Pretty deficient on posts in the last while but this should make up for it. I spent Nov 8 to Dec 7 in Peru and the Galapagos touring, trekking, sightseeing and just having a good time in places I’ve never seen. This is the diary of my travels, with a few pictures to hopefully enhance my non-flowery prose.
Nov 8 – Awakened just after 3 am by what my sleep-muddled brain thought was my alarm. I opened my iPad to turn it off and saw that Air Canada had emailed me that my 7:25 am flight to Toronto was cancelled due to a mechanical problem! I then realized that it was my cell phone ringtone that woke me up so then listened to the phone message. They had re-booked me on a 6 am flight. Could I get to the airport in time for it? Yikes!
I called Lucille, who I was supposed to pick up for the 7:25 flight, but no answer. I no sooner hung up when she called me. She was re-booked on a flight through Winnipeg at 9 am but wanted me to pick her up anyway so I quickly left. No traffic, only went through 2 red lights (it was 4 am and no cars in intersections), and I got to her place and the airport quickly. The check-in attendant arranged for her to get on my flight. Lots of room! Why didn’t the others get re-booked for this one? They got routed through Winnipeg instead. An uncomfortable start to a month-long trip!
We arrived in Toronto just after noon, had lunch and loitered around the terminal while waiting for Gaye, Blaine and Deb to arrive.
They got in just after 4 pm, had a bite to eat and we all waited to board our 5:50pm flight to Lima. The Air Canada Rouge 767-300 is an old, tired airplane! Our A-321 from YEG was way more comfortable. We were in the air shortly after 6 pm for an almost 8 hour journey in discomfort. I was seated in 27C, an aisle seat just behind a bulkhead but it was the shortest legroom bulkhead I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t stretch even my short legs out, except for the one on the aisle. And a hard seat, with not much padding. The bathroom door springs were worn out so the doors didn’t close on their own, leaving lots of light spilling out after people left. Not the best situation when on an overnight flight and sitting right behind the bathroom! And the vents were cycling between hot and cold. Sigh…it was to be a long flight. They served an acceptable meal around 9 p.m. – I chose chicken this time, after the lousy pasta experience on the Portugal flight a few weeks before – and settled in with half a book that Lucille gave me (literally – she ripped it in 2 after finishing the 1st half, ever mindful of the extra weight). Got up to walk around a few times but limited places to go!
Don’t think I dozed but my eyes closed for a while after I finished my half of the book. It was going to be a long, tiring day ahead.
Nov 9 – We arrived in Lima at 4 a.m. but Blaine and Deb’s bags were delayed for some reason. Ours had arrived on the carousel right away. Eventually their bags appeared and we made our way out. A cab driver was waiting for us and took us to Hotel El Ducado. Asleep by 5:30 am but awake again at 7:30 am to get ready for our bike tour of Lima that Gaye had booked a few weeks before. We had breakfast at the hotel then off to the bike shop by 10. Jose, the tour guide who Gaye had arranged, had bikes waiting and after signing forms we were off on city tour. Lots of traffic, horns, some nice separated bike lanes and some quiet streets. Peruvian drivers verge on manic and impatient but, remarkably, we didn’t see any collisions. It’s a chaos that they are used to, obviously. The historical centre was busy and crowded and we had to walk our bikes a few times when the crowds got too thick. Stopped for lunch at 2 p.m. at Tinta. Got back to the bike shop at 5:30 after 23 kms of touring. Here’s a link to the tour route. Had supper in a mall by the ocean then went back to the hotel to pick up our bags and grab taxis to the bus station (30 soles per cab). Took the Excluciva overnight bus to Nazca, with the fold-flat sleeping pods on upper level. Very comfortable and we all got a good sleep. If you ever take a Peruvian bus – get the 180° sleeping pods, even for day trips. The extra expense is worth it!
Nov 10 – Arrived in Nazca at 4 a.m. and the taxis that Lucille had arranged were waiting for us. Got to the Travel One hotel and went immediately up to the room. Again, asleep by 5:30 and awake at 7:30 but with enough sleep because of the overnight bus. The cost of the hotel was only $9 US each! The driver from the hotel/airline (Aeronazca) drove us to airport, arranged the flight over the lines, drove us back to the hotel to pick up our bags, and drove us to the bus. Said it was all included in hotel price! We all gave him good tips. The flight over the Nazca lines, and the bored commentary by the pilot (“…and, pay attention, here we see the triangles…”), was pretty unremarkable. The lines/figures, for the most part, are very indistinct. It was a clear day but they were hard to see, except for the 2 by the observation tower on the highway. That is understandable considering their age but there are a lot of other much more recent and distracting lines (survey lines?, vehicle tracks?) that serve as graffiti on that ancient canvas. Although I am glad that I did see them, I would not recommend spending the time and money to see them if any of my friends plan to travel to Peru in the future, especially if time is an issue. We had lunch at Mamashama and walked back to bus station for the Cruz del Sur trip to Arequipa.
We departed a little late at 3 pm. Nice bus again but on the bottom floor this time and not in the 180° pods on the upper level. Should have spent the extra and got the pods – these bottom level seats don’t recline as far and you are in your neighbours lap, like on an airplane. Otherwise quite comfy though, with seatback tv screen and power receptacles. They served a warmish supper soon after departure and we just watched the landscape. Desert and desolate! Sand everywhere. Eventually got to the ocean and started many switchbacks up and down. Climb bluffs, back down and repeat. Big surf when the ocean was in view! Sun went down at 6 pm, straight down. Sunset sure is different close to the equator! After dark, couldn’t see through windows but still lots of switchbacks. Highest speed I saw on the public speedometer was just over 80 kph but mostly in 50s, reflecting the bendiness and steepness of the roads.
Had another bus snack at 8:30 pm. Mostly boring ride and, because of bumpiness, couldn’t do any reading or iPad stuff. Don’t think any of us managed to sleep either.
Nov 11 – We arrived in Arequipa 2 hours late, at 1 am. Apparently this bus is always late. Found a taxi to hotel, taking all 5 of us, and all 5 of us had to share one room (and 1 bathroom) due to their booking error. At least the room had 5 beds! Didn’t get to bed until 3 am then up at 7 to be picked up at the hotel at 8 am for the Colca Canyon tour. Another dozen or so people were on the 24-passenger minibus and we headed out. After a while we stopped for a break and snacks and I bought some coca leaves. Guide showed us how to use them – just place a wad of leaves between teeth and gums, let it mix with your saliva, then spit them out after 10 minutes or so. Numbs mouth a little but didn’t feel any other effect and the taste wasn’t offensive. Cruising along on Highway 34A, we stopped at a nice viewpoint to look at wild vicuñas, with El Misti volcano providing a particularly nice backdrop.
And, of course, the ever-present ladies in costume, with their llamas and alpacas, selling souvenirs. I observed one unsettling sight though – road workers, whose job was obviously to clean up the plentiful road side trash, just tossing that trash over the side of a convenient bluff rather than picking it up! Out of sight, out of mind, though grossly lazy.
After turning north on Highway 1SE, we stopped for a pit stop and tea break. Our guide said that anyone with high blood pressure should not try the Inca tea concoction that they sell there, touted to combat the effects of altitude. My blood pressure is fine so I figured that I was safe to try it. It was a combination of 3 teas – coca tea and 2 others. Even though I felt fine at the time – no symptoms of altitude sickness at all – I thought that the more help I had to get used to the altitude, the better. In retrospect, that was a bad idea to try it even though it tasted quite pleasant. Back on the bus, we continued to cruise along at 4200 metres elevation on the high plains on the way to Chivay. I started feeling strange after about 20 minutes, hot and sweaty and couldn’t focus my eyes – like veils being progressively draped over them – and then passed out. Lucille called for help and first thing I remember was wondering why the tour guide had my legs propped up over the top of the seat in front of me and why did my mouth taste like puke? Because he was trying to get blood back to my brain and I had puked the tea up when unconscious! The guide gave me cotton dosed with rubbing alcohol, which helps open breathing and blood vessels, enabling more oxygen to get to brain. My head and stomach felt like I had a bad hangover, which IS a symptom of altitude sickness, but it came on so suddenly and powerfully that I think it was a reaction to the Inca tea. Thankfully, I was able to change my shirt when we stopped a few minutes later. Took a picture at 4900 m elevation, the highest point on the road.
Finally arrived in Chivay, where we were put up for the night at the Casa Andina.
Nov 12 – Felt crappy all day, still feeling horribly hungover due to being poisoned, but the fresh air when walking the Colca Canyon viewing trail helped. Great view of condors and saw about 14 of them soaring. Long day of driving again but spectacular views of the canyon. Arrived in Puno after dark so didn’t even see Lake Titicaca.
Nov 13 – Got up early and walked to the lake for a few pictures then to the bus station which was nearby. Caught the bus to Cusco, which is at considerably lower elevation than Puno. Arrived at 2:30 pm. Our hotel, the two-star Casa Campasina, was very close to the main square, Plaza de Armas, and the taxi took us most of way there. Our street was too busy and narrow for it to stop on so we had to walk a few blocks. Checked in, then went for a walkabout. We found the Alpaca Expeditions office, Lucille paid for her hike – the rest of us were going to wait until Thursday – and had supper. Lucille found a place offering a Rainbow Mountain hike for tomorrow, so she booked it.
Nov 14 – The four of us did the free walking tour of Cusco from 10 till just after lunch while Lucille left very early to do the Rainbow Mountain hike. I was still feeling too bad to attempt that hike, to my disappointment. The city tour was informative and the guide (Diego) explained much of the history of Cusco. He took us to some retail places (great alpaca goods store), demonstration of Incan musical instruments, pointed out good examples of Incan stone construction and eventually up into San Blas for pisco sours (not for me, still with “tea” hangover). We asked Diego if he could recommend a good, cheap, lunch spot. He pointed us to a small restaurant in a non-touristy area close to the square so we tried it out. In my naivete, I asked the waiter “menu, por favor”. Well apparently that means that you want the set menu for lunch, not a paper menu to choose from! We only caught on when he started loading the table with soup, then drinks, then main course. It was all good though and only cost 9 sols apiece, about $3.50! After wandering around town some more, checking out markets and all, we met Lucille for supper – she none the worse for wear after hiking to 5200 metre elevation (over 17,000 ft) and still pumped after her hike.
Nov 15 – We arranged for a tour of the Sacred Valley through our hotel for $35 US including lunch. We visited the Pisac terraces, had a great buffet lunch in Urubamba, then went to the Ollantaytambo ruins and Chinchero for textile dying demonstration. You can see why the valley was sacred – it is so green and fertile! The Incans, not to mention present day Peruvians, made very efficient use of the flat valley floor and the terrace system climbing up the mountain sides, with each terrace earmarked for a different crop that would produce best at the elevation/temperature.
Nov 16 – Finally feeling ok! We wandered around the city for the day, relaxing before the trek. Went to the Alpaca office in the afternoon to pay (cash only) and in the evening to get our duffels and meet other trekkers, 13 of us in all. Six women from Toronto (Linda, Jackie, Jen, Dara, Lynn and Heather), 1 woman from Belgium (Pauline, 23 yr old) and 1 girl from Australia (Audrey, 19). I was the oldest in the group. Alpaca said that every hotel in Cusco would have a scale to weigh our duffel, to make sure we stayed within the maximum weight, but not ours! Just estimated the weight and packed everything up for early morning.
Nov 17 – The Alpaca bus picked us up at our hotel at 4 am, picked up others at their hotels and then headed out to the trailhead. Drove for 2 hours to the trailhead, at km 82 of the rail line, where they made us breakfast, then we started the hike. Nice morning and not hard walking. Had a few hills and steps but not too strenuous, probably because the adrenaline was flowing with the excitement of what was to come. Lots of pack horses and mules on the trail carrying supplies to people who lived along the trail and for construction projects. I rounded one corner and saw a cloud of dust rising from the valley below. At first I thought that it was steam from a hot spring but NO! One of the horses, carrying 50 kg of cement, had fallen off the side of the narrow trail, rolling and crashing through the trees and underbrush down a steep and deep ravine! Everyone thought it was dead because it was a long way down but it was not hurt at all! They found it grazing at the bottom, minus the cement of course, none the worse for wear. We arrived at our Day 1 camp just before 5 pm, with Lucille and I ahead of the rest of our group. Good and plentiful supper, considering the chef only had the use of a 2-burner propane stove. Told we would be awakened at 4:30 am next morning, have breakfast at 5 and leave by 6. We needed the early start because of the long day ahead. Good tents (Eureka Timberline), thick mattresses and warm mummy bags. Wore long johns and socks to bed initially but before long stripped them off because too warm. 14 km hiked.
Nov 18 – Day 2 is hardest day on the trek because of the distance, steepness and altitude. Our guide, Lizandro, led the way uphill for the first 2 hours, stopping every 10 minutes for a rest. Good slow and steady pace. After 2 hours he let us go at our own pace while he stayed with the slower ones. Lucille, Jen and I kept together at a good pace, stopping every 5 minutes, or sometimes less, as the trail got higher and steeper. Lots of stairs, spaced unevenly and at random angles, so it’s hard to maintain a consistent pace. If you are reasonably fit, the climb and distance are not hard – it’s the lack of oxygen that wears you out. The muscles don’t hurt, you just feel bagged! Got to the top of Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point of the trek at 4215 metres, around 9:45 am and rested and waited for the others. Pauline and Audrey, with their young legs and lungs, got there before us but not by much. Blaine and Gaye arrived about a half hour after we did and we started down other side about 10 minutes later. Reached the bottom of the other side, at Pacamayo, after 2 hours and the porters had tarps and mattresses laid out for us to rest on while lunch was being prepared. Much appreciated, especially since we had to wait about another 90 minutes for rest of the group to arrive. Had lunch, then another 2 hours more to climb Runkuracay Pass, then 2 more back down to our Day 2 campsite, about 30 minutes past the turnoff to the Sayaqmarca ruins. All in all, it was a wonderful day. The challenge of the physical exertion combined with the altitude, the many Incan ruins that we passed and explored, the great scenery and – bonus – no rain at all, made for a great hike. 16 km hiked.
Nov 19 – An easier and even prettier day, with not as much climbing but a fair amount of descending. Went through the cloud forest and different ecosystems. The trail has many of the numerous types of orchids that grow in the park and Lizandro was good at finding them. The blossoms on most are about the size of a fingernail though, not the huge kinds you see in a botanical garden. It rained for about 3 hours in the morning but, surprisingly, the rocks were not slippery. The ponchos get in the way of our feet when on steps though, and there are some hellishly steep steps, so we had to tie them up a little and be careful. Passed by more ruins – Phuyupatamarka, Intipata – and arrived in camp well before supper. Lizandro led us over to the ruins by Camp 3, Wiñay Wayna, which he claimed were in better shape than MP. Lots of pictures later, and getting slightly lost, we made our way back to camp. That is the first spot on the trail with cell reception so there were a bunch of people on the roof of the bathroom trying to get a signal! For the first 2 days, there are numerous campsites for the different trekking companies to use. For Day 3, every trekker on the trail had to use this one. So it was a confusing campsite with all 500 people staying there overnight on a multitude of camping terraces that all look the same! For supper, our cook baked a cake for Lucille’s birthday, which was a nice touch and hard to do on a propane stove! We had the porter tipping ceremony after supper, with all porters and trekkers introducing themselves. This is the last time we will see the porters, since they go down to Aguas Calientes by a different route tomorrow, bypassing Machu Picchu. 10 km hiked.
Nov 20 – up at 3:30 am so we could be close to the beginning of the line for entry to the last part of the trail. Had a light breakfast then a 5-minute walk out of camp before we hit the lineup for the Sun Gate registration! We waited until it opened at 4:30 then headed off to the Sun Gate. Got to the monkey steps, an extremely steep set of 60 steps leading to the Sun Gate, at 5:40. Misty and not great views of MP initially but a few breaks in the clouds allowed us to get a few decent shots. After about 45 minutes up there, we continued down for another 45 minutes to reach MP. We hung around the top for a while for more pictures, then made our way down to the registration office. Got our passports stamped (!) and then back up again, with Lizandro guiding and explaining what we were seeing. Caught the bus down to Aguas Calientes around 2 pm, met the group for lunch then wandered around town till the 4:20 train back to Ollantaytambo. The Alpaca van was there to meet us and take us back to Cusco. Arrived back at our hotel around 8 pm. 5 km hiked on the trail but much more while we explored around Machu Picchu. We were very happy with how we were treated by Alpaca Expeditions and highly recommend them if anyone is planning to do the hike.
Nov 21 – Because we were so impressed with Lizandro, our guide for the Inca Trail, we hired him for the day to do a tour of all the sites around Cusco that we missed before. Went to Minas (salt mines), Moray (concentric terraced greenhouses), Puka Pukara (defensive fort), Tambomachay (fine stonework indicating temples, used for water worship, royal bathing and also for defense), Q’enqo (used for sacrifices and mummification), and Sacsayhuaman, the huge fortified temple overlooking Cusco. A very interesting and full day.
Nov 22 – The 5 of us flew from Cusco to Lima to Quito to Baltra (Galapagos). The Quito airport has quite the process for entering Galapagos – paying an entry fee, checking luggage for any seeds or produce or animal traces. Once at the Baltra airport, a sniffer dog walks all over the luggage before being released to the travelers. We took the free bus for the 10 minute ride from the airport to the ferry crossing, 1 ferry ($1, 10 minutes across channel), then public bus into Puerto Ayora ($2). Our hotel (Vista al Mar) was just a block from ocean and bus stop. Settled in and explored the town.
Nov 23 – Arranged a guided tour to Los Gemelos (a volcanic collapse structure), underground lava tunnels, and El Chato 2 Ranch, a private tortoise reserve with lots of tortoises of many ages, and the Charles Darwin Center, all on Santa Cruz Island. In the afternoon, we wandered around town and arranged a tour of Isabela Island for the next day. Puerto Ayora is a very relaxed town! Nobody is in a hurry, nobody trying to hustle you on the street (like in Cusco), just very chillin’.
Nov 24 – Up early to catch the 7 am speedboat to Isabela. Uncomfortable 2 hour ride in launch. Booked into our hotel for the night (Cerro Azul). Toured marine iguana sites (the critters are literally underfoot – need to watch where you step because they blend right in with the rocks), went snorkeling (the best part of the day) with sea turtles off the tour boat, saved Lucille from swimming out to sea, and saw blue footed boobies, Galápagos penguins and the ubiquitous frigate birds. Sea lions own this place, as shown in the following picture.
Nov 25 – A tour to Sierra Negra volcano and Volcan Chico. Long hot, dusty hike, over 18 kms, but wonderfully stark topography, especially walking on Chico. Didn’t go into the vast Sierra Negra caldera, the most active volcano in the Galapagos with it’s most recent eruption in 2005, but walked a long way on the lava flows of Chico (last erupted 1979). Returned to Santa Cruz on the 5 pm speedboat. Great day except for the very uncomfortable return trip, sardined in with the other passengers!
Nov 26 – Toured Las Tintoreras, on Isabela island, and saw white tipped reef sharks grouped together in a small channel. They rest there during the day, perfect for the tourists to see them, and go out hunting at night. Snorkeled again (not with the sharks), with a better mask this time, but not as good visibility in the water so didn’t see as many fish. Went to Los Grietas, a popular tourist swimming spot, and swam in the narrow, deep channel. Not very exciting – don’t know what the draw is except for a good place for diving off the rocks. Would have preferred more snorkeling off the boat.
Nov 27 – Blaine, Deb and Gaye wanted to relax in town, so Lucille and I arranged a tour out to the north part of Santa Cruz Island, accompanied by a Canadian dad and daughter (Ian and Alex) from Lachine, a suburb of Montreal close to where I grew up. Laguna el Junco, a water filled collapse structure, was very misty but with a flock of frigate birds soaring and diving quite close to us. Although visibility was limited, it was a nice relaxing walk. The guide then took us to Puerto Chino beach for another snorkeling opportunity. It is a nice fine sand beach, but the water was too rough to see anything through the roiling sand. Eventually, we took our masks off and just enjoyed the water for 40 minutes. We then visited the David Rodriguez tortoise reserve to see yet more tortoises of all ages. Saw where they incubated the eggs and segregated the hatchlings into different enclosures based on age up to 5 years. All were from Santa Cruz Island. After 5 years, they are released into the wild to fend for themselves. This tour was a little different in that the guide didn’t speak English. Fortunately Ian spoke Spanish and translated a lot for us. When he wasn’t around, it was a lot of hand gestures and back and forth in our limited languages but, surprisingly, everyone made themselves understood.
Nov 28 – Lucille and I went to the Charles Darwin Center for the morning then wandered around looking at wildlife, both at the center and in town at the fish market. That place is a lot of fun, with all the pelicans clambering to get scraps and iguanas underfoot (as usual). Even the odd sea lion looking for an easy snack. In the afternoon, the group got a taxi and we visited the lava tunnels at El Miramar. Not as large as the ones in El Chato but still cool to see.
Nov 29 – Went for coffee, checked in with Latam, and went for final island lunch. Got a taxi at 12:30 for trip to the airport ($25 for the 5 of us), caught the ferry and bus, then waited while chaos ensued at check-in with everyone arriving at the same time. Flew Baltra to Quito, then Quito to Lima. Arrived around 10:30 pm. Lucille and I said goodbye to Blaine, Deb and Gaye, as they were continuing on to home on a 5 am flight next morning and were just going to wait at the airport, while Lucille and I went to a hotel (Hotel Padama) close to the airport. 30 soles for the cab ride.
Nov 30 – Repacked for the Amazon then went for a walk in the neighbourhood by the hotel. Pretty rough looking, lots of storefront auto repair shops, laundries, generally an industrial area. The tiendas all had bars across the doors, either to prevent pilfering or enable owners to do other stuff in back maybe. Probably the former. Have to “hola” to get their attention, say what item you want, pay for it, then it is handed to you thru the bars. Wouldn’t want to walk around at night. Hotel arranged for cab to airport (30 soles again – a set charge from the hotel) at 3pm. We had nice lunch outside security, then went thru the cattle process. Took off boots and hat, forgot change in pocket so got wanded. Eventually made it through and just chilled until plane time at 6pm. The plane left a little late and we arrived Iquitos at 8. Oppressively hot and muggy! Lucille had arranged for a car to be waiting and a hotel employee drove us to the hotel. Lots of tuk-tuk and car traffic. Tuk-tuks far more prevalent here than anywhere else we have stayed. Probably has something to do with the remoteness of Iquitos – the largest city in Peru that cannot be reached by road.
Dec 1 – Up at 6, showered and breakfast at 7 (eggs, toast, fresh blended and thick papaya juice and instant coffee. What is it with Peru and instant coffee? They grow the damn stuff! Make it properly!!) Picked up at 8:30 by Ashuco, our guide for the week, and a tuk-tuk. Drove us to the Maniti office where we were informed we had to pay the balance owing for the tour in cash. They had a Visa sign and machine, and we had paid our deposit by credit card, but the manager claimed it wasn’t working. From the reviews that I have since read on TripAdvisor, this is a common occurrence with this company! The place gave me the impression of being very unprofessional, which was not a good sign of things to come. The boss said some people’s expectations were different from what the tour actually provided and Maniti got bad reviews as a result. I would give him bad review on his attitude alone, not to mention a shoddily run office! Ashuco, our tour guide, walked me over to an ATM but it wouldn’t give me any soles or dollars on my BMO debit card. Went to another ATM with the same result. Was getting very frustrated with Peruvian banking system. Lucille was able to get money out as a cash advance on her Visa card and lent me enough to pay my outstanding bill with rest of the dollars and soles I had, leaving very little for spending money for camp. After settling the bills, back in a tuk-tuk to the boat. Took about 90 minutes to get to camp, about 23 km down the Amazon River. The Amazon is a lot bigger than I imagined – wide and deep – and has lots of traffic on it.
The Maniti camp is not bad. Pretty basic huts – 8 foot walls, bottom half plywood, top is screen, no windows just open to the air. Water for sink, toilet and shower is pumped straight from the Amazon and not heated. Never a problem in that heat! Had a good lunch (catfish, rice, veggies) then relaxed in a hammock tent till 3pm. For our afternoon tour, we took a boat for half hour or so to a path in jungle. Ashuco led the way, pointing out all the different trees, birds, tree iguanas, pygmy marmoset monkeys, turkey vultures… Back on river, he took us to an area in the river where grey and pink dolphins were surfacing.
Back in camp, we met a couple from Israel and Canada, and another from India and Thailand (I think). We had a night walk scheduled for after supper but a thunder storm moved in and cancelled those plans. Ended up just showering and lying in bed listening to music from 8:30 onwards, waiting for lights to go out (power is only on from 6pm to 9pm).
Dec 2 – Ashuco woke us up at 4:30am to see the sunrise but said that it was foggy and wouldn’t be good. So why did he wake us up!! We went back to sleep while everyone else went out. Later reports of the sunrise varied but sounds like we should have gone out after all. We went for a jungle walk behind camp after breakfast for about 2.5 hours, walking on trails, bushwhacking, crossing streams on questionable “bridges” and sweating profusely the whole time. Extremely hot and muggy all morning but no rain. Still, we came back as wet as if we had been in a downpour! Saw a few saddleback tamarinds high in trees, tried to encourage tarantulas to leave their holes (without success). No frogs either but saw lots of bats exiting from their tree with a little help from Ashuco’s prodding. Good picture of one when it crashed onto the ground and Ashuco held it up by its wings. It wasn’t hurt and it immediately flew away when Ashuco let go of it. All in all, a fun morning.
Back at camp, some new people had arrived, from Germany (Anna, Pascal) and US (Meagan, Matt), by the time we got back. Had lunch (roast water buffalo!) and hammock time till we went out to Isla de los Monas (Monkey Island) at 2:30. More like a monkey petting zoo, with 8 different species and 35 individuals, but they were friendly, except when Lucille tried to retrieve her walking stick from one. They also had a very colourful scarlet macaw as a pet.
Last stop on the trip on the river was at the village, close to our camp, where they produced sugarcane rum using traditional methods to extract the sugar juice from the cane. They make a number of drinks, from non-alcoholic to potent and we sampled 3 of them. The one I liked the best was a pink-coloured concoction called “flamingo”, citrusy and strong, a combination of ginger, camu camu (source of the sour citrus flavour) and honey.
After supper, we went out for night walk behind camp. Ashuco fished a black tarantula out of its hole using a thin twig but we didn’t get to hold it. Also saw yellow frogs and black frogs but no green ones. Ashuco’s grandfather was a shaman and taught him what all the different plants and animals were used for. Don’t lick the green frog.
Dec 3 – Ashuco woke us up at 5:30 to go birdwatching. Too misty to see sunrise but saw hummingbirds, oropendola (with hanging basket-like nests), turkey vultures, a hawk, flock of parakeets and a bunch of others I cannot remember names of.
Back in for breakfast then out at 9am to a traditional native camp where we were face painted, danced with them and got to try out a blowgun. Everyone hit the target on 1st or 2nd try but it was only about 15 feet away. The dancing was meant to be an audience participation performance (traditional welcoming maybe? Don’t know, as nothing they did was explained to us) but seemed forced and not entirely comfortable.
Back to camp for siesta, lunch and another siesta then out to the “flat forest” to look for tarantulas. A 30-minute boat ride across and up river then through a forest of ficus, acacia, wimba trees and palms. The pink toed tarantulas hide inside the dried, rolled up palm leaves so Ashuco was searching in those. He found one and gently persuaded it to climb on Lucille, then me. Remarkably gentle and soft feet as it climbed over our heads. We left camp hearing thunder and the storm arrived just as we finished playing with the tarantula. Heavy warm downpour and we were drenched in no time. We took refuge in the local “bar” until most of it passed, then down to the boat and camp. No night walk tonight.
Dec 4 – Went to an animal rescue centre, more like mini zoo, in the morning. Got to hold a baby sloth in the sloth enclosure – unbelievably cute – then to the anaconda enclosure. One huge one that, thankfully, was sleeping, another about 8 feet long and thick as my calf that Lucille tried to hold but too heavy and slippery, and a nasty and irate 5 foot long python that lunged and hissed anytime someone got close. Then to the caiman cage to see a pygmy caiman, about a foot long, a black caiman and a white caiman. I was under the impression that caimans were all small but the black ones can grow up to 7 metres long and the white to 2.5 – 3 metres. Both caimans in the enclosure were about 2 feet long. The pool also had a couple of turtles. Spotted more parrots outside – a green one and another scarlet macaw – then back to the boat. We picked up another tour group whose boat was having trouble and we were taken to a floating bar where we did some piranha fishing. I got 2 little catfish but Lucille caught a piranha, which the guide kept to cook up for lunch. The bar was hopping, with music, selling beer and about a dozen people on it. Glad we came here rather than just fishing at the mouth of our creek like some other groups did.
We had lunch, including the pitiful small and bony piranhas, had our daily after-lunch siesta then headed out to the Garzal Conservation Area for our night in the jungle. Nina (from Finland) joined us, along with her guide Linder. Passed through a lovely little village, clean, tidy – even had garbage bins along the sidewalk past the houses – registered, then walked into the bush. After about a 30-minute walk, including stopping to play on the Tarzan vines hanging from a huge wimba (?) tree, we arrived at our camp for the night – two large screened-in huts with an outhouse between them.
We dropped our day (night) packs then started on the trail to the observation tower, Palo Alto. After 50 feet we hopped into a boat and Ashuco and Linder poled along a narrow waterway. After about 10 minutes, we beached (jungled?) the boat, and followed another indistinct path to the next creek. Same procedure until we beached again. After about 20 minutes, we arrived at the 3-story tower, climbed it and waited for sunset. Frogs and birds (and Ashuco) got louder and louder as sunset approached. Once dark, we descended and looked for frogs. Ashuco has amazing eyesight and he found 3 of them, each one bigger than the last. How the hell does he see them? Their eyes don’t glow in the dark and they were quiet!
A storm had been approaching the whole time we were at the tower and rain was imminent, so we headed back to camp. Pitch dark, with only our lamps for light, walking in the jungle at night is much different than during the day! Ashuco was rushing to beat the rain but the boat got stuck in the vegetation a few times so we almost made it back before the downpour started. Didn’t get too wet though and Ashuco and Linder doled out dinner – 1 potato and a piece of chicken each – then set up the mattresses and mosquito nets. With nothing else to do, we were all into bed by 7:30. It was a quiet night, with the rain you couldn’t really hear anything else anyway, and blacker than the inside of a water buffalo.
Dec 5 – Got up at 5:30, packed our bags and headed back to meet Teddy, our boat driver for the past 4 days, in the boat. The other people in camp, a new group, had been out for a sunrise trip so we all headed back together. Back in camp, we showered, had breakfast and a short rest, then Ashuco took us in a canoe for a paddle up the creek by camp. I paddled in the bow, Ashuco in the stern and Lucille took pictures (my camera battery had died). The creek is barely wider than the canoe is long and we got stuck a few times on logs but it was a nice change from walking in the jungle. Managed to turn the thing around when the creek got too clogged with downed trees and sweepers blocking our path and went back to camp for an early lunch. Another shower, pack bags, then head upriver for the 2-hour trip back to Iquitos.
Once there, we took a tuk-tuk to the office, dropped our bags and walked to the main market, Belen. Quite large and lots of variety of goods and food but garbage was everywhere and not clean. Spent about half hour there, walked to an ATM where Lucille was able to get some money for us for Ashuco’s tip, then took a taxi to the airport.
Had a beer and pizza while waiting for plane, which took the edge off our hunger (still hungry from not much to eat yesterday). Plane was 45 minutes late to Lima but our taxi was there to meet us and we got to the hotel around 11pm. After showers, repacking and a final celebratory beer each, into bed at 1am.
Dec 6 – Lucille’s iPad alarm, buried in her pack, went off at 5:30. Hauled her suitcase downstairs but didn’t make it far before Manuel (the night crew reminds me of Fawlty Towers) jumped up and grabbed it from me. Got a brief goodbye hug as she dashed off to the waiting cab, on to her next adventure in Argentina. Going to miss her company. She has been a great roommate for the past month.
Went upstairs to the hotel breakfast room at 8 am – 1 egg, 2 buns, coffee. Not much choice but at least they offer it. Went for a 5 km walk around lunchtime, in the same areas covered a week ago, just to get a little exercise. Pretty unexciting area to walk in, no parks or anything, just an industrial area. When I got back, the front desk lady had me change to a 1-bedroom, just down the hall. I had paid for the double earlier that morning but she didn’t understand that I should now be getting a cheaper rate. Not worth pursuing for only about $15 difference. Tried to sleep in the afternoon and evening but couldn’t. Lucille called on FaceTime around 7 pm but connection bad so didn’t talk long, just to let me know she arrived safely at her apartment in Mendoza. Finally got to sleep around 10 pm and woke up just before the alarm at 11:30. Going to be a long day tomorrow unless I can sleep on the plane!
Cab came early, at 11:45 pm, and no traffic so got to airport in about 7 minutes. Through bag drop and security quickly, had some supper and settled down for the +3-hour wait. A Snickers bar at Lima airport costs $4US!! Didn’t buy it. I’ll have to get my Snickers fix in Toronto.
Dec 7 – Plane delayed for 35 minutes and we ended up rolling down the runway at 3:50 am. No big deal as I have a few hours layover in Toronto anyway before the YEG flight. I was alone in the centre row of the 767-300 so it was a pretty comfortable flight. Didn’t sleep but was nice to be able to sprawl over 2 seats for a while. Watched Rogue One on my iPad on the Rouge system. On a Rouge flight, they don’t have any seatback screens, you have to rent an iPad or bring your own if you want any streaming entertainment. We arrived in Toronto around 11:30 am and I treated myself to a Timmy’s coffee and muffin. Peruvians haven’t discovered muffins yet, which is probably a good thing. Good internet at Pearson so emailed a few pictures to family.
Rolling down the runway at 3:45pm on second leg of flight home. Lucked out again with no one in the middle seat between the window and aisle on the A320, so I had lots of space. The A320 has plugins on 2/3 seats on each side of the aircraft to charge devices although the USB port on the seats don’t work or not enough power to charge an iPad.
Overall impressions of this trip? Wow. It was my longest yet and certainly the most diverse, with 3 distinctly different aspects to it. A very enjoyable and enlightening month. My favourite part had to be doing the Inca Trail hike, day 2 specifically, because I was most worried about it due to altitude and fitness concerns. But, after my initial episode on the Colca tour, altitude and fitness did not prove to be factors at all. Well, maybe having to stop for a break every 4-5 minutes on the way up to Dead Woman’s Pass would be considered a factor but no headaches or other symptoms. Just a general lack of oxygen slowing us down. Muscles didn’t even get sore, except for slight tightness above knees with all the down on days 2 and 3. Guess all the biking, stairmaster and workouts were worthwhile 😊. Very pleased with how I fared physically and I loved the challenge. I thought that Lucille would rocket way ahead but we kept pace with each other all the way. Nice to be able to do that together. My biggest disappointment was not being able to go with her on the Rainbow Mountain trek due to still recovering from being poisoned by that damned tea. My priority was being healthy for the Inca Trail and I did not want to compromise that.
Galápagos was a total contrast to the noise and hustle of Cusco. Laid back atmosphere, great temperature – I thought that it would be much hotter at the equator – and interesting environment. No being pestered on the streets and felt safe everywhere. They do have to work on their boats though! Bloody uncomfortable island hopping unless you are sitting in the very back of the boat. Noisy but better than sitting canted over on the side seats and wrecking your back for 2 hours. My favourite day there was doing the Volcan Chico trek. Hot, dusty, dry but great topography. And of course seeing the animal life on the islands that we can’t see at home.
The jungle was pretty well as I imagined – hot and sweaty with enormous plants, flowers everywhere, and lots of crawly things. I had no expectations of how I would like it, especially with the heat and humidity, but Ashuco showed us a lot of varied places – poling the boats through the swamps after dark and the jungle walks were highlights. Monkey Island and the animal recovery center felt more like petting zoos but were still enjoyable and we saw animals up close that we didn’t see, or only saw at a distance, on the jungle walks. It was good to see how cute the sloths were up close! The theatrics of the Yaguas tribal dance felt contrived but it was intended to be a performance, albeit with audience participation. And I got to use a blowgun! The enormous size of the trees was a surprise, although I knew that the Amazon was being logged for a reason. It is not just palms and vines. These are trees right out of Tolkien, some nightmarish, some fantastical. After the poor customer treatment in the office at the start, our time in the jungle was enjoyable and interesting, due mainly to our guide Ashuco’s knowledge and enthusiasm.
Would I revisit anything? The Inca Trail was great, because it is everything a hike should be – challenging, historic and scenic – but there are too many other hikes in other parts of the world that would now take precedence. I would go back to Galápagos but by booking a boat tour to see more of the islands and do more snorkeling off the boats. Not to see more iguanas and tortoises and boobies specifically – I pretty well had my fill of them – but to chill out in the relaxed atmosphere and play in the water. Again, other water holidays in places I have never visited would take precedence. The jungle was interesting but 5 days was enough to get a good taste of that environment. So I guess I would say a reserved no to return visits to any of the areas. Overall impressions of Peru are dirty and noisy (they have a love affair with their car horns), with ridiculous banking rules (1 withdrawal a month from some ATMs and extortionate fees). Although all our tour guides were very conscientious about keeping the environment clean, the general population still needs a change of mindset. The amount of garbage and litter on the roadsides, in the cities and in the country, is staggering. Saying that though, I still enjoyed the country. On a positive note, I saw very few people smoking! And their buses are way more comfortable than ours. Don’t know if Galápagos was typical of Ecuador but it was much cleaner and we had no problems with ATMs. It would have been nice to have scheduled at least a day in Quito to get a (minimally) more informed impression of that country. I loved my time there.
Glad I went on this trip. It helps having a great roommate and companions and I met a lot of interesting and adventurous people. I hope to keep on traveling for as long as I can!<<<<<<