A Travellerspoint blog

Cusco and the Inca trail

Machu Picchu - a tick for the bucket list!

all seasons in one day

Merry Christmas everyone! While you've been racing around the shops buying last minute presents, watching X-factor finals (don't pretend you didn't!) and embarrassing yourselves at Christmas parties (again, don't pretend you didn't!), we have been continuing our travels and following in the footsteps of the Incas.

After our time in Arequipa, we took another lovely overnight bus to Cusco, the Inca capital of Peru and our base for the next week or so of exploring. Today Cusco is pretty much wholly geared towards persuading everyone to book a tour to Machu Picchu or the nearby Sacred Valley and so is awash with travel agencies and outdoorsy shops. Having said that it remains a fairly pretty city, with sites of its own to see and plenty of markets to visit, and we enjoyed spending our first day or so exploring it (and its great restaurants - not very peruvian but we had the best pancakes and pizza here ever!).

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We were already booked on to a 4 day Machu Picchu trek, departing 3 days after our arrival in Cusco, so after a restful couple of days in the city, we booked ourselves onto a day tour of the surrounding Sacred Valley as we were keen to see some of the Inca sites surrounding Cusco before we headed off on our trek. Whilst this proved to be a slightly annoyingly touristy tour, it took in the key sites of Pisac (ruins and markets) and Ollantaytambo, both of which were very large, well preserved sites of Inca buildings and terraces and well worth visiting.

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Having had a taste of cool Inca architecture, we were ready for some more, so the next morning (bright and early as usual - the Peruvians do love a good 5am start!) we were picked up by our company (Peru Treks) to start the 42km hike to Machu Picchu. Our guides (Will and Yanet) intoduced themselves and we met the remaining 14 members of our group, who immediately seemed like a great bunch (although much to Shaun's delight and Hannah's despair seemed to contain a disproportionate number of triathletes and ´Iron´ men/women!) and we were off.

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The first day´s walk was a fairly leisurely one, along mainly undulating terrain and it wasn´t long until we reached our first Inca site, an impressive structure which Will explained is believed to have been home to the builders of Machu Picchu.

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A bit of added excitement was provided by the spotting of a deadly black widow spider (why oh why do these spiders seem to be following me everywhere?!)! We stopped for lunch shortly after, our first experience of the incredible service we were to expect from our team of 22(!!) porters and our cook over the next few days. When we arrived, the dining tent (!) was all set up, complete with napkins and silverware and as we enjoyed a delicious three course lunch it very quickly became clear that any plans we had to drop a few pounds on the trek were not going to be realised!

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The afternoon brought more undulating paths, with stunning scenery all around (picture lush green hills with tree-lined rivers, overlooked by glacier topped mountains)

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and we reached our campsite around 4.30pm, to be greeted by the welcome site of our tents already set up (by the porters who had run past us earlier!) to face the incredible mountain view and a bucket containing cervezas available to purchase. The evening was spent watching the locals play football in front of a small Inca site just above the campsite, before enjoying another fantastic meal and heading to bed nice and early ready for day 2 and the dreaded 'dead woman's pass'.

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Day 2 began with a cracking surprise for such an early start - tent service! Yanet and one of the porters would give you a wake up call and a nice hot cup of hot chocolate to wake us up before preparing a hearty breakfast to provide us with some much needed energy ahead of what is dubbed the 'challenge day'. The first 5 hours of this day is spent climbing 'dead woman's pass', a 1200m incline that would take us up to the highest point of the trek, 4200m.

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The trek was certainly challenging but the breaks every 1.5 hours helped, particuarly the second one, where we were provided with a 'second breakfast' of cheese sandwiches and popcorn! Eventually after several hours of trudging along (while the porters again ran past us, carrying their 20kilo packs!) we all reached the top one-by-one (Shaun of course being the first up, earning himself the indisputable title of 'King of the Mountains', Hannah coming in around the middle of pack with her newly acquired walking buddies after it became clear that walking with Shaun was not going to be an option!) and after a triumphant group photo, we set off down the hundreds of stairs on the other side of the pass, that appeared to be our reward for reaching the top!

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When we finally arrived at the campsite, the rest of the afternoon was free to get some much needed rest, although a couple of the group decided to take the opportunity to bathe in an ice-cold spring, not to be recommended! Shortly before dinner we were introduced properly to our fantastic team of porters, who then prepared us another fabulous meal. After dinner, our guide produced a bottle of rum and regailed us with stories of the dead woman who haunts that campsite and advised us to leave 'offerings' outside our tent to keep her away. I'm not sure that mine and Shaun's stinky walking shoes were quite what he had in mind, but we manged to avoid a visit nonetheless!

Day 3 is known as the 'spectacular day´and it certainly didn't disappoint. We woke to see the clouds dissipating in front the campsite, to reveal a spectacular view of snow capped mountains in front of us. As we set off, the weather cleared completely and with a glorious blue sky above us, we set off on the 500m climb out of the campsite valley, unbelieving of our luck with the weather (bearing in mind we were slap bang in the middle of rainy season, yet we had not yet seen a drop of rain. Karma rewarding us for our time in the rainforest we reckon!). When we reached the top of the second pass, the views were spectacular - the Andes were spread out in front of us, flanked by perfect cloud inversions - and we felt very lucky.

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After a rest, and some time to make offerings to PachaMama (Mother Earth) at the top as the Inca's would have done, we descended, again on steep steps, into the ´Cloud forest´, so named for the cloud that the forest is perpetually bathed in. This part of the walk was truly spectacular, as the forest is lush and green and the cloud hides various small Inca sites, which magically reveal themselves on approach. This part of the path is also 95% original, so you really do feel as though you are following in the footsteps of the Incas. We took our time and took in the scenery and eventually arrived at the spectacular lunch spot, high up on the third and final pass, overlooking a huge Inca site in the valley below.

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After lunch, we were ready to take on the more than 2000 stone steps that awaited us, charmingly referred to as the 'gringo killers'. This part of the walk was almost more challenging than the climbs, as the steps are incredibly steep and, for such small people, the Incas seem to have had a strange inability to build anything other than giant steps!

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After what felt like an age, just before our knees gave way altogether, we reached the end of the steps and the path opened out onto the final treat for the day, a set of Inca terraces overlooking Machu Picchu mountain and the stunning valleys surrounding it. The site was pretty breaktaking and we could have sat there for hours taking in the views (and eating gummy bears!).

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Eventually though we headed down to the final campsite, a renewed spring in our step in the knowledge that our final destination was in sight. That night, the group were all pretty exhausted, having covered the best part of 16km of hills that day, but we still managed to raise a cheer when the cook, unbelieveably, produced a beautifully decorated steamed sponge cake he had prepared (god knows how!) as a treat for our final night!

On the final day, the porters wake you at 3.30am (!!) to drag you of bed and send you off to wait for the gate to the final part of the trail to open at 5.30am. Once the gate oens, it's a race against time (and the other groups) to be the first the reach the sun-gate, the point at which you are supposed to get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu below. What we hadn't been told was that to reach the sun-gate, there would be a final punishing set of giant Inca steps to climb and by the time we reached the top, to quote a hilarious Swiss guy from our group, we all now understood what Kung-Fu Panda felt like!! Unfortunately, our promised reward for this final climb did not materilaise as when we reached the sun gate it was steeped in cloud and we were lucky if we could see our hands in front of faces, let alone Machu Picchu!

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Slightly disappointed although undeterred, we set off down the hill towards the site and, magically, as we got closer the cloud started to part and a hazy Machu Picchu was revealed.

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When we arrived on the site, we took a final group photo before being taken on a tour by Will (although not before excitedly using the first clean toilets we had seen for 4 days!).

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The site is huge and undeniably impressive, although we were not alone in our feelings that the experience is slightly spoiled by the hundreds of day-tripper tourists, pouring in on buses and clutching giant american-sized cokes and packets of crisps, looking disdainfully at the tramping trekkers who may not have washed for four days, but at least feel they have earnt their place at the site. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our tour and were thrilled when a few breaks in the cloud allowed us to get the classic pictures we had been hoping for.

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Machu Picchu certainly deserves to be up there as a 'wonder of the world' and we feel very lucky to have seen it, although as our guide said "it's not just what you see at the end, it's how you get there" and we can definitely vouch for the fact that the whole trek is well-worth doing. Had we not done so, we would not have seen all the other magical sights along the way nor met our fab group of fellow trekkers and we certainly loved every minute of the entire 4 days.

Posted by shaunandhan 05:12 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Arequipa & Colca Canyon

Convents, mountains & someone's birthday...

sunny 23 °C

Buenos Tardes gringos!

Here we are reporting again from the disputed home of the Pisco Sour, a land that has multicoloured corn and is arguably the true home of the potato with over 3000 varieties!

Our journey from Iquitos to Arequipa was via a short flight back to Lima before catching an overnight bus for the 16.5hr journey to Arequipa. Whilst in Lima, some quick 'Travmin' (Travel Admin) had to be done before catching our bus - more specifically to try and resolve the issue with our DSLR! Having discovered in Iquitos that the camera was not working properly and trying everything under the sun to get it working again, we needed to get it fixed, or worse buy another! Having found a Nikon Center in Lima, we luckily managed to get it fixed in the short few hours before our bus, though we were told the cost of buying a new one was only £95. Han was sure this was a mistake though and put the suggestion of upgrading to a better model for £110 to bed almost before it even left my mouth! :-(

Fixed DSLR in hand, we then made our way to the bus station to catch our coach to Arequipa. Having heard how good buses are in South America, I was not disappointed to see our Cruzer 'Suite' coach arrive. What can I say really...it was brilliant. Sooooooo much more comfy than any plane I have ever been on. Seats recline to 160 degrees, 2 hot meals, drinks, personal TV screens in back of seat in front...amazing. Too good to be true? Well, there was a down side. The toilet next to us didn't flush so after about 3hrs it was flooded and so, if you needed to pee, you either had to stand in other peoples wee or stand at the opposite side of the bus and have good aim! After about 5 hrs however, the crew fixed the problem and cleaned the area and everyone remained dry! All in all, a pleasant experience though.

We arrived in Arequipa about 2pm and made it to our hostel about an hour later. It's really not that far but having provided the taxi driver with the address of our hostel, he thought it more appropriate to try and drop us off in two different places first, nowhere near our hostel. On our arrival, we were met by the owner José who I can only describe as a Peruvian version of Basil Fawlty. Very eccentric, very funny but also good natured. He took us straight to our room which was very simple, but very clean and comfortable and with hot showers (woohoo!).

Our first stop in Arequipa was to book our Colca Canyon trek. As is fairly standard with these sorts of places, there are a million different operators you can go with so through Tripadvisor, we were able to narrow it down to 3. One was ludicrously expensive and the other seemed a little simple, so we settled with Peru-Schweiz for a 3 day/2 night trek for a couple of days time. Lucky, because when we arrived, both us were suffering from a little altitude sickness, so we still had time to acclimatise first. Arequipa's altitude sits at just under 2400m.

The next day, after a much needed lie in we wandered into the streets of Arequipa which is awash with impressive white stone colonial era buildings and of course a huge plaza flanked by a huge cathedral. Typically, a lot of the most fantastic looking old buildings seem to house banks.

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We wandered around the town sampling the variety of food and drink, finally settling on our beverage of choice...agua (water). Amongst the endless number of pizzerias and chifas (Chinese restaurants) we managed to find couple of small places that served amazing local food. We also found a place that did amazing crepes (Crepisimo - their alpaca crepe was amaze balls) and awesome sarnies (Lacla - our venue of choice for breakfast, lunch, light evening bite - their pulled pork sarnie is immense and goes at a whopping £1!).

The next day we went to explore the Santa Catalina Monastery in the morning because as it is rainy season while you can have glorious sunshine in the morning, the heavens could open in the afternoon. The Monastery is huge and a photographers' playground with the sharp contrast of bright colours and shapes. We walked around the huge nun house, part of which is still in use by the nuns today but in a more modern building and far fewer numbers of the religious ladies. Apparently families would send their second born daughter to the convent so the majority of those there were from wealthy families and it took them 4 years to become a fully fledged nun, having taken a vow of silence for the entire duration. How you wouldn't go crazy, I have no idea. By the sounds of things life for the nuns was not entirely one of hard worship and study but throw in some visitors and a few parties and your closer to reality. The powers that be in the homeland of Spain apparently caught wind of this and sent over a more serious leader to straighten out the convent and as for the nuns, fun's over ladies! From that point the convent remained closed to public eyes until it was forced to open to the public in 1970. We also learnt that one of the head nuns, Ana de los angeles, was one miracle away from sainthood; according to the catholic church you must conduct 3 miracles. If anyone ever comes to Arequipa, Santa Catalina is a must-see!

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To top off our religious adventures of the day we went into the massive Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas and set eyes on their prize possession, the organ donated from Europe which got dented on the way and is now out of tune..... but it's still the biggest in South America. We also visited two other smaller but equally attractive churches which were conducting services all day.

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The next day our trip to the Colca Canyon started with a 3am pick up (ouch! Although they happily provided neck cushions) ready for the trip over the mountains and down to the local town of Chivay for breakfast. We had thought we had conquered our altitude sickness until we got up to the 5000m high point & Han felt decidedly worse for wear. A bit of breakfast in Chivay helped though.

Our next stop was the Cruz del Condor lookout. As it was still early the clouds were hugging the mountain sides. The canyon is immense in size. It is over twice as deep at the Grand Canyon and plunges 4,160m at its deepest point! Unfortunately, we did not see any condors due to it being a little out of season to see them and a little too cold for them to ride the thermals.

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After that pit stop we joined the local road towards Cabanaconde, an important old indigenous village, and the further along the road we went the steeper hill sides became and lower the river got. The main living in these parts in farming, mainly types of corn, one of which purple in colour and is fermented to create 'chicha' the local tipple, and potatoes with some other native crops filling in the patchwork pieces of flat land, and of course every farmer has a donkey because someone needs to carry the stuff up and down and around the track's meandering through the canyon from one side, and village, to another. Anyway, this was where our trek started and we met our guide David, 21 the youngest guide at Peru-Schweiz and resident from one of the small villages in the canyon. In our group was a German woman called Sylvi, two French girls who spoke neither any Spanish nor English, which made them a joy to be around and then another guy from Chile. We never quite caught his name so we just called him 'Santiago'.

We departed down the canyon path hugging the cliff face. It was particularly narrow and steep at points, which made it fun when local villagers were trying to pass us with mules laden with produce or materials. So much so that only about 15mins in, one of the mules which was carrying corrugated sheet metal on its back decided to run past Hannah knocking her arm. All was fine until about 2 minutes later when one of the stragglers noticed blood coming from her arm. David and I stopped Han and sat her down to have a look at her arm. Fortunately, it was in a spot that Hannah couldn't see(!) although she made the mistake of asking us how it looked. Knowing how my wife is with the sight of blood alone, I thought it best not to tell her how it actually looked for fear of her passing out but I think she pretty much got the picture from our groans. I can only describe it as two very deep cuts (I prefer gashes) that were wide open and so deep you could see the layers of fatty tissue under the skin and something pulsing inside!! My immediate thought was stitches will be required. Our guide though, despite his years remained calm, cleaned it up and then told me to hold her arm together whilst he put on three steri-strips and a bandage. For the rest of the day, as the loving husband I am, I decided I would play donkey and carry Hannah's belongings so we could get her down into the canyon with no more incidents. I should say that Hannah was very brave throughout, much more so than the spider episode in the Amazon! The descent was 1.5km straight but the walk was 7km due to the zig-zag nature of the path required to descend safely. That afternoon, we arrived in San Juan de Chucha which is where we were staying that night. A great little place where the accommodation was in surprisingly comfortable little huts and where we ate masses of local food and spent the evening chatting and playing cards.

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The next morning, it was my birthday! Greeted with an alternative birthday card from my wife, consisting of a message on my pillow spelt out using our supply of boiled sweets, this was followed by an amazing breakfast of a nice cuppa and banana and chocolate pancakes. We eventually left San Juan de Chucha and walked along the canyon floor to an Oasis in Sangalle which is where we were spending the second night. I should mention here, Hannah's dressings were changed before leaving and the wounds seemed to be closing. On our walk, our guide told us all about the local produce, farming and plant-life, pointing out which ones are used for dyes in cosmetics and which you should not touch as they will kill you. Things like that. The oasis was fantastic. The weather was great and as it wasn't raining, we got to go for a swim in the pool, which was heated by the thermal water coming from the local waterfalls flowing down some of the 2000 volcanoes in the region.

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The rest of the day was spent chilling out, more card playing and chatting. Later in the evening, more hikers from other tour companies and those on the 2D/1N trek arrived turning it into a bit of a party atmosphere. (I think they knew it was my birthday.!) At first, many were hesitant about the 5am ascent of the canyon in the morning but it did not take long before the beers were flowing, the pisco sours were being drunk and shots being had. Not a bad way, or place to spend my birthday. After a couple of renditions of happy birthday, we were just heading to bed when our guide David decided to treat me to two more large bottles of beer. It would be rude to say no... :-) About 10pm, everyone got 'the fear' about the mornings climb and by 10:30pm, most were in bed.

4:30am - having barely slept a wink, we were up and ready to make our 1.5km ascent. This was much steeper than our descent as the path up was only 4km rather than 7km. The tour operators give about 3-4hrs to make the ascent which includes short breaks. The record according to our guide for an ascent by a tourist is 1hr30mins. Seemed like a challenge was on. Setting off altogether, it soon became apparent that one of the French girls was struggling so David stayed back with the girls and allowed myself and Santiago to push on. After about 10mins Santiago had dropped back also. I carried on, feeling surprisingly alright. I passed all of the other groups on my way up and 1h36mins later, and with the company of a local mutt from the oasis, I hit the top with not another person in sight. Worried I'd made a wrong turn, i asked the local woman at the top if I was in the right place and she assured me I was. About 25 mins later, the next person arrived at the top and then another and another. Soaked to the bone with sweat, I started to get pretty cold pretty quickly given the altitude so I changed my clothes and waited patiently for the rest of our group, taking in the views. Santiago came home about 30mins after me and my wife, proud as ever and dragging her dodgy knee behind her, in at 2h30mins. The views were spectacular from the top.

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Proud of our achievements, we then headed to the local village for breakfast and then back on the bus to head back to Arequipa, but not before stopping at the local hot springs where we got to soak our aching bodies for an hour. Pretty much everyone was asleep on the way back, exhausted by their efforts.

Our last two days were spent relaxing in Arequipa and getting Hannah's arm looked at in the local clinic. Again, using our best Spanish and a picture of the offending mule, we were able to explain what had happened. The doctor cleaned it again and after giving it a few good squeezes (much to Hannah's discomfort) said that it seemed to be closing and to have started to heal well and so no stitches were required. He also said it didn't seem to be infected but to be on the safe side gave us a prescription for some antibiotics and instructions for cleaning it and dressing it, stating it should take about a week to heal. Whilst there, I also showed him a bite I got in the amazon on my leg which had not healed and was getting redder, bigger and more painful everyday. He explained this was an example of something that had become infected (!) and so basically doubled Hannah's prescription and gave me the same instructions re dressing and antibiotics. What a pair, and only 2 weeks in!! We left pretty impressed with the clinic though and feeling pretty proud of ourselves for having been able to convey our problems in our pigeon Spanish and broadly understand the doctors comments and instructions back (he spoke no English) and, as a bonus, when we came to pay the consultation fee, he happily screwed up the registration form and receipt and told us not to worry about it.

I had hoped to climb El Misti or Chachani, the two local volcanoes in the area (one just under 6000m and one just over) over these latter few days but unfortunately no guide would take me up unless there were at least three people given the cost of a professional guide and equipment. With Han flatly saying no and no other takers, it looks like my climbing goal will have to wait another few weeks til we hit Bolivia. I cannot complain too much though, the Colca Canyon was amazing and anyone who is in this region should definitely hike it!

Our last meal was spent at one of Arequipa's best restaurants Zig Zag to celebrate my birthday. A bottle of Chilean Syrah (Peru is not known for its wine) with an amazing main course of a trilogy of meats (Beef, Alpaca and Pork) for me and trilogy of fish (Salmon, Amzonian Paicha and Trout) for Han served on a 'volcanic hot stone' and served with local potatoes and caesar salad and finally followed by Apple pie and ice cream (yum!) our time in Arequipa and Colca was 'rounded' off quite nicely.

Thank you all for your birthday messages and mum for your card. I had an amazing birthday, one I will not forget anytime soon.

Next up, a 10hr bus to Cusco for the start of the Inca Trail...

Posted by shaunandhan 15:07 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

Amazon Adventure

A snippet of our time in the jungle...

rain 32 °C

Posted by shaunandhan 20:27 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

And so it begins...

Lima & the Amazon

30 °C

Hola from the continent of the Amazon, Machu Picchu & the tango; where guinea pig is a regular feature on the menu and the rubbish collection trucks play monotone music in the streets! Yep, we're in South America and will be for the next four months. We've set up this blog so that those who are interested can follow our trip and see what mischief we're getting up to...!

Our first stop was Lima, where we spent a few days enjoying the sun (defying the guidebooks that tell you Lima is permanently shrouded in cloud!) and sampling local delights like Ceviche and Pisco Sours.

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We enjoyed Lima but found it not dissimilar to many other big cities - old part, new part, commercial part and bohemian-esque part (very much enjoyed the latter). So after 3 days, we were ready to leave and fly to Iquitos, and wow what a shock! Iquitos could not be more different to the fairly westernised Lima, with its heat and humidity that hit you the minute you step off the plane, mosquitos the size of a fingernail and motor taxis (like a cross between a motorbike and a tuktuk) and dust everywhere it really felt like our 'travelling' experience had properly started.

Iquitos is Peru's gateway city to the Amazon, and this was the reason for our visit. We had booked a 4 day, 3 night Amazon jungle trip to leave the following day so the day we arrived was predominantly spent preparing for that trip. We were advised by the hostel that we needed to take plenty of long sleeved tops and long trousers to the jungle and that these could be purchased nice and cheaply at the local market, to which the receptionist from the hostel kindly agreed to accompany us. The market was an experience, particularly the section they call the 'witches market' which sells all manner of lotions and potions used by shamen and in other 'witchcraft' ceremonies (apparently the people in Iquitos believe very strongly in witchcraft and whenever they get sick, they believe it is witchcraft at play rather than an ailment of some sort). In any event we soon found the 'fashion' part of the market for our supplies, well I say fashion but that seems over generous to describe any of the wares offered to us! I just about managed to talk the hostel girl out of insisting I buy a faded pink long sleeved tshirt with a huge Minnie Mouse on the front that looked like a 7yr olds cast off, but Shaun didn't do quite so well and ended up with a nice set of 'chavvy' black and fluorescent yellow trakkie bottoms by that famous brand 'Alvin's', much to my great amusement! Too embarrassed to embrace my own set of "Trakkie b's" I opted to undertake the essential travelling purchase instead - crazy patterned travellers pants from one of the local village peoples stalls (much to Shaun's amusement!).

Anyway, the next day we got up bright and early (5am) to start our trip to the Amazon with the other members of our group - 2 girls and 3 boys coincidentally all from Perth, Australia. The first part of the journey was a 4 hour boat ride to a town called Requina, where we met our guides Katoo and Jose. The second part of the journey was another 4 hours by boat to reach the Tapiche Reserve where we would be staying. This would have been great, except both boats were uncovered and only about 40minutes in it started to rain. Not just a little drizzle, oh no, full on tropical monsoon style rain. Add travelling at around 40mph into that rain into the mix and you probably still can't imagine how wet we got! They kept having to stop the boats to bail water out of the back as they were filling up so quickly too! All quite an experience to say the least! (Mum I can hear you chuntering about the effect of this on my chest infection but I promise you I am all recovered! :-))

Anyway, after what definitely felt like the longest few hours of our lives, we finally arrived at the reserve complete with numb bums! The reserve is a 12km stretch of river and rainforest owned by Katoo himself, who is an avid conservationist and bought the area in order to help protect it and to help the communities who live in it. He grew up in the Brazilian Rainforest, in a tribal community there, before leaving and becoming an environmental lawyer and conservationist, so he is pretty knowledgeable. At the reserve he has built a lodge which is pretty amazing- it even has running water and showers! Sleeping is done in the 'hammock' house, which we were both pretty excited about until Katoo pointed out the resident tarantula who also lives there (much to my delight!). To cheer me up though, Katoo also pointed out that the lodges light shades matched my travellers pants I had just bought!! He told us that they were 'Ayahuasca pants' - clothing generally worn by travellers looking to take part in a shamen ritual where you basically get high and hallucinate for a few days. You will be glad to know Katoo said it was all a load of Peruvian nonsense and just a fancy way to make getting high sound cool, so we did not partake...

Anyway, having survived the first night with Charlotte (apparently the name of our new furry friend!) we headed off at 6am the next morning to do our first jungle trek. The group was split in two and we were with the two Aussie girls and Katoo (machete in hand for slashing a path through the jungle!). Katoo was so interesting and able to tell us loads about the different plants and bugs - for example we saw a Cashapona 'walking palm' tree that has its roots above ground and moves up to 6m a year, we tried the mouldy bottom of a fungi that acts as, and taste like, a natural paracetamol and found a bug that produces cyanide when it feels under threat.

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Even more excitingly though we soon spotted a huge group of monkeys swinging their way through the trees above us! They were funny looking monkeys with really furry bodies but completely bald heads and bright red faces. Katoo smugly informed us that these were called English monkeys, although he didn't elaborate as to why!! Later on we saw a couple of pretty scary (and deadly) snakes, one of which was a green pit viper that was easily over 2m long! To this day, we have no idea how Katoo spotted it because it was so well camouflaged as a vine of a tree!

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Unfortunately, the days animal viewing was cut a little short by another monsoon-esque downpour in which we all got absolutely soaked, again! Whilst we tried to do 'the jungle thing' and shelter under massive trees, the rain was so heavy it made little difference. While Katoo was quite happy for us to continue traipsing around in the rain (to be honest it had kind of gotten to the stage where we were so soaked, we couldn't possibly get any more wet so it didn't really make much difference) it seemed that the animals had all done the sensible thing and gone looking for shelter so we headed back. That night, the rain continued and the problem with this was that all the bugs (most notably spiders!) seemed to be seeking shelter too, in our hammock house! I think it's fair to say I had what I would describe as a minor panic attack at the prospect of sleeping with a spider as large as my hand just above the head of my hammock! This was immediately obvious to all when I nearly started crying at the prospect of sleeping with it about a foot from my head. Katoo however, said it was ok and calmly clapped his hands near it and made it crawl up the post so it was now about 4 feet from my head. Much more comforting!?!?

Following a fairly sleepless night filled with scary spider dreams, we were again up at 5am to start day two. Today Shaun and I were being taken on a private tour of the reserve's lagoon by the other guide José and his uncle (Tio). We were all shuddering as we put on our cold, still-wet-from-the-day-before-clothes, not that it mattered much as the minute we left the lodge the heavens opened again! We therefore spent the first hour and a half sheltering from the rain in an abandoned hut trying to make stilted conversation with our non-English speaking guide! José was great but our limited Spanish skills were certainly put to the test!

Eventually we resigned ourselves to walking in the rain again as it didn't seem to be passing so we headed out into the monsoon and the jungle. It was close to a 2 hour walk to the lagoon (through many swampy flooded areas following the rain) but on the way we saw another big group of 'English' monkeys as well as a Harpy Eagle (large eagle that eats monkeys! I know!) and José found a jaguar skull (*shudder*). When we arrived at the lagoon, amazingly the rain stopped and the sun started to come out making for a glorious afternoon of bird and Cayman spotting in our little canoe, paddled by Jose and Tio. After a slightly worrying start (the boat engine had no petrol and we had just walked for 2 hours to get there) we finally got out on the water - José, our own little Tarzan, lopped down a tree with his machete and manufactured a set or oars for the boat! Amazing! Lunch was a highlight as the plan had been to catch and cook some Piranha's but when we (royal 'we' for me) failed to catch any, we ended up sharing one can of tuna fish (hilariously called Fanny!) between the four of us!! Anyway by the end of the afternoon we had seen two Cayman really close up as well as plenty of pink river dolphins and some cool birds like Macaws and Hawks. We then watched a glorious sunset on the lagoon before setting off back to the lodge.

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The walk back was done at much greater speed than the walk there given that the evening was drawing in (in fact the second half of the walk was done in the dark, save for our head torches, which was an experience!) but we still managed to see some squirrel monkeys, a huge marsupial creature and another scary looking snake. We even had to swing over a small tributary on a jungle vine to get back across, which was interesting in the pitch dark, but great fun! When we finally got back to our boat, we had a magical journey back down the river to the lodge under the stars. Fabulous. Absolutely exhausted, there were no issues about spiders when going to sleep. Shaun had such fun in his hammock, he now wants one at home!

The following day we headed back to Iquitos, luckily having a rain-free journey this time! Overall we had a fantastic time in the Amazon, our guides were awesome and the one thing that can be said for the weather (and the bugs!) is it certainly made it feel like a very authentic Rainforest experience!

Link to Amazon video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSAGJP7CeB0&sns=em

Posted by shaunandhan 15:00 Archived in Peru Comments (4)

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