Back in Canada…

Well, I thought I’d better write out a couple paragraphs about the rest of the trip before I forget it all. Jody and I got back safe and sound yesterday from Peru. All told, it took us just over 24 hours to get from the depths of the Jungle back to the good ole Capital City. The day started with several hours on the river in a motorized canoe, followed by hours waiting for a delayed flight in the jungle, capped off by the red-eye from Lima to Toronto, and a narrowly-caught flight back to Ottawa where bright-eyed Alix was waiting to take us home. Unfortunately, that didn’t end the journey, as we then had to drive directly out to get Jonah and back again, an extra 2+ hour trip! Needless to say, we’re a bit road-tired today, but tonight I might start checking out the 1600+ pictures we took!

When we last left you all, we were wrapping up our time in Cusco, getting ready to head out to the Jungle. Well, that night, our tour company dropped us off for a buffet dinner and tipical (sic) show. It was actually really nice. The restaurant had put out a hand-mand Canadian flag on our table, and the buffet spread was fantastic! We also got to enjoy several hours of traditional music and dances on a stage in front. It was a nice treat for our final ‘city night’.

The next day, we set out on our journey to the amazon basin. Turned out to be a bit of an ordeal. Luckily for us, our company booked us on TANS airlines, which you may know from recent news articles . What are the chances of a repeat, right? Well, very slim, considering all the extra precautions they took on flying. We were no less than 5 hours delayed in leaving Cusco, due to wind shear and other such reasons. The funny thing is, LAN had no problems filing, although they did have better planes (read: newer). We did finally get out, but the result was arriving too late in Puerto Maldonado to go to the lodge, which was 30km down the river by boat, which was too risky to do at night. So instead, a night in ‘Alcatraz’, which is what our group called the Hospedjae (hostel) that we stayed in. The rooms were like prison cells in dimension.

On the plus, we got to spend time in this, the largest jungle city of the area. Funny thing is, the city is only 30 minutes by airplane to Cusco, but by vehicle would take you 2 days!! Either way, it’s sort of bustling, and for once, not one person was bugging us to buy things or eat at their restaurant. By contrast, it took 4 of us 40 minutes just to find a place to have a beer later on. Most people just stared as if saying “What are you doing HERE?”. Next morning, we headed out early for the lodge, just to get stuck in thick fog on the river, which was too shallow to navigate safely at any speed. Ho hum. At least we finally made it.

The lodge was fantastic! Great little bungalows, a pool even! And dining hall, rec area, with some great Ping-pong action, and a bar. Scant steps away, you were thrust into the ecological diversity of the jungle, complete with all the sights and sounds. We made several different guided treks to remote bogs, lakes, and even Monkey Island (yes, full of monkeys). Here’s a partial list of what we saw:

Monkeys (4-5 different types)
Lizards
Giant Anaconda (yup, from a canoe, about 6 feet away)
Caimans (several types, biggest was about 8 feel long)
Tarantulas (right at my feet, once coaxed out of his hole)
Sachavaca / Lowland Tapir
Many types of Ants (including poisonous and fire ants)
Bats
Plenty of birds
Lots o’ butterflies

The excursions all started early in the morning, but was no trouble getting up for. Holy cow, there’s no alarm quite like thousands of jungle animals all waking up at 5 am and talking to each other! I swear it was louder than any hotel or tent we stayed in during the rest of the trip! Quite a unique alarm clock actually. All in all, a very enjoyable experience. The guides were good, and it was a nice way to finish the trip, since we got some actual relaxing downtime in hammocks and such. The beer was also quite tasty. Sadly, we had to leave on day 3, and the return flight was no better than the arrival flight on TANS. Again, we had to wait about 4 hours for the plane to arrive from Cusco to the jungle. Luckily, our red-eye flight had about 7 hours of padding to accomodate any problems. Good thing too, since Air Canada only flies 3 times a week out of Lima.

Keep your eyes open for the pictures, which I’ll post on Flickr as I get them ready. I’ll send the link once it’s all set up.

Ruined in Cusco…

Howdy all!

Well, hard to believe, but we´ve now got less than a week of this great trip left. I guess all things must come to an end. On the plus side, the time really hasn´t seemed to fly, meaning we´ve really been enjoying the trip, and it truly has felt like a proper getaway!

We´re back from the Inca trail, and no worse for wear. If you´ve ever contemplated heading south and seeing this area, I would definitely recommend getting back to nature and doing some proper hiking. Our 4 day journey wasn´t exceptionally difficult, but it had it´s ups and downs (literally). One of the downs would probably be the fact that on the day we started, Apu the sun God decided that it was time for rainy season to start. For most of the trail, the mountains were shrouded in clouds, and yes, we did experience both hail and heavy rains at various points. That being said, it certainly didn´t dampen (get it, dampen?) our spirits or reduce the experience in any way.

My personal favourite part of the journey wasn´t the trail, or even Macchu Picchu itself, but the hike we did on the site of the ruins, which was to climb up Wayna Picchu, (Young Mountain), the bigger peak behind the ruins. It is an uphill trail that is incredibly steep in parts, and culminates in a peak of a few really big boulders that you´re free to scramble around (1000s of feet above the valley below). We took some great shots from there, and both remarked that ´liability insurance´ obviously isn´t something required in South America. But obviously since I´m writing this, we both made it down in one piece. The rain even let up while we were up there.

Our Inca trail journey was only 45km in length, but was broken down daily into very manageable chunks. Our group was pretty small, with only us and an Italian couple of the same age with us. However, the total group size numbered 15, with us 4, plus the cook, plus the guide, and 9 (!) porters to lug all our needed gear (tents, food, packs, etc. etc). I´m pretty sure most of the weight was food, since we seemed to eat non stop. The days went something like this:

1. wake up with hot tea
2. big breakfast
3. hike a little bit
4. break for morning tea (with food)
5. hike a little bit more
6. break for lunch
7. hike to campsite
8. tea time (with popcorn and card games)
9. supper
10. bed.

You could pretty much sum it up as 5-star camping. The food was incredible. I swear the food the cook served up was better than most of the food we´d had at restaurants, and all cooked on a single burner stove. Our guide was also really fun and made the trip that much more memorable, with plenty of color commentary on sights along the way.

We´ve also seen more ruins than one would think possible in 5 days. This started after our last email, since we´ve been on a couple of tours of the area, and the trail, all of which have ruins scattered everywhere. Very impressive. Those Incans were incredible folks, what with their clever engineering, agricultural prowess, masonry, etc. We also decided we know why they didn´t have the wheel, after climbing pass after pass on treacherous stairs. If they´d had wheels, they wouldn´t have lasted long at all!

Before leaving for the trail, we decided that we weren´t game for the 1/2 day walking tour of Cusco when we returned, so our tour company was kind enough to swap it for a day of whitewater rafting at no charge! This was a few hours of rafting in the Urumbamba river, which runs through the former Incan capital of Ollyantaytambo. However, Jody decided that after an INCREDIBLY long day yesterday (up at 3am, not back here till 9pm), she´d rather shop, so I went at the rafting alone. It was cold, wet and just a tad miserable, fun nonetheless for me though, being a sucker for punishment.

Tonight, we´re off to a buffet dinner and show, before heading off to the jungle for 4 days, at which point I´m pretty sure we´ll be incommunicado. We´ve racked up hundreds and hundreds of pictures, so you´ll all be free to relive our fun in the near future on our flickr account.

Well, probably best to leave it at that for now, since this is already getting rambly. We´ll see you all in the near future.

Steve and Jody.

High Altitude Fun

Hey Gang!

With the brief internet breaks I´m using, it´s easier to just send a message to everyone rather than respond personally. Don´t take offence, and please keep writing back, great to hear from home.

Anywho, here we are in Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire. I´m sure those Incas would be rolling their collective eyes at the amount of panhandling / harrassing going on here! It´s nuts. I mean, I don´t mind getting a restaurant suggestion, but getting swarmed by 5 different people at once yelling about their menus to me just gets to be too much! But, given that over 60% of this city´s population of >300,000 has only tourism as their income, I guess I don´t blame them.

So we´ve spent several days now at high altitudes (right now, i´m sitting at 3462m above sea level!). We went direct from Lima to Puno, which is on Lake Titicaca (and over 4000m up!). That caused me a bit of a problem on the first night, which resulted in my going to bed around 8:30. Luckily, the one good night sleep fixed me up. Well, that and the coca and mint tea that I was sucking back!

We spent 2 days in this region, with one of the nights being spent on and island called Amantani, living like the locals. Whew, what a unique (read intense) experience. Our family of 9 lived in 2 little shacks (about 7ft x 14ft), the third shack was for us. We were treated like family, which meant zero privacy, with fairly frequent ´visits´ by some of the children. On this island, we also hike up to the top, which sits at about 4180m. That´s almost as high as our Inka trail will take us (4198m). We also got a chance to dress in the traditional clothes of the island inhabitants, and attend a fiesta, with local live music (wouldn´t buy the CD), and lots of bailar (dancing).

After these adventures, we took a bus trip to Cusco, which took most of the day, since we visited several historic sites along the way. We also passed over a mountain pass, which was the highest point we´ll be in the whole trip at 4320m (i think).

We´ve also had a day tour of Cusco today, and will tomorrow go on the Sacred Valley tour, followed the day after by our start on the Inka trail.

My closing remarks for this message goes a bit like this. Forget eating Guinea Pigs, hiking at high altitude, risking cab rides etc. Nope, the most extreme thing I think you can do is plunk your ass in a barber chair in a foreign country, and ask a complete stranger for an afeitarse (shave). That´s what I did today. Yup, lathered up, and a man I don´t know holding a straight razor to my jugular while looking at someone else and conversing! Shit, now that´s scary. IN the end, it was a gratifying experience that I´d recommend for the approx. 4 CDN dollars I paid. Beats doing it myself, since I didn´t pack a razor and Jody was starting to complain. Anyway, that´s it for now. See you all later!

Steve

Greetings from Peru

Howdy all!

Just thought I´d write a quick email while I have the chance.
We arrived in Lima bright and early yesterday morning (7am). After a quick 2 hour nap, got organized and went to do some exploring on our own (we had a free day). We took a cab and visited several areas of Lima, including Miraflores and Barranco, which are the sea-side neighbourhoods. Lima is pretty much overcast and foggy all the time, but it was impressive nonetheless, especially the cliffs by the sea. Saw a few brave surfers, but not many.

We did our best to truly experience local living by basically walking everywhere through side streets and such. Mmmm, the odour of gas fumes and urine is sublime! After a while, you don´t even notice. The good news for a guy like me is that if I´ve really gotta go, I can just do like the locals, and go! Hee hee. We also went to the museum of anthropology and archeology for a couple hours and wow! Can the old cultures do amazing things with clay and metal! Took lots of pics to hopefully put up on flickr when we get back. I held off on taking a picture of the clay inca with the really big ´package´, which I now regret. Troy, you would´ve loved this stuff. Simply amazing.

Today, we´re off on a guided tour of the rest of Lima, visiting catacombs and such. Great early breakfast, where I started my pre-altitude preparations. Man, Coca tea is AWESOME! I think I´m totally wired now. It´s all the benefits of cocaine without all the negatives 😉 This is supposed to prep me for the high altitudes tomorrow in Puno (over 13,000 feet). Unfortunately, I think I´m addicted now! Luckily, my little phrase book can tell me how to say ´´Does your country have a methodone program? How may I register?´´ God bless Lonely Planet phrase books, eh?

Okay, enough for now. Lots to see and do. Lovin it so far. Oh yeah, and Inka Cola is the bomb! Smells like bubble gum, tastes like cream soda, looks like Mountain Dew. Next stop, roasted guinea pig (cuy cuchito) and skewered beef hearts (anticucho corazones)! I´ll try to write again, but I never know when I´ll have access again. Feel free to drop me a line anyway.

Ciao, amigos!
Steve (and virtual Jody, from wherever she is while I write this, I was too hyper for her this morning!)

Stories from an athlete, adventurer, and lover of life