Location: Lima, Peru
PS new photos posted!
Location: Lima, Peru
Stepping off the plane into Lima this afternoon was just brilliant.
First, I'd survived two more internal flights, one of which seemed to be a training exercise for a newbie pilot who forgot to actually steer the plane as we took off from Peurto Maldonado. There was also the dicey landing and take off from Cusco, high in the Andes, to contend with again. Note to self.. when planning next holiday avoid flights into or out of mountain ranges.
Second, there is no humidity in Lima and after the 95% humidty we've had in the jungle for the past three days, I'm over the moon about that.
And finally, there's no altitude. It can be fun, all that light headedness that comes with a lack of oxygen, but I'm a big fan of sea level for activities like climbing stairs, walking and breathing, so I'm happy to be back here by the sea.
The three days in the Amazon just flew. After arriving off the plane, we drove around the little town of Peurto Maldonado eating ice cream and visiting the local market. At this point I developed heat stroke and decided that I was probably about to die. I've never had anything like it before and despite having drunk a litre and a half of water that day, I'd still managed to overheat and probably dehydrate myself (nothing to do with the rather big night we had in Cusco the night prior farewelling half our travelling group!). Anyway, I panicked a bit, thinking I was losing consciousness but our guide sorted me out with gatorade, something fizzy in a little packet and 2.5 litres of water. Within a couple of hours I was fine again but now have my 'I almost died in the Amazon' story sorted out!
From the Port we took a little river canoe upstream for about four hours, stopping numerous times along the way to spot Macaws, Caymans, wild boars, and countless other wildlife I can't remember the names of. Once I'd started feeling better the boat ride really began to remind me of my trip along the Mekong in Laos, which I loved, but it was a strange sensation to feel as though I was back there on the other side of the world again.
We stayed in a jungle lodge owned by a french lady who'd decided to move out to Peru to live. It was a fabulous site with a big open dining hall enclosed only by wood beams and mosquito nets, and the rooms were similarly basic. It was a little disconcerting that although we all had separate rooms we could each hear a pin drop in the room next door. It was lovely sleeping under mosquito nets and listening to the sounds of the jungle but never would have imagined it would be so noisy.
We went on a full day hike through the jungle and spotted many amazing little critters and creatures, and thankfully no jaguars. Our guide was fantastic, feeding us little tidbits along the way about what the local people use the different plants and animals for... such an incredible wealth of knowledge that's been built up over generations. I hope it doesn't get lost with the development of the area.
And now back to Lima again for my final day and a half. It's been a magic ride so far and I can't believe how quickly it's gone.
Thanks for your messages and emails so far. I haven't been near a news site in two weeks and am presuming that if anything dramatic happens someone will let me know.
Take care all!
Location: Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru
Yesterday morning I was woken at 3:40am by the sound of a tarp being folded right outside my tent. I was in the third camp site along the Inca Trail and was preparing for the final two hours of trekking that would take me to Machu Picchu.
The hike started bright and early on Sunday morning in a little town called Ollytaytambo in the province of Cusco. It would be an understatement to say I was nervous about the four day, 50 km hike that I was enbarking on that morning, but as I readied my own 5 kg back pack and lathered on the sunscreen, the sight of the porters lugging 25 kilos a piece put my mind at ease a little. In hindsight, that was incredibly naive of me.
Our group was 11 hikers, one guide, one assistant guide, two cooks and 16 porters. I couldn´t fathom why we needed quite such a big party for our little group, given we were only allowed 6 kg each in our duffle bags. Nevertheless, we set off adjacent to the train line and began our hike on a warm and sunny morning. The first day we hiked around 12 km or so and found it not too tough going. Upon arrival into the camp it quickly became obvious why there were so many porters - a white tent had been erected and inside was a table seating all 11 of us and the guides for a two course lunch. I couldn´t believe the luxury of it! The food was delicious with garlic bread, soup and a main course of pasta, vegies and chicken. It was hard not to relax into the comfort of this apparently four star trek.
Day two had long since been flagged as the toughest day. Although we only hiked about 9km all up, we had to ascend from 3000m to 4215m in a single, long climb that took the average person about four hours. From there it was a steep descent into the camp for night two. I set off with one of the other girls on the trip, Carmen, and we hiked fairly solidly making great progress up the mountain. At times the path was really steep and we kept from too many glances at the sheer drops on the sides of the paths. It was also a real challenge to remember to look up every once in a while to admire what was some of the most spectacluar views I´ve ever seen. The weather was cool with mist clouds that rolled in across the mountains making for some pretty impressive photos. At around 4000m altitude the going got particularly tough. We´d spent at least a week aclimatising to the alitude since arriving in Puno but trekking up hills when the air was so thin was extremely challenging. With the top of the pass in sight (known as Dead Womans Pass because of the shape of the mountains and not due to the untimely passing of any particular individual) I pushed on and made it to the top in 3 hours 30 minutes, fourth in my group and the first girl (yay!). A feeling of utter elation and a huge sense of accomplishment filled me as I admired the views of where I´d just climbed. Once Carmen arrived ten minutes later, the five from our group began the descent into the completely clouded in valley that held our camp site. The initial descent was made up of a series of very steep, irregular and sometimes slippery steps. I´ve never used walking poles before this trek but am now convinced I need them at all times, in every day life. They were life savers on more than one occasion. The path to the camp was difficult and we all suffered from the shaky leg syndrome that seems to come with any prolonged descent after a climb, but the views helped to distract us as we saw the valley unfold below us. We were in camp by 1pm, with the other half of the group arriving two hours later. We felt great and were treated to popcorn and lunch on arrival as well as high fives all round.
It was at this point that we started to realise that our trek wasn´t exactly four star after all. Day two campsite held all five hundred trekkers on the inca trail and there were two banos (toilets) which, I might add, you could get to in the pitch black dead of night just by following your nose. Suffice to say, the banos along the trek were the real low point of what was otherwise an incredibly rewarding experience. One of our group coined the term Natural Banjo because of his aversion for using the pre-existing facilities, and I think our whole group became fans of the Natural Banjos.
Day 3 was to be our longest day hiking with three passes to conquer and then a long descent into the final camp of our trek. "Easy peasy lemon squeezy", quoth our guide. We all nodded smuggly believing the worst was behind us, and we didn´t even feel too bad! After about 4 hours hiking we arrived at our lunch camp having completed the first hike and seen some fantastic inca ruins along the way. We toasted ourselves at being so close to the end and after lunch had a group nap on our backpacks, much to the amusement of passers by. We also found out that the head porter on our trek had thrice won a crazy sounding marathon race that spans the inca trail - 43km in total. This was only slightly less than what we were doing in four days. It took this guy 3 hours and 45 minutes to finish. Having completed the trek, I am absolutely blown away that anyone could do that path in anything less than a few days, let alone a few hours.
After lunch we set off for the final "two hours" to camp. We hiked, climbed, photographed, trekked and marvelled at the views, that were by this stage largely obscured by the clouds. Eventually it became clear, as knees froze and calves stiffened, that day three was no walk in the park, and much longer than two hours. By the time we got the the third pass, we were ready for our afternoon popcorn and a lie down. Little did we realise that we still had another couple of hours of downhill (and down very steep staircases) to go. The five of us up front distracted each other as best we could but it was a long long way down. Our guide had recommended a slightly longer route via some inca ruins so we took that turn off, not realising it would add probably an hour to our trek. But the view of the mountain ranges alongside the inca ruins that awaited us were breathtaking. Also breathtaking was the steepest inca staircase we´d yet come across taking us back to the camp. We joked that it was ok if you fell because you wouldn´t hurt yourself, you´d just be killed instantly. Thankfully we all made it intact. By the time we rolled into camp it was 5:30 and we´d been hiking since 7:15am. We were utterly exhausted. The trip to the banos was uphill and Carmen and I set off upright but quickly found ourselves crawling up on hands and knees. I´ve never been so exhausted in my life. But by this stage, we were so close to the goal - and so tired- that we were all deliriously happy and had a wonderful last meal on the trek together, complete with a cake baked for us by our cook. How they made a cake and jelly in the middle of nowhere I´ll never know.
And so back to 3:40am and our wake up call for the final leg. Bleary eyed I wriggled out of my sleeping bag, already dressed for the day ahead, grabbed my hiking boots, filled my water bottle and set off for the first check point. The first part of the hike was up to the Sungate but the path didn´t open until 5:30am. It was only five minutes from our campsite so we arrive just after 4:15am and were the second group in line. Once we passed the check point, we had about an hour to hike, uphill to get to the Sungate to see the sunrise on Machu Picchu. The hike was tough but spirits were high and we made it up the final ascent and through the Sungate to see... the valley completely fogged in. It wasn´t yet sunrise so we waited, certain that the sun would burn off the remaining cloud and slowly but surely, the cloud began to clear. At first the mountain tops revealled themselves, then a teasing glimpse of the path that would take us to Machu Picchu but the white mist lay think over where MP should be. It´s hard to be patient after four days of hiking but we waited some more and finally we were rewarded. The cloud lifted partly, just around the site of Machu Picchu and at that moment the sun shone directly over it. The cheer that went up was overwhelming. Our first sight of these ancient Inca ruins was just magical. And before too long, it clouded over again and was hidden from sight. Our guide said he´d never seen anything like it, and that was his 817th time on the trek.
The final hour to Machu Picchu was all down hill and our impatience kept us moving at a time when our joints and muscles were begging us to stop. At last we were there, mist and cloud still hovering but we had made it, we had hiked the inca trail and made it to Machu Picchu. It was a moment and a feeling that I will never forget.
I could go on to describe Machu Picchu but the pictures speak for themselves. Unfortunately I´m having a lot of trouble uploading on these Peruvian computers so they will have to wait for another time.
Next stop is the Amazon tomorrow and then my Peruvian experience will be almost over and my North American one just beginning...
I can honestly say that Sunday 2nd August was the longest day of my life so far. 39 hours long to be exact, and by the time my plane set down in Lima at five minutes to midnight, it had been 29 hours since I left Melbourne Airport. 29 waking hours mind you.
The flight to LA was uneventful apart from the ´catastrophic failure´ that befell our inflight entertainment system about 5 hours out from LA. I spent my 6 or so hours in the airport at LA trying in vain to sneak into the Qantas club for a quick shower, being denied and thus opting for a sponge bath in the disabled toilet (ok, not IN the toilet... just the cubicle) then settling in a the gate lounge. The final leg to Lima was pretty comfortable and I spent my time playing Millionaire in English while the Chilean next to me played in Spanish and we each helped each other when we got stuck. Somehow it worked.
But enough about flying
my holiday really began after that first heavenly sleep in Lima. It´s an interesting city full of cats... and taxi drivers that assume that every tourist walking actually wants to be riding in their dodgy cab and thus stops, beeps and flashes its lights while stalking you along the road. I was a little unsure about how safe the city was until I realized that every second corner was home to a renegade individual acting as a personal currency exchange operation. These people literally had wads of cash they´d fan themselves with to cool down. It was crazy.
I met up with my tour group on the evening of the first day. Having never been on a tour before, I assumed that the world was divided into tour people and non tour people and I was a proud non tour person. But over the last few days I´ve come to realize that most of my tour are non tour people too, and that tours are actually awesome, so my whole theory has flown out the window on that one.
Tuesday morning we flew to Puno via Cusco (a city we´re returning to tomorrow). We were flying LAN, which is supposedly a great airline but almost as soon as we pushed back from the terminal the sound of an engine turning over, trying to start, filled the cabin. Eventually it settled down until it only sounded a little like a dog in the cargo hold barking. People all over the plane were gesticulating madly to the hostesses but they smiled and said ís normal! The Brazilian guy I was sitting next to pulled out his inflight magazine and pointed to the words ´LAN has one of the most modern fleets in the world´ and said ´no worry!´. Obviously, all was ok since I´m now writing this diary entry, but it was one of the scarier flights I´ve taken. We literally had to dodge mountains on landing in Cusco with the turbulence said mountain dodging causing at least one of our group to reach hastily for the air sickness bag.
The landscape around Puno, where I am now, is beautiful. The town sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca which is the highest lake in the world at abour 3,800 metres. We´ve been coping with alititude sickness since arriving but thankfully have avoided the worst of it so far. Just a little light headedness and feeling incredibly unfit and out of breath from walking a few flights of stairs. But our trip has been designed to acclimatize us in preparation for our Inca Trail hike which starts on Sunday.
Yesterday we headed out to a small island on the Lake, about three hours boat ride away. There we climbed to around 4000m and were lucky enough to see a local festival complete with the most elaborately decorated costumes I´ve ever seen. It was a bit odd, however, to see that most of the decorations were in fluro colours
Being with a local guide means we are taken to great out of the way restaurants to try local food (alpaca anyone?} and are told of the customs and rituals of the people we´re meeting along the way. Fascinating tales that will have to wait for another update.
Last night we slept on one of the islands with a local family. It was a magical experience, complete with a tour versus locals soccer match and a fiesta in the town hall that we all attended clad in traditional clothes (yes, I have the photos to prove it). Without clean water, electricity and heating, the lifestyle there is basic but the people are lovely and very welcoming.
Upon returning today we stopped at the floating islands which are near to Puno and made entirely of reeds. It´s quite incredible to see what the people have created on these floating islands, whole communities complete with guest beds and market places.
Better head off now for my free afternoon of exploring Puno´s markets (ie. shopping!).
More after the hike!