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Monthly Archives: May 2013

In the footsteps of the Incas – part 1

There is one word that is universally understood and that expresses the same intensity of feeling in all languages.

Wow!

What started out as a tick on my bucket list, ended off as a personal pilgrimage for me. But in the end, I completed the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I don’t want to run ahead of myself, but when I (finally) entered the Sun Gate and had the first view of Machu Picchu, I cried. Amidst all the congratulatory hugs and high fives, I had to swallow back the tears that welled up in my eyes. I made it. I could not remember the last time (if ever), I was in so much physical pain, but I did not regret a moment of it. As we posed for a group picture and the designated guy to take the picture said ‘Say Never Again’, I thought I probably would never do it again, but I am so glad I did. For me, to prove to myself that I can do it.

But, let’s start at the very beginning, which is always a very good place to start.

After our trip to the Amazon Rainforest, we set off for Cuzco, which is the historical capital of the Inca Empire. We arrived quite late in the afternoon, after some flight delays, but had a couple of hours spare to explore the beautiful mountainous city. We managed to fit in the ‘best hot chocolate in the world'(according to Manuel, our guide) and had an excellent dinner, which was coupled with a hands on practical lesson on how to make the local cocktail, Pisco Sour. Actually, we made the passion fruit version, which was delicious, but at an altitude of around 3 400m, it went straight to my head…:-).

The city of Cuzco, the historical capital of the Inca Empire

The city of Cuzco, the historical capital of the Inca Empire

A Llama being carried around like a baby in Cuzco

A Llama being carried around like a baby in Cuzco

The next morning, I got up early to pack for the trip. We were given duffel bags that we had to use, and each hiker had an allowance of only 6kg. That may sound like quite a bit, but once you deduct the sleeping bag and inflatable thermarest mattress (anything to make the sleeping bit more comfortable, I thought), it basically meant we had 2.5kg to 3kg maximum for 4 days of clothes. No easy feat, I tell you. After my first attempt, I went to borrow a hand scale from the front desk, and the bag was over 5kg… What to take and what to leave…? Of course, you can carry extra in your day pack, but THAT you have to carry for 43kms…so better think carefully about it. Eventually, I took out my takkies (sneakers) and some extra clothes, and stuffed some of the other essentials in my day pack. This would mean that I would have to wear my hiking boots ALL the time, but I had blister plasters and an extra pairs of socks, so that should be okay, right?

At around 7:30, we set off for Ollantaytambo, with a visit to the local community of Ccaccaccollo, funded by the Planeterra fund, where we were shown how the local people still make Llama and Al Pacu wool and woollen products by hand.

Local women demonstrating how they weave Llama and Al Paca wool

Local women demonstrating how they weave Llama and Al Pacu wool

A fine art...

A fine art…

Little kids playing around

Little kids playing around

We took a drive through the sacred valley and soaked in the awesome views.

The Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley

After a lunch stop, we headed for our first Inca site visit on the trip, Pisaq. This was also my first realisation that I may have some troubles with my digestion on this trip. I generally don’t eat a lot of carbs, as it aggravates my IBS, so I try and stick to lean meat and lots of fruit and veggies. I overindulged at lunch and felt bloated and uncomfortable all afternoon. The guide told me that the altitude generally slows down your digestive system. Great stuff… After a light dinner at our hotel in Urumbamba, I went to bed early, to get my last night’s sleep in a proper bed for a few days.

A window on the Sacred Valley, from the top of the ruins of Pisaq

A window on the Sacred Valley, from the top of the ruins of Pisaq

Day 1

We set off for Ollantaytambo, and made a quick stop in the town for some last minute supplies, and then made our way to Km 82 (Kilometre 82), which is the start of the 4 day Inca trail. Passports in hands, eager to get a stamp on entering the trail, we set off after the first of many group pictures. Our guides for the trail was Vladimir (yes, that was his name…), Nellie and Jesus. The porters made a head start and we were amazed at the speed at which they almost ran up the mountain with 25kg each on their backs, so that they can set up lunch for us…

The group at the start of the trail

The group at the start of the trail

The porters getting a head start...

The porters getting a head start…

The first day was not too hectic and we did about 11km, which took us roughly six hours to complete. The most  difficult bit was an hour stretch of steep uphill stairs after lunch, climbing about 300m in elevation, which scared me sufficiently for the next day! But one of the high points of the day was the fantastic three course lunch, served in a tent with tables and chairs. Our trek guide, Vladimir, informed us that we would not be camping for the three days, but rather, we would be GLAMping.

Lunch in style!

Lunch in style!

Upon arrival at our camp site, our tents were all set up, and each hiker was brought a bowl of hot water to clean up a bit, before we gathered in the tent for a card game or two (‘Shithead’), with tea and biscuits. Dinner was another two course meal, after which we all went to bed early, as we had a 6:00am start again the next morning.

Day 2

After a fitful night of sleep in an unfamiliar small tent, where I could barely sit up, we were woken up in the morning at 6:00am by the porters with another bowl of hot water, and a cup of coca tea. Now, coca tea (mate de coca), is made by dipping leaves from the coca plant into hot water, and is said to lessen the effects of altitude sickness and according to Vladimir is effective for any kind of illness you can think of including ‘a broken heart’. However, coca leaves also contains about 4.2g of alkaloids which, when extracted chemically, is the stuff cocaine is made from. I said, bring it on!

On top of this, we were treated with a breakfast fit for a king, with pancakes stuffed with roasted apple, each one personalised with caramel syrup. It was delicious and exactly what we needed to get us in the right frame of mind for what can only be described as a gruelling day ahead.

Breakfast fit for a king!!

Breakfast fit for a king!!

The second day of the Inca trail is also the toughest, and although the distance covered is only 12km, this includes the notorious Warmiwañusca pass or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’, which takes you to a maximum elevation of 4200m, from a starting point of 3200m for the day.

The Inca trail elevation map

The Inca trail elevation map showing the linear distance covered. Including terrain geography it is about 43km

Honestly, after the steep climb the previous day, I have to admit that I was shit scared very nervous for day 2. I noticed on the previous day that I was quite out of breath and that the stairs are very tough on my legs. I started suspecting that maybe I was not fit enough…But there was no way out now, and there was only one way to go!

And it was tough. I was very happy and relieved when we finally reached the summit of Dead Woman’s Pass. Towards the end, I could barely climb 15 stairs before I had to take a break, but the beautiful views made up for it!

Navigating the stairs on day 2...

Navigating the stairs on day 2…

The view looking ahead on Dead Woman's Pass...spot the trail winding up

The view looking ahead on Dead Woman’s Pass…spot the trail winding up

A group picture on top of the pass. I am the one with the blue shirt and HUGE smile in the middle

A group picture on top of the pass. I am the one with the blue shirt and HUGE smile in the middle

After reaching the top of Dead Woman’s Pass; which incidentally has nothing to do with a real dead woman or anything sinister, but rather, the shape of the mountain from a distance looks like a woman lying on her back; we still needed to do another couple of hours before we reached our camp site. This time downhill. I celebrated too soon.

The trail winding downwards towards our camp

The trail winding downwards towards our camp

By the time we reached our camp, my legs felt like jelly. I could barely stand, and spent an entire five minutes debating which way to go to the toilets. Uphill, which meant I had to return downhill. Or downhill, which meant that I had to return uphill. Eventually I decided to go downhill.

The views from the camp site were magnificent though, and it was with a sigh of relief that I finally settled in my tent and surveyed the view ahead of me. I was silently wondering how I was going to be able to carry on walking the next day, as my legs did not feel like I had any more miles left in them, but it was time to relax.

My last snapshot on day 2, the view from my tent!!

My last snapshot on day 2, the view from my tent!!

The next and final post…the ups and downs of day 3, and finally…Machu Picchu!

Click here to read this post.

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction. ~ E.O. Wilson

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Posted by on May 27, 2013 in Travel

 

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In the jungle

It has always been a dream of mine to see the Amazon jungle, so I was very happy that our tour included a couple of days in the Amazon rainforest.

On the first official day of our tour, we got together at 7:00 at our hotel in Lima for the trip to the airport. From there, we took a flight to Puerto Maldonada, our entry point into the Amazon jungle, with a stopover in Cuszo. Our flight was delayed, so when we finally arrived in Puerto Maldonada, everyone was tired and hungry! We were to pack duffel bags for a couple of days in the G Adventures Eco Lodge in the Tambopata forest and we were on our way. Another 30 minutes of a bumpy ride to the river and we boarded the boat to take us to the lodge. And finally devoured had our lunch!

Boarding our boat to the river lodge

Boarding our boat to the river lodge

Local kids playing on the river

Local kids playing on the river

A Capybura spotted on the way to the lodge. The largest rodent in Amazon

A Capybura spotted on the way to the lodge. The largest rodent in the Amazon

The sun setting over the Tambopata river

The sun setting over the Tambopata river

Beautiful sunset!

Beautiful sunset!

The views on the river was amazing, and our lodge was magnificent. The rooms had no electricity, but electricity was being generated at the main lodge until 22:00 every night. After a bit of time to settle in, we assembled for a  night walk. with long sleeve shirts and lathered with insect repellent!

G-lodge, Tambopata river

G-lodge, Tambopata river

The night life in the forest is really amazing, and we saw quite a few stick insects, spiders, butterflies, ants and other creepy crawlies!

A butterfly on our evening walk

A butterfly on our evening walk

A lizard in camouflage gear...

A lizard in camouflage gear…

Some more creepy spiders...

Some more creepy spiders…

The next morning, we left the lodge for a walk in the woods, and a boat ride. Our G Adventures guides, Edwin and Elvis (yes, we found Elvis – he lives in the Amazon…) were excellent and we had an awesome time sharing in their knowledge of the forest and especially local customs and beliefs!

The trees are so high you can only hear the birds!

The trees are so high you can only hear the birds!

A walking tree...not visible, but this tree moves about 10cm or more a year!

A walking tree…not visible, but this tree moves about 10cm or more a year!

And a fertility tree...

And a fertility tree…

We saw several insects, a huge tarantula, killer size ants, frogs, and a whole group of wild boar (new word learnt today, it is a sounder wild boar…). On a leisurely cruise on Lake Condenado (Lake of Condemnation or Condemned lake), we even spotted some wild Macaws and killer piranhas. The way they went for our breadcrumbs…! Unfortunately they did not opt to pose for photographs so you will just have to take my word for it.

Tarantula, the size of a man's hand!

Tarantula, the size of a man’s hand!

Spot the frog!!

Spot the frog!!

Group picture in front of large elephant tree

Group picture in front of large elephant tree

Spectacular views from Lake Condenado

Spectacular views from Lake Condenado

After a bit of a rest in the afternoon (or an attempt at shut eye, with 100% plus humidity!), we went on an expedition to spot some Caimans in the evening on the river. The guides had powerful spotlights and of course the Caimans (the Amazon equivalent of the crocodile) came out in their hundreds to see the spectacle on the river…

Caiman spotting!

Caiman spotting!

Up close and personal...we were so close we could almost touch this one!

Up close and personal…we were so close we could almost touch this one!

The next morning, we had to pack and after the final breakfast at the lodge, and an opportunity to tip the guides and cook who all did amazing jobs.

With excitement, but also sadness, we finally set sail (okay, got on a boat) headed for Puerto Maldonado again.

What an amazing adventure! And even after the insect bites finally stopped itching 2 weeks later, I have to admit that it was a priceless experience and I would love to have spent some more time exploring!

Last views of the Tambopata river on our way back to Puerto Maldonada

Last views of the Tambopata river on our way back to Puerto Maldonada

Next stop – Cuzco!

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2013 in Travel

 

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48 hours in Lima

Friday, 26 May 2013

I finally arrived at the hotel just after 11pm, after a 23 hour journey from home, across different time zones, 7 hours back in time. My arrival at Aeroporte Internacional Jorge Chàves coincided with the anticipated arrival of some sort of teenage celebrity. If I wasn’t so tired and my Spanish so non-existent poor, then I may have tried to make an effort to find out who. But there were teenagers with balloons everywhere in the arrivals area, on the galleries singing very excitedly. Unfortunately, this made spotting the guy with the G Adventures sign a bit difficult… So after walking up and down through the throng of teenagers chanting and singing, I decided to phone the hotel, whom claimed not to have any knowledge of a pick-up, but after the second phone call offered me the number of the emergency contact for G Adventures, which number did not work. Thank goodness, after some time I finally spotted an equally nervous young man with a G Adventures sign, desperately trying to find me.

After finding a taxi and starting our journey to the hotel, with two other G Adventures travellers, who had to be dropped off at another hotel, I started relaxing and the first thing I thought is, that this could be Africa! The traffic at 11pm at night, with cars hooting and people stopping anywhere on the road, made me think of Africa and in particular of Egypt. The taxi driver had to negotiate his way around traffic circles, past cars that stopped in the middle of a busy road to talk to a pedestrians, and it was clear why so many of the cars looked dented and old!

After a while, the road started meandering along the coast, and I had my first spotting of the Pacific Ocean, or like the taxi driver exclaimed, ‘Pacifico’, like it was a sweetheart that he was introducing to us. It was dark and I couldn’t see much, but the dark expanse of water with lights from ships in the distance fascinated me. Finally, we reached the hotel, and I checked into my room with a sigh of relief. This was going to be a great trip!

Saturday, 27 May 2013

After a fitful night of sleep, I woke up early with a rumbling tummy. Travelling over time zones, eating breakfast at lunch time, a light lunch in early afternoon and an early dinner, it took me a while to work out that I had last eaten around 17:00 local time, so no wonder I was hungry…! I also regretted not listening properly to what time breakfast was being served, and decided that 8:00 was a safe time. So, I sort of twiddled my thumbs, read a bit and assured everyone back home that I was safe and sound, until I could finally head off to the breakfast room. Which, unfortunately was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, maybe I should not have been so adventurous and shouldn’t have ordered the Peruvian breakfast and laid low on the (strong) coffee, but nevertheless, I got something in the stomach.

By 9:00am I was ready to hit the streets of Lima, or the Miraflores district in any event. For starters, I needed to go and buy a converter plug, because my googling clearly let me down and the plugs were all American and Japanese in the hotel, as opposed to the European plugs I was expecting. And I wanted to buy a data card for my iPad, so save on roaming charges (even though the hotel had excellent wi-fi).

Parque Kennedy, Miraflores district, Lima

Parque Kennedy, Miraflores district, Lima

Wary of the fact that I often get lost, I had a quick squiz at the map and hit off in the general direction on the major streets on the map…which I assumed led to the shopping area. Which it did….except that the only shops   open at 9:00am in the morning were pharmacies. It appears that the other shops in Miraflores district only opens at 10:00am on a Saturday morning. So, I did a walk around, discovered the John F Kennedy park, which had free wi-fi (free wi-fi is a strange phenomena for someone from South Africa, I would have you know), and was transported back to the 80’s after hearing Modern Talking’s Brother Lois being played super loud from a passing car.

I found the converter plug fairly easy, but the data card appeared to be a bit more of a challenge, especially if you cannot speak Spanish. I headed back to the hotel, not sure what time my friend Ingrid and her husband were arriving from Quito. They arrived just after 11:00am and we decided to head towards the beach area for a spot of lunch and a bit of sightseeing.

Miraflores is the touristy area of Lima, and quite pretty, with a beautiful promenade and touristy shops with a view over the beach, or rather, the Pacific Ocean. The restaurant we chose for lunch, specialised in chicken, but I was like a local version of the Spur restaurant chain back in South Africa, which basically is a cheap Mexican steakhouse joint. My chicken salad consisted of a large heap of chopped up lettuce, with a side portion of chicken. The lemonade was good though…. After lunch, we headed back for a little siesta and only then did I suddenly realise how tired I was!

Miraflores promenade, Lima, with the ever present cloud of mist over the Pacific

Miraflores promenade, Lima, with the ever present cloud of mist over the Pacific

For dinner, Ingrid and Rob scouted the Tripadvisor and we visited a local Italian restaurant with delicious pasta on the menu. The hostess was a charming Spanish lady who went out of her way to make us feel welcome. We were the only patrons in the restaurant (either because it was early or because Lima residents don’t really eat dinner…), so we got special treatment! The pasta was delicious, the portions very generous and the prices very reasonable. All and all a very good day!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

I went to bed with a nagging thought of going for a run in the morning. We booked a tour which started at 9:00am, so whichever way, I had agreed to meet Ingrid and Rob for breakfast (take 2) at 8:00am.  I woke up just after 6:00am, and decided that I would go for a short run. The previous day, we were talking about the route to the beach, as the promenade is quite high up along a cliff and I decided to take the road to the beach and then take the first road up towards the promenade that I could find. What I didn’t realise, was that the first road up towards the promenade was at the end of the the route, on the border of Miraflores, quite a bit further than I had intended to run. So, my 30 minute run, ended up as a 40 minute run, and in the humid climate, I was literally dripping with sweat by the time I got back to the hotel. It was a fantastic way to see the local area, so I was glad that I did it!

After a quick (equally disappointing) breakfast, we met our local tour guide for our day tour to Lima and Pachacamac. We booked two tours of three hours each with the same tour company, Haku Tours. The guide, Edwin, quickly suggested that we would be better off doing Pachacamac in the morning and the old city tour in the afternoon. Something to do with the mist/sand cloud and direction of the sun. And who are we to argue! He suggested that he then takes us to a local place for lunch and continue with the city tour in the afternoon.

Edwin turned out to be an excellent guide, with a degree in Sustainable Tourism. His company supports the local communities and ploughs money back into some of the poor communities. And his endless energy and enthusiasm was contagious.

En route to Pachacamac, a pre-Inca site build in the desert of Peru, south-east of Lima, we drove through a Shantytown, on the outskirts of the glamorous Chorrillos district. Despite the poor state of affairs, I loved the colourful houses and it is clear, that even here, tourism is a very important aspect of the economy.

Shantytown, north of Chorrillos, Lima

Shantytown, north of Chorrillos, Lima

Pachacamac was pretty awesome. Most of the buildings were built between 800-1450 BC, and there are several pyramids. Not quite the size of the Egyptian pyramids, but otherwise, the sand dunes, nearby residential areas reminded me a lot of Cairo. In fact, there seem to be a lot in common between the Inca culture and the ancient Egyptian cultures.

After our visit to Pachacamac, Edwin took us to one of the local areas for a quick lunch, which ended up being one of the best lunches we had on the trip, and exceptionally cheap.

The first pyramid at Pachacamac, Lima

The first pyramid at Pachacamac, Lima

The temple of the Sun, Pachacamac, Lima

The temple of the Sun, Pachacamac, Lima

The Acllahuasi temple, or the house of chosen women. Until early 20th century, buried under the sand...

The Acllahuasi temple, or the house of chosen women. Until early 20th century, buried under the sand…

After lunch, we went for our City of King’s tour, which did not disappoint. A highlight was certainly the Catacombs of the Monastery of St Francis, where there are large and deep holes, filled with bones and skulls arranged in circular formations and sorted by type of bones. It is quite creepy and our guide indicated that this was done by a Spanish priest post the Spanish conquest. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the catacombs, but it was certainly a memorable visit.

The Spanish colonial style buildings in Lima are very impressive and you can imagine being in the centre of a Spanish Plaza in the old city centre of Lima. Several buildings still feature the original wooden balconies and Spanish baroque, and colonial style buildings

Typical Spanish colonial architecture in the historical Lima city centre

Typical Spanish colonial architecture in the historical Lima city centre

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Plaza Mayor, Lima

Plaza Mayor, Lima

Time for a snooze...old lady, Lima, Peru

Time for a snooze…old lady, Lima, Peru

Or a local drink, Pisco Sours...it is happy hour after all! Lima, Peru

Or a local drink, Pisco Sours…it is happy hour after all! Lima, Peru

Our tour eventually ended around 16:30 in the afternoon, which essentially meant we had a seven and a half hour private guided tour, as opposed to the six hours tour we booked and paid for. Fantastic value.

It was time to head back to our hotel for a shower and a meet up with the rest of the G Adventures crew for our tour to the Amazon, Cuzco and the Inca trail!

Lima certainly did not disappoint and the city is certainly more than just a stopover on the way to Machu Picchu!

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in Travel

 

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