Peru and Galapagos - October 2003
First of all, three weeks in South America will definitely have an impact on you. There are some small things that you will appreciate so much upon your return home. Things like not having to carry toilet paper in your pocket at all times and actually being able to throw it in the toilet after you use it, not to mention toilet seats. Apparently all the toilet seats in South America have been traded in for old rusty Volkswagens. The ability to brush your teeth with straight tap water is such luxury.
Anyway enough of that. Here is a brief (sort of) synopsis of some of what we experienced.
(Underlined items throughout the text will link to corresponding photos.)
Quito Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands
We flew into Quito, Ecuador from Houston, arriving at 11:30 or so at night. We went straight to the hotel which was very nice, even by western standards and right downtown in "new town" Quito. Since our flight out to Balta in the Galapagos is early, we have a 4:30AM wake up call to meet everyone in the lobby by 6AM. (the first of MANY early mornings) Needless to say we didn't experience much of Quito on the first day.
The Galapagos Islands are very strict about maintaining the ecological balance (or what's left after a million tourist traipsing around) so they search all your bags thoroughly at the airport before allowing you to board your plane. This requires standing in line after line for over an hour. An airport occurrence that is not so uncommon in south America we discover. Then when I decide to relax with a cup of complimentary coffee I find out that they dump a ton of sugar in the pot, most of the coffee was crap anyway, stick to the tea if you go.
We finally reach Porta Ayora to meet our boat. (after a bus, plane, bus, boat and another bus) The boat is great, so much nicer than we expected, eight cabins with private bathrooms and hot showers, outside deck, bar, dining area and a crew that would appear and disappear. Our guide for this part of the trip is Alexis, a level lll, naturalist, certified by the Charles Darwin Research Station. The food was good and usually more than enough. Fruit, cereal and eggs or pancakes for breakfast; chicken or fish or beef, soup, rice, vegetables, pasta and deserts for lunch and dinner. Eight cabins meant only 16 people (plus crew) on the boat so it was much more cozy and nice than a big cruise ship.
Our daily agenda was to go out in the morning, come back at lunch and go out again in the afternoon. We snorkeled every day. Snorkeling along with HUGE sea lions, watching Sting Rays (big ones!) zipping along below you and although the clarity is not known to be the best in the Galapagos, we saw a lot of fish, sometimes huge schools of trigger fish, some needle fish, puffer fish, parrot fish and a lot of unidentified fish. The weirdest was the sea lions that would swim in circles all around you and come right up to your face wanting to play. Bill loved it but I admit it freaked me out, I was perfectly happy to stick with the babies that were cute and smaller than me. One day we snorkeled right off the boat but the rest of the time the "panga" (lifeboat raft) would take us out to an area near rocks to snorkel. The water was a little chilly but not bad, we stayed in the water for over an hour each day.
We went to the islands of Florena, Espanola, Santa Fe and North Seymour (also Balta). Some islands we had more than one stop. I won't go into daily details but we saw giant tortoises, lots of marine iguanas, some land iguanas and other lizards, Sea Lions by the ton, sally lightfoot crabs, sting rays, lots of fish and birds like the albatross, blue footed boobie, masked boobie, pelicans, lots of flamingos, Darwin's finches of course and the frigate birds with their distinct red puffy chest. We also saw a whale, dolphins, sharks (in the area where we had just been snorkeling - yikes!) and a couple of penguins. I wasn't able to get any pictures of these last guys, they wouldn't stop and pose like the sea lions.
We should have some pictures of snorkeling with sea lions when we get the film developed. On all of our treks on the islands we were accompanied by Alexis. He gave a lot of information about the history and ecology of each island and the flora and fauna. We also had some time to just wander and look at things by ourselves. At one point we went to an extremely powdery beach, the sand was like flour. While there we waded in the water with our ankles surrounded by sting rays. Very cool.
There are so many stories to tell. Like one night while the boat traveled to another island the sea was so rough, it rolled me out of bed, the cabin door kept crashing open and Bill was not feeling too good. It was a long night that I don't think anyone slept. One thing that struck us about the Galapagos was how desolate most of the islands seemed. It was the end of the dry season so things were pretty brown. Also there was a lot of cactus, very large cactus with bark on the trunks. Seemed quite Dr. Suess-ish.
In retrospect we should have done the Galapagos after doing the much more difficult Peru part. Lounging on the deck in the afternoon sun with a glass of wine and a book watching dolphins swim along the boat was great and would have been welcome after the Inca trail.
Speaking of the Inca trail.......about Peru.....
After four nights and five days in the Galapagos we were off to Lima Peru. We flew back to Quito for another night, had dinner with the Australian girls we met, Wendy and Jenny, stopped at the internet cafe and then had a few hours in the morning to walk around near our hotel. We found a market and looked at some handicrafts and since I left my fleece jacket on the plane I bought one at the market. Very cheap but not nearly so nice as the old navy one I had. Oh well.
Our flight to Lima was uneventful and since there were six of us from the Galapagos doing the Peru part of the trip we all shared cabs to the hotel in the Mira Flores district of Lima. That evening we met the rest of our group and our GAP leader, Sophia . The group consisted of Bill and I, a San Diego couple, Mike and Karen and Shirley a Chinese born New Yorker all from the States. Wendy, Jenny and a guy named Mark from Australia, Debbie, a Canadian born girl living in Panama (her husband is Panamanian, but he didn't come on the trip). Marie, an Irish lass and Claire and Andre, an older couple from Canada. The ages ranged from 26 (Debbie) to 60-ish (Claire and Andre). It was a good group and everyone got along well. No whiners. Several people were doing some extended traveling that made our three weeks seem wimpy. From three months to 8 months on the road. Whew.
We flew to Juliaca from Lima the next morning. The plane made two stops and then we got on a bus for Puno. It was about 3 hours of travel. Our hotel in Puno was cute and small and only fairly clean, but they had showers and toilet seats (yay). Puno is at 12,450 feet above sea level and we were on the fourth floor. Had to take some breaks at first just to make it up to the room with our backpacks and bags. They kept Coca tea in the 2nd floor sitting room and everyone could be seen traipsing through there regularly. It tastes like a nice herbal tea. Since neither Bill or I had any adverse affects from the altitude (besides being out of breath on the stairs) we didn't notice any real benefit from the coca leaves. But what the heck, we drank the tea regularly anyway.
We were only a block or so from the main street in Puno and we wandered amongst the shops and found a place to get a quick tamale (different than Mexico, but good) and an Inca-Kola. The Inca Kola isn't cola its more like bubble gum flavored and very sweet. While we were eating an impromptu parade went by in the street. This was a common occurrence, apparently the Peruvians will have a parade to celebrate anything and everything. Later that night we head out to dinner with Sophia, Wendy, Jenny, Debbie and Marie. Bill has no problem being surrounded by women at dinner. He has the opportunity to try the Peruvian delicacy of cuy (guinea pig in western lingo). I tried a bite and found it to be a little gamey tasting. Bill said it was good but there is so little meat and so many bones that it turns out to be way too much work. The flavor to effort ratio is an important part of the dining equation to Bill and cuy just doesn't quite measure up.
The next day we head down to the harbor in these bicycle taxi's, it was a fun ride. These guys haul butt down the hills and fight for the narrow streets with the cars. Honking their bicycle horns all the way.
At the harbor we bought goodies for the island family that we will spend the night with, primarily rice, sugar, pasta, pencils and notebooks and some fruit then we boarded the boat and headed out onto lake Titicaca with our guide, Guido. This is the highest navigatable lake in the world (so they tell us) and the site of the myth of the origin of the Inca people. They say that from the lake arose a giant mama and papa that gave birth to the Inca's. We didn't see any giants, in fact in these parts we were the giants. These people are really short. Bill, Mike and Mark were really easy to find as they towered above all the locals.
We visited the Uros Islands that are made from the Totora reeds that grow in the lake. They replace them continuously as they rot under water. It was a little weird to walk on but never felt like I was going to fall through. The islands are primarily set up for the tourists, though our guide discussed the history of the islands and there were representations of how they used to live. We even tasted the Totora reeds as they eat them as well. The taste was a cross between celery and Styrofoam. I could live without it. Now the people that still live on the islands, live in metal houses (not easily visible to tourists) with satellite dishes, color TV's and solar panels (no bathrooms though - priorities!) Anyway the islands were interesting and we got some good pictures and had a ride in a boat made from reeds.
We were then off to Amantani Island where we would spend the night with a family.
We were assigned to Ernesto and Juana's house. Ernesto spoke Spanish and with Bills broken Spanish we were able to communicate somewhat. We had a few hours to eat lunch (how many kinds of potatoes can you eat in one meal?!) some fish, some soup and the obligatory potatoes, followed by hot tea (muna tea made from some weeds in the yard that taste like peppermint, yummy). Then we wandered around taking pictures until it was time to hike up to the temple on the top of the island. It was 13,450 feet continuously up. Of course we started around 12,000 so the actual climb was fairly gradual. We first watched a soccer game about halfway up between the locals and some of the tourists. At every town or village we visited they would have elaborate soccer fields set up, often (like on the island) with concrete stadium type seating. They live in mud brick houses that have to be re-done every seven years or so because the rains destroy the brick but the soccer field complex is concrete(?). After the game we continued up to the top for the sunset. All along the way some boys from the village played their flutes accompanying us, though at times I swear my labored breathing drowned out the music. The sunset was beautiful. It got a little cold as the sun went down so we all donned our knitted hats that the families had provided.
Going back down we met William, Ernesto's eldest boy, who guided us back to the house for dinner (thank goodness, we would have never found our way in the darkness-it was VERY dark). With Ernesto's permission, we joined the family for dinner in the kitchen. He had been working on the new kitchen and was proudly showing off his Solar panel lights (rare in this village, most had candle light only) and his new stove, the clay around the edges was still wet from where he had finished it that day. It seemed to work quite well as Juana cooked dinner. The family congregates in the kitchen for all their meals. They don't use a table, just hold their bowls in their lap. The children, William (10 yrs), Mary Luz (9 yrs) and Fernando (6 yrs) all were being taught Spanish in school so Bill's Spanish helped us communicate, though sign language was also very popular. (As Bill says I speak Spanish "like a Mexican stroke victim", I stuck to "Gracias" and sign language.) Most of the time we just sat there eating and watching the family catch up on their day. They spoke to each other in their native Quechua, so we couldn't understand a word. It was very strange, like watching live theater, though every now and then Ernesto would ask us about something in our life. The children sang songs, talked about school (I think...... they may have been saying "aren't these gringo's weird!"). In general it was very relaxing, so much so that Fernando almost fell asleep on his stool and had to go off to bed. He shook hands with each of us and said "chow" before retiring. He was a very polite child.
Its a good thing we had the chance to relax at dinner because the after dinner entertainment was about to begin. Juana and Mary Luz ordered us to our room where they presented us with traditional clothing to be worn for a festive night of dancing. Bill in his knitted wool poncho and hat and me in embroidered blouse, skirt and shawl followed Juana down to the community center where two bands were playing and women were selling beer in the corner. We decided this must be the Amantanians entertainment; making a bunch of gringos dance goofily around for hours. It is considered very rude to stop before the song is over and these songs go on FOREVER!!! Remember we are at 13,000 + feet altitude, you run out of breath long before the song is over.
click on the picture for dancing music
It was a lot of laughing and after an hour or two of constant dancing (badly), we were exhausted and asked Juana to escort us back to the house. The night was clear and on the way back to the house the stars were bright and beautiful and off in the distance a lightning storm was putting on a show. A fitting ending to a weird and wonderful day.
The next morning after breakfast, we presented Ernesto with the gifts we had brought, asked them to pose for pictures and got ready to leave for our visit to Taquile Island. There were hugs all around and Ernesto asked if we could send copies of the pictures. They loved seeing the digital photo's on the camera. It felt like they enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed the experience of meeting them. We will definitely send them copies of the pictures.
Our day visit to Taquile Island consisted of....guess what....another hike to the top of the Island. Once there we wandered around the town square, visited the stores of handcrafts and listened to Guido tell tales of the islands history and people. He said that some people believe the original Inca's were giant, one-eyed Cyclops, hmmmmmm, hadn't heard that one before. We had a great lunch and continued our walk to the other side of the island where the boat would be waiting....at the bottom of 500+ steps. It was a steep climb down but watching the locals hauling propane cylinders and supplies up the steps, on their back was humbling. They weren't hauling this stuff up there for their lunch but to sustain the tourism. Makes you wonder if they weren't better off before all of this gringo influx. We actually had similar thoughts throughout many parts of this trip.
The boat ride back to Puno was a few hours long and just to make it more interesting the steering cable broke and the driver had to wire a piece of rebar to the rudder and steer manually from the back of the boat while Guido operated the throttle from the front of the boat. Mike began singing the Gilligans Island theme song..."A three hour tour...." . The amazing part was that the driver had the boat moving again in about 15 minutes. I wonder just how often this happens????????
That evening we got our laundry back from the hotel and it was beautifully pressed and folded (and cheap). We were happy. It was off to wander the markets and then to dinner. Bill continued his gourmet cuisine experiment by ordering the Alpaca steak at a local restaurant. Once again I played it safe with a bowl of ginger carrot soup, very tasty. I didn't have much of an appetite that evening though I did taste Bill's alpaca. It was highly seasoned so kind of hard to distinguish the taste of the meat but it didn't leave an everlasting impression. I could live without it. I sensed that Bill wasn't going to start an alpaca farm to stock the freezer either.
On to Cusco
The next morning we were off early for a full day (@ 7 hours) on a bus to Cusco. The bus wouldn't be stopping for lunch so we picked up some bananas at a fruit market and hoped to find someone selling empanadas along the way. Sophia (our GAP tour leader) assured us that we would. The bus was very comfortable with a bathroom in the back and Johnny Depp's "Pirates of the Caribbean" playing on a video screen. It was a good way to see the countryside through the high Altiplano region. We would climb to over 14,220 feet in altitude on our way to Cusco. The scenery was less than spectacular but nonetheless interesting, rural adobe brick homes, people working in fields, mountain vistas, sheep and cattle. We stopped at a couple of places to pick up or drop off people and at the high pass for pictures. We paid a few soles to get our pictures taken with a couple of local women and their llamas (alpaca's actually). You can't visit Peru and not pay for a picture with a llama, it's like mandatory or something.
As promised there was a women selling empanadas and of course we bought a couple. The bus had a flat tire near a village and out of nowhere a huge tire was produced and put on the bus to get to the next town where the bus tire was repaired. While they were fixing the tire (with a lot of shrugging and expressions like "looks good enough for me"), Bill wandered over to a woman selling what she claimed was "lamb" in a Bar-B-Q like sauce. He bought a serving and several other people from the bus followed his example, I decided on a banana instead.
We checked into our hotel in Cusco late that afternoon (twin beds-no "matrimonial" bed rooms were available). The hotel was decent, large bathrooms, very clean, but absolutely the loudest hotel I have ever stayed in. In a room right above us some drunk guy had passed out with his TV on full blast. Bill and another guest finally convinced the manager to go into the room and shut off the TV. We had an extremely early morning. We had a little time to wander around Cusco and take some pictures. At the briefing that evening we received our duffle bags that would contain all our worldly possessions for the next 5 days. They seemed roomy and we were confident.....until we started cramming two sleeping bags, bag liners, clothes, my ultra-lite sleeping mat, our camping pillows, Teva's and all the other things we wanted to take. We managed and it was enough room, though barely. We also loaded up our day packs with medical supplies, water, water filter, rain gear and toiletries (minimal though deodorant was a necessity!).
The Sacred Valley
We loaded up in a comfortable bus (Sophia and our group of 12) with Hamilton, who would be our guide until the end of the Inca Trail. He had just finished the Inca trail with another group the day before and had done the trek some 300 times or so. He had also participated in the Inca trail competition in the past with a total time of just over 5 hours or so. Since we were taking about three and a half days to trek the trail, we felt he would probably be able to keep up with us....HAH. We soon discovered the difference between real time and "Hamilton time".
We stopped at one vista point for some pictures of the valley and then we were off to Pisac where they have a well known market. In Pisac I bought a couple of t-shirts and we watched a women skin some cuy for the next days dinner (a celebration of some sort was in the planning for the next day - cuy is a special occasion meal). We snacked on some empanadas and shopped. Mike and Karen bought a big slice of cake and put a fat candle in it for Wendy, it was her birthday. We all sang Happy Birthday very loudly and badly just for her.
We stopped at the Izcuchoca ruins to do some pre Inca-trail hiking for a couple of hours. Hamilton would give us some history every now and then and the hike was relaxing and easy. Back at the bus, Bill bought an ice cream cone from a vendor and gave me a bite. I would later question the wisdom of this decision. We had lunch shortly after at a "toristico" restaurant and then drove on to Ollantaytambo. It was either the "ice cream" or something at lunch but here we are, on the brink of the Inca Trail and my stomach is complaining. Bill's stomach was a little queasy and other people in the group were suffering so it could have been the lunch. Luckily that one evening was the extent of it and except for an occasional short bout of queasiness we persevered. It was around this time that we started blaming everything on the altitude.
When we got to Ollantaytambo we immediately hiked up to the ruins. It was raining and darkness was not far away so maybe Hamilton sensed the groups waning enthusiasm after spending all day in a bus, but we only hiked up about halfway. There we could see the famous "face in the mountain" across the valley. After a bit of history from Hamilton it was back down to Ollantaytambo to pick up some supplies; a walking stick for me and coca leaves with catalyst (ash) for the trail porters (and maybe for us). Then on to our hotel for the night. The rain was picking up and the town was experiencing an electrical blackout. The hotel provided candles, but candles weren't going to heat the electrical hot water in the showers. Oh well, we crossed our fingers and went around the corner for dinner in a restaurant that had an open fire pit for baking pizza's. With candles on the table, pizza's cooking and pisco sours around the table, everyone was in a good mood and excited about the Inca trail beginning the next day. We even had a big chocolate cake to celebrate Wendy's birthday in style. Maybe it was the enthusiasm of the group but about halfway through dinner the electricity came back on. For the rest of dinner we had Eric Clapton playing in the background. For a country that doesn't speak English, everywhere we went they played American music from the eighties. Bill loved it. I loved the hot shower I got at the hotel, the last one for 4 days.
The Inca Trail
We were up in the morning and on a bus to kilometer 82 for the start of the trek. The bus ride to the trail was not what we expected. The narrow road seemed to wind through peoples yards, at one point we followed a guy on a bicycle until a dog went after him. then it was over an extremely narrow, u-turn of a bridge over running water and on up the side of a mountain. It was a relief to get off the bus.
At the starting point the seventeen porters divided up the supplies. They would carry all of it on their backs and still pass us up on the trail like we were standing still. Everyone gave some coca leaves and catalyst to the porters before starting off on the trek. Although it was expected they still seemed mighty glad to get those bags. Tea made with the leaves would be available at every meal and most people had bags of leaves. Chewing on the leaves (wrapped around a bit of plant ash and stuck in your cheek like tobacco) is supposed to ease the headache, dizziness and queasiness some people get at high altitude. All I know is it makes your entire mouth numb.
We had to sign in and show passports at the entry point of the trail. Our passports are even stamped at that point. We all posed for a group shot (film is not developed yet - will post later) and it was over the suspension bridge and no turning back. The fist day we were told to expect a fairly flat hike of varying terrain. Hamilton and Sophia (she had done the trail 8 times previously) kept referring to it as "Andean Flat". We ultimately discovered that they meant straight up for awhile followed by straight down for awhile with occasional even spots just to fool you into continuing around a corner. We passed houses (with radios blasting old Chicago tunes), chickens, baby goats, people selling water and Inca-Kola, cows, horses, donkeys loaded with supplies and found ourselves at one point hiking with pigs. After lunch the trail started up. We were doing part of the climb to dead woman's pass on the first day, hopefully making the second day climb less painful. The last part of the trail was up, up and more up. I was starting to get worried about the "big" climb to the pass the next day. Bill went on ahead and I finished up the day with Wendy and Jenny and Jaime (the assistant guide - in charge of bringing up the rear). The scenery through this part was magnificent. Moss covered droopy trees, lots of foliage and glimpses of mountains in the distance. Going slowly and enjoying the sights was the only thing that made the gain of around 1500 feet bearable. That nights camp was high in the mountains and to our surprise had real bathrooms (no toilet seats though). Tea and cookies followed by dinner and sleep was the plan. The tents were all set up and all we had to do each night was unpack the sleeping bags and our personal stuff. The cook and porters cooked up more food than we could eat, soup and chicken and pasta and salad and I don't remember what all was there. You would think that 10 or so miles of trekking upward at a high altitude would make you sleep like a baby, but we didn't really sleep very well that night. Someone slept well because we heard a lot of snoring.
Morning snuck up on us and presented us with a spectacular view of the mountains at sunrise. Not something we see here in Dallas, ever. On my trip to the bathroom I found it overrun with a herd of Llamas. They then proceeded to wander around the camp site as if they were part of the group. They obviously have no fear of people. After breakfast and re-packing everything we were off for Warmiwanuscca, affectionately called "dead woman's pass". The nickname comes from the mountains shape which from a certain angle is said to resemble a woman lying down. Though some people think it comes from feeling like a dead woman after climbing to 13,776 feet. Surprisingly the climb(s) on the second day didn't seem as traumatic to me as the end of the first day. I think there was a feeling of knowing I could make it by now. Though that last 200 feet was a beee-atch. It was the highest point of the trek.
We continued down for awhile and after lunch back up to cross the second pass. We were hiking on the REAL Original Inca Trail by this time and not the reconstructed tourist trail. The first thing Bill and I noticed was that the real trail was much more hiker friendly. Easier steps for one thing. We passed Runkuraqay ruins that I had seen in so many photos. What an experience to read about these places and then actually find yourself there. We were really "experiencing" it as the rain started, then the lightning and thunder so loud that Marie almost jumped off the mountain. Soon after that it started to HAIL. It was tiny hail but enough to make you worry, heck a few hours ago we were hiking in shirt sleeves on a sunny day and then we're in full rain gear and its hailing. The hail didn't last very long but the rain persisted for the rest of the day. It was gloomy but we were hiking through a cloud forest. The trees were covered with moss and the vegetation was getting thicker as we headed for Puyupatamarca ruins. Hamilton gave everyone the option of just going on to camp but some of us hiked up to the ruins to have a look around first. It was impressive, built out of the side of the mountain above the thick vegetation on the edge of the jungle region. Too rainy for pictures so we headed on to the camp fairly quickly. The rain eased up along the last part of that days trail and had stopped by the time we got to camp. We were wet and our boots were muddy but we only had one more day to go. It felt great to get out of those boots and wash up. All the camps now apparently have bathrooms close by with sinks and doors and running water (but no toilet seats). Its only a matter of time until the Inca trail becomes so commercial they will probably put in paved access for strollers like some of the trails in the Smokey Mountains. Tea and popcorn was set up and waiting and it wasn't long before dinner was served they even whipped up some mulled wine as a treat. On this night we had other hikers camping not far away. On the first day and most of the second we didn't see anyone else and there were magical times where Bill and I were hiking along and couldn't see anyone in front or behind. It was as if we had the trail to ourselves. For the rest of the trip we would see other hikers, though not many until the next nights camp.
Day three was to be a short day to the final campsite where rumor was they had warm showers. hmmmmmmmmm Since we only had four or five hours to the next camp we took our time in the morning and set off at a leisurely pace after breakfast. Right off the bat we had to climb a bunch of steep steps. It was cloudy, misty and off and on raining but spirits were high, we would be at Machu Picchu the next morning. Hamilton gave a long talk about the Puyupatamarca ruins that some of us had hiked up to the day before. It was a rather depressing discussion of sacrifices and young white virgin girls. He also explained the Andeans preferred not to be called Indians but either Andeans or Indigenous people and considered it insulting to be referred to as Indians.
We continued our hike on the "Andean Flat" trail looking for orchids and finding orchid-like blooms on some very non-orchid-like plants. We're still not sure what those were, but they were pretty, delicate, purple flowers no matter what. It was misty, rainy and there seemed to be an awful lot of steep uphill climbs for all the talk of the last day being downhill. There were some tunnels and caves and around one bend sat Hamilton waiting to show us the way to camp. This camp is the one where everybody camps for the last night because it is near the entrance to the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu. Everyone except Bill (I think) took the short way to camp for lunch and dry clothes. It had quit raining at this point but looked like it would start again any minute. Bill took the long way to go by some ruins. He took these shots. Click on the thumbnails for bigger pictures.
The camp site wasn't the best but at least we wouldn't have people traipsing past our tent all night. We did have to walk past a lot of others on the way to the bathroom though. This camp has a Hostel and a restaurant/bar close by. The restaurant has great bathrooms and the showers. We went off to try to get the "warm" showers right after lunch before all the other hikers showed up. It cost 5 soles and this guy would let you in to one of the dressing rooms (one for guys and one for girls) that had two shower stalls and a bathroom stall (with toilet seat!). The guys swear they had warm showers but all the women froze their butts. These were not even close to being warm. It was truly more painful than the previous three days of hiking. I didn't feel better. I had been so congested on this whole hike; stuffy nose, sneezing, sore nose from constant blowing, a cold shower didn't really help. Listening to all the guys talk about how warm their showers were didn't help either. Oh well, I knew a hot shower awaited me in Cusco the next night.
Later that afternoon we hiked about twenty minutes to some incredible ruins called Winaywayna. We wandered around these ruins until almost dark then hustled to get back to camp before it got too dark to find our way. We had to walk past the restaurant/bar and it was hopping with people, drinking beer and talking loud. Our camp was far enough away to not be bothered by the noise, but the entire camp site was pretty noisy with hikers. Where did they all come from?!
The cook and porters cooked up an abundance of food, the dishes just kept coming there was plenty of food. After dinner we presented the porters with their tips and many, many thanks for hauling all of our stuff, tents, cooking supplies etc. It is amazing how they strap so much on their back and run along the trail in sandals. These are some tough people and they are always smiling. Maybe there is something to this coca leaf thing? hmmmmm
One last night in the tent and I must have slept because some of the girls went over to the bar for some beers and I never heard them return. We had a wake up call at 4AM and breakfast at 4:30. We took off for the bathrooms before 4AM hoping to beat the crowd only to discover they didn't open until four. There were porters sleeping all over the concrete steps with just a blanket wrapped around them. They were everywhere and at this point some of them were not smelling too pleasant. It was an eerie site by flashlight. We gave up and just used the squatter bathrooms close to our camp. Whew, those babies were nasty but served the purpose. We were on the trail by 5AM.
We had one last check-point to pass through (which doesn't open until 5AM so you can't get going any earlier). The hike to the Sun Gate was only suppose to be about an hour but it felt longer. There were other hikers pushing their way along and the trail was narrow. Then we had to climb an incredibly steep set of steps. What is with all the steps?! Anyway we finally made it to the Sun Gate and got our first glimpse of Machu Picchu along with about 50 other hikers.
After some picture taking we headed down into the ruins. Hamilton led us through a two hour tour, explaining many rooms and pointing out the Temple of the Sun and the Sun dial and the stone quarry and so many other things. It is so big its overwhelming to be there. click over to the Photo Album page of the Inca Trail to see some pictures of the specifics. It was raining off and on and very cloudy at times so we didn't even attempt to climb Wayna Picchu, the mountain adjacent to the ruins. After the tour we wandered on our own around the ruins and watched the place fill up with tourists as the train arrived and the busses from Aquas Caliente continually dropped off more and more people. It became a sea of multi-colored rain ponchos. That was our cue to go. We took a harrowing bus ride down to town, found the restaurant where everyone was hanging out and had some lunch. We even managed to pop into an Internet cafe (they are everywhere) for a quick email. We walked around and did some shopping at the markets but it wasn't long before it was time to find our way to the train station for the 4 or 5 hour ride back to Cusco.
At the train station this dog showed up that had been following us all along the Inca Trail. I'm not sure if he showed up right at the beginning but he hung around throughout the 4 days. Mike kept giving him little treats of candy bar and this dog wasn't giving that up until he absolutely had to. We had tickets for the Vista Dome car on the train and it turned out to be only two train cars with very comfortable seats. It was a long ride and a switch to a bus for another hour or so. So we drug into Cusco after dark and very tired. Bill headed out for dinner with Mike and Karen but I stayed at the hotel, repacked my stuff and had an extremely long, hot shower. We had the next full day in Cusco to relax and see the sites.
The next morning we headed off with a taxi to see the Saqsayhuaman ruins up close. The driver dropped us off and would be back in an hour. We explored the ruins leisurely and took pictures. Then, spur of the moment decided to hike up to get a close up shot of the Jesus statue that overlooks Cusco and is on a hill right next to the ruins. We took our pictures with Jesus and got back to the parking lot just as the taxi driver arrived.
We walked around the city waiting for the Cathedral to open and ran into Mike and Karen. We all went for some lunch at a place right on the Plaza de Armas. A quick walk up a side street led to the San Blas district which has some unique artistic shops. The Cathedral itself was beautiful, full of gold and silver and home to the painting of the last supper with cuy being served on the table. I had read about this painting and was so glad I got to see it. No cameras are allowed in the Cathedral so I bought a post card of the painting. We did some more shopping and just looking around town including a walk down to the Santo Domingo church. we were too late to get into the museum (it was closed) but the stonework on the church was beautiful.
Cusco Cathedral Santa Domingo
We met everyone for a farewell dinner for Claire and Andre as they would not be joining us for the jungle portion of our trip. It was a nice dinner with everyone feeling pretty good now that the physical part of the trip was behind us. The next morning we would be off to the Posada Amazonia lodge on the edge of the Tambopata Jungle Reserve.
We flew from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. The heat and humidity was oppressive as we walked off the plane. People were stripping down to minimal clothing and slapping on bug spray as we waited for our luggage. We loaded up into a bus and met our guide for this part of the trip, Augusto. We rode along on muddy roads in sporadic rain showers for about an hour to the office where we would store the bulk of our luggage. All along the roads were huge Bird of Paradise and tall Brazil nut trees. We had a snack on the bus of these wonderful baby banana's, passion fruit, banana chips and juice. At the office Bill and I had already packed what we needed into our daypacks so we just kicked back and attracted bugs while the flurry of unpacking and packing went on around us. It was a short wait and back on the bus to the rivers edge where our motorized canoe awaited. The water was brown and muddy looking. It was forty-five minutes or so down the river. We had lunch on the boat, of rice, vegetables and some mystery meat that, after one bite, I chose to feed to the fish. Ecologically, the lunch is served in a banana leaf so that when you are finished you just throw it over the side. There were some houses along the side of the river occasionally and at one point we dropped off a package. We arrived at a nondescript staircase into the jungle and disembarked for a 15 minute walk through the jungle to the lodge. Of course this included STEPS, there was a wooden cart rigged up with a motorized pulley that they must use to get supplies up to the lodge, but obviously it wasn't meant for pedestrians.
The lodge was open air. Our rooms had one side open to the jungle so you could benefit from the full jungle experience. Thank goodness for the mosquito nets and heavy deet bug spray! Even the bathroom had a wall open to the jungle (but it had a toilet seat!). There were cold showers only but we expected to be hot and sweaty and cold showers seemed ok, it was only two nights anyway.
We went out on a hike that afternoon and saw Toucans and Macaws and some other birds I didn't know. We saw a group of monkeys near the lodge. We saw a lot of VERY large ants and all kinds of insects including a HUGE nest of Social Spiders. We had the opportunity to watch as a moth fell into the nest and was attacked by zillions of spiders. eeewwwwww We hiked past a small Kapac tree. These trees grow very quickly and get gigantic. Their idea of a small one is still giant. One unique thing we discovered was a Brazil nut pod. The Brazil nut trees are so tall and these cocoanut looking pods fall so far and are so heavy that it is said men working on the jungle floor have been killed by getting hit on the head from falling pods.
Inside this pod is a dozen or more brazil nuts in their dark brown shells. We watched the guide hack one open with a machete and the fresh nuts taste more like cocoanut than the processed ones. The nuts are generally boiled before being sold commercially.
Dinner was buffet style in an open air dining room and bar area. We slept to the sound of the jungle and something under our room gnawing on the wood. Bill actually went out and looked at one point but didn't find anything and frankly I didn't want to know.
The next day the weather turned on us. We took the boat down river a little ways where we hiked to a lake that is suppose to be home to a family of otters. It was so muddy that we wore big rubber boots.
click on the frog for background jungle sounds
About thirty minutes into our ride, on what they called a catamaran but looked to me more like a raft slung across two canoes, it started raining. Then it started raining HARD. The weather brought the adventure to an end and we headed back to shore and after slopping through the mud and mosquitoes, loaded back into the canoe and back to the lodge. It continued to rain the rest of that day and the wind picked up making it pretty chilly. The one thing we weren't prepared for was to be cold while in the jungle. Some people went off for a rain hike to the giant Kapac tree (Bill included) I stayed behind (wrapped up in a blanket) and waited for the afternoon hike to the observation tower. Donning rain gear and boots, Karen and I took off with Augusto to the tower, the others would meet us there. The tower is a metal and wood scaffolding type structure 115 feet high, above the canopy of the jungle. I still can't quite believe I climbed all the way up there. The sightings of Macaws and Parrots and pendulum nesting birds was worth it. A group of four bright blue and red Macaws swooped near the tower, screaming along. Those birds are loud and we heard them constantly throughout our jungle visit.
That night we congregated in the bar and took advantage of two for one drinks before dinner. The next morning a few people were going back to the tower early for some more bird watching and then we were on our way back to the airport for our flight to Lima.
Lima, the last day
Back in Lima everyone got cleaned up and met for dinner. After the Inca Trail and the Jungle it felt good to be clean and dry and human again. We decided to do a three hour morning city tour of Lima to get a feel for the place. That would free up the afternoon for lunchtime wandering on our own. Wendy and Jenny were going on the same tour. There are several pictures on the photo album page "misc. peru".
The tour proved to be just right for getting a feel of the city and learning some historical anecdotes. The best story we heard from our city tour guide concerned the statue in the main plaza in central Lima.
Click on the thumbnail above for a larger picture. It isn't really visible on the picture but I will tell the story anyway. When this statue was commissioned the artist was instructed to carve a woman on the base with an eternal flame on her head to symbolize Peru and eternity.
In Spanish the word for "flame" is llama. The artist misunderstood and carved a woman with a llama on her head. It actually looks pretty funny on the statue. For some reason they have never corrected this.
Our tour included some prestigious neighborhoods with old olive trees and many architecturally significant buildings. The highlight was the tour of the San Francisco church, convent and catacombs. We also drove by the Parque de Amore, home of the large kissing couple statue that I wanted to see. There is a real couple standing below the feet in the picture to give you an idea of the scale.
We found our way to a real grocery store with Wendy and Jenny where Wendy picked up a bottle of wine to share on the rooftop of the hotel before the group broke up. People came and went on the roof top until it was time to go. Sophia even came by and hung out for awhile. Our taxi was at 9:30PM for our 1AM flight back to Houston. Mike and Karen were on the same flight. We said all of our good-bys with lots of hugs and armed with everyone's email addresses headed off to the airport to say good-by to South America.
At least for now.