A Travellerspoint blog

Puerto Maldonado

1st - 2nd November

View South American Adventure 2011 on slking's travel map.

Heading into the rainforest for a well earned rest, we hit the Amazon forest 34 miles west of Bolivia on the confluence of the Ambopata and Madre de Dios River. As you stepped off the air-conditioned plane and the gentle temperatures of Cusco were left behind, the humidity hits you straight in the face. We were driven, hot and sweaty already to the main offices of the Ecolodge where we would be staying for the next 2 nights. We quickly repacked our bags, only taking the essentials for the duration of our trip and set off on the 3 hour boat ride up the Amazon. Our home would be Refugio Amazonas in the Tambopata Reserve. The reserve covers 109 hectares of jungle containing approximately 600 species of birds, and a vast amounts of insects, animals and fish in and around the jungle, river and lakes.

Our first night there and we headed out torches in hand to go Cayman spotting on the river. As the boat made it's way upstream the only light we were able to use was a spotlight. With this we scanned the river looking for the distinct reflection of the Caymans' eyes. Each time we spotted one the engine was switched off and we drifted in towards the bank trying to get a better view without scaring them away. We saw white and black Cayman on our trip, both small and large. On the way back through the rainforest we switched off our torches and stood in silence as we watched the glowworms and fireflies go about their business, shining like beacons in the pitch black night.

That night we went to sleep in our rooms with the sounds of the rainforest beyond lulling us to sleep. The rooms have only 3 sides, leaving one wall completely open to the elements and animals. Mosquito nets covering the beds, an open plan bathroom, and curtains for doors, it was definitely a different way to live for the next couple of days.

Our first morning here and we couldn't get away from the early starts. Up at 4.30am we dressed and had breakfast before embarking on a tour of the rainforest. We scaled a canopy tower to 35ft which allowed us to be at the same level as the tallest trees in the area. Looking out over the treetops we could see Yellow-Crowned Parrots, Macaws and Parakeets, aswell as butterflies fluttering around us.

A walk through the rainforest and we saw lots of insects such as giant grasshoppers, butterflies, leafcutter ants, army ants; walking trees that sprout new roots to move their position, and huge trees that it took all 19 of us to get our arms around, as well as one that we could actually get inside of.

Out on an oxbow lake we saw many varieties of birds including Hoatzin, Egret, Flycatcher, Vulture and Greater Ani, before we threw pieces of bread into the lake to feed the Piranha, even putting our hands in the water to dispell the urban myth.

After a much needed shower to cool off in the sweltering 40 degree heat and 95% humidity we took a short boat ride over the river to a fruit farm. Here they produce starfruit, mandarin, avocado, sugar cane, cocoa and chili pepper amongst other things which we were able to try.

Posted by slking 08:34 Archived in Peru Comments (0)


30th - 31st October

View South American Adventure 2011 on slking's travel map.

Tired and achey we made our way back to Cusco via the windy roads and train, listening to pan pipe music on repeat. After the 2 hour journey we couldn't wait to get off! We arrived in the early evening and after a long awaited shower and a bite to eat it was straight to bed.

The next day a few of us went horseriding. You'd think that our legs had taken enough punishment for a while, but it was nice to have someone, or something else do the walking for once.

The afternoon was spent catching up on some souvenier shopping, some of which had to be posted home as I was quickly running out of space in my backpack, with still more places to visit.

That evening we went out to celebrate our achievement. Being Halloween there were lots of people dressed up in fancy dress and children were out with their parents Trick or Treating on the street. As soon as you stepped foot onto the street you were swamped by kids holding out their pumpkin buckets in anticipation, chanting "Halloween" over and over.

Posted by slking 17:08 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

The Inca Trail

27th - 30th October

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Leaving the hotel at 5.30 we drove towards the starting point on the Inca Trail trying not to think too much about the mammoth task ahead of us. We stopped over in Ollantayambo to have some breakfast and gather our energy for the day. Queuing up in line waiting to be ushered through the first checkpoint, a stamp in our passport allows us entry onto the trail and we nervously have our photo taken under the sign signifying the start of our journey.

Day one took us across Rio Urubamba and immediately we started a steep ascent, testing the legs and lungs as we went. We watched as the train chugged past taking passengers the 2 hours upto Machu Picchu and wondered what we had got ourselves into. The sun was beating down and soon we had all stripped off our layers and were slapping on the sun cream. We stopped along the way as Jeremy and Rody our guides showed us the different flora and fauna that line the trail before we reached our first archeological site of Salapunku. Here we were given a lesson on the history of the Incas.

Our first lunch stop and we were given a taste of the food that we will be sampling over the next few days. The chefs were talented and provided us with food far better than some of the restaurants I have eaten in in South America. Meals presented beautifully and high in protein and carbohydrates to get us through the trail, we would not go hungry that's for sure.
After more trekking up and down hill we arrived at our camp for the night where we made ourselves comfortable in our tents and freshened up with our small bowl of water before enjoying a cerveza with some popcorn and crackers before dinner and an early night.

A 5am wake up call and I knew it was going to be a long day ahead. We had been told in our briefing that day 2 would be the toughest as most of it would be spent scaling up to Abra Warmiwanuska (Dead Woman's Pass) at 4215m above sea level. I had picked up a cold since arriving in Peru and having had a bad night's sleep and finding it difficult to breath even at rest I was feeling very tired and weak.
We left our camp at Wayllabamba at 2980m and began the climb. There was little or no let up in the steep steps and paths ahead and I had to use all the strength I had to pull myself up one step after another in the blazing sunshine. Eventually after 5 hours of walking I reached the top of Dead Woman's Pass, and I can see where it gets it's name! I arrived to claps and cheers from the others in the group who had already made it there ages before me.

We left Dead Woman's Pass and this time the path was downhill. We descended the Inca steps towards camp. The steps were so steep and irregular that I had to be careful where I was putting my feet for fear of tumbling head first into the person infront. An hour later and we arrived at camp at 1pm absolutely shattered and exhausted both physically and mentally. All the muscles in my legs were aching and the welcome bowl of water was waiting for me to soak my feet and freshen up. As I sat there with my feet in the ice cold water a huge red butterfly came to sit on the rocks next to me.

The sun that had been beating down for most of the morning slowly disappeared after lunch as the clouds enveloped the tops of the mountains, gradually creeping downwards. The bright blue sky that had welcomed us to camp was replaced by grey rainclouds and at about 3pm the rain started. I was now thankful for the early start to the day which had ensured that we arrived to camp before the rains came.
The porters who accompanied us on the were amazing. They pack up the camp after we leave and each carry 25kg as they take the same route as us up and around the mountains, often running, towards the next stop. When we arrive they have already set everything up again, ensuring that our belongings are safely delivered to our tents, and they are in the process of preparing our next 3 course meal. I have to take my hat off to them, they do a fabulous job.

On day 3 we awoke to rain, as we once again left camp at Paqaymayo we made our way through the wet and slippery mountain passes being careful not to put a foot wrong and slip. We splashed through puddles and climbed on through the rain as quick as we could as we got more and more wet. As we were so high up the views should have been amazing, but the rain and clouds had caused a low lying mist across the valleys and there was nothing to see. Eventuially reaching camp at Runkuraqay soaked through, we huddled in the food tent trying to keep warm in our damp clothes. The rain stopped as we waited for lunch to be served and the clouds gradually lifted. The views from here were magical and we could actually see the mountain where Machu Picchu was, although not Machu Picchu itself as this was on the other side.

Continuing on, a little drier after a quick change of clothes, we descended quickly through the trees. Reaching Sayacmarca ruins we took time to take some pictures and take in the view before heading down further towards our camp for the night.

Our 4th and final day saw us getting up at 3.45am so that we would be one of the first groups in line when the checkpoint opened at 5.30am, and therefore ensuring that there wouldn't be too many people at Intipunku (Sun Gate) when we arrived. Once in line, we had time to brush our teeth and make a quick toilet stop, before getting the final checkpoint stamp and leaving Winaywayna as we rushed through the barrier and out onto the trailk for the last time. We all went quickly, some were practically running and overtaking the groups infront, and we arrived at the Sun Gate an hour later. This was our first glimpse of the ruins at Machu Picchu and it didn't disappoint. Despite only seeing it from a distance it was still amazing and magical. I couldn't wait to see it up close. We spent a bit of time here as the sun came up and shone through the Sun Gate towards Machu Picchu, lighting it up as the green grass of the terraces grew more and more vivid with the sun.

We left the Sun Gate and made our way down the path towards Machu Picchu, it growing in size as we approached. After the 4 day trek it was suddenly there infront of us, standing proud beneath Waynapicchu mountain, just like you see on all the picture postcards.

Meeting up with the rest of the group who had not done the trail we were then able to walk around the ruins, actually touching the ancient stones and carvings that were rediscovered 100 years ago. After all the walking we had done over the past few days, mostly on adrenaline, it was hard to drag ourselves up and down the steep steps of the ruins but to have come this far, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity not to be missed.

Posted by slking 16:56 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Puno and the Homestay


After a long 7 hour bus journey, we arrived in Puno. The city itself doesn't have a lot going for it, but Puno is the gateway to Lake Titicaca and the main reason why people visit this city. We packed our small backpacks and headed out into Lake Titicaca for our homestay visit. Uros islands was our first stop which is where the local inhabitants live on floating reed islands. Soft underfoot and almost bouncy, the reed islands are only stopped from floating away by 8-10 rope anchors. The houses are made from reeds, the beds are made from reeds and even the boats are made from reeds, and as the sun shone down the islands glowed bright yellow.

We were given a demonstration by one of the locals as to how the islands are built and maintained and then we saw how the women trade their wares at the markets, before taking a trip on one of the reed boats around the islands.

Next up was Taquille island where we went for a hike up and over the mountain, before having a lunch of freshwater trout and muna tea.
We were welcomed to the homestay island of Luquina by a local band who followed us all the way upto the school where we would be meeting our families for the next 2 days. I was introduced to Wilbur who was 18 and lived with his Aunt and Uncle and 8 year old cousin Freddie. The families dressed us up in their traditional clothing of colourful skirts, black top and hat, and pom poms round the wrist. We then watched as they performed several dances for us and then we were dragged up to dance for them, twirling our pom poms as we went. Just as well we had been paying attention! The local children of the village then performed some dances too, and eventually everyone was up and dancing.

Retiring to our families' homes for dinner, myself and the girls I was sharing with sat around the table that had specifically been bought for the tourists whilst the family perched on stools around the room. It was quite awkward sitting there trying to make conversation as it was difficult to communicate with them as they have their own language which is very different to Spanish. Although they did know a few words of Spanish, the silences grew longer and eventually we went to bed early as we had nothing else to say to them. The next morning we endured long awkward silences at breakfast again before heading out into the fields with Wilbur to help with the farming. We took the cows along the shoreline so that they could graze on the reeds and then walked them back to a place where they could drink the water. Skills I had learnt on the ranch in Uruguay came in handy as I tried to herd the cows. My cow was quite young and mischeivous though and kept straying from the path and onto neighbouring fields.

After our morning's work some people played football against the locals, which proved very tough at altitude. When it was time to leave the island we were quite happy to leave the village and head back to Puno where there was just enough time to have a quick wander round town and head up the steps to the Mirador el Condor. The 500m of steps up to the lookout point was hard work, I had to stop several times to catch my breath but there were good views over the city and lake.

In the evening I met up with Melissa, a girl who was on my BA to Rio tour. We both had delicious fresh trout caught from Lake Titicaca and several glasses of wine. It was nice to catch up with what she had been doing over the past few weeks and she was telling me all about places I was yet to see. I met up with the rest of my group later for an intense Jenga game in a local bar. Whilst at the bar I managed to get glass in my heel and my foot started bleeding quite badly. Just what I needed for the Inca Trail ahead!

Posted by slking 19:20 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Colca Canyon

20th - 21st October

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Leaving Arequipa, we drove towards Colca Canyon our destination for the next 2 nights. Just outside of town we stopped off to buy supplies as we are headed to a higher altitude. We were advised to buy plenty of water along with some coca leaves. As we reached altitudes of 3000m, then 4000m, we were shown how to chew the coca leaves by our guide. They do not taste very nice at all, but mixed with a catalyst such as charcoal and some flavouring such as banana or aniseed the taste is slightly improved. Chewing away at the leaves and then placing them between the cheek and teeth, I was careful not to swallow too much of the leaves themselves just the liquid they produce with the saliva. Keeping them in the mouth for about 15 minutes to take effect, I could feel the tip of my tongue and the side of my cheek start to tingle and become slightly numb. All completely normal I am told!

Drive up through the hills and mountains away from Arequipa you could see the small communities that live up there, all very isolated and completely self-sufficient, comprising of more than 8000 hectares of agricultural terraces and canals. We stopped enroute to look at Vicunas, Llamas and Alpacas before reaching the highest point at 4910m above sea level. Just climbing down from the bus and walking the short distance to the lookout point I could really feel the lack of oxygen in my lungs and I was feeling a little light-headed and dizzy. You had to be very careful not to overdo it as the air was very thin at this altitude and any overexertion could make you feel very ill.

I built an apacheta which is an Inca tradition to protect you on your journey. You can also use it to make a wish to the Inca Gods.
We also stopped off on the way at various stalls by the side of the road where the locals try to sell you things. At one in particular, there was a young girl in traditional dress helping her mother.

Continuing our journey, we finally arrived at our destination of Chivay and checked into our hotel. As I entered my room there was a radiator plugged in and on full blast, an ominous sign for the night ahead as we had been warned that it can get very cold at night in the canyon.
After a very filling lunch we went for a trek up into the mountains to work it off. This was a chance to test our bodies and see how they would react to walking at altitude. It was hard work climbing up and I had to make a conscious effort to take my time and go much slower that I normally would, feeling the strain on my lungs as I gasped for air I made sure I concentrated on my breathing and slowly inhaled and exhaled. At the top was a Quechua cemetery overlooking the village below, and our guide told us all about the history of the local people and the rules by which they live: do not steal, do not lie and don't be lazy.

After such a packed day it was nice to relax in the hotel with a few beers and some music whilst we all sat around chatting.

A 5am wake-up call the next day got us up and out of bed for the drive into the canyon itself, which is more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. Here we were hoping to catch the giant Andean Condors. A 2 hour drive later and we arrived at the canyon where we took a short walk along the mountainside to see what wildlife we could spot. Passing several lookout points we waited (patiently) just standing and staring out into the canyon below for about an hour, only spotting the Condors from afar, deep down in the depths of the canyon as they rode on the thermal winds. We willed them to rise up the narrow crevice as the winds got stronger and stronger. About 10 minutes before we were due to leave, we were rewarded when two Condors, who seemed to appear from nowhere, soared up the canyon and close over our heads. The excitement in the air could be felt as everyone who had been waiting there for what felt like ages began snapping away trying to capture the moment. I was pleased to be able to come away having seen these huge creatures up close.

Following another hearty lunch, we had the afternoon to relax at the hotel and grab a few beers, before we headed to La Calera Hot Springs in the small village of Coporaque. The hot springs reached temperatures of upto 40 degrees, and as we relaxed in the sulphur waters with a Pisco Sour in hand, the sun set over the mountains surrounding us.

Posted by slking 14:49 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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