Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 - Peru Day 9 (Amazon Day 2)

Today we head down to the amazon basin and begin our trek into the reserved zone.

Washroom/shower situation at San Pedro Lodge
Breakfast today was omelette with bread and drinks.

Breakfast!
Our first stop was at an animal sanctuary where they rescue injured animals and try to help them. It was a very neat place, they have macaws (red and blue ones), a tapir, a caiman, monkeys, turtles. Very neat stop.

My banana!
Tapir!
Pretending to be a macaw
Capybara!
Macaws!
Afterwards we made it down to the boat and headed out for our second lodge where we stay for one night. This is a long boat ride. About 30 minutes in, we dropped off Sharon who will be going on her own for the rest of the trip and we picked up 2 other people from Holland who were a bit old (looked to be in their 50s/60s). The boat ride was probably a good 5 hours long and all you see are birds. Endless amounts of birds. It isn't bad if you like birds, but in my mind, I always assumed there would be a greater variety of animals (not just birds) and that birds weren't as small as they seem (toucans are surprisingly small).

View from our hike
Lunch was packed again and consisted of yuka potato and chicken salad (with beans and carrots). It was a very nice meal. This is our first meal that we are having on the boat. I'm beginning to enjoy the possibility of just lounging on a boat and having lunch under the shade with the nice breeze.

Chicken salad with yuka
The lodge itself seemed pretty nice if they kept up with the repairs. Story goes, the company had an agreement with the natives where they would build the lodge and bring them business, after 20 years they would give the natives the lodge, but the natives were impatient and wanted it sooner so the company did not want to invest in it since they wouldn't use it much.

Hand, meet plant that looks like a hand
Prior to dinner we went on a night hike. This will be our last. The amount of insects that you see is absolutely astounding but also very creepy. Right away we saw how many spiders are around and creeped us out. We saw spiders, tarantulas, walking sticks which looked about 15cm in size, frogs, toads and many more. While it is a cool experience, seeing the number of insects outside did a mental number on us. I kept wondering if spiders would drop from the ceiling or I'd step on one accidentally since they seemed so abundant. While doing the night walk, it was clear the the people from Holland and Germany were deeply fascinated by the spiders/tarantulas because they just kept looking for them and taking tons of pictures of them. I wonder if this is how it will be when we see wildlife (many pictures of the same thing and us just waiting so that we can continue).

Walking stick porn! If you look closely, there are two of them
Dinner was soup, beef with fried rice, plantain chips and a cucumber/tomato salad.

Soup!

Beef with fried rice, plantain chips and a cucumber/tomato salad
My favorite thing of the day was finally seeing fireflies with my own eyes. TV gave me this idea that they would be big glowing lights. The ones that I saw were tiny and had very small, faint, brief glows of light.

Double rainbow!
 Tomorrow we head into the reserved zone with a 4:30am wake up call in hopes of seeing some animals.

Monday, September 29, 2014

2014 - Peru Day 8 (Amazon Day 1)

Today we begin our 7-day amazon trip. We signed up through Pantiacolla which will take us to the Manu biosphere.  We would spend day 1 on a bus to get to lodge #1 (San Pedro) for 1 night, bus/boat to get to lodge #2 (Yine) for 1 night, boat to get to lodge #3 (Salvador) for 2 nights, boat to get to lodge #4 (Blanquillo) for 2 nights, and our final day will be boat/taxi/boat/bus back to Cusco. Initial cost was $1,390 USD, but I got it down to $1,290 USD for the week which includes 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 7 snacks, and 6 dinners, all transportation and accommodations and a private guide.

Map of Manu
We had to get up for the bus at 5:30am which at this point is a piece of cake.  We met up with the group and it was us (Allison, Sharon, and myself), a couple from Germany, a couple from Holland and 2 guys from Israel, so 9 in total.  Everyone was in their late 20s, early 30s except the Holland couple who looked like they were in their 40s, so, a good mix age-wise (I was worried we'd be the only young group).

One of many waterfalls we saw on the way down to the Amazon
We stopped at a restaurant at Paucartambo for breakfast. Typical bread with scrambled eggs and a hot drink. While there we also visited the local museum which is a joint venture between Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Chile to promote Incan history.  We spent about an hour here, the tour guide that was with us brought us to all the rooms here (there are 4) and told us about the history and purpose behind each room.

View of the Amazon from a lookout point
We arrived in the rainforest around noon, the place is pretty neat to see. From above you just see tons of trees but when you actually go in you will notice a variety of different types of flora and tons of birds. Many of which are tiny. Just seeing all the different species intermingle is pretty fascinating. By the time we get there, there is a mix of sightseeing by bus and hiking along the road and looking at local flora and birds (didn't see any animals here) although a majority of the day is spent getting there by bus.

Lunch was a packed lunch consisting of a piece of chicken, boiled potato, a cheese sandwich, chocolate, cookies and some candies. Pop was included as well.

Lunch!
We arrived at the lodge just before dark and it is what I expected. Wooden lodges with netting everywhere and mosquito nets.

Beds of San Pedro lodge
Dinner was mashed potato with vegetables and fried trout. We also had another bananas flambéed.

Soup

Garlic bread

Trout with mashed potatoes and vegetables
Tomorrow we enter the amazon basin by bus and start heading down by boat which is also the last day we are with Sharon.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 - Peru Day 7 (Inca Trail Day 4)

Today we will finish our trek and it will be sad to see the end of our group. We wake up at 3:30am to try to get a spot in the queue which has a shelter in case of rain.

Machu Picchu in all it's glory from the Sun Gate
We woke up and had some breakfast and left. Breakfast was bread with crepe covered in caramel sauce. Unfortunately we were one group away from being at the shelter. And we had to wait until 5:30am before the gates open (the walk is just 15 minutes or so).

The whole group at Machu Picchu
The Sun Gate is about an hour hike from the shelter. The view with you get there is stunning. I was able to get there before the sun hits Macchu Picchu. It is amazing.

Us walking to Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
After some photos and admiring Machu Picchu we head down to go for our tour. With the package, you get a roughly 1.5 hour tour of Machu Picchu going through the history behind how it was found, what the purpose is, amongst other things. Learning about the history here is actually pretty interesting.

Wayna Picchu!
Next up Wayna Picchu! Only our group (Sharon, Allison and myself) signed up for the climb. I thought the hike up would be easier but I was wrong. It was still pretty tough and took us roughly 1 hour to go up to the top, even though the guide said 45 minutes. The view is stunning and gives you a view of the entire site. Since there is a 200 person limit, there are significantly less people here.

Atop Wayna Picchu pointing at the Sun Gate
After doing Wayna Picchu, I'm not sure how I feel about trying to fit it into our tour schedule. By the time we went to the top, we spent about 5 minutes there taking pictures and then we had to leave because we didn't have enough time to enjoy it. We had to get down (assuming a similar amount of time), get to the exit, take the bus down to Aguas Caliente and catch the train ride back (the train leaves at 2:55pm for us).

Us atop Wayna Picchu
By the time we finished Wayna Picchu and got back to the entrance, it was already almost 1:15pm. We had to take the bus down to Aguas Caliente which took about 20 minutes (lots of zig-zagging downhill), and we met up with everyone else for lunch at Tupana Wasi.  Tourist trap as well but we were hungry and wouldn't be eating until we got back to Cusco which would be 7pm. After lunch, it was funny because there was a photographer at the start of the journey and she took pictures of us when we started and tried to sell us souvenir photos at the restaurant (clearly together with the tour guide). We didn't buy any, but they weren't too expensive at 15 soles (it was lamented). From here, we take the train to Ollantaytambo and took the bus back to Cusco, got back at around 7pm.

Us at the Sun Gate
Once in Cusco, we went to Pantiacolla to drop off our bag since we didn't want to take everything to the jungle. On their recommendation, we ended up at Kushka cafe for dinner. The food there was great and was not very expensive at roughly 30 soles an entree.

Pork chop

Lomos Saltado with chicken
Tomorrow we head out to the amazon jungle for a week.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

2014 - Peru Day 6 (Inca Trail Day 3)

Today it is all downhill and should not be a problem. I was wrong. Today is the day you find out how well your knees are due to all the downhill climbing.

Morning view from our campsite

Today, just take your time and go slowly. I slightly twisted my ankle early in the day and didn't feel it until the end of the day. Luckily, it was the end of the day and it wasn't a major issue.

More ruins!
Our hike today would actually stop at lunchtime since our Day 2 is longer than most other tour companies, so Day 3 is shorter and more relaxing. The weather is really sporadic here. When we finished lunch, it was pouring for about 2 hours, but it cleared up afterwards. I'm glad that we had a longer Day 2 because we heard other people coming to the campsite while it was pouring outside. When the storm ended we went to go to our last Inca ruins. More terraces!

'Why are these people surrounding me?'

Hadoken!

After dinner, you decide whether or not you want to tip the chaskis (porters). If you decide to do so, there is a ceremony where you give a short speech and tip them accordingly. The reason why it happens now is because after breakfast the next day, the chaskis need to scramble in order to make their early train at Aguas Caliente. If they miss the ride, they need to walk, the tour guide said it would take at least 5 hours to walk. For the amazing job they do, it wasn't much and they greatly appreciate it.

Our last set of ruins before Machu Picchu
Breakfast was western omelette, fruit kabob, and fried potatoes.

Lunch was mashed potatoes stuffed with salmon, soup, chicken roulade, mixed vegetables, and fried rice.

Chicken and mixed vegetables

Fried rice, vegetables, and a vegetable sauce
Dinner was cake!, soup, stuffed roasted peppers, spaghetti bolognese and pizza.

Cake!

Our last supper together

Highlight of the day was visiting the last set of ruins and enjoying our time with the llamas that were there.

Tomorrow will be the final day with us also climbing Huayna Picchu.

Friday, September 26, 2014

2014 - Peru Day 5 (Inca Trail Day 2)

Today we have the hardest day ahead of us. A crazy step uphill combined with a lot of downhill makes today the longest and hardest day.

En garde!

The 8 musketeers!

It is the craziest hike uphill I have ever done or will do in such a short period of time. If they told you how hard this would be, I bet there would be less people doing this climb. I didn't think I would make this one. 

We found two monkeys!

Once you get to the top of Dead Woman's Pass and look down at your achievement, you feel amazing.

Atop Dead Woman's Pass

Atop Dead Woman's Pass

Dead Woman's Pass, now with fog/cloud!

Breakfast was bread with a chicken crepe, a pineapple dish, sliced meat with cheese and hot drinks.

Lunch was fried chicken (amazing!), pasta, fried rice, and mixed vegetables. Bonus was a chocolate dessert with pears.

Lunch!

Dinner was a fruit cake (how'd they make cake without an oven?), soup, fried potatoes, mixed vegetables, fried rice, and lomos saltado. Bonus, we got a strawberry pisco sour!

Tomorrow we have an easier day since it will be all downhill.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

2014 - Peru Day 4 (Inca Trail Day 1)

Today we start the 4 day Inca Trail. After looking at many reviews and listening to feedback from friends I ended up booking with Alpaca Expeditions. It cost us $615 USD but it included 4 breakfasts instead of 3 and a porter that would carry 7kg which normally costs extra. It is also operated by locals so the money goes back to their country. Because there were 3 of us, I was able to negotiate free sleeping bags which are normally $20 USD. We also all opted to do the Huyana Picchu mountain which is an additional $65 USD.  Only 400 people are allowed up the mountain per day and it gives you a different view of Machu Picchu.

Alpaca Expeditions, 4-day, 3-night Inca Trail hike itinerary

Our first day was early with a 4:30am start time. We picked up the rest of the group and headed off to km 82 which is the start of the Inca Trail.

Breakfast was amazing compared to what I normally have. You get a hot drink, fruit salad, bread, and scrambled eggs.

Fruit Salad

We began the trip with some group pictures and we were off. I began this trip thinking that this should be a piece of cake since I thought myself physically okay (I do 5-10km jogs). While it was not grueling, it was still a lot harder than I expected. This may be partially due to the altitude, I was always gasping for air every time I was climbing upwards for maybe 20 minutes. But the scenery far outweighs the minor issues.

With people

Without people

The porters that are with you are some of the fittest people I have encountered. After every meal, you as a hiker just needs to get ready and go. The porters need to tear down the entire campsite, pack it all up and set up the next campsite before you arrive.

Ruins!

Me blocking ruins!

The scenery that you see it truly amazing. It makes me want to do more hiking in the future. Pictures won't capture what you experience. If this day is any indication of what is to come, it will be great.

Us with the whole crew (minus the tour guide)

The lunch included trout, corn with cheese, guacamole, mixed vegetables.

Dinner included fried potatoes, chicken in tomato sauce, plain rice, and an omelette dish.  As a bonus, tonight we got bananas flambeed.

Tomorrow is supposed to be the hardest day of the trek, guess we will find out tomorrow.