Friday, May 24, 2019

We went to the rain forest and guess what? It rained.

Actually what they refer to as a 'cold front' from Patagonia has come through. Temperatures in the low 20s with humidity 100%.  We teased our guide Edwin about it being 'cold'.  To get to the Tambopata Lodge required a short plane ride from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, a 45 min bus ride, then a 2 hour boat ride on the Tambopata River which flows about 1400 km before it reaches the Amazon. Then about 3000 km more to get to the Atlantic. 

Puerto Maldonado is a large city (100,000) and most of it looks pretty grim by Canadian standards. Lots of corrugated metal and brick buildings but plenty of fertile land for growing a large variety of foods. Streets full of scooters and 'moto-cars':



The bus we were on had to be escorted to the river with a police escort as the area is under a state of emergency due to gold panning - I’m assuming illegal panning and clashes between licensed gold panners. 



The river is wide and muddy and the journey gave us our first glimpse of a white caiman - from the alligator family - and often found on the river banks. 



A whole family of capybara - the world's largest rodent - continued bathing in the mud as we motored by. 



We also saw some brown splotches that apparently were monkeys and some black dots that were macaws. I need to get better glasses if I hope to see the wildlife better. Toucans were spotted as well but too far away to appreciate their colours. 

The Tambopata Lodge is quite impressive - each hut has 2 suites c/w flush toilets and solar powered showers. There is no electricity so candles illuminate the huts. There is a large dining room and a bar for which Ross was grateful. 

Our hut at night:



And the inside was very comfortable- you can tell it’s our room - Ross’s hat is already on the bed:



And the dining area:



We arrived in time for a night walk. We saw a few unusual plants and insects and our guide lured this lovely tarantula out of her (or his) hole. 

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The next morning we waited for the rain to ease a bit before heading up the river and doing another walk through the jungle. Again some insects, flowers, birds, fruit but the overwhelming feature was the mud. Thankfully rubber boots were provided. 

A lot of the path looked like this:



Our guide paddled us in a canoe across a swampy lake - a few bits of crackers brought sardines and piranha to the surface. Unfortunately they're a bit camera shy. 

The rain forest has some impressively large trees. This group photo was taken next to a 300 year old, 50 m high kapok tree. 



The night before we left it rained a lot -  by the time we boarded the boat to head back in the morning, the river had risen 1.5 meters with a lot of debris making it difficult to navigate. As the temperature had dropped a few more degrees we donned most of our warm clothes so that by now Edwin was teasing us about the 'cold'. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

You’ve probably seen these views before.....

....but I’m going to post them anyway. Of course photos can’t really do it justice and I’m glad I packed my wide angle lens. 

From Aguas Calientes the bus takes about 20 mins up a road with 14 switchbacks (I counted). You can also walk up for about 2.5 hours. I’m not sure of the altitude change but it seemed pretty significant looking down from the bus. 



If you don’t want to take the train and bus to Machu Picchu you can also do the 4 day Inka Trail hike which several in our group did. Due to my uncooperative knees, lack of toilets/running water and just general laziness we opted to stay a few extra days in Cusco instead. 

Our first view of the famous ruins. 



We still had to hike up to get the best view. Glad I took my hiking poles. 



If you know me there’s not much I consider getting up before sunrise for. Fortunately the sunrises a bit later and we were there for it.



You are officially limited to 4 hours to visit the site but another limit on your time is the fact that there are no bathrooms on site. There is one outside the gates costing 2 Peruvian Sols (about 80 cents CAD) but you can’t re-enter. Apparently the revenue for the bathroom is 10,000 Sols/day. It’s owned by a high end hotel that is right at the gate. 





It’s an astonishing sight to see and to consider how it was built. 





Here’s a view of two very different walls. On the right - very rustic, the rocks might be held together with mud. On the left the priest's house - very carefully shaped rocks and no mortar holding them together. They were shaped to fit perfectly using stone tools and a lot of ingenuity. 



We took a long hike uphill to see the ‘Inka  Bridge' and some of the original paths they used. You might not be able to tell from the photo but there is a path along the side of the cliff visible now because of a green line of vegetation. Closed off. 



And in case you missed it Ross and the llama. 




The Peruvian government has put a lot of policies in place to help preserve the site. There are limits on the number of visitors, how long they can stay, where they can go, etc.  More regulations came in the day before our visit which our guide wasn’t even aware of yet. In fact one of our guides suggested that in the not too distant future there may be a cable car for viewing only and that walking the site may be prohibited. It’s worth the visit so if you’re thinking of visiting don’t wait much longer. You’re not getting any younger and neither is Machu Picchu!

Aguas Calientes

The name of this town means hot water in Spanish as there are hot springs here. It’s the closest town to Machu Picchu and is nestled in a narrow valley. There are no roads leading here - it’s only accessible by train. 



The train follows the fast flowing Urubamba River and is a very scenic ride. Evidence of Incan terracing and ruins as well as snow capped mountains can be seen along the 1.5 hour journey from Ollantaytambo. 



The train has nice overhead windows to help you catch the mountain view. 





At the entrance to the town. 





There really isn’t much room to build in this narrow valley and you’d be hard pressed to find a small piece of flat land. The river runs right through the middle, the two sides connected by 3 or 4 bridges. 






It was a beautiful day (as all our days have been so far) so we made our way to the hot springs. Along the way are these marvellous, huge carvings in the rocks depicting various important Incan symbols. 







The hot springs were quite quiet for a Sunday morning and we enjoyed the peacefulness. 



Much better scenery than our hot tub at home plus you just wave your hands in the air and someone comes along to take your drink order. That doesn’t happen at home either! 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Peruvian cuisine

There are some very distinctive culinary traditions in Peru. First of all they are avid meat eaters - that includes alpaca, llama and of course guinea pig which is sold at roadside stands roasted on a stick. Roasted chicken is very popular as is ceviche - fish ‘cooked’ in lime juice. At street stands you’ll find empanadas, churros and the corn with the giant niblets.

Favourite drinks include Inka Kola, kind of a yellow cream soda, Coca tea is available everywhere, and as I mentioned before, Pisco Sour is the national drink. 



On one of our unscheduled days in Cusco Ross and I couldn’t bear the thought of touring more ruins so we booked a cooking class which started at the market with our chef picking out some meat, fruit and veggies. 





Back at the restaurant we started by making a Chilcano, another local drink. First we cut up then crushed some ginger and strawberries. Then Estevan added 2 ounces of Pisco, a liquor made from grapes, some ice, then topped with sparkling water. 


 Now we were ready for the main course - Lomo Saltado or Loin stir fry - a Peruvian dish with a Chinese influence.  
First cut up the beef and garlic, marinate together with some soy sauce. 


Cut up peppers, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, green onions. 
Stir fry the meat mixture in hot oil then add Pisco to flambĂ©. Remove meat. 


Saute the veggies till cooked, return the meat to the pan, then add rice and lastly the green onion and cilantro. 


We enjoyed our meal with the other member of the cooking class, Ben, who will be starting his PhD in particle physics at Cambridge in the fall!





All in all a great experience and another recipe to make back home. Cheers!


Saturday, May 18, 2019

Innovative Incans

The Incans had 15 different types of terracing. Most of it was for growing crops but it’s not clear what some of it was for. For example these circular terraces which we visited via a very windy, narrow, single lane (but vehicles going both ways) up to about 3600m. For size perspective you can see people walking on the far side above the terraces. 




The Maras salt mine, dug into the side of the mountain high above the Sacred Valley, consists of more than 3000 small ponds fed by a salt stream that comes from high in the Andes. Each pond is owned by a different family and provides them with an income during the dry season. Ponds are passed down in families. Solar evaporation takes 1-2 weeks depending on the weather. 





If you look towards the top of the hill in the next photo you’ll see the Sky Lodge - a recent innovation advertised as sleeping among the condors. Several large domes perched on the side of the hill provide accommodation- all you have to do is climb 400m to the top. Fortunately they have zip lines for the descent. If you look in the bottom right you’ll see hikers starting the ascent. Not for the faint of heart (me)!



As well as the precautions I mentioned in my last post for preventing altitude sickness there is also coca - in the form of tea, leaves, and candies. There is no scientific evidence to suggest it helps but it can’t hurt!



We had a beautiful lunch at a lagoon and of course they had a pet alpaca. Doesn’t everyone?
And I’m still trying to figure out the difference between alpacas and llamas. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Hitting the Heights

Lima is at sea level; Cusco, the ancient Incan capital, is at 3300 m so the threat of altitude sickness is to be taken seriously. First, we have Diamox which is supposed to lessen the effects; drinking lots of water is advised; also don’t eat meat or raw fruits/vegetables as your system has to work harder to digest those. Within a few hours of arriving at Cusco, a short walk up a slight incline left me breathless, a tightness in my upper chest, and my heart racing. Altitude sickness can strike anyone no matter their fitness level so its best to be cautious and go slow. 

Flying into Cusco you could see these extensive networks of switchbacks below which look quite intriguing. 



Cusco has about 300,000 people and is anchored by several large squares with cathedrals. A lot of the churches and major buildings are light brown and combine different architectural styles. 

After our first night in Cusco we had a full day of touring the area. First stop was the towering white Jesus where we had a great view over the city.




Then on to a weaving cooperative that is sponsored by GAdventures (Planeterra). Here the women demonstrated how they clean and spin the alpaca and llama wool. From natural items such as flowers, leaves, lemon, salt they can combine items to get a huge array of colourful woollens. 











The alpacas also allowed us to feed them. 



Next stop was the Sacred Valley of the Incas. A beautiful fertile area. 



 Then on to a pottery making shop where we were shown the steps from raw clay to finished chess pieces (and other stuff).



Lunch was at another GAdventures Project where we were served a wide array of local products. Did you know Peru has 3500 varieties of potatoes! My kind of place. 


Corn harvest has ended and a lot of corn was set out to dry. The ears of corn have giant pieces and they are sold on the street for a snack. 




Somewhere along the way I managed to get my photo with the baby alpaca and a couple of locals. 


Finally we ended up at Ollantaytambo - where we will spend the night before heading back to Cusco for a few days. There are a lot of vendors everywhere selling their colourful wares and Ross and I restricted ourself to a couple of toques at the weaving coop.  My selfie skills still need some work.


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