Ever since I was a freshman Spanish student (about 1966) looking at a strange and wonderful photograph of Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city, I have wanted to visit Peru. I enjoy travel, and am lucky to have married a man who also loves to roam the world. We talked about taking a trip for years, but something always stood in our way - money, time, political unrest. So last fall when our University of Wisconsin, Whitewater alumni magazine came out with an ad announcing a trip to Peru, we decided this was our time to visit South America.
The university used a company called Pilgrim Tours to organize the trip, and we had a university representative to come along with us, so really all we needed to do was find the funds, read up on Peru, and decide what to pack. We always have up-to-date passports, so that was no problem.
The trip, overall, was wonderful, everything I hoped it would be. But the getting there and coming back was a challenge. The first day was a week ago Sunday, and we were in Whitewater at 6:30 in the morning to load a charter bus to Chicago O'Hare. We left our cars at the university. The plan was to leave Chicago just before noon, fly to Houston, then an hour later catch another flight for the 3, 100 miles to Lima. We were supposed to have a Sunday city tour and a welcome dinner and folklore show.
Three traits every traveler needs are flexibility, patience, and stamina. We have the first two, but I learned that my stamina is not what it used to be. Air travel can be exhausting. Our first flight was delayed two hours, which caused us to miss our flight from Houston to Lima. The airline put our group up in a hotel for the night, and we took a morning flight on Monday. Actually, some of our group went directly to Lima, but several of us were diverted to Panama for six hours first.
Going to Panama turned out to be interesting. We could have waited in the airport, but as a group we decided to try to get to see the Panama Canal. We had to purchase a visa, go through security, explain that we did not have a hotel, and then find a way to get to the Miraflores lock. While the group rented a locker for our carry-on luggage, my husband negotiated with a couple of taxi drivers. He finally found a van to take us to the canal and back in time for our flight to Lima - $25 a person round trip.
One man in the group had passable Spanish, so he communicated with Denise, our amiable driver, who spoke a tiny bit of English. She drove us the 45 minute trip through Panama City, pointing out places where both the rich and poor live, schools, churches, the cemetery for the men who built the canal.
I gather that the Panama Canal has three sets of lock. The closest one to the airport is the Miraflores lock. There is a nice visitor's center with a museum and an explanatory video, but we had just 35 minutes to watch ships go through the lock, and to get back to the airport.
To me, a lock is a lock, But to my dear husband, a lock is an endless source of wonder and entertainment. Still, it was interesting to find myself in a new country looking at one of the world's marvels of engineering. Here he is, in his element. We saw two ships passing through the Miraflores lock, then we paused for a group photo (taken by a couple from Venezuela celebrating their 50th anniversary), and finally we made our way back through rush hour traffic to the Panama City-Bay County International Airport.
We made it to Lima and our hotel by midnight, and we set our wake-up call for 4:30 in the morning, because we had a morning flight to catch over the Andes to Cusco.
To be continued.