Jungles, Deserts and Coast - A perfect Cherry on the top!
10/07/2012 20 °C
We arrived in Puno by bus a couple of hours after being stamped into Peru. We met our first South American NBM of the trip at the bus station, while we did not want any of the services he had on offer as he was a nice guy we let him blag a free lift in our taxi back to his travel agency in the town centre enroute to our hostel. When we arrived at our hostel there was 'nobody at the inn'. We tried the bell a couple of time but no response. It looked like they had just nipped out for some lunch so we thought it best to wait as we already had a booking with the place. After 45 minutes I was not a happy chappy, I pressed the bell about five times and a minute later low and behold a girl appeared at the door to let us in - it appears that five rings of the bell is what it takes to wake her up!!!! We checked in and then went out in search of the England vs Italy game. Our luck was out on the football so we decided to go for pizza in support of Italy as we did not really want England to win the Euros while we were not at home to enjoy the celebrations. After some´dunch´we spent the rest of the afternoon doing some shopping, playing in an arcade and making onward travel arrangements for the next day to Cuzco (we did have a fancy oriental express style train booked but it had been cancelled due to a miners strike).
We had another chilled one that evening getting ready for the action to come.
The following day we jumped on out bus to Cuzco at 08:00. About 1 hour in to the journey we came across a small town and we discovered the reason the train was cancelled! The main streets through the town were packed with a procession of thousands miners.
We came to a sand still and after about 30 minutes the driver decided to take a detour down the tiny streets - the protest was generally well mannered however at one point the bus was pelted with stones. We eventually made our way out of that town only to be confronted by another horde of miners 15km down the road - this time the bus parked up out of town and waited for the masses to walk by.
After negotiating the bus around all the rocks purposely left in the road by the protesters the rest of the journey went smoothly and we just laid back and enjoyed the scenery.
We arrived in Cuzco later than expected at about 16:00. We took a taxi straight to our hostel and then went out on a wander of the town centre. On the drive in to town we could not understand why the guide book was saying Cuzco was such a good place. When we arrived in the town centre we realized why. On the way to the main square we walked down cobbled streets that almost had the feel of the back streets of York. We were then confronted by the huge main square with two large churches and some mood lighting which gave the place a distinct European feel.
While checking out the main square we felt compelled to make our third (and final) painting purchase of the trip. We had dinner in the local rotisserie chicken joint near our hostel - the place was packed with locals and the food looked awesome, the only problem was that it tasted of 95% salt and 5% chicken!. That evening we attempted to book our Machu Picchu tickets online with no joy - we would have to make a trip to the office early tomorrow to guarantee a place to go to Huainan Picchu.
Up at 06:00 the next day I fired down to the town centre to get some last minute supplies for our trip to the jungle and to grab some cash to buy our Machu tickets. We then went to the ticket office together and made the all important purchase. Feeling pretty buzzed we made our way back to our hotel for a quick bit of breakfast and to pick up our gear for the trip to the Amazon. We arrived at the airport with time to spare and in high spirits. We approached the counter to check in and handed over our electronic ticket - the lady behind the counter looked a little confused and then proceeded to point out that we were actually four months late for our flight! Elaine booked the flight for the 26th Feb!!! With our heads in our hands we made our way over to the ticketing desk (about 1 metre to the left of the check in desk) and proceeded to feel the wrath of the lady behind the counter while all the other staff of Star Peru found our predicament highly amusing! Lucky they had some spare seats but due to our 'no show' and the difference in cost between our seat and the one available we had to bend over and pay another $240 (US) to get on the plane. While the woman was faffing about the final call for boarding went out; we hurried her along and eventually got our boarding pass and made a hasty dash through security to the gate. With seconds to spare we made it. Finally on the plane we both breathed a sigh of relief however I was finding it very painful to sit down!!!
The take off from Cuzco required a steep climb over the mountains and the landing in Puerto Maldonado gave impressive views over the canopy of the Amazon rainforest. The flight only took 45 minutes (at a rate of $8.6 per minute!). We were greeted at the airport by our guide Steven and made our way to the Wasai lodge in Puerto Maldonado (http://www.wasai.com/index.html) where we had a complimentary passionfruit juice before jumping into the minivan to go to the boat. Once on the boat we traveled for three hours up the Tambopata River deep in to the jungle while enjoying a spot of lunch. We also saw some Capybara´s chilling on the bank on the way.
We arrived at the jungle lodge at about 18:00. First things first we were shown to our private lodge.
We then geared up ready to go out on a night walk before dinner. The first expedition of the trip did not disappoint, we saw a range of different bugs including some cool crickets and spiders.
Just at the end of the walk we were treated to a sighting of 2 metre long Rainbow Boa. Check this bad boy out:
Dinner that evening was hearty and we retired early ready for an early start the next day.
Up at 05:00 the next day we jumped in the boat and headed five minutes down stream. We then trekked for 45 minutes into the jungle to get to the parrot clay lick (this is where all the birds go to lick\eat clay to sort out the digestive systems due to all of the tannins in the leaves and fruit they eat). After waiting for about 2 hours we saw a couple of Macaws perched up high in the distance and a range of smaller parrots filling their boots at the lick. We then trekked back to base and had some breakfast. We had about 1 hour to chill before we jumped back in the boat and headed up stream for 15 minutes where we were dropped off with some kayaks. We then spent the next hour slowly making our way back to the lodge, spotting about 6 different Caiman and a swarm of butterflies on the way. Lots of the butterflies followed us back, and when we landed at the shore by the lodge there must have been over 100 butterflies flapping about all over the place and licking up all of the minerals from the bank (the males do this because the minerals help the produce pheromones so they can smell good for the ladies). With so many butterflies we managed to get some really good shots.
After taking a ridiculous number of photos we had a quick shower, some lunch and then hiked out to the zip-lining course in the jungle.
First up was a walk over a bridge about 5 metres over the swamp, this was then followed by a 100 metre zip-line across the swamp - good fun. Next up was a cable traverse back across the swamp, it required a little bit too much upper body strength for Elaine but I jumped on and used an army style shimmy for the first half, and when the burn started to kick in used a simple traverse for the rest.
After the cable traverse there was another easy little bridge to cross - the traverse did make you work up a sweat though!
We had another go on the zip-line then went back to the lodge for a well deserved shower! After dinner we took a hike out to the mammal clay lick and sat up in the trees (in a hide) waiting for something to show. We were eventually rewarded with a sighting of a small dear but I think by that time we had both lost about a pint of blood each to the mozzies. From the clay lick we hiked on for another ten minutes back to near the swamp where we spent the night camping - the setup was basic but the 05:00 start to the day ensured we got a good nights sleep.
Up at 07:00 the next day we went back to the clay lick for a couple of hours and saw two capybaras and a baby wild pig. We then had a spot of breakfast back at the lodge. The rest of the morning was free time so while Elaine chilled at the lodge I went out exploring the jungle around the edge of the lodge site trying to get some good photos - I saw some cool birds, lizards, vultures and butterflies. After lunch we went off on a short walk to the tree climb. I went first and got strapped into the climbing harness and started the 8 minute climb up 50 metres of rope up to the top of the canopy. The view at the top was immense, I was joined by Elaine 20 minutes later and we both spent some time enjoying the jungle canopy views in the late afternoon light.
Both feeling hot, sweaty and tired we went back to the room for showers and some relaxation. Before dinner I went out looking for Tarantulas again and spotted a couple of beauties.
After dinner we went out for a final night walk, this time seeing a giant millipede, loads of spiders and some grasshoppers undergoing metamorphosis.
After a long day we hit the hay for the last time in the jungle.
We took the boat back to Puerto Maldonado early the next day and the jumped on a bus to the town centre lodge. Down by the pool we were lucky enough to spot a sloth in the tree tops.
We arrived at the airport 2 hours early for our return flight (which we had booked correctly) only to find that it had been delayed by a further hour. We eventually arrived back in Cuzco at about 15:30. After getting some laundry done we spent the evening relaxing in and around the main square, and I treated myself to my final holiday haircut (job done in about 3 minutes and it only cost me 1 squid plus a 25p tip!).
The next morning we went out in search of a travel agent to make onward travel arrangements for Nazca. With our night bus and scenic flight over the lines booked we enjoyed some KFC for lunch (Elaine spotted it first not me) and then sought out a collectivo bus (something in between a taxi and bus) to Ollantaytambo. We arrived in the picturesque Ollantaytambo at about 15:30 giving us some time to check out the tiny town before our train to Aguas Calientes at 18:30.
We went for a short wander round the market, enjoyed an ice cream then realised it was beer o`clock so savored a chilled one in the main square. We followed it up with a Pisco Sour then set off down to the train station. Just by the gates of the train station Elaine fell over and banged her knee and wrist, she was a little shook up but ok. All the Peruvian ladies came over asking if she was alright and while I was helping her up the kind people from Peru Rail seeing her plight came rushing over with a wheelchair to help her get to the train - Elaine politely declined and hobbled to the train. As it was dark the train journey was fairly uneventful. We arrived in Aguas Calientes at 21:00 and were greeted at the station by someone from our hostel. We nipped out to get some snacks then when back to the hostel for an EN - Big game int`mownin!
Up at 04:00 we quickly got dressed then had some breakfast. We bought our bus tickets and were in the queue for the bus to Machu Picchu at 05:10. We managed to get on the third bus up to the main gate, passing lots of extremely tired looking people taking an early morning trek up the massive hill. We were inside Machu Picchu shortly after 06:00. Initial impressions did not blow me away. We made our way straight through the site (via the main plaza and some llamas enjoying the sunrise) to join the queue to get up Huayna Picchu - we were first in line at 06:30.
The gates did not open until 07:00 but we (I) chose to sit and wait as we (I) did not want to relinquish first place. On the board at the sign in desk the climb was listed as taking 45-90 minutes. We set off and Elaine soon let me off the leash to tramp up as fast as I could. Within 10 minutes I arrived at the 25 minutes to go mark, feeling quite knackered but determined to keep first place I powered on. 5 minutes later I heard some voices coming up behind me, I was concerned that it was the French people who were behind us in the queue so I dug deeper still. I then arrived at the base of the summit and had been caught by two young American lads, they had a spring in their step and looked set to fire past me but instead when they saw me slowing shouted words of encouragement to drive me on. With their encouragement I made the final scramble and arrived at the summit first, almost immediately followed by them (it tuned out that they set off from Aguas Calientes at 03:30 and walked all the way up the massive hill to Machu Picchu before running up Huayna Picchu - impressive). We made it in 25 minutes. We had 15 minutes to chill and take in the awesome views.
Elaine arrived at the top in a time of 40 minutes - it was a really good effort as she beat the rest by another 15 minutes and did not look half as knackered as I did when reaching the top.
We enjoyed the 15 minutes of quiet time at the top before the masses ascended.
Feeling buzzed that we had both hammered Huayna Picchu, we made our way down to Machu Picchu for a spot of breakfast. We then took our time over the next few hours exploring every corner of the ruins - taking in some awesome views and capturing some of the classic photos of the very impressive ruins.
We called it quits at about 14:00 and set off on the walk back to Aguas Calientes - 2km down a very steep hill and then back along the river to town.
Once back in town we celebrated our success with ice cream, some beers and a couple of excellent pastries from the local boulangerie (run by an actual Frenchman). After having showers we went out in search for some food. We settled on Mexican and were treated to some of the worst food of the whole trip - after a 1 hour wait we were served tasteless burritos not in tortilla wraps but thick eggy omelette pancake things - I paid for it so I ate it though! After a long day we retired for the evening early for some well deserved sleep.
Next day we had a train booked to go back to Ollantaytambo at 09:00. We jumped on the train without a problem and set off on time. The views were awesome and we were glad that we got to do the journey during the day. Due to arrive in Ollantaytambo at 11:00 the train came to a halt at 10:30 and people to started to pile off into the nearby farmers field to relax in the sun.
I was told by the guard that a train had broken down near the station and we had to wait for it to be moved. I thought it best to make the most of the delay so indulged in a spot of sunbathing. 30 minutes later I asked for an update and was told that the delay was actually due to a teachers strike blocking up the station and not a broken down train - by this point some people had already set off walking to Ollantaytambo. In no rush we decided to wait it out. At 12:00 we started to contemplate the walk ourselves but thought it best to wait a bit more as we had already waited so long. At 12:30 a procession of riot police marched past the train towards town - that made up our minds about walking.
Finally at about 14:30 the train set off back to town - in all fairness the delay was not too bad as it was sunny outside and the Peru Rail staff kept plying us with food and drink. Once back in Ollantaytambo the town was in a bit of a state with people and vehicles everywhere. We joined a massive queue of locals waiting for a collectivo back to Urubamba - after some jostling for position and about a 40 minute wait we got a space in a packed little mini bus. Once in Urubamba the onward journey to Cuzco only required a walk to the other side of the station, a sigh of relief was let out. Back in Cuzco much later than expected and in need of some good food after last nights poor show we went out in search of a recommended Australian owned place from the guide book - we were not disappointed. Some Asian inspired tasty chili chicken rolls to start followed by a spicy Indian curry for me and some asian style crispy chicken with sweet potato for Elaine - washed down with a beer and a Pisco Sour - excellent. Feeling satisfied we made our way back to the hostel where we spent the rest of the evening relaxing.
With not much to do the next day we made our way down to the town centre and picked up our tickets to Nazca and for the over flight. We spent the day wandering round Cuzco checking out the different markets and plazas.
We boarded our night bus to Nazca at 18:00 and set off on our way. The first driver was a bit of a mad man so sleep did not come until about 00:00 when the shift changed. Waking up at 06:00 we were treated to a viewing of Rambo II dubbed in Spanish for the last 2 hours of the journey. When we arrived in Nazca we were greeted by someone from the flight company. After tidying ourselves up we made our way to the airport only to find that the place was closed due to the fog. With time to kill we purchased some novelty Nazca lines cards and started to while the hours away playing cards. At 13:45 we were finally called for our flight. We jumped into our tiny six seater plane (two seats taken up by the pilot and co-pilot) and set off on our journey.
Take off was smooth and the over flight was awesome (I don´t think Elaine will agree with me though). We got great views of the different geoliths - whale, dog, monkey, spider, astronaut, kingfisher and condor to name a few.
About 20 minutes into the flight Elaine was looking a bit worse for wear. After all the sights were seen the pilot made his way back for a smooth landing. Once back at the office in town Elaine took some time to become at one with the solid ground under her feet while I went out in search of some onward transport to Ica. Once Elaine was feeling better we went out to find an ATM and some scran - it is the first time I have ever been served stir fried chicken and chips with rice on the side! We jumped on the bus to Ica at about 16:00 and a couple of hours later we arrived. Greeted at the station by a taxi driver we jumped in his taxi and went straight to our hostel in Huacachina. Arriving in the dark we could see that the place was small so we thought we would save the exploring for tomorrow and spent the evening relaxing at the hostel. Sleep came easy after the night on the bus.
We had a relaxed morning the next day, enjoying a spot of breakfast at the hostel then going out for a wander around the lagoon.
We spent sometime chilling on the dunes and enjoyed a couple of beers and some lunch next to the lagoon. At 16:00 it was time to go out in a dune buggy and try some sandboarding. Our driver was an old dude and I was a bit dubious - it was quickly apparent that he had just had more time than the rest to hone his driving skills. We fired up, down and around the dunes at great speed then stopped off at some little dunes to try some sandboarding.
I jumped straight in there and managed to get the hang of it (just) after coming off a couple of times. Elaine was a bit unsure and went for a seated run down the small slope. We then moved on to two more sandboarding spots, each getting progressivly bigger. The last spot was massive (Elaine was a spectator at this point), there was a wall of people lined up´at the top waiting for someone to go first - I gladly obliged and set off, quite quickly I face planted the sand but got up and dusted myself off and managed to make it the rest of the way (the dune must have been 100m high).
Both the dune buggy and sandboarding were great fun but we were both appalled by the amount of litter scattered over the dunes. Once back at the hostel, with every orafice full of sand I took a shower and had some chill time. We went out for some dinner by the lagoon and with not much going on in the town went for yet another EN (I think we are both getting old).
The next day we went out in search of pancakes for breakfast, we found a purveyor of a ´famous, enormous fruit pancake´ and it did not disappoint.
Both feeling suitably stuffed we spent the rest of the morning chilling on the dunes, topping up our tans. Around lunchtime we jumped in a taxi back to Ica and waited for the bus to Paracas. When the bus eventually arrived (so much for the Cruz Del Sur reputation) we took the short ride out to the coast. Once in Paracas we were greeted by a NBM and proceeded to book a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands for the next day. We walked down to the centre to find our accomodation only to discover a building site! We walked through the building site to find a working part of the hostel at the back.
We checked in (after being assured the noise of the builders would not interupt our sleep) and then went to check out the tiny town centre and sea front. That evening we enjoyed some ceviche and other sea food at a little local restaurant (5 squid per head for two courses and beer - bobby dazzler).
Up at 06:00 the next day we made our way to the tour office - after much waiting around we were informed that the pier was closed (as it had been for the last four days - supposedly due to a fishing boat with five men on it completely disappearing earlier in the week). We decided to skip the inland national park tour and try again for the boat trip the next day. With the whole day free we went back to the tiny centre and enjoyed some breakfast (the smallest chicken sandwich I have every had) while looking at the massive pelicans lured in for the tourists by some fishermen.
We decided to checkout Pisco so jumped in a collectivo for the 15km journey down the coast. It was quite a sad sight to see as the town looked rather dilapidated and it was obvious that it was struggling to make a recovery from the earthquake which hit five years ago. We had some lunch by the main square and enjoyed a beer - I has Lomo Saltado, a beef, chip (yes chip) and onion stirfry with rice on the side while Elaine enjoyed some seafood rice. Both feeling carbed out we jumped in a taxi back to Paracas.
Once in the little town we found a beach front bar and enjoyed some cocktails and cards while watching the sunset. Still carbed out we skipped dinner and had a relaxed evening at the hostel ready for the early start the next day.
Up at 06:00 again we packed up and made our way up to the tour office. At 08:00 it was anounced that the pier was open. We jumped in buses and made our way down to the seafront where we each paid our tourist tax. Once on the giant speed boat we set off to the islands. The sea was a little rough but not as bad as we expected. It took about 15 minutes to get to the islands (passing a candelabro geolith on the way), as we approached you could see thousands of birds in the sky. Once up close we got to see thousands of birds nestled up on the rocks, there were lots of different species: Peruvian boobies (shnee), Pelicans, Cormorants, Gulls and Humboldt Penguins to name a few. The islands were a bit smelly when up close - it was obvious how a guano harvesting industry could have formed. As a finale we were treated to an up close sighting of a sea lion colony.
The trip was excellent and were were both supprised by the abundance of wildlife at the islands. Once back in town we had a couple of hours to kill before our bus to Lima (which again arrived late - cheers Cruz Del Sur!). We arrived in Lima at about 15:30 and took a taxi straight to the guesthouse. We enjoyed a couple of hours of chill time (and I enjoyed a few beers) then went out in search of some steak courtesy of Luke and Abi. We went to a place recommended by our guesthouse - we were not disappointed. When we walked in the door infront of the two massive charcoal grills was a butchers counter full of fine cuts of beef - now that´s what I´m talking about! We both enjoyed the best steak of the trip and a cocktail to wash it down (sadly the choice of establishment ment that Luke and Abi paid for my steak but only 1\6 of Elaine´s).
Both feeling extremely satisfied we jumped in a taxi to the Parque de Agua. It is a large park where you need to pay 1 squid to get inside however once in there are thirteen massive fountains of all different shapes and sizes with lights and music to accompany. The atmosphere was like a fair ground with pople eating candy floss and children (and adults) runing in an out of the fountains getting soaking wet! It was a great way to spend the penultimate evening of our trip.
Waking up on our last full day we enjoyed a spot of breakfast at our guest house. We then spent the morning checking out the centre of Miraflores. I had my shoes shined (finaly) and managed to find a jumper in the local market.
Early afternoon we made our way down to the centre of the city to checkout the Plaza de Armas and some of the other squares.
We had some lunch in a cheap restaurant packed full of locals before making our way back to Miraflores. In the afternoon we enjoyed some more retail therapy, visiting a chocolatier and some more jumper shops. Back at the guesthouse my gut management skills were put to the test big style. We spent the night relaxing at the guest house - not the ideal way to spend the last night as we had planned to go out for a nice meal however, the time to recuperate should place me well to enjoy the last day.
Up early the next day I was feeling a lot better (albeit a little empty). After packing our bags for the final time and having some breakfast we headed down to the seafront for a stroll in the rare Lima sunshine.
We walked by the sea down into the town centre where we enjoyed a coffee and some churros with chocolate sauce. We then did our final bit of shopping and headed back to the guesthouse to freshen up. We decided on a meal at one of the top restaurants in the area to bring the trip to a close where we enjoyed an excellent trio of ceviche to start, followed by sea food fetuccini for me seared tuna steak for Elaine - some fine food to top off a damn fine trip!
Peru has been excellent and a great destination to finish off the trip. While we stuck to the ´gringo trail´, some of the smaller places we visited gave us a real feel for Peru. We both would love to go back to the Amazon again as it was one of the highlights of the entire trip.
Well five months is up (net of 30 minutes to get to the airport). We have both had a brilliant time and have seen more sights and had so many different experiences that this will definitely be a trip that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Yes we have had a couple of low points (kobeeda withdrawl symptoms were difficult to deal with!) but the good times by far outweigh the bad. This trip has left us both charged with energy and ready to tackle the next challange that life holds - bring it on!!!