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Vicki and Ben explore South America

Welcome to Vicki Gotterson and Ben Falvey's travel page. Here is where we will be keeping a record of our travels for all of you to read. Please feel free to leave a comment for us!

Diary Entries

Monday, 07 April 2008

Location: Lima, Peru

THE FINAL INSTALEMENT: LIMA (PERU)

It`s hard to believe our trip is almost over! We`ve spent the past 4 nights in Lima, relaxing and enjoying the warm weather before we return to London.

It was Ben`s birthday last Friday so I organised lunch at a lovely restaurant in San Isidoro, an upmarket suburb of Lima. The restaurant was very modern and full of businessmen and ´ladies that lunch`, but the food was divine. Loads of fresh seafood, including more of the traditional ceviche (raw fish with lime and chilli) and accompanied by many Pisco Sours. Towards the end of our meal we got talking to the couple sitting beside us, an English Opera signer and his theatre Director girlfriend. I`m sure they were disappointed when we introduced ourselves and the words "we`re both accountants" came out, but they stayed nonetheless and we all enjoyed more Pisco Sour together. After a few hours, with the restaurant all but closed up from lunch except for us, we decided to all head down to Baranca, a suburb by the ocean and just south of San Isidoro, to watch the sunset. It was beautiful. Our new friends had to go home after the sunset as they were attending a wedding the next day, but Ben and I continued to celebrate and so found ourselves at the Atlantic City Casino... we thought we`d have a bet, so we put S/25 (about $8) on the line, and lost it all in about 2 minutes.... so after deciding betting wasn`t our thing, we went in search of a drink and found ourselves in the casino karaoke bar. Now I`m sure you all know that my singing voice is not great, but karaoke is supposed to be fun and full of drunk people that can`t sing... not in Lima! These singers were pros. So we befriended the girls sitting near us and I sang as their back-up in one song, but certainly no solo performances! Ben attempted a song but quickly gave up and danced on stage instead. He knows where his talents lie.

Our remaining time in Lima has been spent enjoying the food and sunshine, which is easy with clear skies and warm weather every day. We depart for London tomorrow morning and then it`s time to find work, a place to live etc. It`s sad our journey is over, but we`re looking forward to getting back into a normal routine and for everyone in London, we`re looking forward to catching up soon.

Thanks to all for looking at this travel blog and we hope you have enjoyed it!

THE END.

Wednesday, 02 April 2008

Location: Peru

WEEK 11: MANU BIOSPHERE RESERVE (PERU)

This week we entered the Peruvian jungle of Manu Biosphere Reserve, in the south western region of the Amazon basin, in search of many wild and wonderful animals. Manu is a world heritage site as it comprises over 1 million hectares of undisturbed and pristine forest with what is claimed to be the greatest bio-diversity on the earth. It is the refuge of many endangered animals, including the jaguar, black caiman, giant otter and harpy eagle (we were lucky to spot 3 out of these 4 endangered species) and it contains around 1000 species of birds, thousands of species of plants, 13 species of monkeys and hundreds of mammals.

Given it`s remoteness, this meant about two and a half days of travel to get right into the heart of the Reserve. We travelled the first day by car for about 9 hours and spent the night at a small town on the outskirts of the Reserve area. During the first day we stopped off in the cloud forest area to watch the "Cock of the Rock" birds (that is seriously their name) in their daily ritual where the males "dance" and "perform" to gain the attention of a female bird. Most interesting was the male birds themselves as they had the most unusual shaped head for a bird, but unfortunately the zoom on our camera was not good enough to capture this!

The second day we travelled by boat (as there is no road access) for about 6 hours and did much bird and animal watching from the boat along the way. We saw loads of monkeys which Ben was most pleased about as he seems to have a soft spot for the cheeky little animals. We stayed in Boca Manu on the second night, the town situated right on the entrance to the Reserve area. The following morning on the third day we again boarded our boat and entered the Reserve area, first signing in at the Ranger`s station where we were surprised to see from the log book that we were the only ones (plus our guide, cook, and two boat hands) to be in the Reserve area at that time. Another 4 hours on the boat and we reached our destination - Casa Matsuguenka - a lodge built and run by the Matsuguenka tribe, one of the two known tribes still living in and surviving off the jungle area. We then went on a walk through the jungle with our guide, the final hour of which was spent walking in the dark with our torches, and saw many more animals including the giant otter (which is apparently a rare sighting). Our hosts of the Matsuguenka tribe caught catfish in the river which they were kind enough to share with us (as only the tribes people are legally allowed to hunt and eat within the jungle), so our cook prepared the local dish "Ceviche" (raw fish marinated in lime juice and chilli) which was really tasty.

We awoke to a huge downpour of rain on the morning of the fourth day, we are in the rainforest after all, and had to spend a few hours relaxing and waiting for it to pass... which meant lying in our mosquito net covered beds and covered in insect repellent, as the mossies were ferocious! In fact the conditions generally in the jungle were pretty harsh, it was very hot and humid, made worse by the long layers you had to wear because of the bugs. But Ben and I being such rough-and-tough adventure travellers were of course revelling in it...

We spent the rest of day 4 and the first half of day 5 walking through the jungle in search of more animals and during that time spent a few hours on a boat on Lake Salvador where I was really happy to spot a few Caimen (ie Alligators). I was pleased to find them much more placid than Crocodiles, given that they were only a meter or so from our boat. We also heard wild pigs passing just near us, but couldn`t see them as the jungle was so thick. Unfortunately we didn`t spot any Jaguar during our journey, although our guide said they are very difficult to see and they could have been close to us during our walks in the jungle, but they avoid humans - I was happy to hear that! Days 6 and 7 were spent retracing our steps from Days 1 and 2 as we took our boat and car journeys back to Cusco. It was nice to have a hot shower and mossie-net free bed after 7 days away!

We fly to Lima tomorrow morning, our final destination before returning to London next week. We`re hoping to catch some sunshine and spend a few days at the beach before returning to the big city!

Monday, 24 March 2008

Location: Cusco, Peru

WEEK 10: MACHU PICCHU

We made it! Lucky for us the train from Puno was only delayed by 1 day, so we arrived in Cusco with a day to spare before commencing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We've had an amazing week and really enjoyed the Inca Trail, or pilgrimage, as they like to call it.

The train ride from Puno was very scenic and we thoroughly enjoyed the 1st class pampering that came with it. The seats and cabins were much more spacious than what we've become accustomed to over the past few months, with a 3 course lunch to top it off. Ben and I were the only young ones on board and we were most amused by the on-board entertainment, with dancing and a pisco sour provided for morning tea and a fashion parade in the afternoon. The oldies were really getting into the dancing and I suddenly had a forward flash of my life in about 30 years time....

We arrived in Cusco and saw straight away why this place is referred to as the Gringo capital of South America! But it was good to enjoy some Western food and come across many English speakers.

The 4 day trek to Machu Picchu started very early the next morning as we were picked up by our tour company around 5am. There was 16 of us on the tour, with 2 tour guides and about 20 porters to carry all the camping equipment, food, and some of our personal belongings. The stamina of the porters was amazing, they would carry up to 25kg on their backs and finish each day well before any of us! In fact the porters have a race each year to complete the 45km Inca Trail and the current record is just under 4 hours - impressive on flat ground, but on the Inca Trail you gain and lose 1000 meters several times all of which is over 3000 meters where oxygen is noticeably thinner, so all the more unbelievable.

We were lucky to be with a great group of people and we were really impressed with our tour company. Also our guide was quite the character and had been working on the Inca Trail for some 10 years so was really enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The trek itself was quite challenging but really enjoyable as the scenery was amazing. The second day was certainly the toughest as it was pretty much uphill for the entire day. But on the 3rd day it was almost all downhill, and Ben and I followed the technique of the porters and ran down. This is actually much better than walking as it puts less pressure on the knees and legs with each step. Our guide took a few of us on a mad downhill dash for the last leg on day 3, down make-shift paths that connect between the actual path as it zig zags down the slope. We finished covered in dirt and thoroughly exhausted, but it was great fun. The final morning of the tour we awoke at 3.50am and commenced the final part of the journey, arriving at the Sun Gate around 7am where you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Quite a moving experience after all the effort to get there! We spent a few hours touring Machu Picchu, marvelling at the architecture and building techniques employed so many years ago. Then it was time to take on Wayna Picchu, a very steep mountain just on the other side of Machu Picchu. It was a tough climb to the top but the views were spectacular. Coming down from the very top was very scary given my fear of heights and given how narrow and steep the steps were, not to mention the steep drop off, but I became one with the wall and slowly lowered myself down. Ben couldn't stop laughing at me!

We're back in Cusco now and leave tomorrow for a 7 day tour into the jungle of Manu Biosphere Reserve where we hope to see many interesting animals and plants including Jaguars and Caimen. Although just not at night when I'm on my way to the bathroom I hope....

Monday, 17 March 2008

Location: Peru

WEEK 9: LAKE TITICACA - COLCA CANYON (PERU)

It was another very relaxed immigration process as we crossed the border from Bolivia to Peru, again we simply walked across and had our passports stamped. No questions on how long we intended on staying or where we were going! We arrived in Puno, on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, and then took an afternoon boat ride to the Uros Islands. They are also known as the "floating islands" because they are quite literally floating on Lake Titicaca. There are about 40 of these islands, which range in size, but seem on average to house about 30 people. The Uros people have been inhabiting these islands for hundreds of years. To build an island they use the dense roots of a reed that grows in the lake and anchor the roots with sticks to the lake floor about 15m below, then they continuously add dried reeds to the top layer which acts as the island. They also build their huts and boats from these reeds. The islands last about 30 years, and then the families must move on and build a new island!

We then headed to Arequipa, about 6 hours west of Puno. From there we organised a 3 day tour of the Colca Valley and Colca Canyon, which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The Colca Valley has pre-Incan (at least 600 years old) ruins and the terraces they built for cultivation are still intact and being used today. We spent the first day travelling to the Colca Valley and stopping along the way for photos of Llamas, Alpacas and Vicunas (which produce the finest natural fiber in the world, but all is exported to Italy for clothing production!) and then spent the late afternoon at the hot springs. It was an early 5am start the next morning so that we could get to the Colca Canyon in time to see the Condors as they only appear in the early morning and late afternoon. It was always a risk we wouldn´t see them given that it´s the wet season, but we were lucky. Initially we only saw one condor and unfortunately we had a camera malfunction as it flew past us only a few meters away! We had all but given up on seeing more and were driving away from the Colca Canyon, when our driver spotted many more condors. Unfortunately so did all the other tour bus drivers, so began this mad dash towards the condors with buses trying to overtake each other on a narrow mountain road all in an effort to get there first! But we did get some great photos and we also took a short video of a condor in flight, which we´ve uploaded to this website.

After watching the condors we had an action packed afternoon back in Yanke, one of the small villages in the Colca Valley. There are 7 of these tiny villages which were created by the Spanish when they conquered the area during the 1500s, as they wanted to move the natives from the highlands to gain control over the area. There is still however evidence of the native´s civilisation prior to this, and we hiked to a pre-Incan village on the hillside above Yanke. Unfortunately our tour guide only spoke Spanish, but we managed to pick up a bit plus there was a German girl on the tour who spoke Spanish and English so translated for us! Interesting was the natural water stream running through the village, which the villages built using rocks as a base and which ran from the water source way up higher in the mountains all the way down through the village and down below through their crops. Also amazing was a family grave in the village which had been opened and you could see bones and evidence of the ritual of narrowing and lengthening of the skull that these people endured at birth. I found it quite unbelievable that I was looking at pre-Incan human bones at least 600 years old, with no security controls or presevation measures. I guess that´s the untouched beauty of South America, I wonder how long it will stay like this?

We travelled back to Puno yesterday to catch the Andean Explorer train from Puno to Cusco, a first class train ride through the mountains. After another early start this morning to board the train by 6.30am, we were informed at around 7am that due to strike action the train was cancelled today! But they have assured us it will be running again tomorrow. We need to get to Cusco by tomorrow night to commence the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu, so fingers crossed the train runs tomorrow!


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