Peru Travel Blog

Peru Travel Blog

June 19, 2006

Plaza D'Armas Parade

After the Cusco city tour, we went back to the hotel and had some free time. We walked from the hotel to the main square, the Plaza D'Armas. On the way there, we passed several llamas on the side of the street. There was a parade in progress, mostly school children in traditional Andean dress. This week is a big week for Cusco as it several days it will be the festival of the sun, Inti Raymi. The parade is part of the lead up to the holiday.

We took some photos around the square, it is a very beautiful place.


Cusco City Tour - Sacsayhuaman

After checking in to our hotel, the first order of business was to have some Cocoa tea, that the hotel has in the courtyard.

The second order or business was a city tour. I assumed this would be a walking tour, but we boarded a small bus instead. We drove through the city as a local guide -- a professor at Cusco University -- explained some of the sites. Strictly speaking, it was really a "city tour" but rather a tour of the Sacsayhuaman Inca site (pronounced by some as "sexy-woman") and related sites. Sacsayhuaman is several hundred metres above the heart of Cusco, which actually lies in a valley (the bottom of the valley is at 3400 m elevation).

Sacsayhuaman is a very cool site. The Inca stonework is amazing. The detail is striking, yet it curious that this civilization that lived here in the 1500s -- thousands of years after the pyramids of Egypt, never developed language, and their stonework is simply stones, no carvings, writings, or inscriptions. It was calming sitting on the grass, high in the Andes, looking the Inca stonework against the cool blue afternoon mountain sky. Hours later, we seemed to be a world way from the humid Amazon Jungle, yet the flight was less than an hour.


Tupac Yupanqui Palace Hotel, Cusco

We checked in to our hotel, the Tupac Yupanqui Palace Hotel in Cusco. The hotel is very nice, just a short walk to the main square, the Plaza D'Armas. The Tupac Yupanqui has a nice courtyard in the middle, typical of the hotels in Cusco. It is called "Palace" because it used to be one, in the days of the Incas. Like many building in Cusco, the hotel was built upon the ruins of former Inca structures. At the base of the hotel, you can see the Inca stonework, and then the more modern construction on top. So we are staying in an Inca palace -- that's alright.


Chewing Cocoa Leaves in Cusco

The flight from Puerto Moldanado to Cusco took about 55 minutes. Cusco is at an elevation of 3,400 m (11,000 feet). Upon arriving, our guide explained that one way to avoid altitude sickness is to chew cocoa leaves. Yes, these are the same leaves that are used in the production of cocaine. Apparently, the plant has several useful purposes and it is important for the Andean people. Chewing or eating the plant has not narcotic effect -- it takes a very complex and scientic process to convert cocoa leaves into the drug. Even still, we were advised not to try to take any leaves with us out of the country, just in case. Cocoa tea is very common here as well, and it is quite tasty. I launched right in, chewing the leaf and drinking the tea.


Leaving the Amazon Jungle

After the clay click, we returned to the lodge to have breakfast at 7:30 am. After breakfast, we collect our bags and had a little time before we had to leave. So we visited the small gift shop at the lodge, featuring hand-made crafts made by the locals. Profits go directly to the person who made each item, their names were taped to each item, in order to keep track. We bought wooden parakeet and I promptly name her "Paquita" after a cat that went missing after George's left an apartment door open on Seinfeld.

The boat left at 8:30 am, and we traveled for 45 minutes back to meet up with a bus to take us to the Puerto Moldonado airport. Before boarding the bus, there were some Amazonian ladies selling Brazil nuts, so we bought some. We had to wait for almost 2 hours in the airport, and I had a very cheap spicy sausage sandwich for 5 sols.


Amazon Parrot and Parakeet Watching

After our 5:30am wake-up knock, we hiked down to the clay lick again. The early morning is a good time to see birds. We were inside a little hut covered in leaves, to hide us from the birds. There were small holes to look through. For the first twenty minutes there was nothing. Just a bunch of tired people sitting silently in a shack on the bank of the Amazon river.

Finally, a few blue-headed parrots arrived on the scene, followed by some green parkeets, and one blue and green macaw. They were still a little far away, so you need to look though binoculars or the telescope to see well. Michelle took some photos, some oft them actually through the lens of the telescope. Eventually there were a lot of birds and they became noisiy with their calls.

Just before we left, a few of us were lucky enough to see a few Canaberra appear on the clay lick, the large Amazonian rodents.


June 18, 2006

Amazon Jungle Night Time Hike

Before dinner, our guides lead us on a hike through the amazon jungle in the darkness. They say that nighttime hikes are interesting because different animals and insects come out at night. The highlights were two tarantulas, colonies of busy ants, and one very poisonous spider, the most poisonous in the world.

After the hike we had dinner, packed, and went to bed. Our last night in the jungle.


Amazon Shaman and Medicinal Garden

We boarded the boat once again to head down the Amazon river to visit a shaman and his medicinal garden. After explaining some of the ways he treats the local population, the shaman took us on a tour of the garden, explaining each of the plants and trees, and how they are used. Some of the plants he showed us are actually being studied and used by big pharmaceutical companies. Of the featured trees were two giant ficus trees known as the "married couple". We were told the rub the leaves of one shrub on our palms, only to realize later that a dye was released, that can take days to wash off.


The Call of the Howler Monkey

We had lunch at the Jungle lodge then rested in the hammocks, falling asleep to the resounding call of the howler monkey. While it is an amazing and eerie sound, it is surprisingly relaxing, and I was able to fall asleep to it. The call of the howler moneky is one of the coolest things I have ever heard, its really hard to describe, but you are amazed that it is coming from a living thing, several miles away.


Amazon River Clay Lick

After returning from the oxbow lake, some of us took a hike to the "clay lick". This was an area on the banks of the Amazon where parrots and other birds are known to come and lick the clay on the dirt/mud cliffs. We were warned the the timing for viewing birds was not ideal, but decided to give it a try. Before we arrived at the clay lick, those ahead of us had spotting something in the trees above. High, high above use was a group red macaws. When I say high, I mean "high". Some of these trees are extremely tall. Our guide had a powerful telescope and we took turns looking at the parrots. We never made to the clay lick itself, but others reported there were no birds there to see.


Amazon Oxbow Lake

After our 4 AM wake-up "knock", we had breakfast by candlelight, then hiked out to the port, where we board the motorized canoe again. As the boat left the shore the day was just beginning to dawn. The river was shrouded in a dense fog, and most of the time, you could see one back or the other, but not both. The driver, at the back of the long canoe, couldn't see more than 15 feet ahead of the boat. I just hoped there was a suddene unexpected obstruction in the river ahead.

We stopped, making it safely as the fog slowly began to lift. From here there was a another hike on a jungle trail. After about 45 minutes, we arrive at the Amazon oxbow lake, where we boarded a "Catamaran". Before you get any ideas about a luxury sailing yacht, it was essential a big raft with two pontoons, steered and powered by a single long paddle at the back of the boat. We slowly went around the lake, looking for birds on the shore. We saw a number of interesting birds, including a group of blue and yellow macaws that went flying overhead. And a toucan, but not up close. Half way through, we saw several large river otters swimming around the lake. Finally, we stopped the boat to do some piranha fishing! I gave it a go and had several nibbles, but couldn't hook one. Time and time again, we would put the bait on the hook, and these little fish would skillfully remove the bait without getting hooked. I think they have learned the whole "bait on a hook" scam, and they aren't falling for it any longer. Our guide finally was able to hook one and brought it into the boat. After taking a look at its sharp teeth, he threw it back to play the game another day.


June 17, 2006

Sleeping in the Amazon Rainforest

Once we blew out our candles and climbed under the mosquito net, all was quiet. As quiet as a rainforest gets at night, I suppose. We could hear a multitude of sounds from the jungle. We heard birds, maybe some monkeys, and who knows what else. But there were many different sounds, not to mention the odd branch or twig breaking just a few feet outside our "window". Despite the night sounds of the jungle, we fell asleep quickly.


Dinner at the Jungle Lodge

After getting back to the jungle lodge, we had a short amount of time before dinner at 7 PM. Dinner was chicken in a curry peanut sauce, and not bad at all. It was served with rice and and yucca (or something similar). I had some Peruvian beer and Michelle had some passionfruit and vodka, which she liked. After dinner, we went to bed ... at 9 PM. Yes, this is early, but we have been up since 5:45 AM and we have a 4 AM wake-up knock in the morning. (Since we have no phone, nor a door, we get a knock on our bamboo walls). They also turn off the kersosense lamps at 9 PM, and then all we have is flashlights and two candles.


Amazon Rainforest Canopy Tower

After a 20 minute walk through the Amazon rainforest, we arrived at the canopy tower. The canopy tower appears like a section of scaffolding that you might see on the side of a building during renovation or contruction. Looking up at it, it just kept going higher and higher and higher and higher. The rainforest has some very tall trees, and the whole idea of a canopy tower is to rise above the tops of the trees. Sally says the tower is 120 feet high, but it seems and feels much higher than that. We began to mount the stairs, section by section. The tower is supported by a series of suspension cables, without which, the tower would never reach so high without falling over. The capacity of the tower is 20 or 30 people, depending on which guide you ask. There was at least 25 people on various sections of th canopy tower while we were on it, and at times it would shake quite a bit. Every time we felt that we were close to the top, there would be more and more steps, going higher, and then higher still. Finally we reached the top and the sun was getting ready to set. From this height you can see the tops of the trees for miles around, and you can also see the bend in the river. We took some photos, including some nice sunset photos over the Amazon rainforest.

By the time we got back down to the ground, it was dark - especially under the canopy. Using our flashlights, we walked back through the jungle. Our guides showed us some large ant hills, along with many ants in procession -- big ants. But then, Jorge showed us an even bigger ant, all by itself. That type of ant is the largest ant in the world, and has a very painful bite.


Posadas Amazonas Jungle Lodge

When we arrived at the Posadas Amazonas jungle lodge, it was 4:30 PM. We had time to put our things in our rooms, then go for a walk to the canopy tower. The rooms are open air, with no glass or screens on the windows. Instead of doors, there are curtains. The roof is thatched, of course. The bed have mosquito nets, to keep the bugs off during the night. There is no electricity, light is by candle and kerosene lamp (and our little flashlights). With the shade of th rainforest, our room was dim at 4:30 PM. We only had time to drop our bags, and grab our flashlights, and then meet our guide (Sally, from Posadas Amazonas, not our GAP guide), and we began our walk to the Canopy Tower.