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Monthly Archives: November 2015

A Party and a Prayer

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One of the most popular parties in the world happens in Paucartambo, Peru, a tiny town about four hours from Cusco. For 362 days a year this town of blue-shuttered adobe buildings is a relatively sleepy place where its residents, many of Andean heritage, live quiet lives. But for three days in July, the town erupts in a celebration that draws tens of thousands of pilgrims and visitors each year

The Feast of la Virgen del Carmen

The Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmen (Virgen del Carmen) falls on July 16th. Paucartambo celebrates in a way that has become world famous, with an outrageously raucous and colorful event. Elaborately-costumed players dance and parade along the streets of the tiny town carrying an image of the Virgen del Carmen that was blessed by Pope John Paul II during his first visit to Peru in 1985.

Peru is a Catholic country. The event honoring the “Mamacha del Carmen” (Lady of Carmen) combines the rituals of Catholicism with the centuries-old Andean traditions. Masses are celebrated each morning and evening, when the faithful the Lady for the year’s blessings, and ask for health and prosperity during the next year.

The Dancers

The celebration begins at noon every July 15th, when the thunder of rockets and ringing of bells officially opens the festival. Dance troupes thrill watchers with their masks and costumes. Each troupe has its own theme, telling a story based on Andean history as they dance towards the small town’s cathedral for the “Cera Apaykuy” ceremony.

At night, the dancers retreat to a large home or venue where the sumptuous Andean food is plentiful, as are the beer and pisco. The venues are filled to the brim with people – campesinos and tourists alike – who stretch the party well into the night.

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Tres Cruces

If at all possible, tear yourself away from the party for a little while and visit Tres Cruces, an overlook with a spectacular view of the amazon about two hours from Paucartambo. You can hire a truck, or take one of the minibuses, which make the trip back and forth all night long during festival days. July is also one of the best times of the year to visit Tres Cruces at sunrise, when the view is even more spectacular.

Getting There

Many of the visitors to the festival are campesinos, who come as pilgrims and make the trek along the dangerous mountain route leading to the town every year. Tourists often choose to take one of the buses from Cusco, which depart frequently during festival days.

The most difficult part about planning this adventure by yourself though, is finding a place to stay. There are only a few basic hotels, which fill up very early. Many of the locals will open up their homes for visitors overnight, for a price. But even if you find a place, you’ll be staying in crowded conditions at a premium price.

The other option is to contact us here. Let us help you arrange your travel to Paucartambo during a future July festival.

THREE SURPRISES IN THE PERUVIAN DESERT

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What images come to mind when you think of the desert? Do you think of rolling sand dunes and cracked earth? What about Heat?

When you travel to Peru you can visit deserts that have all three, of course. But Peru’s deserts also have surprises in store for the adventurous, and the timely.

Surprise #1: An Explosion of Color on the Desert Floor

The entire coastline of Peru is classified as a desert. Spanning almost 73,000 square miles, it extends from the Sechura in the north to the Atacama, which connects with and extends into Chile, on the south.

The Atacama Desert is the driest (non-polar) desert in the world. Stretching out over 41,000 square miles, it may also be the oldest desert in the world. With soils used to being dry, the rare rainfall sometimes causes severe flooding, as it did in March, 2015.

Because of an El Nino weather pattern, rain came again to the desert only months later. In late October and early November, 2015, the Atacama treated travelers and locals alike to a beautiful sight.

There, on the desert floor, the unseasonably wet weather had awakened sleeping tubers and rhizomes under the dry surface. The resulting germination created an explosion of color in the form of vast fields of desert wildflowers. Known as the “diseirto florido” (flourishing desert) the seas of pink Mallow flowers, purple and white Chilean Bel Flowers, and the vibrant Red Lion Claw flower stretched, in places, as far as the eye could see.

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Surprise #2: An Oasis known for its Sand Dunes

The floral show on the desert floor may be temporary, but the wonders of our second desert surprise, known as Huacachina, the “Oasis of America,” are available year-round.

Located five hours south of Lima in the Ica Region of Southeastern Peru, Huacachina is, literally, an oasis in the desert. With a resident population of somewhere between 115 and 150, this small town is a mecca built around a small natural lake.

Huacachinga’s palm trees and unexpected luxury are attractions for many, but the major tourist attraction is the adventure offered by the picturesque sand dunes surrounding the town. These dunes are some of the highest in the world. Dune buggy tours are becoming increasingly popular, and many adventurous visitors come to practice the challenging sport of sandboarding down the steep slopes.

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Surprise #3: Desert Fog

Our last surprise from the deserts of Peru comes from the Sechura region. For most of the year, the Sechura Desert is, as one would rightly assume, dry and sunny. But, in the winter, areas of this desert are covered with a thick fog or mist, called a garua.

The garua prevents the sun from penetrating to the earth for most of the winter months. The moisture from the fog is so thick that it can be captured by a type of vegetation called lomas, which are not visible the rest of the year. The moisture from the fog nourishes the lomas (and other plant, animal and bird species in the area) and creates our third surprise: lush, green vegetation that covers the rolling hills of the desert landscape between July and November of each year.

The deserts of Peru have more surprises awaiting you on your next trip to Peru. Contact us here and let us know what type of adventure you would like to have.

5 Things to Know Before Traveling to Peru

1

You will need plenty of cash on hand

One of the first things that travellers to Peru should know is that many Peruvian restaurants and shops don’t take credit cards, and those that do charge an extra fee for running the card. Make sure to have plenty of cash on hand, preferably in small bills so that merchants can make correct change. While some businesses do take US dollars, you’ll want to have at least some Peruvial soles on hand. Another thing to keep in mind – make sure your bills are in good shape. Merchants will often reject torn or overly worn bills.

2

You will notice the altitude change

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Figure 2 – By Colegota [CC BY-SA 2.5 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/es/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Peru is located in mountainous terrain, meaning that it’s at a higher elevation than many travellers will be used to. If you’re planning on backpacking Macchu Picchu or visiting other famous Incan sites especially, you’ll have to take some time to get used to the conditions. Thankfully, it’s not that hard – drink lots of water, get plenty of sleep, and avoid drinking too much alcohol, and your body should acclimate quickly enough for you to enjoy your trip.

3

Bathrooms work a little differently

When you go to use a Peruvian bathroom, you’ll notice a trashcan next to the toilet. That’s where your toilet paper goes, unless you want the experience of scrambling to find a plunger in a foreign country where English isn’t the native language. This might take some getting used to, but many establishments will have signs reminding you where the toilet paper goes.

4

It Can Get Very Wet

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The dry season in Peru usually lasts from May to October, but even then you’re likely to encounter rain during your visit. Be sure to bring a rain coat and clothes that will be comfortable in weather that’s both wet and warm – Peru’s location near the equator means that it’s likely to be warm, even when it’s raining.

5

You will need comfortable walking shoes

Trekking Andes
Figure 2 – By Colegota [CC BY-SA 2.5 es (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/es/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Remember how we mentioned that Peru is mountain country? If you’re planning on doing a lot of walking, make sure to bring shoes that are good for long trips in rough terrain. This goes double if you’re planning on visiting Machu Picchu or hiking the Inca Trail.

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