Peru” one hotel will be listed and little other information. But if you have a reason to travel there, you will not be disappointed. Moquegua has to be one of the cleanest, safest and nicest places in Peru. It has narrow European-like streets. At its centre is the beautiful Plaza de Armas, with a fountain designed by Gustave Eiffel (think Paris tower) and surrounded by huge trees. And at one corner of the square sits the Cathedral.
Moquegua is located in a beautiful green valley that is in surreal contrast to the barren desert that surrounds it. It is irrigated by a river and the fertile soil grows many fruits and vegetables as well as vineyards. You can buy locally produced fruits and vegetables in the market and even cheeses that are produced locally. We had fresh strawberries which we bought from a woman pushing a wheelbarrow full. The gouda cheese was a nice treat as well.
There are plenty of amenities in Moguegua such as restaurants and hotels. We stayed at the Hotel Moquegua. (Check them out at www.HotelMoqueguaPeru.com.) They are about two blocks from the plaza. People are friendly in Moquegua and unlike other places in South America, they will actually stop to let you cross the street.
There are few street sellers in Moqugua but lots of clean and organized little shops selling everything you need. And because there are next to no tourists, there is little begging. Moqueguans are proud of their city and this shows.
Moquegua enjoys the economic prosperity of being near a copper mine located just outside of town. But of course it also has its issues as any city does. Our reason from coming to Moquegua was to visit an orphanage. Hogar Belen is located at the edge of the city on a beautiful piece of farm land that provides produce and livestock for the it.
So what is there to do in Moquegua? You can visit the Geocliffs which are a mini local version of the Nazca lines. They are images of llamas or alpacas on a hillside in the neigbourhood of Chen Chen.
You can also visit the local museum (Museo Contisuyo) which has some interesting archeological artifacts. But ask the friendly staff to interpret as much of the narrative is in Spanish.
Overlooking the city is, of course, like almost every South American city, a statue of Jesus. Ask a taxi to take you to the "Mirador Turistico". There is a small park near Jesus and the panoramic view is breathtaking. Especially at sunset.
The cathedral is worth the visit but as far as we could tell it is only open during mass, when you can catch a few quiet meditative moments.
Catch up on your email and enjoy a latte at the El Descanso Spa Cafe. The closest thing you will find to Starbucks. Find them in the 300 block of Lima Street or on Facebook. Enjoy a manicure, pedicure or massage.
The port town of Ilo is about a hour away by bus and apparently an enjoyable day trip. It boasts a beautiful malecon, although we didn’t actually get to see it ourselves.
The only way to get to Moquegua is by bus. Travelling from either Arequipa or Puno, it is a mesmerizing trip through the desert arriving at this gem in the river valley. Moquegua might just be Peru’s best kept secret.
On the way from the airport to our lodge we saw a sloth, tapir, pink dolphins, caymans, bats and frogs. The last two being resident in our rooms. We named the frog who lived under the toilet rim, Jorge. Its a little unnerving to use a toilet that has a frog in it.
Our tour included three days in the pampas and one in the jungle. The pampas are the wet lowlands. We moved around the pampas in a small shallow boat which was surprisingly stable and easy to get Kasenya’s wheelchair into. The picture above shows us fishing for pirhanna.
Dave went swimming with the pink dolphins on the first evening. This was before he knew about the pirhannas.
Nine taxis, three buses, two teacher protests, one double hooked hotel and one ferry ride later we arrived in La Paz. Backpacking is a series of new experiences strung together with various means of transportation. The last two days have been gruelling transportation day, but the reason for coming to Bolivia was to see the jungle.
We were supposed to have flown from Cusco Peru to La Paz, but our flight with Amazonas Airlines was cancelled due to government regulatory issues. We are considering suing for mental anguish as anyone who has spent two consecutive days on a South American bus through the Andes will fully support.
It started with our taxi forgetting to pick us up for the first bus, followed by an “Amazing Race” with a series of taxis to catch up with our tour bus. As in South East Asia and Africa, if you are told your bus will take 8 hours, it will actually take at least 10. And it did.
We had an overnight stop in Puno where our hotel had been double booked. Which added extra time and stress to our travels.
The next day our bus followed the shoreline of Lake Titicaca to get to La Paz. This is a beautiful scenic route which involves a border crossing, ferry crossing and a stop in Copacabana.
We still have a short 45 minute flight to Rurrenabaque where we start a four day pampas / jungle tour which we hope will make the hell bus worth it.
Our visit to Macchu Picchu had the potential to be either amazing or deflating. When we arrived we discovered that only the entry and a few meters past it could be accessed by a wheelchair. So we used the only reasonable strategy: divide and conquer.
Kasenya and Natalie formed a home base while the other three of us scouted out the paths of least resistance. If we carried Kasenya down several steps we could get her through a narrow walled pathway that eventually opened onto a terrace.
This is how we spent the afternoon. Stopping to take in the view, scouting for a new path and then pushing dragging and carrying Kasenya to a new vantage point.
Kasenya never did reach the “Visa” viewpoint which is probably the highest in elevation, but we did get her to the farthest point from the entry gate, which is directly behind us in the picture. We had done it in twos, threes and fours (Natalie being the fourth sherpa).
As usual we had gone until we were tired and then tried to figure out how to get back. We thought of several creative strategies including one of us faking a heart attack so that we could all be medi-vacced out. As has happened many times in our lives, help arrives when you least expect it and most need it. And it was right in front of us.
One of our strategies was to ask the security guards if we could take a short cut across a smooth grassy terrace instead of taking the path and stairs. These poor fellows had the mind-numbing job of standing in the sun all day and blowing their whistles at tourists who stray out of bounds. They looked grumpy and bored and had the vacuous look of people who are forced to do meaningless work.
We sent Natalie over to ask a couple of them about the shortcut since she is young and pretty and speaks Italian. We figured she had the best chance. When she couldn’t get them to understand, she brought them over to see our situation.
The guards were adamant that even for “la nina” we could not cross the terrace. So Dave asked them to help us. To our surprise they said yes. They grabbed the front two corners of Kasenya’s wheelchair with Dave and Devin grabbing the back. The four of them carried Kasenya from the far end of Macchu Picchu back to the entry point.
Almost back at the beginning, they stopped at a beautiful spot where they told us we should take a picture. We invited them to be in it. They were delighted. They had transformed from bored civil servants to men who were empowered by being of service to others.
The day had been wonderful. We had seen so much more than we expected we would be able to. And maybe by asking for help we had in some small way given the security guards a gift too.
See the wheelchair on top? The boat captain and Kasenya's father thought it would be ok for her to ride up there!
Its pretty much impossible to visit the Galapagos Islands without eventually finding yourself on a boat. They are a group of Islands a 1,000 kms from the mainland of Ecuador. In fact many people spend almost their entire trip on a boat, travelling from one island to another. We decided to do a “land based” tour because of Kasenya’s wheelchair. But it also turned out to be a good choice because Laverne is prone to seasickness. But “land-based” doesn’t mean we avoided boats all together.
We had our first boat ride almost immediately. The airport is on the Island of Baltra but the main town where were staying is on the Island of Santa Cruz. You have to take a short ferry ride across a strait to get to get between the two.
We arrived at the ferry by bus. The ferry driver wanted to load Kasenya (still in her wheelchair) onto the roof of the boat with the luggage. There were no sides to it. We yanked her out of her wheelchair before that could happen! We had just gotten off a plane and hadn’t applied sunscreen yet. We didn’t want her roasting in the sun or falling into the ocean.
After a couple of nights on Santa Cruz, we decided to go the Isabela Island for three nights. Isabella is a much less visited place and some of the animals are easier to see there. It is one of the places where you can see the rare Galapagos penguin.
But the only way to get there is by boat. The video above shows how Kasenya got onto that particular boat. The ride was extremely rough, but the ride there was worse. We had a cross wind and a couple of times, we thought we were going over. We kept only one strap holding Kasenya in so we could ditch the wheelchair if we capsized.
A couple of times we had to transfer in the harbour from the boat to a water taxi in order to get to the dock because of low tide. Another nerve wracking experience!
The last boat trip was between the main Island of Santa Cruz going to our last stop in the Galapagos, San Cristobal Island where we will fly back to the mainland from. Again the seas were rough as they are this time of year. But the boat was bigger with more engines which made us feel more confident. Along with the fact that they actually handed a life jacket to each person. (On the previous boat none were in sight). And they had a dispenser for little black puke bags. Hmmmm .... should life jackets and puke bags make you feel more confident or less?
This bigger boat (the Areciffe) flew across the ocean, literally. We had seen others like her. Sometimes she would come up one side of a wave and we definitely caught some air coming down the other side. For a moment you would feel weightless like when you hit the highest point on a swing. Then she would land hard on the other side, often jolting Kasenya’s wheelchair a few inches. When we finally got off the boat Kasenya had a headache and proceeded to throw up. Boats were definitely one of the most memorable but not enjoyable parts of our visit to the Galapagos Islands.