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Puerto Maldonado and the Amazon Rainforest June 8, 2010

Filed under: travel — ravennagirls @ 1:08 pm
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After Machu Picchu and returning to Cusco… we began to prepare for our next stop…

The Jungle.  The Amazon Jungle.

We headed out of Cusco via the airport.  It was a quick 50 minute flight on LAN.  (yes! no more bus!)  Cusco was a very interesting airport to fly in and out of though.  It has a short runway for your standard commerical jet… and it is surrounded by mountains.  And by surrounded I mean that the plane ascends sharply and quickly as you feel awfully close to the mountains around you. According to one Peruvian tour guide that we met on our train up to Machu Picchu, LAN is the only airline that has a good reputation for being able to land in Cusco safely. Yikes!

We made it to Puerto Maldonado, the starting point of our four day adventure.  We were picked up by our lodge, Bello Horizonte, and our tour guide Freddi. He would be our guide for the duration of our stay. There was another female tour guide assigned to a couple from Quebec, but she, and they, only spoke French so we didn’t really get many details out of them. Bello Horizonte is a great organization. Run by a Swiss priest, they also operate a support center for kids and teens who have no other home. They take proceeds from the lodge, as well as a cafe in town and help these kids who have been orphaned and/or need assistance. Not only was the lodge more inexpensive than some of the others we looked at, we felt good that our money was going to a good cause.

After a brief stop at the Bello Horizonte office,we traveled across town to the Rio del Madre and boarded a boat to cross the river. We crossed the river, and our group of 6 hopped in a van, and travelled to the lodge, about an hour and a half into the jungle.

The lodge was cute, with little cabins for rooms.   The front porch had reclining chairs and a hammock. There was a shared dining hall and social lounge, both completely enclosed in mosquito netting (thank GOD). On the property,there also was a spring-fed swimming pool, a medicinal plant garden, and a lookout tower that allowed you to get high above the tree canopy to see the birds flying about.  The electricity turned on for five hours every night and the place had solar hot water. 

At first we thought that perhaps it was just the two of us, the Canadian couple and staff and that more people would be showing up in the following days. But no, apparently they’d had a big group cancel and it was still technically the off season, so it was just the four guests the whole time we were there. And really, since they spoke no English, we felt that we sort of had the run of the place.

The way the lodge is set up, meals are served 3 times a day (unless you are out on a trek), and you eat in the lodge with your tour guide so you can talk about the day and upcoming adventures. The food was pretty spectacular, more authentic than we’d had anywhere in the country before. Things like potatoes, lentils, veggies, and chicken cooked inside bamboo stalks. Yum.  Yum.  And most importantly, lots of avocado. 

 

The first afternoon we settled in, did some reading, went on a short walk with Freddi where he introduced us to all the plants in the medicinal garden. Then we had dinner and went to bed.

The second day was our hike to Loboyoc – which roughly translates in their coloqial language to “Home of the Wolf”. But, they didn’t really mean wolf. Apparently they call the giant river otters Wolves because they travel in packs just like wolves do. So, Loboyoc is a creek that feeds the Madre de dios River and sometimes has river otter. The trek was 6 km to the creek, a two hour ride in a canoe/boat. Unfortunately since it had been raining for a couple days beforehand, Freddi insisted that we hike in rubber boots, which was pretty annoying. Also, we spent most of the walk squish-squishing along, which definitely slowed our progress.

The hike, though, was pretty incredible. We saw SO many incredible animals and insects. We saw several types of mammals (marmut like things), leaf cutter ants, a GIANT snail,

a two toed sloth, beautiful birds, and Freddi even coaxed a tarantula out of its home. On the river “cruise”, we saw tons of butterflies, some parakeets, big big spiders, and a couple small caiman (alligators).  Each one of this next group of pictures has some wildlife included….

 

Freddi tried to coax some parahnas to the surface with banana that we brought for snacks, but no luck. After trekking back to the lodge, we ate lunch and went to the swimming pool which was SO necessary. I mean, I have never been so sweaty in my entire life. It was only about 85 degrees or so i think, but the humidity, coupled with long sleeves and pants to ward off the bugs, we were SO SWEATY. so, into the pool we went, which was awesome. Then dinner, reading, and early to bed.

The next day was an early morning, to a clay lick for parakeets that we were very much looking forward to. Further up the river near some of the other lodges there are clay licks where larger macaws congregate, but this one was more accessible for smaller parakeets. Basically, because of the toxins in the nuts and berries that the birds eat, they need to ingest the clay every morning to cleanse their systems. So, they all appear at this clay lick every morning between 6 and 7. We left the loodge around 5 to go find them. After a brief boat ride, we pulled up to a clay cliff face where a few parakeets had begun to congregate. Freddi told us that there would be hundreds, so we waited. BUT THEN: a hawk went flying by and spooked the parakeets. They rose up in a big bunch and flew away, not to return. SAD DAY. we had really been looking forward to seeing the birds en masse, but i guess that will have to wait for the next trip. We took the boat an hour or so down river and begun another trek in to see Lake Sandoval. The walk was shorter, but even muddier than the day before and we had a couple of funny moments of almost getting stuck. Luckily, one of Bello Horizonte’s guides in training used to work at Lake Sandoval, so he knew some tricks.

Along the trail, we saw some giant butterflies, tons of monkeys, and a group of blue and yellow macaws that we had been looking for. The Lake was super pretty, an oasis surrounded by thick lush jungle all the way to the shores on all sides. We saw more caiman, lots of birds, and the ellusive giant river otters. Very cool.

Back to the lodge, we had one last dinner with the group and then tucked ourselves in for the last night in the jungle. That night, the stars were INCREDIBLE. It was the first night that it wasn’t really overcast, and it was truly more stars than i have ever seen. We could see the Milky Way stretching across the jungle as far as you could see.

The Amazon jungle is an incredible place. I can totally see now how important it is for biodiversity and medicinal discoveries. The jungle is so dense, and we were *fairly* nearby to civilization.

The last morning we woke up to the sound of many parrots, including a couple of pairs of macaws that were nearby. Freddi and crew took us back to the airport, where we boarded another LAN flight to go all the way back to Lima to start our trip home. We had to stop in Cusco to pick up more passengers (a little unfortunate given the precarious landing/take off scenario). But, it was no problem, and we landed in Lima for a half day layover before our flight back to Houston, the US, work, and real life.

It was a fantastic trip full of an impressive array of landscape, wildlife, people, and adventures. We would both go back in a heartbeat and recommend Peru to anyone looking for a South American adventure that is approachable, affordable, and exciting.

 

Cusco, Aguas Calientes, and Machu Picchu May 24, 2010

Filed under: travel — ravennagirls @ 11:08 pm
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We again departed via overnight Cruz del Sur headed for Cusco.  It was about 14 hours and quite bumpy.  Needless to say, by the time we made it to Cusco… we were exhausted. 

We dropped our large backpacks off at the hotel we would be staying at after Machu Picchu.  The PeruRail trains that were taking us there had very strict luggage requirements, so we only packed small bags for our three day journey. 

We explored around Cusco a bit that morning after getting some coffee.  I would say Cusco reminded me of smaller towns of Spain.  We mostly just took pictures and wandered since we only had a few hours.

Earlier this year (and after we booked plane tickets),  this region had two days of very heavy rains which caused intense mudslides.  This caused the only transportation up to Machu Picchu (not counting the four day hike) to be severely damaged.  Instead of PeruRail trains leaving from Cusco… They were instead leaving from a small town called Ollaytambo, about an hour and a half drive from Cusco.  We hired a taxi to take us (for a mere 30 USD for both of us….).  Our driver only spoke Spanish, and I would say he was half tour guide and half driver.  He spent the whole ride explaining the Sacred Valley to us, talking about certain ruins, life after the mudslide, etc.  He also was nice enough to stop at a few places along the way so we could get a glimspe at the view or ruins.  We were quite proud that we really understood what he was saying.  While my speaking skills were quite rusty… times like these where I could practice speaking were great.  It seemed to get easier and easier as the trip went on.

We did finally arrive at Ollaytambo, ate a quick lunch, and then board a PeruRail bus to take us to the start of the rail lines.  It was there is Piscacucho we boarded the train.  The trains had windows not only on the sides, but on the ceiling as well… so you really felt surrounded by the mountains.  Plus, it was a bit cloudy that day, which was beautiful.  (I did though spend some time hoping for sun the next day….)  The train was great for exchanging stories with other travelers and relaxing before the big day.

We got off at Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu.  We stayed in this OUTSTANDING little hotel on the outskirts called RupaWasi.  They are an eco lodge, made of reclaimed lumber with a focus on conservation – plus beautifully designed rooms, cozy beds, hot water, balconies.  I seriously cannot recommend this place enough.  We paid for a package here… rooms plus tickets to Machu Picchu, bus tickets, a boxed lunch, a meal in their delicious restaurant, and a private guide for Machu Picchu.  This way we just showed up and there was no worry about Machu Picchu being sold out or anything on the day we needed to go.

That night we got all ready for the next big day ahead and took advantage of the hot showers.  I (D) though was starting not to feel so great.  While I will spare the gross  details… it was a long night and I was in a panic that my day at Machu Picchu would be ruined by this sickness. 

We woke up the next morning at 430 am.  We made it down to the dining room for some quick breakfast (well, b ate.  i was able to hold down a half glass of orange juice though!)  We then made it to the center of town to stand in line with the other tourists … waiting for the first bus of the day to Machu Picchu.  We met our guide there and boarded a bus up a very VERY crazy road up the mountain.

I have to say, getting up that early was rough.  And riding that bus while sick was rough-er.

But we arrived and started walking into the site… and all the sudden the path takes you through two stone buildings… and there you are.  Really, there we were in the middle of  Machu Picchu.  It seems impossible to even imagine. I just remember looking at it, thinking “whoa this is the most beautiful place ever.”  I felt like I was on top of the world and everywhere I turned something more beautiful emerged. 

We started walking around with our guide and got to one of the center areas of the complex.  We stood there as the sun rose its last smidgen over the mountain tops in the distance.  The mountain had been holding those rays back.  Instantly the stone walls had an orange glow almost.  It was so quiet.  Everyone seemed to have stopped talking and was just looking in awe.

 

I cannot even describe how great Machu Picchu was.  I could post 200 pictures we took in just a few hours.  None though seem to do it justice.  Words seem to be lost, but just know this was unquestionably the most beautiful place I had ever been. 

 

I cannot recommend it enough.

 

baby alpacas are so cute and soft May 21, 2010

Filed under: travel — ravennagirls @ 11:21 am
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It’s no secret we love baby alpacas.

We met a really cute one on the side of a mountain in Chivay.

He was shy and would not leave his owner’s lap, but tolerated us petting him.

 

so so soft.

we bought some baby alpaca things.  The cutest of which we can’t share because its still a surprise to the recipient.  But gosh its so soft.

 

Arequipa, Chivay, and the Colca Canyon May 20, 2010

Filed under: travel — ravennagirls @ 1:54 pm
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After leaving Paracas on an evening bus, we had an interesting evening of overnight bus rides about 10 hours to Arequipa. We did a lot of research before leaving for our trip, and read many good reviews of Cruz del Sur bus lines. The busses are nice enough: double decker, semi-reclining seats, and the provide “meals”. The drivers change every 4 hours for safety, so we felt pretty good they weren’t going to run us off the road. The most hilarious part of the Cruz del Sur busses is the amount of times they emphasize that the restrooms are for #1 only. The intro video for the bus must tell you that 8 times. The least hilarious part of the bus rides is that the blankets they give you are sized for 8 year olds and they have trouble keeping the heat on over night. Oh, and don’t expect the “meals” to provide any real sustenance, the best one we got was a “sandwich” of wheat bread and mayonnaise. But – taking an overnight bus saved us a night in a hotel, so we can’t complain too much.  

We booked the seats at the front of the bus so we had an unobstructed view of the valley ahead when we woke up in the morning. It was gorgeous and we knew we would have a great few days ahead. After arriving at the bus station, we took a taxi to the town center of Arequipa and got settled in at our hostel, Posada Misti.  

This was our only full day in Arequipa, so we decided to do a walking tour of the city, which is very pedestrian friendly. We ventured through the Plaza del Armas (there is one in every town in Peru), through the main shopping districts, and across the river to a more residential neighborhood called Yanahuara. Along the way we stopped at an alpaca wool museum/shop where they were showcasing traditional shearing/dyeing/weaving techniques as well as a history of more modern machinery. Walking across the river, we found a really charming park that had an awesome outlook of the Misti Volcano.  

We also went to the Museum of the Andes, which is mostly devoted to the ice mummy, Juanita, an inca girl whose body was found completely frozen and preserved atop a neighboring volcano. The information and artifacts were intriguing, but there was one problem: no Juanita. Apparently the lights in the museum slowly melt the ice surrounding her through most of the year, so she is in a deep freeze from February through May 1. We were there April 29. Go figure. Instead they had another ice mummy, Sara, but she was decidedly less cool. (ha, no pun intended).  

Arequipa is a town largely built of white volcanic stone, so it is nicknamed the White City. It was great. Great scale, walkable, but still bustling. You never felt like it was too touristy, it was just right. In the evening we had a nice meal on a balcony overlooking the square, which was lit up and pretty fantastic. We had saved this meal as a “special treat”, but what we found was that these restaurants all compete and their prices were a steal! For $4 USD each, we got a grande cerveza (about 24 oz of beer), an inka kola (the preferred soda of Peru), appetizer of avocado salad (you know how much we loved that), and an entrée of alpaca steak, veggies, and fried potatos. Not gourmet, but for the price and the ambience, couldn’t be beat. Feeling the altitude a bit (Arequipa is at 7800’), we headed back to the hostel to read, watch tv, and go to sleep.  

The next morning we embarked on a two day trip to the Colca Canyon that we booked through our hostel. What. A. Deal. For about $25 USD apiece, we got 2 full days of guided tours, transportation, and a night in a very very cute hotel. The tour took off from Arequipa about 8 a.m. leaving for the village of Chivay at the start of the Colca Canyon. On the way there, we slowly climbed in elevation to 4900 m (approx 16,000 ft above sea level). We passed valleys full of alpacas, vicunas (the taller, softer cousin of the alpaca), volcanos, and beautiful scenery. Thankfully, the van stopped at a small tourist cafe for our first taste of Coca Tea, which really does help with altitude sickness. Between the tea and some Coca candies we bought, we didn’t seem to have too many problems with altitude throughout the trip. The only time I felt funny was when we got out of the van at 4900m for a photo op and could hardly walk I was so wobbly.  

the view from the door to our hotel room

In the late afternoon, we arrived in Chivay and checked into our hotel which was situated along a bubbling creek with green hills on both sides. Very picturesque. Some of the folks on the tour (there were about 12 of us total) went to the La Calera Hot Springs for a relaxing dip. They were great! WAY better than the hot springs at Sol Duc that we went to last summer here in WA. Although, i will say, they had seperate tourist pools and Peruvian pools, which was a little weird. Best of all, it was the first warm shower we’d had since arriving in Peru. Warm water seems to be at a premium in that country.  

 

The next morning was the focal point of the trip – going deeper into the Colca Canyon to a place called Cruz del Condor where air currents allow the condors to soar. It was super impressive. Not only is the Colca Canyon the second deepest canyon in the world (which meant that from our vantage at the top of the cliff you couldn’t even see the bottom), but the Andean Condors have a wingspan of something like 3 meters. HUGE. So you have this deep deep canyon and these huge birds, and wow.  

The updrafts die down around 10 am, so we all piled back in the van to start our day-long trek back to Arequipa with some small stops along the way. The tour was awesome and we met some fun people, although funnily enough we didn’t get photos of any of them, or anyones names. It was very strange, but no one really asked names. There was “The Welsh Couple”, “The Dutch Couple”, “Drunk French Guy”, “Solo Mexican Traveler”, etc. But they were fun – and provided a lot of good laughs. We spent the evening back in Arequipa, where we had some delicious pizza (after a week in the country we were jonesing for a bit of home), checked our email, and trekked back to the bus terminal for another overnight to Cuzco.

 

lovin the ocean May 14, 2010

Filed under: photo,travel — ravennagirls @ 1:50 am
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from peru

 

 

 

Lima, Paracas, and the Islas Ballestas May 13, 2010

Filed under: travel — ravennagirls @ 12:52 am
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So, the beginning.

Well, really the beginning is that one very early morning we departed our lemon house in the darkness and headed for the airport.  Three plane rides later (filled with naps, movies and snacks), we landed in the last hour of the day in Lima.  We then spent 4 hours in Lima.  In the middle of the night.  It was surprisingly eventful.  But, well, that’s a story for another time.  Maybe.

Really the beginning of our trek starts 4am Day 2 when we boarded a bus for a small coastal town called Paracas.    A little nap on the bus and …. we awaken to a desert area with the bright blue Pacific nearby. 

The town was really small.  A few blocks by a few blocks, one major road really.  But it was simple, friendly, sunny.  And that was enough.  Lots of sand mixed with small bodegas selling ice creams and children riding bicycles around the street.

Oh, and listen to this, they get drops of rain a year there.  It’s sunny practically every day.  Bliss.

We stayed at this friendly little place, a bright white building against the very blue sky, a hotel called Hotel Santa Maria.

Comfortable beds perfect for napping after lunch … and a great roof terrace with views of the water as we read books on lounge chairs.

It was glorious. 

Oh, and I mentioned lunch.  The food in Paracas was SO grand!  The best ceviche I have ever had (i can still taste the delisiciousness in fact) … and a lot of scallops.  One dish we loved was this one with scallops baked in the shell with parmesan on top.  YUM!

Anywho, besides reading and eating and walking on the beach and exploring town… we went on two little half day excursions.

One took us afternoon exploring the Paracas National Reserve.   It pretty much looks like the biggest desert you can imagine in one direction.  If you turn your head the other way, the ocean and rocky coast . 

The other took us by boat out to las Islas Ballestas.  It is known as a small version of the Galapagos.  On the way there you saw the Candelabra.  It is a geoglyph on the side of this cliff that you can only see from the sea.   It is abot 600 feet long and about a meter deep.  I cannot image digging something that deep in the hard sandy soil.  As you can image, this glyph is slowy disappearing becuase of the strong winds that are slowing filling in the trenches…  As for when it was dug, we were told about 200 BC on our tour.  Archiologists apparently for some pottery and such near the candleabra from that time.  But really?   Who knows?  The bigger question seemed to be why?

We kept going by boat to the Ballestas.  As we got closer to the islands, I was worried that the animals would elude us.  Boy, was I wrong.

South American Humboldt penguins, sea lions, dolphins, Peruvian boobies, huge Pelicans, zarcillos, cormorants…

We even saw both baby penguins and baby sea lions.  SO DARLING!  The sea lions even all congregate on this one beach that we were told is nicknames maternity beach. 

Instead of just seeing one little animal far away, in seemed like everywhere you looked, there was an animal right there.  Gorgeous and so fun to watch.

This pretty much concluded our two day adventure on the coast.

We left via bus late one afternoon headed for Arequipa to the south.

 

…and we’re back May 10, 2010

Filed under: travel — ravennagirls @ 10:36 pm
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back to the USofA that is.

Back to work, back to life, back to our little lemon house.

I missed that house, by the way.  I even missed the backyard-in-progress that is a whole lotta work! 

The trip?  Amazing.  Seriously some of the most beautiful places I have seen, delicious food, adventurous outings, perfect sunny weather every day, gorgeous animals… the list goes on and on.

Peru is hands down incredible.

(and don’t worry, we will show you a lil of what we saw… we are trying to go through all the pictures now….)