Quilitoa Lagoon, Ecuador
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Week 34 - Peru Part 1
Written by Tina Sibley in August 2019

The sixth leg of my journey takes in my initial adventures in Peru - Lima, the Amazon Jungle, Cusco and the Sacred Valley - right up to the start of the Inca Trail.

As the week progressed, I got more and more excited and more and more nervous!

Monday 19th August

Farewell Ecuador, Hello Peru

My pick up time was 6.30 am, so I was up at just after 5am to make sure I was packed and ready. 

Then, three of us on the same flight were taken to the airport, where we checked in without any problems and had a hearty breakfast of pancakes. 
The flight was quiet and uneventful and we were picked up at the airport and taken to our hotel in Lima.

We had a welcome meeting, then were taken on a walking tour of Lima.
Lima is totally CRAZY! The traffic is absolutely bonkers and how there aren’t heaps of accidents, I will never know! To start our walking tour, we had to get on a bus to go downtown and you took your life in your hands crossing the road.

Once downtown, our new Intrepid leader, Reny, gave us some really interesting background about the history of what we were seeing. We saw a San Martin square and learned that Martin was credited with being the guy responsible for liberating Peru from the Spanish. We learned about the atrocities carried out by the Spanish who abused the natives badly when they conquered.  

We learned how the Spanish catholics tried to wipe out the pagan beliefs of the Peruvians by making them build grand churches and forcing them to worship. However, the Peruvians built their own symbols into the architecture of the churches – for example, statues of the virgin Mary showed her cape in the shape of a triangle to represent their sacred mountains and mother earth. These were very similar stories to what had happened in Ecuador.
We visited a particularly grand church – San Francisco, and we saw beautiful palaces and government buildings, where the architecture was influenced by the colonial period and also by French architecture. 

Then it was time to return for a very quick shower before being taken for our first meal as a group. We ate traditional Peruvian dishes and had our first Pisco sour. 
Then it was time for bed, as once again we were due a 5am start to go into the jungle. 

Tuesday 20th August

Amazon Jungle

Our bus took us to the airport this morning at 6.10 am so it was a 5am start! Lima airport was complete chaos, so we didn’t have time for a coffee once we got through security but had to go straight to the gate. The service on the flight wasn’t up to the high standard we had come to expect from all the flights in Ecuador, even though it was the same airline – Latam.

Once we landed at Puerto Maldonado and got off the plane, the heat and the humidity of the Amazon hit us. It was around 32 or 33C with a high level of humidity.

We were taken by bus to the tour office, where we had to pack a few things from our luggage into a small duffle bag for the next couple of days. Then we were taken on a shortish bus ride through the town to the river.

We boarded a river-boat – like a canoe at the front and a seat either side of a central aisle with the driver at the back. The boat ride was about 3.5 hours and was incredible. The river was very wide, and ox-bow, so there were many wide sweeping turns to navigate. And each side of the river were ‘beaches’ and banks leading up to rich, lush vegetation – sugar cane and many different types of trees.
At this point we were given our lunch. We were given a package that was wrapped up in large jungle leaves and tied with string. Inside was a dish of fried rice with vegetables and mushrooms – this was a great way of serving lunch without it being in plastic containers. Dessert was 2 tiny bananas.

We were treated to some fabulous wildlife on our journey along the river. Our guides were experts with the binoculars and the driver took the boat right up close so we could almost touch some of them.

We saw so many different kinds of birds - lots of black vultures, turkey vultures, white egrets, a large white heron, hoatzin, unicorn geese (amazing birds with a horn like a unicorn on their heads) and a flock of macaws flying above us. We also saw quite a few river turtles basking on logs.

The highlights though were caimans. We saw a dwarf caiman and we were so close we could almost touch him. We also saw a couple of white caimans. We saw a troop of small squirrel monkeys leaping about in the trees – they were quite hard to see but very special. We also saw a mama capybara hiding up in the bushes, and her two babies basking in the sun on the bank. They were SO cute and again so close we could almost touch them. After a while, they got fed up of us ogling them, so decided to move and make their way back to mama.

Then we got to our Jungle lodge. OMG! This was a little paradise – way nicer than I was expecting. Several long lodge houses set in wonderful gardens. We were given a welcome drink – orange, mango and passion fruit juice and were told we had a little chill-out time before our night excursion at 6.30pm. Electricity is only between set times, so it was a case of charging from my charging banks – my camera had run out during the day!!

OMG! Our night time excursion was totally mind-blowing. First we went into a dark patch of the grounds, turned off all our torches and looked up at the sky, which was filled with clear stars and you could see the Milky Way. We saw the constellation Saggitarius and saw the most brilliant shooting star streaking across the sky.

Then we were directed to look towards the bottom of a tree trunk and there we saw a pink-footed tarantula! It was huge! I was surprisingly calm even though it was no more than a couple of meters away from us. In fact, it was even quite beautiful.

We were told that there are more than 850 species of tarantulas and the biggest ones had a limb span of 15-30 cm. Apparently the largest locally were chicken tarantulas.

Then we started walking into the jungle, which was really, really creepy! We saw a couple of different types of spider – rather large and way too close for my liking and not as pretty as the tarantula! We saw a couple of different types of tree frogs and they were SO cute! We also saw some giant black ants – so large that, at first, we thought they were a type of spider. We also saw a beautiful red bird, a collared trodan – it was fast asleep up a tree. I saw a really pretty moth with bright red eyes and then it was time to start heading back.

Then we saw the chicken tarantula! It was absolutely humungus! And this was moving – it crawled out of its burrow and stood still for a while until someone coughed and it scuttled back into its hole!

After we got back, we had dinner, which was delicious – noodle soup, followed by chicken in soy sauce with rice and a large, whole cooked plantain followed by rice pudding. I really like the food we’ve been given so far.

We had a great chat with our guide, Danilo about languages and accents then it was time for bed. Our starts are getting earlier and earlier. The alarm is set for 4.45 am tomorrow as we start our morning excursion in the jungle canopy at 5.30 am.

So – after checking the bed for bugs and spiders and ensuring the mozzie net is firmly in place, it’s time for sleep. 

Wednesday 21st August

Amazon Jungle

WOW! Up at 4.45 am a quick coffee and then we set off on our morning walk at 05.30. The jungle was full of bird sounds and a pale light was just beginning to filter through the trees. We walked fairly briskly for about 20 minutes and then came upon a watch tower. Up 40 metres of steps.

Up we went and the climb was no problem in terms of effort however it really did challenge my newfound confidence with heights! There was no mesh enclosing the steps and the drop kept getting bigger. As I climbed, I began to feel more anxious about the height, particularly as the structure started to sway, but I was well rewarded when we got to the top. As well as being above the canopy and looking down on the rainforest that was shrouded in a thin mist, we received the gift of watching the sunrise. It was spectacular! The sun peeped through the mist and as it rose, the pink turned orange and the jungle lit up. I only got a few photos though as I was clinging on for dear life and didn’t want to let go to hold the camera.

Once we got down, we had a talk about the Amazon basin and the indigenous people.

The Amazon basin is huge and spans Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. All the rivers and tributaries from the Amazonia region eventually flow into the Amazon River itself. These rivers hold over 3,500 different species of creatures.

There are civilised natives living in shanty towns along the river banks and, further into the jungle, there are uncivilised tribes. One of the biggest threats to these tribes is contact with other humans because of the disease. They have been known to steal clothing from the civilised towns and then the bacteria in the clothes can kill them as they have no immunisation.

Another problem for them are the drug traffickers. One tribe, who were living in the Peruvian Amazon got caught up in the war between the drug traffickers and the Peruvian Army and two of the tribe were killed. Thinking that the Peruvian army were trying to kill them, they left and fled to the Brazilian Amazon.

After our talk, we continued walking through the jungle and were blessed to see two different troops of monkeys. These were much closer and easier to see than the monkeys we saw from the river boat yesterday. It was such a joy to see them walking along the branches and leaping from tree to tree. And their chattering was magical. One of the troops was right above us – so much so that we actually got shat upon! Fortunately for me, the poop only hit my hand and arm – one of the ladies got hit on the head! But it was hard like rabbit poo so fortunately not messy!

We also saw a very brightly coloured bird flying ahead of us – red and greens. I’m not sure what it was.

Then it was time to return to the lodge for breakfast at just after 8am. By then we had been up for 3 hours and were very hungry. Breakfast consisted of fruits – watermelon, mango, pineapple and grapes with yogurt, sugar puffs, bread and jam, and scrambled eggs.

We then had some free time to chill (my choice being in a hammock) before another walk at 10am. Lying in the hammock, I was serenaded by a clock of weaver birds. Fabulous looking black and yellow birds that were very active and very noisy.

Just lying here, taking in everything that’s happened this morning, I feel a whole range of emotions. Total awe from being in the jungle and for all the wildlife we’ve seen so far – from tarantulas to monkeys. A huge feeling of gratitude to be able to enjoy this experience – unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Wonder at the incredible sunset we witnessed. And a massive sense of peace and well-being.

At 10am we went for another walk and saw another troop of monkeys – this time cappuccino monkeys – we also saw another chicken tarantula. That was pretty much it for the wildlife, but we learned lots about the plants. We saw how a pretty mundane green leafed plant produced different colours when the leaves were crushed and water was added to them. The water at first was green, then went brown, then a deep chocolate colour, then a reddish purple colour and finally a bright red purple. The natives use these leaves to dye their clothes. They also use the purple water to put on their skin as insect repellent. One of the guides put some of the dye on my face as war paint!

We got back to the lodge at 11.30 and had some free time before lunch so it was time for a shower. Lunch was one again lovely and then we had some more time before meeting at 3pm for the afternoon’s activities so it was back to the hammock for a while.

We met at 3pm and the first order was to watch some more monkeys that had come right into the lodge gardens. They were small monkeys with very, very cute faces. It was so cool to see them watching us.

Then we walked to the river and got on the boat for about half an hour. On the way, we saw some blue and yellow macaws and a whole family of capybara – then of them – 2 big males, 4 females and 4 babies. They were absolutely gorgeous!

We then got off the boat and walked for about another half an hour or so to the oxbow lake, where we got on a make-shift catamaran. Literally 2 canoes with planks across them to form a deck on top of which there was a bench going around the outside and benches in the middle. The catamaran wasn’t motorised like the boat, but powered by one of our guides with a big paddle at the back – it looked like hard work, but he made it look easy.

We had a very lazy, peaceful paddle along the lake, learning about the inhabitants – pirhana, caiman, otters and anaconda. We didn’t see any of these but saw lots of cormorants and egrets, as well as swallows. We really enjoyed the trip. We saw the most spectacular sunset and then made our way back again – retracing our steps back to the power boat. By now, it was dark and we went in search of caimen. We saw three white caimen – one a tiny baby of only about 4 months old. How the guides spotted them in the dark just using flashlights I will never know. We also saw once again the same family of capybara.

We got back just in time for dinner at 7.30, then were briefed for tomorrow and turned in for an early night – although we don’t have to get up quite so early tomorrow – 7.30 ready for breakfast at 08:00 and we will be leaving the lodge at 9am.

Thursday 22nd August

Moving on to Cusco

Bright and early we bade farewell to our jungle lodge. It has been an incredible experience which I will never forget.

We had a boat ride for about 2.5 to 3 hours and we got talking to a guy who is head of a big conservation project. He was British but had been living in Peru for the last 25 years. He told us that Colombia, Ecuador and Peru were doing brilliantly when it came to conservation of the Amazon rain forest. The big problem is Brazil which unfortunately has the biggest chunk of the forest. The problem with Brazil is the massive population and the huge poverty problem.
The guy also told us that the conservation projects in Peru were working and that many species were increasing in numbers and the rain forest was massively protected.

There are several indigenous tribes roaming in the Northern regions of the Peruvian rain forest – there are park rangers that protect them and prevent them from being contacted by humans from the outside world. They live totally in isolation and in much the same way as they have for centuries.

We got back to Puerto Maldonado for the short flight to Cusco and then had an orientation walk around the City and learned more about the history. 

Cusco is a beautiful city and many of the buildings originally built by the Incas are still standing.  The Inca style was to build walls which slanted inwards rather than being straight - apparently this meant the buildings were stronger against earthquakes.  They also had incredible craftsmanship - mortar was not used because the stones were cut so exactly and fitted so well together that mortar simply wasn't necessary.  

We were left to our own devices for a while and Caroline and I managed to get lost trying to find our way back to the hotel.

When we got back to the hotel it was time for our briefing about the Inca Trail and we were given tips on what to pack and how to combat altitude sickness.  In fact, one of the guys in our party - who ironically was a personal trainer and the fittest amongst us, was suffering so badly with altitude sickness that he was unable to join us on the trail, which was a huge shame. 

We learned more about what to expect on the trail and then it was time for dinner before getting packed and organised. 

The nerves were really beginning to kick in now!  It was all starting to seem very real. 

Friday 23rd August

Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley

We had a reasonable start this morning – the bus picked us up at 9am so time for a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and pineapple!

Then we began our journey to the Sacred Valley. First of all, we stopped off at an archeological site called Saqsaywaman (nicknamed Sexy Woman). You could clearly see how the Incas laid out the stones with humungous stones on the first layer, at least twice the height of a human, then large stones on the second layer, and then smaller ones. There was a viewpoint looking down over Cusco and with a magnificent view of the mountains. This was also the site of a statue which is a small replica of the famous statue at Rio de Janeiro. We saw lots of local children playing with kites and families enjoying a day out.

Then we visited a highland community. We visited a community centre of the Qorqor who are part of the Chinchero community. They gave us a wonderful welcome, singing and playing music and as we got off the bus, they put flowers around our necks and then held our hands and danced us into their communal area.

They all introduced themselves in turn, sang us a special song in their native Quechua language, playing drums and flutes and then we took turns to introduce ourselves to them. We were then treated to a special lunch of corn and potato soup followed by quinoa with vegetables, potatoes and a round kind of vegetable patty.

The community then gave us a demonstration of how they make their textiles, starting from the raw wool from the sheep or alpaca. They first showed us how they took a plant root, stripped the bark and ground it to break it up. Then this was put into water and worked until it made a lovely soapy liquid. The dirty wool was then washed in this liquid and was transformed from a dirty grey colour to a lovely, yellowy white. The clean wool is then dried and spun a couple of times to make the thread.

Then we were shown how they take beetles from a cactus plant and how these were crushed and mixed with other natural materials to make the most amazing colours. The threads were then dyed by putting the wool and the dye into hot water and boiling it before drying it.

We were shown how the dyed threads were then woven into fabrics using just very basic natural tools made by themselves. It was incredible.

After the demonstration, we were dressed up in their native dress and invited to take photographs with them, and with the alpaca and purchase the goods they had put on display – which we were happy to oblige after their wonderful hospitality.

When it was time to say goodbye, we were then given a lovely send off, with their drums, flutes and dancing again and they literally waved us goodbye. It was such a special interaction to be invited into their community and shown their way of living.

We set off again and arrived at Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley mid-afternoon. What a gorgeous town it is – full of life but very small and traditional compared with Cusco and Lima.

We had dinner at a restaurant that works with the Intrepid Foundation and they give 10% of their profits to special projects to help educate and protect the environment.

Finally, it was time to get packed and organised for the big trek starting tomorrow.

I am a little nervous, but very, very excited at the thought of finally embarking on the Inca Trail – after months and months of planning and preparation.

Saturday  24th August

Day 1 of the Inca Trail - see separate blog page 

Sunday 25th August

Day 2 of the Inca Trail - see separate blog page

Health Overview

My health was finally back on track this week and I felt really good for the first time since my illness in the Galapagos Islands.  It was so nice to be feeling strong again and to have my tummy behaving itself. 

Preparation This Week 

No major hikes this week, but lots of walking - city walking tours in Lima and Cusco and several walks through the Amazon Rainforest.  

Mentally, I began to get more nervous and more excited as the first day of the Inca Trek approached.  Fortunately, we were kept too busy for me to dwell on it!

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