Peru Adventures with our Irish visitors
We had been looking forward to Friday 15th November for a number of weeks, as on this day two great friends Robin and Claire arrived from The Republic of Cork to Lima in Peru to travel with us for 24 days. After a joyous meeting in the airport, dinner and pisco sours to really welcome them it was time for the Peru Adventures to begin. Claire and Robin had hired a lovely 4×4 camper from www.rvperu.com and after stocking both larders and wine cellars we left but a trail of dust behind us.
Paracas National Reserve and Ballestas Islands
We had a great over-night stop in The Paracas National Reserve. This reserve includes plenty of superb , deserted beaches where you can camp for days without seeing anybody or anything, except lizards and bird-life, maybe if you were lucky a fishing boat or two. It was particularly windy while we were there, so we managed to park by a little wall for shelter. Listening to the ocean while in bed falling asleep was very special, and then in the early morning the ocean was calm, and the only sound to be heard was the birds over head circling as they dived into the water in search of breakfast/fish. Mind you there was one other sound, the clatter of cups from our neighbors as Robin made the morning teas and coffees. A great treat we enjoyed for 24 days ! Here we visited The Ballestas Islands, and these islands are sometimes called the Guano Islands, as pretty much every centimeter is covered in bird droppings, hence people are advised to wear a hat once we get close to them for obvious reasons! These islands are alive with noisy pelicans, terns, boobies and cormorants. There are many islands, some really small and the waters around the islands are full of life with shiny dark bodies of many sea lions. As the waters around these islands can be rough, we traveled in the early morning, and really you get very close to the rocks and beaches to see the abundant wildlife.
As we drove down along the Pacific Coast, some of it through desert, some through pretty mountain and valley areas, amongst many orange groves, then some rather boring spots, we arrived at Nasca. The Nasca Lines are one of the great mysteries of South America, and they are a series of animal figures and geometric shapes, none of them repeated and some of them up to 200 m in length, drawn across 500 square kilometres across the plain. Here you can take a flight to see them at their best, apparently, but we just observed them from the watch towers and small hills along the way. The weather along the coast was really balmy so it was BBQ time in the evenings.
So far all this driving was done at low altitude, so once we left Nasca we started to climb slowly , and one particular day we hit over 4,000 m.a.s.l. (all good preparation for our 4 day Inca Trail hike), but dropped back down for sleeping. We drove from Nasca to Cuzco along the route 26A taking in breathtaking views, uphill and downhill, through many country little farming villages. Here we saw many farmers at work planting and reaping their vegetables, some still ploughing by hand, others with animals. As these fields (plots really) were on the side of the mountain it would have been impossible to use a machine. We saw many Llama’s, Alpaca’s, Vincuna’s and even the odd Condor , and last but not least Cacti with flowers which is quite a rare thing to see. Along the road there were many little stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, and the ladies, (sometimes children) who were in charge of the stall were always knitting. Sometimes you would see the ladies knitting as they walked along the road. The same the world over, women multi-tasking !
Taking 3 days/2 nights to do this drive, we arrived in Cusco . This was to be our base for our next 2 big trips. The Amazon Rainforest in Tambopata Reserve (jungle) and the 4 day Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu. As you can do many many trips from here, Cusco is one of the most popular destinations in Peru. It is fed by two rivers and lies in a highland valley, and the city’s unique layout was designed by the Incas in the shape of a puma. Many of Cusco’s finest Inca architectural buildings were so masterfully and tastefully constructed out of local stone that they are still in wonderful condition today. It is also a haven for shopping, great hotels, fine restaurants and drinking establishments. In fact choosing a place to eat was often a difficult decision as we were so spoiled for choice.
Tambopata National Reserve – JUNGLE
The Tambopata National Reserve did not disappoint. It has more than 10,000 species of plants, 600 species of birds, 200 species of mammals, more than 1,000 butterfly species, thousands of insects, and over 100 species of amphibians and reptiles. Here our highlight was the Macaw clay lick. In order to see the whole spectacular show of the Macaws from waking , to feeding to flying away we had to start our day at 5.am. This consisted first of about a one hour boat trip before arriving at dawn at the clay lick. Here we witnessed the arrival of flock after flock of blue and yellow, red and green, and scarlet macaws, plus yellow-crowned and blue-headed parrots. The humid jungle air was filled with their screeches as they settled into the trees above the clay lick and came down to feed on the mineral-rich soil. What a fulfilling experience as we watched the whole show from start to finish, about 5 hours in total. Mind you in between the quiet stages of feeding for the macaws, Esauu our guide very kindly produced coffee and fruit for our breakfast which was very welcomed by all four of us. We stayed in a very simple, relatively new little lodge called Chuncho with only 5 rooms, I say lodge lightly as when most people hear the word lodge, they automatically think 5 star, this was quite the opposite, but very in keeping to staying in the rain forest. The rooms had no doors, just a piece of cloth, no windows so when sleeping you were covered by a mosquito net and the whole area from your bed upwards was open to the jungle, fantastic to hear the sounds of the jungle during the night and particularly in the early morning. Now the red howler monkeys were something to hear, we could have listened to them forever. George was the owner of this lodge, a lovely jolly man , full of information about the rainforest and jungle, and who wasn’t afraid to help the cook out either when necessary. The food was locally grown and produced , and very tastily presented considering we were in basic surroundings.
Sandoval Lake, close to Puerto Maldonado was our next base for a few nights. To get to all these places we traveled mainly by boat, some with small engines others just with paddles, in which some cases Robin and Merv had to row their bit. This lake is a beautiful oxbow lake and it is also a haven for the Amazon’s largest, most spectacular and most endangered predators – the Jaguar, the Giant Otter, the Harpy Eagle and the Black Caiman. Only one family of the Giant Otter live here now, and by us staying overnight we managed to see them early one morning. We were not lucky enough to see the Jaguar but felt lucky to see the rest, maybe next time for the Jaguar! This area also is home to many species of birds, mammals, butterflies, reptiles and plants. As we paddled , or should I say as Merv, Robin and Esauu paddled their way through little areas away from the main lake, you really felt like you were Darwin all those years ago, exploring new places and wondering what you would see around the next tree. One evening as we paddled along, you could just about hear the paddle, the silence was golden, we spotted red eyes in the distance and in no time at all, a Black Caiman was right beside us, swimming along and checking us out. He swam right under neath and out the other side, and he still came back for another look, fantastic, must admit wasn’t expecting for it to come quite so close!
Our guide Esauu was brillant, from the word go we knew that we were going to have great fun with him. He had a great sense of humour and fun, and his knowledge of the rainforest and jungle was unbelievable, he was like an encyclopedia . All he cared about was nature and what it means to the world, and more importantly about protecting it. We did many walks with him during the day as he pointed out the great trees to us, we followed the red howler monkeys and watched as they fought amongst each other. The night walks were also amazing, how he spotted the numerous insects as they slept on trees, some were camouflaged so well we really wondered what sort of eyes he had, good ones obviously. He was always working, even over dinner in the evening he would enlighten us with stories, and when he would call us early in the morning at oh my god o’clock he would ask did we hear the such and such sound during the night, early morning etc., His only downfall was that he had no good solution for getting rid of the god damn mosquitoes, but in fact after a few days you just get used to them, what’s another bite! Unfortunately they bite through your clothes so there is no real escaping. As you can imagine it was really warm, sticky and humid here, but an amazing place. Oh yes, we did get rain in the RainForest ! All four of us had such a great trip to this part of Peru, and considering we only arranged it when we got to Cusco it all went according to plan, no hiccups. Arranged it on a Saturday afternoon, left on Sunday morning.
Anybody interested in doing a trip like this contact email@example.com and speak to Edgar Condori Ramos who will be willing to help. For a great guide ask Edgar to put you in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org who is a natural jungle specialist.
Inca Trail and Machu Picchu
It was then back to Cusco, to re acclimatize ourselves again, in order to do our 4 Day Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu. The day before we left we spent quite a few hours organizing our back packs trying to have them as light as possible , deciding on what clothes to bring (very little), but most importantly making sure we had dry and clean ones for the end of the trip . Also we had to do some shopping to buy some snacks for along the way, so we had to distribute them evenly in each back pack. The lighter the pack the easier to walk, remember we were going to climb over 4250 meters or 13779 feet !With most of that sorted we headed to Llama Path (www.llamapath.com) our tour operator for our briefing on what to expect over the next few days, to meet our guides Miguel and Cocoa, also to meet our fellow hikers, 16 in total, 7 of which were Irish so we felt at home. Our briefing lasted only about 30 minutes as everybody checked and asked relevant questions necessary to themselves. Claire, Robin , Merv and I had hired a porter between four of us, so we did not have to carry our sleeping bags or mattresses, so thanks guys for that. Some people had hired porters to carry everything for them (at a cost), some had hired no porters at all, so it depended very much on the individual. It was an early night to bed as we had to meet the next morning at 4.30 a.m, which for most people meant getting up at 3.30 to begin our epic adventure. I must say as we wandered through the various squares to our meeting point, many people were only coming home from partying, how times have changed I thought as I trundled along with my back-pack on my back!!!
All loaded on the bus, guides at the front and off we went. As it was still dark there wasn’t much for us to see, so many people just slept as it would be over three hours before we would stop to have our breakfast. Everybody needed as much shut eye as possible as the following mornings we would also be getting up really early and walking for many hours. Our first stop was in Ollantaytambo for breakfast, very nice, but a severe lack of coffee for Robin and Merv, oh how will they survive. They nodded to each other, just as well we have brought our coffee and plunger for our trek…… After about another 45 minutes on the bus after breakfast, we arrived at KM 82, starting point of the Inca Trail.
For those planning on doing it, here is a short list of what to take ….
White Immigration Slip,
Walking sticks, optional, but a good idea,
Waterproof jacket, and plastic poncho,
Warm jacket, hat and gloves , really only needed in the evening times if it is cold.
Water container, preferably a platypus, must be recyclable
Sun hat , sun glasses and sun cream,
Toilet paper, very important !
T-shirt, something like an ice-breaker, or no smell ! (remember no shower for 4 days).
Passports checked, stamped if wished, group photo taken, pep talk given by our lead guide Miguel – take it slow,use your walking sticks, drink loads of water to help altitude sickness, chew coca leaves if you wish, suck coca sweets, which ever way is best for you , remember it is not a race and everybody must make it, we are in this together, and we will all make it ! You might not always feel 100% physically fit , but please always remain 100% mentally positive.
This was supposed to be relatively easy, I guess it depends on the term . We walked for 16 kms, approximately 7 hours and from 2720 m to 3300 m before arriving in our camp( Ayapata) at 5pm that evening. A great day, wonderful scenery, and to meet the local farmers as we wandered through their homeland was amazing. Most of us were panting and out of breath, but they encouraged us all the way.
When we would arrive into our camp each evening our tents were already erected, sleeping bags and mattresses in each persons tent, plus a small basin of hot water for each person was waiting outside of the tent so as to wash as best one could. Once people had refreshed, checked for blisters etc., we had Happy Hour in the main eating tent which consisted of pop-corn, yes made in the camp , along with tea, and this was all just before dinner. Dinner was still to come. Dinner never disappointed, really lovely food, no shortage of it whatsoever, and each evening was different. Mind you rice seem to make it to the table each evening, but I guess when in ‘Peru’, but everything was just so tasty and beautifully presented, it was incredible to see under such conditions. Cooking in a tent, in the dark only with head torches, and sometimes it was raining. On two evenings we had cake for dessert, no mean feat to prepare ! Everybody squeezed into the main dining tent for all our meals , and here we shared stories of the day, history of the Incas told to us by our guide Miguel, and we would discuss what to expect the next day.
Our porters were wonderful, nothing was a problem for them. Each evening as we came into camp they would give a big cheer, they cheered the first , the second, right to the very last person, and it didn’t matter if there was an hour between the first and the last, they were always there to encourage you. The same in the morning, we would get up to find a basin of hot water outside, also some hot coca tea and then head to breakfast. While we were having our breakfast they would dismantle our tents, and pack up everything to take to our next campsite. We always left before them, but after about an hour or two they would pass us at high speed, each of them carrying 25kgs on their back and then it was our turn to cheer and clap them. When we would arrive at our lunch spot they always had the dining tent ready, a warm energy drink to boost the system, and if they felt it was going to rain a dry area for our back packs. No 5 star hotel could match this service, and everything was done with a smile.
Now this was a tough day, and the toughest of the whole trek. Dead Woman’s Pass. During breakfast, Merv and Robin produced their french press coffee maker, and made a proper brew of coffee. There were a few faces that looked like they would kill for a cup of coffee, but the coffee supply was measured for the 4 days, with not much to spare. Thus, the procedure of the “Second press” was created, where the pot was refilled, re-stirred and re-poured to the needy few.
We walked less kms than Day 1, 10 hours in total but had to climb to 4250 m and what an achievement to have made it. We had heard so much about this pass , so everybody was a little anxious. It was a very steep climb, with many steps, it was up, up and more up. We only encountered some down hill to get to our campsite (Chaquicocha) and even then we had some big steps to overcome, plus they were a little slippery. Even those who suffered altitude sickness made it, well done guys. Along this section of the valley we saw many Inca Terraces and also some ancient stone buildings. The climb may have been tough, but when you stopped to see the views, the pain was worth it, breathtaking.
Each of our campsites had toilet facilities, but you would need a ‘clinical cleaning procedure’ after using them, so enough said ……
This was the easiest day of the whole trek. We only walked for 9 kms and for about six hours before arriving to our camp (Winay Huayna) plus we were mainly on the level, and dropped to about 2680 m. Also this was the nearest campsite to the sun gate for the morning which meant we only had about 2 hours to Machu Picchu. We were finished by lunch time and we then had the afternoon to relax, some people played cards, others enjoyed the sun, some even caught up on some sleep. At about 4.30 pm we walked for about 10 minutes to a beautiful mirador to see an Inca sight, and as we were getting nearer to Machu Picchu they seemed to be in better condition. So hard to believe that all of these great ruins were covered by jungle for so long.
Arrived in Machu Picchu after a 2 hour hike, and only 5.5 kms. Sadly when we arrived at the Sun Gate we had no view whatsoever, but as we made our way down a little the sun obliged and yes, what a breathtaking view and sight we saw beneath us. As most people visit Machu Pichu by getting the train from Cusco and then walking around the site, the hikers are the first people at the Sun Gate, and from it you get the best view if the sun shines early in the morning. Not for us, but never the less the sense of achievement was great. Very few people who come by train even hike to the Sun Gate ,so we hikers are a pretty elite group, if I say so myself. Once in the site itself, Miguel gave us a full tour , and pieced together all the previous stories he had told us along the trail,making it one complete piece of history. Even thought the Inca’s only ruled for 90 years they have left a huge amount of history behind them, some of which is still covered by jungle.
The hiking was not complete yet, as Huayna Picchu a small mountain with another great view of Machu Picchu still awaited. From here the views were also spectacular and breathtaking with loads of sun. After the previous four days this was a doddle, up and down in less than two hours.
To sum it all up the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu is a must for everyone’s bucket list. Machu Picchu itself cannot be understood without the Inca Trail. Its principal sites are ceremonial in character and the trail itself and walking it was formerly an act of devotion. It is unfortunate that the number of tourists repeating this Inca devotion of four exhausting days are exceeding the tolerance of the trail, leading to damage so perhaps in time to come, we may no longer be able to walk this trail. We were all thrilled to reach the finish, and despite the many pictures we had seen of Machu Picchu we were not really prepared for such a wonder of the world, its one place that must be seen with your own eyes.
Of course we spent most of the day in Machu Picchu before getting the bus to Aguas Calientes (also know as the town of Machu Picchu) and here our priority was a nice hotel room with a comfy bed and of course more importantly HOT WATER for a good shower . After our showers we were like new people and so Pisco Sours were worthy for the evening.
This town is mainly used as a resting place for the Inca Trail survivors as it has thermal baths 10 minutes walk from the town by the banks of the river amid cloud forest vegetation. The Pisco Sours won out over the thermal baths for us four, I must say. The next morning after a great nights sleep we were refreshed, no real aches or pains for some of us hardy trouts and were ready to explore the quaint little place of Aguas Calientes. Claire and I even did a little retail therapy in the market. What a beautiful place surrounded by mountains on all sides, everywhere you looked the view was stunning. In the early afternoon we took the train back to Ollantaytambo and from here we hopped onto a bus all the way back to Cusco, with more beautiful scenery . Each way we looked we were spoiled for choice. Once again we were back at base after another wonderful experience, it will be difficult to top this throughout the rest of Peru!
Christmas comes early to the Mog
As Claire and Robin had very kindly brought us a Christmas Pudding, we saw it only fitting to have Christmas Dinner in ‘ Chez Mog ‘ before they left . The Christmas cheer was in full swing, party hats, christmas songs and all and the vino was flowing. As we were in Peru we decided to cook Alpaca Fillet with all the trimmings which was really tasty and over the course of five hours we managed to dwindle away loads of food and vino. What a superb way to celebrate Christmas early with such great friends. Seeing as Claire and Robin have now visited us three times on our travels I guess we own them the next visit, Blarney in The Republic of Cork awaits our return. I hope you have a parking place reserved for Chez Mog…. Thanks guys for a great 24 days together.