|Will we ever get to see one of these for real in Peru?|
We are not travel bloggers, so why on earth am I about to tell you about our dream epic adventure to Peru. Well there are points in life that you sense are 'now or never' moments and with our sponsored child Amni nearing the end of her school years within the next few years, we have realised that if our dream of ever meeting her is to come true we are going to have to start planning now.
Since we started to homeschool the kids a couple of years ago, one of the things I have enjoyed the most is the freedom that comes with it. Not having to go begging to the headteacher for a day off school, or worse still to go on holiday! Having the freedom to go with our moods in terms of what we learn and what we do. The freedom to make the most of the weather - building sandcastles on the beach in the sunshine and puddle jumping in the rain. Deciding to go for a day out at the last minute and not having to be accountable to anyone. It is just a different kind of lifestyle to the usual 9-5 (or rather 9-3) that other families are tied to.
So what if we could go one step further. What if we were able to go on an extended holiday to combine the dream of meeting Amni, along with the amazing epic adventure we would have seeing the most incredible sights of South America, with the lifestyle that we have found so liberating. Moneysupermarket.com along with Aswetravel.com have challenged us in their 'A Grand Adventure' competition to describe the epic adventure we would have, where we would go and what we would do and how we could get our budget to last as long as possible.
Granted, travelling with kids on such an adventure is probably not ideal, and I imagine that most of the other bloggers participating in this challenge are most probably more experienced travel bloggers and are travelling without kids in tow. But we are certainly up for a challenge and if we couldn't go with the kids, then I wouldn't want to go at all because this adventure would be as much about opening their eyes to the world as it is about us experiencing it.
This point is particularly important to us because this dream, this adventure, all started with a child. That young child staring out of that photograph at us 10 years ago. Those sad eyes awaiting a sponsor. Over the years that photo has been updated with a bright happy smiling face and news of how much she loves learning and telling us about her family, her friends, her teachers, the Peruvian festivals, the Peruvian food, and how she hopes that one day she will meet us.
And now I can see all these threads coming together. The link with Peru, the homeschooling, the children, the freedom, the lifestyle, the dream. There is another thread to add - the regret. As a teenager, when many of my friends were heading off on around the world adventures, I thought there would be time to do that after Uni. What was the hurry? What difference would a few years make? I would just do my uni course first and then have a break to go travelling, right? Wrong! I had no idea just how quickly people can become 'trapped' in the cycle of needing to get a job, having the responsibility of a home, and then a family, and then the limitations imposed when the kids start school and all of a sudden a huge pin is put in your dream and it bursts.
Yes I regret that decision. An opportunity to travel missed becomes a regret. I realised that all the more so when pre-kids we visited relatives in Canada and the USA for a short holiday. How amazing it was to see scenery so different, how fascinating it was to see differences in cultures that you had previously assumed were pretty similar to your own. How unreal it was to experience such different climates within such close proximity like snow capped mountains only a short drive away from sunny beaches. At the time, it was a big expense for such a relatively short holiday and yet I have no regrets at all about it. The experience was so worth it.
So now I don't want to live with another regret. I want to find a way of experiencing Peru on a budget, rather than live with the regret of never experiencing it. So not being an experienced traveller but instead relying on learning from the lessons of others along with a bit of common sense (I hope) thrown in, here's our dream adventure of a lifetime.
Seeing the sights on a budget
Whilst the driving factor in picking Peru as our dream destination was to see Amni, I challenge anyone to not be mesmerised by the fascinating history of Peru in terms of its ancient cultures and civilisations especially the Incas. Combine that with the stunning scenery of the Andes which runs pretty much along the full length of Peru, add in the wildlife aspect (over 80% of the world's different eco-systems are represented in Peru) and you have an irresistable recipe for an epic adventure.
Of course Machu Picchu has to be top of the list to visit (and will probably top of the list for every tourist in Peru) and the budget would take a big hit with this - so extra savings will need to be made elsewhere as there is no way I would visit Peru and not visit this magical place - the lost city of the Incas which was only rediscovered in 1911.
Whilst this is going to be an expensive part of any trip to Peru, by buying any souvenirs from local markets away from the main tourist sites, you will not be paying tourist prices and can be making sure your money is going into the local economy.
Whilst visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas where those snow-capped mountains overlook the bubbling Urubamba river, there are some other amazing Inca ruins to be found at Ollantaytambo.
If you are travelling without a family in tow and want a really amazing experience in Peru, I spotted an advert in the latest edition of The Big Issue magazine for a charity that trains volunteers to go out to Peru and help at a centre for children with special needs. Sadly in Peru, many communities still hold the belief that children with special needs are born with a curse and education and support is needed to break this cycle. For a minimum donation (which is far less than it would cost otherwise) you can volunteer with this project, receive accomodation at the centre and trips to Machu Picchu and tours of Lima and Cusco are also included. It sounds like an amazing and very worthwhile experience to be involved in whilst helping you live in and see Peru on a budget.
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest lake in South America. Legend has it that it is the birthplace of the Incas - the sun sent the first inca king to the lake to found the Inca Kingdom. It is home to the Uros people who amazingly live on reed islands they have woven! Many people in this area still live by subsistence farming - that would be a real eye-opener to my kids and us.
Another eye-opener I discovered is the Peru has some of the best sand dunes in the world for Sand-boarding. I don't fancy my own chances at being able to do that, but I can think of one or two people I know who would be so up for it.
Accomodation on a budget
Having witnessed my brother travel around the world living in hostels, and having had a few UK breaks away in Youth Hostels, we have been really impressed with the standard of accomodation available and the availabilty of family rooms, yet at budget prices.
Having had a quick peek at the website for Hostels in Peru, I have found that Peru has 30 hostels and some look just so idyllic that I would opt for them instead of a posh hotel anyday. Just take a peek at this one in Cusco...it just reflects the colour and vibrancy of Peru so well and is just picturesque. And so is this one which is located right in the heart of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Homestays are also a low cost, no frills option in Peru where you can stay in the homes of villagers. One of the places that offers homestays are the villages on the islands on Lake Titicaca which is one of the places I dream of visiting. Homestays are also available in Cusco too.
Food on a budget
One of the things I used to laugh about whenever my little bro used to phone home from his travels was that he had learnt to cook whilst travelling. He had found that a really cheap way to eat whilst staying in hostels was to use the items that others had left behind when they had moved onto their next destination on the communal / 'help yourself' shelf of the fridge or larder.
I remember him telling me how he would do "Ready, Steady, Cook" everyday to see what he could cook for free every day using those free items. I have to admit that it is a genius idea. Although I think I would make sure I had a few of my own ingredients in stock just in case, the principle is a great one as I never think food should go to waste.
When eating out, it is logical I suppose, but look for where the locals like to eat as that usually signals good food at reasonable prices. We did come a little bit unstuck when we did this in Vancouver when we ended up in a Chinese restaurant that was so favoured by the local Chinese community that the menu was only in Chinese and the restauranteur could only speak Chinese. We somehow coped though and ended up eating a very tasty meal.
Reading up on travel blogs apparently the bargain meal of the day has to be going for the set menu at lunchtime where you will get a pretty huge meal by the sounds of it from anywhere between 3 and 7 soles. So if you have lunch as your main meal of the day when you are more likely to be out and about anyway, then that should cut your food costs down considerably.
Transport within Peru
Apparently Cusco is fairly walkable and there are free walking tours which would of course be the budget option rather than the tours organised by the travel companies. For longer journeys, economy bus travel seems to be the most budget option.
Whilst mentioning free activities the Chocolate Museum is free whereas many of the other museums have an admission fee. Being a lover of Chocolate, I guess that is going to be a must on my list of things to do.
Doing a bit of research beforehand should really help save those pennies when travelling. There are so many websites and travel bloggers out there and if they are anything like the parent-blogger community, then I'd imagine that they'd be very friendly and welcoming of any questions.
Aswetravel.com is where experienced travellers Nathan and Sofia share their experiences. Travelling around the world since 1998 they blog and make videos about the locations they have visited so you can get a heads up before you head off on your travels. Their website just oozes the passion that they have for travel and I would challenge anyone to be able to take a look and not be inspired to want to go and visit somewhere and see something more of what the world has to offer.
I hope that in my own little way, I have inspired you to want to see something out there that you have not yet discovered, somewhere where you have never visited before. I know that as I have found out more and more about Peru I am longing more than ever to be able to visit.