A Travellerspoint blog

Machu Picchu

TAKING THE LLAMA PATH

sunny 20 °C

The first thing we noticed about Cuzco was the lack of air as we huffed and puffed our way up the stairs of the hostel. At 3500m it was not the highest place we have been to but it would still take us another day or two to get properly used to the altitude.

Cuzco is definitely a tourist city. The beautiful plaza is lined with touts restaurants and tourist offices. The streets are full of Peruvian women in wildly colorful traditional clothes with impossible loads tied to their backs with hand woven blankets and small children at their sides or tied against their nurturing bodies.

The hats in Peru are wonderful and many. Bowler hats in many shapes and sizes perched awkwardly atop carefully plaited heads. Others flat as a pancake. Some styles depict which heritage they come from and whether they are single, married or widowed.

After relaxing and soaking up Cuzco it was time to prepare for Machu Picchu and as we were going to carry our own belongings we needed to pack light. It was going to get cold at night so I had invested in a pair of thermals, they were top of the list. A pair of walking trousers, shorts, 2 t-shirts, wooly hat, gloves and a rain jacket including fleese. I also took a first aid kit. In addition we had to carry our sleeping bags and mats, and water. All up I would say I was carrying about 9 kilos, much more than expected!

We had a 4am start but was not too chuffed as the coach was late picking us up and to add to our frustration went straight past our hotel after spending an hour picking everyone up, so we could have had at least another hour in bed!

We had breakfast in Ollyamtambo, a quaint town in the Sacred Valley where we could see some Mayan ruins perched midway up a mountain. Stores for grain and wool apparently but to me required a huge effort to get the goods to and from the store.

We started the Inca trail at km 82. We discovered that only 10% of the trail we were doing was the true Inca Trail as the rest was deemed too treacherous or washed away by landslides.

There were 16 on our trail and 20 porters and 2 guides. The porters were all Peruvian from the local area. Llama Path, the tour company provided these guys with uniforms, wet weather gear and a proper backpack. From our observations they seemed the only company to do that for ther porters which we thought was fantastic.

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We started off fresh faced and eager to go. Within the first 10 minutes our chests were heaving as we tried to suck in the thin air to power our bodies. At that moment I had serious doubts about what we had gotten ourselves into. We had 14km to go! The group quickly split into those that were not carrying their gear and those that were. The former group storming ahead. This pissed me off to start with as the guide was also up front and I felt we were missing out on his knowledge of the area but as we were told the main information at the larger sites on the way I soon settled down and enjoyed the view and chatting, when breath permitted, to the group we were walking with.

Lunch was phenomenal. The porters had set up camp with a lunch tent complete with tables and chairs, knives and forks and even folded paper napkins. Don’t forget that these guys carry all of this on their backs and run most of the way! The qualitty of food on the whole trip was really good. The porters pack up lunch, set off after us and then head to the evening camp and arrive several hours before us. The fastest time one of the porters has completed the whole trail is 3 hours 45 minutes - incredible!

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The whole day we were walking at a steady incline. We arrived at 6pm, thoroughly exhausted, everything aching. I dumped the bags and immediately booked a porter for the following day, the hardest of all days. At the camp there was woman from a local village that had hiked to our camp with a bucket of cold drinks, I couldn't resist a cold beer.

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It was pretty cold that night and although we had mats the floor was pretty hard going too. After dinner, popcorn and milo we all crawled into bed ready for our 6am wake up! What a wake up it was too, hot water and soap and a cup of tea which you can sip while still sitting in your sleepingbag while watching the sun come up and the clouds roll over the mountains. A blissful moment..... That was until we tried to get out of bed! Ache? Just a little!

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The next couple of days followed the same format, early breakfast, walk until midday, a splendid lunch to recharge, walk until the evening camp, wash, dinner then bed. The second day however was tougest, 16km, 2 mountains, one called Dead Womans Pass, and trust me, I felt like a dead woman when we got to the top of that one!

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Day four, the day that the accumilation of our efforts would come to fruition. Four a.m start, ready to be at the park gates for 5am. Sungate by 6:15. Somehow our exhausted bodies were able to function on pure adrenaline. We were hoping to be at the Sungate for sunrise and I am sure we expected to see a beam of light illuminating Machu Picchu like a scene from Indiana Jones but we were to be disapointed on several counts. It was cloudy so there was no beam and even if it wasn't, we wouldn't have had a light display of that kind. The other misconception we had was that Machu Picchu would be fairly close, but if you held a 5 pence piece at arms length, that is how close it was and we could already see the coaches of people turning up.

By the time we got to the ruins any disapointment had completely disapaited. The spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu had us awe struck and we were still some distance away.

Machu Picchu is speculated to be a sacred Incan university. The ruins surrounding were possibly additional study areas, one being for astrological study, another for acricultural experiments.

Machu Picchu is surrounded by stone built terraces, these terraces are not carved into the mountain but built then backfilled with rock, sand,soil then manure and were used for crops, growing maize and potatoes. There are 300 varieties of maize and over 4000 types of potatoes in Peru!

In the centre of the site is a sun temple, one window lines up with the sun gate and during the equinox the sun rises between the sun gate, the sun shines through the window and unto the temple. At the other equinox the sun lines up with one of the surrounding mountain peaks and through the other window. Impressive stuff. Not only was the temple to worship the sun, the giver of life, but also made the Incans aware on summer and winter, when it was time to harvest or sow.

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Although all of the buildings are impressive, the temple walls were ingenious engineering. The have withstood earthquakes for 600 years. Thre was also a water temple encompassing 16 ceremonial baths the ruins included 206 other buildings. We spent four information packed hours there and I could have spent at least 4 more.

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We really were physically exhausted and were now looking forward to hot showers, clean clothes and then a soft warm bed.

Posted by paulandjes 18:51 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Arequipa and Lake Titicaca' Peru

Land of the Incas and the Condors

sunny 25 °C

Paul:
After a couple of days in Lima, we arrived in Arequipa in southern Peru. It is an old town with lots of historic churches, monestaries and convents. We visited the Santa Catalina convent in the centre of town which was just amazing. The convent is beautiful and absolulely massive (about 20 acres) and is really a minature town in itself. We decided to hire a guide which turned out to be the right decision as we received so much more information than we could have got by wandering around ourselves. Apparently, the convent was established for the daughters of rich Spanish families. The eldest daughter of the family was to be married, the second became a nun, and any other daughters stayed at home to look after the family. The nuns in this convent, being from noble families, had faily large private quarters and even had maids! Not a bad life eh?

Jess: I loved Santa Catilina so much Paul wanted me to write a few details. It is probably one of my most favourite places that we have visited. It is very european, obviously built by the Spanish for rich Spanish families. There are cobbled streets and the walls were made of mud and beautifully smoothed. The walls of the convent were then painted glorious colours of cornflower blue, tuscan red, sunflower yellow and pristine white. The streets were named (yes the convent was so big to have named streets) after places in Spain or rich Spaniads.

There was a main courtyard framed in arches with large trees to cast shadow to allow the nuns to pray or meditate in the shade. Each of the nuns quarters was huge. They were allowed candles flowers and religios paintings on the walls. The nuns were not taught to read as they were only women after all!! The convent was oozing with religious paintings on the wall to enable the nuns to learn the stories of the bible.

The convent is still in use although we were not permitted to see the active part of the convent we were told that the current nuns live in much more simple conditions. In the centre of the convent was a peaceful garden that has a recent addtion of a cafe added to it that the current nuns bake cakes to help raise money for the convent. The cakes were absolutely delicious, I had a beautifully moist carrot cake and Paul a huge slab of apple crumble. It must have been beacuase the cakes were holy that they tasted so good!! Santa Catilina was stunning and absolutely made for photos.

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Paul: Next we went on a tour to the Colca Canyon. This is the second deepest canyon in the world at 3200m deep. The deepest is a few miles down the road at 3300m deep. The jouney there was five hours long plus some stops to check out the llamas and alpacas by the roadside. We stopped at a viewpoint at 5000m where you're supposed to be able to see five volcanoes but unfortunately we were in a cloud so didn't see a thing.

We stayed overnight in a hotel and went to a traditional Peruvian dancing show. It was pretty good, and both me and Jess got dragged up to do some dances. Jess enjoyed her dance and also enjoyed seeing my poor attempt to move.

Next day we set off early (although a little late as our tour guide stayed up drinking most of the night!). Jess was really feeling unwell probably due to the horrible buffet lunch we'd had the day before, but braved itt anyway. We were excited as we were heading out to see the Condors flying. We arrived at the viewing point called Cruz del Condor at about 9am. We were very lucky as two Condors came up almost straight away. These birds are absolutely massive with a wingspan of up to 3m (10 feet)! The way they swoop majesticaly overhead is just awe inspiring. Sometimes they seemed to be close enough above to reach up and touch them. Just as we were beginning to think no more condors were going to fly up the canyon that morning, another nine of them came flying up at the same time. It was just an incredible experience sseeing these huge birds swooping and gliding around us.

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We headed back to Arequipa on our tour bus. The bus didn't make it all the way though. It was getting slower and slower throughout the day an belching more and more black smoke. Eventually, they had to organise another bus to pick us up and take us the last hour back to Arequipa.

Next we headed on an overnight bus (arriving at 4am!) to Puno on the shore of Lake Titicaca. We'd arranged the tour in Arequipa through a travel agency run by a lovely couple. They even came with us in the taxi to the bus station to make sure we got off alright. We were picked up in Puno and taken to our hotel for an hour or so of much needed sleep.

Our Lake Titicaca tour started at 7am. First we got to our boat and headed to the floating islands of the Uros people. These people have lived on islands made by themselves out of reeds for 600 years after being forced onto the lake by aggressive tribes who took their land. They have to rebuild the surfaces of the islands every year. The islands are just incredible with around ten houses on each one. The people welcomed us onto their island with big smiles and we saw inside a typical home. The homes are built around a central fire where the islanders cook. They had a little Guinea Pig coop at the back of the island (for food, not pets). The island people were very friendly and we felt very lucky to see the unique lifestyle of these people.

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Next we headed to Taquile island. This is a land island where we had lunch and had an opportunity to get ourselves some nice Peruviian hats. From here, our boat took us back to Puno.

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Next day we took the Inca Express bus to Cusco. This is a bus with an English speaking guide which stops at a few historical sights on the way. The journey is nine hours, but, is quite interesting. The most impressive sight in my opinion was Raqchi where there was an ancient Inca temple which is fairly well preserved. At about 5pm we arrived in Cusco.

Cusco is the old Incan capital and is an impressive city with many old Incan buildings in the centre. We spent the day there exploring the streets and making our final preparatons for heading off on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu.

Posted by paulandjes 07:23 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Ecuador

Underwater world Galapagos Islands

overcast 32 °C

Before we set off on our Galapagos trip we spent a couple of days in Quito. I was pleasantly surprised by Quito. I had read the streets were unsafe at night and there was much petty crime during the day, but have not felt unsafe for one moment. The old town where we were staying had quite a European feel. A maze of streets, full of old mediteranean buildings, each shop or hotel front painted a differerent colour. You are not sure what the shop is until you peer behind the coloured facades.
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Quito is full of churches, many built on ancient Incan sites. Some of the churches are amazing one in particular had its interior completely guilded in gold!

As we were so close we made a trip to the Equator. Funnily enough the official monument is actually 200m from the actual Equator, this was discovered with the modern technology of GPS. We did actually take a walk to the official Equator and balanced an egg on the head of a nail and watched the water spriral in different directions dependant on whether you were in the northern or southern hemisphere (although this effect is actually disputed by scientists).
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Our plane to the Galapagos was delayed and we were worried that we would miss our boat but as we were later to find out the rest of the passengers were also on the same plane. As soon as we turned up to the jetty we were greeted by basking seals, barking away "urrp, urrp, urrp" which roughly translates to "welcome to the Galapagos, have a nice stay!". I had a feeling this was going to be a good trip.

The boat (Millenium) we were on was fantastic. It was actually a catamaran so more stable on the water. Bedrooms were spacious with showers that had huge windows so you could have a view across the ocean. The shower was one with the best view I have ever had.

We first visited San Christobel Island to see the Giant Tortoise. We had seen Hariet the Giant Tortoise in Aus zoo before but seeing them in their natural habitat was something special.
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Over the next couple of days we were to have some of our most memorable moments yet. We went to Espanola Island and had our first snorkel around some rocks and met our first sea lion who was extremely playful and was playing hide and seek round a large rock with us. The afternoon was pretty special as we spent an hour or so wandering on the beach among hundreds of sea lions of all shapes.
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We then hiked amongst the marine iguanas, also known as Christmas iguanas as during the mating season their skin turns a vivid green and red. We saw sand stingrays and a pair of turtles mating.
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The hikes on land were just as interesting as the snorkles. As well as the giant tortoises and iguanas the islands are teaming with an abundance of birds. We were lucky enough to have an avid bird watcher in our group who helped point out Blue Footed and Masked Boobies, Great Blue Heron, Galapagos Hawk, many finches including the Warbler and Cactus Finch, Cattle Igret, Penguins, Flamingoes and Frigget to name but a few - thanks Gert!
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One of the most memorable experiences was the snorkle we did at cormorant point on Floreana Island. The water was exemely clear and there was an abundance of wildlife. There were many different types of fish including the Puffer, Needle fish, Parotfish, Yellow tail Surgeon fish and so many more. As we were admiring the many different colours we spotted a small reef shark swimming near a small underwater cave. Then another slightly larger white tipped reef shark appeared, then a third! We couldn’t believe our luck. As one of the sharks was getting brave and started to swim closer to the group a massive sea lion came from nowhere and started to chase the shark away. Then he headed towards me straight for my face, at the last moment he blew bubbles and swerved to the right, then again, eye to eye, then he swerved to the left. He was quite a big fella and a little intimidating but i knew he was just having fun.

I duck dived many times getting a closer look at the bottom of the ocean and the many types of starfish, sea cucumbers and sea anenomies. We even caught a glimpse of a turtle.

We saw many, many creatures and even a slipper lobster. I was leasurly floating on the surface trying to take it all in when from underneath me came a sealion. I really wasn't expecting it and squeeled into my snorkel. As I came up for air several others of the group did too and greeted me with a wall of laughter. Apparently I was the only one who didn't see him coming. I can laugh at it now but my godness I nearly pooped in my cozzie!

The snorkle on the last day was also fantastic. I am a bit of a water baby and love to swim in the sea. Paul loves to see the massive cheesy grin on my face every time a snorkel is mentioned. This time we spotted three, yes, three turtles eating seaweed from the rocks. We must have watched the turtles for at least 20 minutes, following them as they drifted on the ocean current, occasionally piercing the water for breath, inquisitively peering at us from time to time, probably wondering what strange creatures we were. We decided to swim from the rocks to the catamaran, very brave but we were all caught up in the adrenaline of the snorkel. The water became surprisingly deep very quickly. I had to really control my emotions as fear welled up in my chest. We were not too far from the boat and the beach was a long way off so the most rational thing to do was to continue to the boat, although I didn’t feel very rational! Imagine my horror when from the murky waters infront of me appeared a shark, much bigger than the reef sharks we spotted earlier. It got as much of a fright as we did and quickly turned and disapeared once more. We later found out it was called a Galapagos shark, about 2.5 meters long.
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We really felt we could have spent another week at the islands as we were having so much fun but we are far from disapointed we have seen so much it really was an absolute joy.

Posted by paulandjes 16:27 Archived in Ecuador Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Pucon - Chile

"Never let me climb another mountain"...

sunny 35 °C

....were the first words Paul said as we got to the bottom of volcano Villarica. Yes it was hard work but it was worth it. After getting up at 6am kitted with our snow boots, cold weather gear and helmets we clambered into the mini van and headed off to the base. We carried in our backpacks high energy food, crampons and a durable butt cover, for sliding down afterwards.
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The first hour and a half was really hard, on gravel on a steep incline where your feet slip and slide and walking in huge ski like boots which are really hard to walk in anyway. Searing heat and dry mouth with no stop in sight can be a little disheartening - especially for Paul that was wearing his wind jacket, the poor fella was sweating himself into a sorry state.
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After a good dowsing of water and a tuna sarnie he was fit to go, so we attached our crampons and were given the instructions on how to use our icepicks. We set off on the second gruelling leg of the trek. Did I say that the first was the hardest? Well maybe the second was the worst. We were taking tiny steps along a massive glacier,I looked to my right and had a small panic attack as I realised if I slipped I could slide off the side of the mountain."Keep focusing on your feet, keep focusing on your feet", is all I could say to myself to get through. I have a crick in my neck from staring at my toes but I was glad I did. The trouble was we had to walk on gravel as well as snow and in crampons gravel is so hard as you often twist your ankle.
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The third section was really tough, did I mention that the first two were tough too ???? I actually got really angry with the guide as we had paid for him and he charged off with the testosterone filled Nordic boys and left the rest of us stranded. We were stuck and i didn't know how to move forward, my legs were exhauusted and it took all of my energy to hoik myself up onto this ledge. Twenty minutes of burning muscles later and we had a short break. I shouted at the guide "you should wait for your group, we got sruck!!" Corrrr, it took a lot of strenghth for me to hold it together.

It was quite good once we got to the top. We didn't see spewing lava, but we saw the smoke, the stench was pretty toxic and we saw deep inside the crater. I kept having lurchy feelings in my tummy about falling in but obviously we are ok.
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The decent was pretty exciting. We hiked down the lava gravel until we reached the ice. We then had to put our crampons on again and walk down a steep slope holding onto a rope, face forward. As we were moving down the rope the guides started blowing their whistles and shouting "ROKO, ROKO!!!" ("rock, rock!!") , we looked up and this massice rock the side of a car was hurteling down the side of the mountain about 100m away, which is pretty damn close. I was worried it would hit the ground like a rugby ball and bounce in our direction. It didn't but it did bounce on the ground and shatter into several small rocks making a ear shattering noise as it did so. Blimey, this is dangerous stuff!! When we go to the bottom of the rope we slid down the ice on our backsides. I am sure Paul won’t mind me saying but he was pretty freaked out and scared that he would slide down a cravas or off the side of the volcano! I was glad this was the way down as by this time I was really done with walking. All was well and we just had aching muscles and sore feet but a wonderful adventure was had.

Posted by paulandjes 06:11 Archived in Chile Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Iguacu Falls

Spectacular, spectacular!!

sunny 30 °C

Paul:
Well, we made it to Iguassu falls. This is a massive series of waterfalls on the border of Brazil and Argentina. There are about 300 falls, the most impressive one is called the Devils Throat (Gargantua Diablo en Espanyol). We took an overnight bus from Camp Grande and went to a nice hostel called Natura a few miles out of town.

First off, we went to the bird sanctuary where there was huge aviaries with local birds like macaws and tucans flying around which was kind of cool.
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Then we headed for the Brazillian side of the falls. We took a 2km walk along the falls and saw some amazing scenes of hundreds of huge waterfalls. We have trekked for a couple of hours in Australia for just one amazing waterfall before, but here, they were just everywhere. At the end of the walk we got to the main falls on the Brazillian side where we got soaking wet whilst marvelling at the awesome power of the falls.
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Next day, we went on a jeep tour to the Argentinian side. People had told us that the Argentinian side was more impressive and they weren’t wrong. We went on a speedboat which took us underneath one of the falls where we obviously got drenched but it was amazing fun. We walked across the top of the falls until we reached the Devils Throat. Just Amazing. Immense amounts of water cascading into the valley below. The falls are about 60m high, and the sheer force of the water forces spray back up higher than that. We got drenched again!
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This was a truly fantastic way to end our travels around Brazil. Next stop Chile and Pucon.

Posted by paulandjes 06:03 Archived in Brazil Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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