Posts Tagged With: cusco

Quest of the Gods – Day 9, Inca Trail ·Day 4 (Machu Picchu!)

To say that I was excited about this day would be a huge understatement.  Machu Picchu is somewhere which has fascinated me for years, and especially since I booked the trip – deciding to fly half way around the world to visit a ruin isn’t something I do every week!

I woke in the tent around 3am, well ahead of a 3:30am wake up “call”… I was so excited, I really couldn’t sleep much but that didn’t matter – today we would see Machu Picchu!  I was dressed and packed by 3:15am, and as soon as I stepped out of my tent the porters set about dismantling it!  I guess they were eager not to miss their train!

I had an awkward (cold) wait around whilst the rest of the group were woken and got ready for breakfast at 4am.  Breakfast was quite quick – some brioche/cake and tea – since we needed to get out of there ASAP, and we were given snack packs with cheese sandwiches and a juice box to keep us going due to the early start.

By 4:15 we were on our way, but Israel announced we would be making a surprise visit, rather than joining the queue of other tours.  Normally at this point the tours all head down to queue at the checkpoint, waiting for the 5:30am opening time before making their way to Machu Picchu as quickly as possible in an attempt to see the haze rise above the mountains.  Instead, Israel planned to take us to Intipata – the ruin which we skipped yesterday due to the rain!  It was fantastic being there before sunrise and we got to see the day lighten up as the sun rose on the horizon and the ruin revealed itself to us.

The moon at Intipata

The moon at Intipata

Pre sunrise

Pre sunrise

Sunrise selfie

Sunrise selfie

More arty photos

More arty photos

Llama!

Llama!

Llama again!

Llama again!

After sunrise

After sunrise

More ruin

More ruin

Intipata

Intipata

Group shot at Intipata

Group shot at Intipata

It was amazing watching the llamas wake up and the cloud rise from below us to above us, and truly magical to be the only group there at that time of day.  Once day break happened we headed towards the checkpoint, which opened at 5:30, and were able to walk almost straight through – we hadn’t lost any time however, as we quickly caught up and overtook groups on the trail.

After the checkpoint it was just a short 1 1/2 hour hike to the “sun gate”, and our first view of Machu Picchu!

More stairs

More stairs

Arriving at the sun gate

Arriving at the sun gate

First view of Machu Picchu

First view of Machu Picchu

Me and Machu Picchu

Me and Machu Picchu

The horizon from the Sun Gate

The horizon from the Sun Gate

Close up of Machu Picchu

Close up of Machu Picchu

It was such an incredible feeling to see the view that i’d been lusting after since booking the trip, and I can’t put into words the feeling.  It was overwhelming and magical to see the site, and to know that we had made it.  We rested for 15 minutes at the Sun Gate before beginning our descent to Machu Picchu and on to the end of the Inca trail, which officially finishes on a large rock at the edge of Machu Picchu.  We were so lucky with the weather, which was almost a cloudless sky.  Perfect Machu Picchu weather – we had been warned along the trail that there is always a chance of a rainy day or cloud cover which can ruin the whole experience.

Along the descent we stopped at a couple of viewing points before finally reaching the “end of the inca trail” and posing for our obligatory photos from the typical spot!

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Me at Machu Picchu

Me at Machu Picchu

The photos took a while since we had to queue, but it was worth it to get that iconic shot (which inevitably will be a Facebook profile photo at some point!), and as soon as these were over we headed quickly down to the entrance gate and the promise of “real” toilets, which were definitely a welcome sight after 3 days on the trail!  Spending 1 sol on the toilet was possibly the best sol I spent whilst in Peru!

We had a reunion with Harold at a cafe outside the Machu Picchu gate, and were able to chill out before heading back into Machu Picchu.  This time is important because you’re not allowed to take walking poles around Machu Picchu (for fear of damaging the ruin), so Harold had to stay outside with our stuff!

Once we had all rejuvenated and consumed our packed snack, we headed into Machu Picchu for a guided tour by Israel.  It was fascinating to learn all about the discovery of MP and in particular Hiram Bingham, who is critical to the discovery story.

After the tour we were given free time to explore, and we went on a hunt for Llamas and photo opportunities.  The site really is incredible and below is a small selection of the huge number of photos I took.  I’ve tried to caption them appropriately, but the history is way larger than I can tell in a blog entry!

Machu Picchu from near the top

Machu Picchu from near the top

Steffi on the terraces

Steffi on the terraces

Recreated thatched roof

Recreated thatched roof

A view of Wainapicchu

A view of Wainapicchu

Inca stairs, and modern stairs

Inca stairs, and modern stairs

Israel showing us an important building

Israel showing us an important building

More stairs!

More stairs!

More of Wainapicchu

More of Wainapicchu

The Quarry area

The Quarry area

How the Incas split the rocks

How the Incas split the rocks

A pretty flower

A pretty flower

The main temple

The main temple

Israel showing his Inca Cross

Israel showing his Inca Cross

Amazing tessellation

Amazing tessellation

Al, boyband style

Al, boyband style

Israel, boyband style

Israel, boyband style

Asfia

Asfia

MP selfie

MP selfie

Llama!

Llama!

Llama!

Llama!

Llama, 3rd angle projection

Llama, 3rd angle projection

Me with a llama!

Me with a llama!

After we finished exploring, we headed out of the exit gate and were able to complete our passport page, with the final Machu Picchu stamp.  Once the stamp is in there, it means the hike is officially over!

Fourth stamp!

Fourth stamp!

What an amazing journey it had been!

We took a 30 minute windy bus ride down the hill to the town of Machu Picchu, which is clearly a tourist down and set up for us – full of markets selling trinkets, and we were able to meet with Harold and our duffle bags from the tents (which had magically been transported there!)

Machupicchu town

Machupicchu town

I bought a t-shirt (“I survived the Inca trail”) and some postcards, and then we regrouped for lunch in a restaurant.  It was a big group, with the original 7 of us together with 5 from another tour (which Mark, Katie and Simone were part of).  Steffi and I shared some Nachos and then I had Veggie Burritos, before we made a presentation to Israel and passed over our appreciation to him as well.  This was the last time we would see him, and it was really heartfelt to say goodbye after him guiding us through 4 amazing days of lives!

Once lunch was over we headed to the train station and caught a train back to Ollantaytambo.  We have to take the tourist train, since the local train is not available unless you have Peruvian IDs.  The train took an hour and a half and was really bumpy, but we were given drinks and snacks (Inca Cola, of course!).  Most people slept through the journey, whilst I just took selfies!

Train selfie

Train selfie

Asfia...zzz

Asfia…zzz

Steffi...zzz

Steffi…zzz

I spent a lot of the journey chatting with Mike and Kirsten about how they had enjoyed the Lares trek, which sounds incredible and very different to the Inca trail – much more cultural and they spent time in houses filled with Guineapigs, and met hundreds of local children.

After the bumpy train ride, we switched to a bus ride for a bumpy 90 minute ride around windy streets to get back to Cusco.  Our mini bus got pulled over in the main square in Cusco for driving there after dark – which apparently was a law which came into force just 3 days ago!  Hardly fair, and our driver protested but ended up paying a hefty fine!

Bus selfie

Bus selfie, Mike Photobombs!

Once we got to the hotel, we showered and met again for a traditional post-trail evening – Peruvian pizza and wine in the hotel and then out on the town to enjoy the celebratory feeling of completing the trail!

Harold had arranged honeymoon gifts in the rooms of Al & Asfia and Mike & Kirsten, and the feeling throughout the group was one of elation as we headed first to the “Museo del Pisco” – which isn’t actually a museum, just a bar that serves amazing Peruvian cocktails.

Museo del Pisco

Museo del Pisco

Needless to say the cocktails went down well after the trail and the night became gradually more blurry, as Steffi and I decided to meet up with Harold in a club he had recommended…

Club photo

Club photo

Blurry night

Blurry night

After lots of dancing and drinking, we finally managed to complete the 24 hour challenge – at 3:30am, we had officially been up for 24 hours (although Steffi slept on the train, so she cheated!).  An amazing feeling… Inca trail: done!

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Quest of the Gods – Day 5, Sacred Valley

After a fairly uneventful nights sleep, compared to the jungle anyway, we met up for breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  By now the buffet style breakfasts are familiar, but one thing I wasn’t prepared for was seeing a bowl of fruit labelled Tuna…. As I would later discover, Tuna Fruit comes from Cactuses and is actually something of a delicacy in Peru.  Fans of Disneys ‘Lion King’ may well know it as a Prickly Pair.

Tuna Fruit

Tuna Fruit

The washing service which Harold had arranged for us yesterday was extremely efficient – we handed in our clothes at 7pm and by 6am they were back in the hotel and washed and folded – all for S6 ($2) per kg.  I had 3kg of washing after the jungle, but it was a great feeling to pack away clean clothes.  A bit of rush packing for the Inca Trail and I re-weighed my duffle bag – 2.7kg.  Only just over the limit, so I decided to risk it.

Today the schedule was a tour of the Sacred Valley, which leads to the start of the inca trail.  It meant spending all day in a small minibus, with stops along the way to practice our hiking, test out our gear and learn a bit about the incas along the way too.

First stop: the view point of Cusco from the White Christ monument, and Saksaywaman (SexyWoman).  Israel gave us a brief introduction to the history of Cusco as the centre of the Inca empire, and we posed for group photos.

Israel at Saksaywaman

Israel at Saksaywaman

The White Christ, close up

The White Christ, close up

The White Christ, closer up

The White Christ, closer up – freaky eyes!

Obligatory panorama photo over Cusco

Obligatory panorama photo over Cusco

Cusco

Cusco

It was great to get started on the tour, since it really felt like the inca trail was getting closer with each stop!  En-route to the next place we pulled off the road to make an unplanned stop at a rescued animal centre.  We’re not talking sad looking Kittens and Puppies here – this place was fascinating.  Llamas, Alpacas and most impressively, Condors, all in wide roaming areas to walk through and interact with the animals.  All for a donation of S10 ($3.30), which included a gift of a pottery whistle.  The condors were amazing – with a wingspan of upto 3.5meters!  The owner of the sanctuary made them fly a few times across a ravine for us, which was spectacular.

Animal Sanctuary

Animal Sanctuary

An alpacca, I think

An alpacca, I think

I have no idea what animal this is, but it was cute

I have no idea what animal this is, but it was cute

Nope, no clue on this one either

Nope, no clue on this one either

Condor, from a distance

Condor, from a distance

Condor, close up!

Condor, close up!

Whistle gift

Whistle gift

After our quick unplanned trip to the sanctuary, we headed to our next stop – a project run by Gadventures in their Sustainable tourism division, Planeterra.  The Women’s Weaving Co-op is a community of women who live in the traditional Andean way and weave fabrics as their ancestors did.  Planetera ensures a regular stream of tourists who are eager to see the craft and purchase a few bits and pieces too.  Gadventures talk a lot about these Planetera projects and the good they can do to a community, and it was evident when we arrived just how much of an impact it has on the lives of these women – they have real brick and concrete buildings to work in and running water – all of which have been added since the project arrived.

During the visit we learned the process of creating the weaved materials, from feeding the animals (Alpacca, Llama and Sheep) to cleaning the wool using a natural soap from tree bark, to dying, spinning, weaving and knitting.  The visit was great, and we learned so much.

Weaving

Weaving

Close up showing the textures they can weave

Close up showing the textures they can weave

Feeding Alpaccas

Feeding Alpaccas

Alpacca Selfie

Alpacca Selfie

Some of the (naturally) dyed wools

Some of the (naturally) dyed wools

Purvian Corn

Purvian Corn

Weaving traditionally

Weaving traditionally

More weaving

More weaving

The group with the women weavers

The group with the women weavers

My alpacca hat

My alpacca hat

Feeling inspired by the weaving project, we headed on to our next stop – a quick view point looking down the Sacred Valley where you can see much of the famous peruvian scenery.  It was pretty stunning!

Sacred Valley shot

Sacred Valley shot

Me in the Sacred Valley

Me in the Sacred Valley

After our quick stop for photos, we headed to Pisac – an ancient Incan ruin within the Sacred Valley.  This was our first real taste of Inca buildings, and a chance to hike and learn at the same time.  This hike was fairly gentle and we all felt in good spirits after it.

Pisac

Pisac

Pisac selfie

Pisac selfie

Group selfie - from left: Ruth, Harold, Steffi, me

Group selfie – from left: Ruth, Harold, Steffi, me

Pisac from a distance

Pisac from a distance

On the way out of Pisac I bartered with a street vendor and bought a sunhat for the Inca trail since my hat I brought didn’t really offer much protection to the scorching sun.  Ruth also wanted one, so we did a package deal and it was fun to get into the local bartering style – i’m sure we got ripped off but it was fun in the process.

We were beginning to realise this day was whistle stop when we re-boarded the minibus for the next stop – lunch at another Planeterra project – the Sacred Valley Community Restaurant.  This is one of the newest Planeterra projects as it only opened 2 months ago, but it was amazing.  Groups of local people have been taught to recreate traditional Peruvian dishes in an absolutely stunning restaurant setting – the peruvian hillsides in the background.  Unfortunately I was way too hungry to take photos of the amazing food, but believe me… it was incredible!  They served us a starter, then quinoa soup, a main course, and dessert – the menu was perfectly constructed to help us carb-load for the Inca trail as well.  Very impressed!

Beautiful view for lunch

Beautiful view for lunch

Parwa Restaurante

Parwa Restaurante

Once back on the minibus, and full of carbs, we were offered an hours respite from touring as we drove to Ollantaytambo where we would spend the remainder of the day.  After some rest (I didn’t sleep… I don’t like sleeping in minibuses), we took a gentle climb up the terraces to the incan temple.  Here Israel explained the significance of the Incan cross, which is a symbol we would see again and again throughout the trek.

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

Inca Cross on the wall at Ollantaytambo

Inca Cross on the wall at Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

The hike was a little tougher than the first one, but still manageable which gave me a boost for the trail – if we could manage this, i’m sure the rest would be okay.  It really began to sink in that in just a few hours we would be starting the Inca trail!  After an hour or so exploring the ruins, we were offered the opportunity to go shopping in the town for any last minute essentials – we were warned, this would be the last time we could shop before the end of the trail!

I headed into the recommended shop and bought some SPF50 suncream (my other stuff was 20 and I was fairly sunburned by that point!), a bandana/scarf, some coca leaf toffees (incase of altitude sickness) and a bin bag to wrap all my duffle bag things in.  It was an expensive shop, but i’m glad I stocked up!

Most people starting the Inca trail start from Ollantaytambo, which is a pretty busy town.  Our tour, being the “comfort” option, involved a stay in a local town called Urabamba, which his much quieter and generally better for relaxation before the Inca trail.

The hotel was incredible – the Villa Urabamba Sacred Valley Lodge.  We all agreed instantly as we arrived that this was the best place we’d stayed in during the trip – it was a courtyard of small rooms with incredible scenery behind it.  Giancarlo, the manager, was incredibly welcoming and hung out to drink Coca tea with us and learn about our trip so far.  The instruction was very much to have a calm and relaxing night, much to Giancarlo who had suggested a Poker tournament.  We settled on the idea of a video night instead, and Juan Carlos kindly offered us the use of the function room to chill out in.  We had no idea what we were being offered, but we lucked out – bean bags, a log fire, and a (quickly sourced, and plugged in) 40″ LCD TV for us to watch movies on.  We ended up watching The Internship, which was okay but fairly predictable.

The amazing hotel

The amazing hotel

Coca Leaves

Coca Leaves

Once the movie finished, it was an early bed time – to build up our energy for the trek ahead.  I think we all felt a little apprehensive going to bed, but also bundles of excited energy.  This is a dream we had all been planning for 6-9 months and tomorrow, it would come true.  As I wrote in my journal: SO EXCITED!

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Quest of the Gods – Day 4, Jungle to Cusco

Thunder and lightning kept me awake from 4am, which was a mixture of terrifying and awesome.  Being so close to nature, you never quite know what’s going to happen, and it really emphasised just how close we were to nature!  Waking up and heading to the bathroom, I realised that the bats who were living in the roof of the cabin had been a little scared of the lightning, and had left me presents all over the shower floor…. luckily it washed off easily enough!

I was packed and ready to go by 6:30am, despite the morning call time being 7:30, which I thought would give me an hour of alone time, but once I headed to the bar almost everyone else was there already!  Seems we’re a group of early risers, or maybe the thunder and lightning just kept us up – certainly Kirsten and Mike had been kept awake by the giant spider in their mosquito net (not a perfect honeymoon bed!)

Breakfast at 7:30 was scrambled eggs, fried plantain and the most amazing mango I ever tasted.

We quickly headed to the boat and were whisked on a 90 minute river trip to the port, during which time we raced a couple of the other lodges (everyone heads at the same time because there are only a few flights a day from Puerto Maldonado).

Racing on the river

Racing on the river

During the trip we did a bit of bird spotting, but everyone was generally subdued to be leaving the jungle so quickly after we arrived.  It would have been amazing to stay there a few more days, but i’m pretty sure even if you stayed there 2 years you would still be discovering new things!

After a 45 minute bumpy van ride to the office, we repacked our bags/suitcases from the duffles we took into the jungle and then headed to the airport.  We stopped at a little snack store and I bought some brazil nut and tomato cookies which were really good, even if the taste was a little strange.

Repacking our bags

Repacking our bags

At the airport, G Adventures have an agreement with Avianca to use their executive check-in lines, which made us all feel very important – particularly as all the other tours have to use the ‘normal’ checkin.

Airport selfie

Airport selfie

The airport is tiny in Puerto Maldonado and we were warned that the checkin process might be unusual – rather than owning a bag scanner and scanning the bags after check-in, the airport opts for a more hands-on approach – opening bags and scanning them with hands before they go through check in.  The process was kind of ridiculous, with hands probing around to find god knows what in our bags.  After promising I didn’t have anything dodgy in my bag, and a pair of gloved hands finding nothing, I was free to check in as normal and from then we had a short wait whilst Harold obtained the check-in ladies number (although he insists he was just getting a number to check his air miles).  We continued to tease him about this the whole trip!

The flight itself was uneventful, and the airline provided a USB port at our seats which was great for recharging my camera!

Plane selfie - Puerto Maldonado to Cusco

Plane selfie – Puerto Maldonado to Cusco

After we arrived in Cusco, the centre of the Inca empire, we were whisked to our hotel (5 minutes by private bus) and checked in.  Harold gave us a guided tour of the city and we tried the free Coca Tea (good for relieving altitude sickness, since Cusco is at 3400m from sea level).

True to form, Harold had booked us a table at an amazing little restaurant (Aguaymanto) for lunch which had the most incredible menu of Peruvian dishes and catered well to the needs of G Adventures guests.  It was really hidden up a back alley and a staircase but worth exploring to find it!

Group shot at the restaurant

Group shot at the restaurant

We shared some Nachos as a starter and then I had a thai green curry as a main, followed by a shared Mango Flambé for dessert.   It was awesome, and we all left feeling great about Cusco.  Nobody was really feeling the altitude, which we were all thankful of since we had been warned it could be a tough evening.

After dinner a short recognition walk showed us more of the area including the central square which featured a rather excited looking Inca on a fountain.  My google-fu tells me he is Pachacuti – the main Inca who built Cusco and Machu Picchu into the places they are today.

Cusco central square

Cusco central square

On the way back to the hotel, the girls were acosted by some Andean women holding cute lambs who forced them to have photos taken with the lambs and then demanded payment (as much as S20, $7) for the photos.

Once back at the hotel we freshened up before our briefing about the inca trial at 19:00.

During the briefing, we met our guide (Israel) and he talked us through the plan for the trip, packing and essentials.  We have a 6kg limit for personal items which will be carried by the porters – which gets reduced by 2.5kg for our sleeping bag and 1kg for our air mattress, leaving just 2.5kg for our personal stuff!

Israels recommended packing list for those 2.5kgs:

  • 3 t-shirts
  • 3 pairs of hiking socks
  • 3 sets of underwear
  • Thermals to sleep in
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Spare pair of hiking pants
  • Sandals
  • Warm jacket
  • Towel
  • Toiletries

I don’t know which lightweight shop he goes to, but when I put all that in my duffle it came to 4kg!  A quick rationalisation and I was back to 2.5kg – phew!

Israel talked us through the timeline of the 4 days

  • Day one – Gentle start – Pickup at 7:15, bus to the km82 start point, starting at 2700m, hike for 11km/6 hours, starting at 9:30.  Climb is only 300m, so we sleep at 3000m
  • Day two – Challenge day – Starting at 3000m, hike for 12km/8 hours, starting at 6:30.  Climb is 1200m, descent about 600m, sleeping at 3600m
  • Day three – Culture day – Starting at 3600m, hike for 16km/10 hours, starting at 6:30.
  • Day four – Machu Picchu – Starting at 3:30am, hike for 6km/2 hours, Gate to Machu Picchu opens at 5:30am.  After MP, take a bus/train/bus back to Cusco

We would have another 3 people joining us for the trail, and Mike and Kirsten would be doing the Lares Trek which is an alternative trek for those who are unable to get Inca Trail passes (only 500 passes are issued a day).  For our group of 8 hikers, we would have 19 porters!

Most important thing, which they kept reminding us, was to bring our passports!  Clearly that has burned them in the past!

In our day packs, we were told to pack:

  • Sunhat
  • Sunglasses
  • Mosquito repellent & sunscreen (question: why don’t they make sunscreen which is mosquito repellent as well?)
  • Water bottle / camelbak
  • Toilet paper / baby wipes
  • Rain gear / Poncho
  • Snacks
  • Passport (must not forget this)
  • First aid kit / medication
  • Headtorch and spare batteries
  • Camera
  • Cash (S300 – S400)

Before the trail started, we had a tour day visiting the Sacred Valley, which is a chance for us to get prepared for the trail and also test our gear.  Our big bags would stay in Cusco whilst we toured the Sacred Valley and did the Inca Trail, so we would need to take everything with us tomorrow ready for the trail.  Exciting times!

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Quest of the Gods – Day 2, Jungle

After dreaming excitedly of the jungle, I woke before my alarm at 5:45.  At 6:00, the planned wake up call came through and I prised myself out of bed to quickly shower and repack then head down for breakfast.  The breakfast was a buffet style and included in the price of the tour (as it will be throughout the tour) – I had some granola, a banana, some bread rolls and a glass of orange juice.

At 7:00 we met in the foyer of the hotel to head back to Lima airport in a transfer van.  The airport is about 70 minutes from the hotel, and during the van journey Harold gave us a brief guide to the history of Peru and spoke a lot about the troubles in the past, particularly when the van was driving through some rougher areas of Lima.  Harold distributed our boarding passes – we are travelling with Avianca who are a Star Alliance airline, so my United miles work for this trip too!  Harold had pre-selected seats for both flights, since we would fly first to Cusco and then stay on the same plane to Puerto Maldonado.  Puerto Maldonado is the gateway to the amazon basin and very close to the Brazil border, which makes it a pretty busy city by Peruvian standards.  When we landed at the airport we were the only plane on the tarmac, so it clearly isn’t that busy!

Plane selfie - Lima to Cusco

Plane selfie – Lima to Cusco

Plane Selfie - Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

Plane Selfie – Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

The first flight was uneventful, but late.  Or rather, running on Peruvian timing.  Once we landed in Cusco there were no gates free so we had to wait a while, and then wait whilst everyone deplaned, before we shifted to our second seats.  For the second flight Harold had arranged window seats for us all, so that we could watch the views of the river from the window.  Although we were visiting the Amazon basin, the river itself was the Tambopata river which is a tributary to the Amazon.  From the plane, it is one of the typical views of the Amazon basin – oxbow lakes, meanders, and huge amounts of vegetation. The second flight was short – only 30 minutes – and landing in Puerto Maldonado we could feel the excitement building.

The jungle from the plane

The jungle from the plane

Tambopata River from the plane

Tambopata River from the plane

After collecting our bags, we headed out of the airport to meet our local guide, Ronald (Ronny) who would be looking after us in the jungle.  We jumped onto a minibus and were taken to a small Gadventures office where we swapped out our big bags/suitcases for small duffle bags which we would take into the jungle (since the humidity is high and we don’t need all our clothes for the 2 nights in the jungle).  The repacking took 20 minutes and we had a chance to go to a local shop to buy ponchos, snacks, etc – I bought an ice cream!

Bus selfie

Once the bags were repacked, we got back onto the minibus for a 45 minute trip to the river.  The road was basic to say the least, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the trip to anyone who gets motion sickness… bumpy, but amazing and we began wildlife spotting as we drove along.  At the port, we boarded the boat which would take us on a 2 1/2 hour journey into the amazon basin to the lodge.  It’s worth mentioning that the service level of the staff here is incredible – we didnt even carry our bags down to the boat –  the Gadventures staff did that for us!

Boat selfie

Boat selfie

Harold had warned us that we should have our eyes open as soon as we got onto the boat, and he wasn’t wrong – the wildlife spotting started almost immediately!  We saw vultures, monkeys and a giant guinea pig creature called a Capybara.  Every time the guides spotted something of interest they called the boat to a halt and we moved in close to take photos, and were given explanations of the habitat around the creatures too.  We also saw a basking turtle on a piece of wood, which was fascinating.

Capybaras

Capybaras

Turtle on some wood

Turtle on some wood

A family of monkeys

A family of monkeys

During the journey we were served a packed lunch – mine was mushrooms, vegetables and rice, together with two of the worlds smallest bananas!  Those bananas were so cute, and are available all the time in the lodge.

Smallest bananas ever!

Smallest bananas ever!

Vegetables and rice

Vegetables and rice

 

Shortly before arriving at the Tambopata Eco Lodge we saw a spectacular sunset, which felt very special with the river spread out infront of us.  Once we arrived, we headed up the river bank to the lodge and straight into the bar where we were served welcome cocktails of fruit juice and then were given 45 minutes to freshen up in our rooms before a slide show presentation.  The electricity is only on in the lodge from 5pm – 10pm, so this was also the chance to recharge our cameras for the nighttime activities.

Sunset on the Tambopata

Sunset on the Tambopata

The rooms are amazing in the lodge – I had half of the building to myself, and as you can see, it was a really special experience.  There’s no electricity at all in the buildings, so we had to use headtorches and candles for everything – even setting up the mosquito nets, which seemed quite dangerous to me!

My home for the 2 nights

My home for the 2 nights

After a quick freshen up, we met in the bar and ordered a round of Passion Sours before heading into the slide show presentation. The barmaid wasn’t the fastest, so Harold had to bring the cocktails in for us after the slideshow started, but again – the service level was impeccable.  Nothing was too much trouble, and there was no bitterness to us being late or an inconvenience by ordering drinks before an activity.  The slideshow was educational and gave us an idea of what we could expect to see over the next few days, including Caiman which are probably the most impressive creature which lives around the lodge.

After the slide show, we headed to the dinner hall for dinner which was served buffet style.  The lodge had been prepared for my vegetarian needs and Ronny saught me out to hand me a plate of vegetables as soon as I arrived.  The food was amazing, and Ronny told us that almost all of it was grown within 10 minutes of the lodge.  For dessert they served crepes, and on the table was purple corn juice (Chica Morada) which is a Peruvian speciality.

As soon as dinner was finished we prepared and headed out for the legendary “night walk”.  This is a walk in the dark using head torches and cameras to spot some of the night residents in the rainforest.  We only walked about 300 meters from the lodge, but we saw so many amazing creatures.  Check out the photos for just a few examples – some were way too fast or far away to take decent photos of!

Tiny lizard on a leaf

Tiny lizard on a leaf

Giant ant on a tree trunk

Giant ant on a tree trunk

A cricket

A cricket

Not even sure what this one is!

Not even sure what this one is!

A stick insect - not hiding well in the camera flash!

A stick insect – not hiding well in the camera flash!

Some sort of huge beetle

Some sort of huge beetle

A scary looking caterpillar

A scary looking caterpillar

Grasshopper, maybe?

Grasshopper, maybe?

Poisonous frog.  We know it was poisonous because it didn't run away when it saw us.

Poisonous frog. We know it was poisonous because it didn’t run away when it saw us.

A millipede

A millipede

A lizard thing with cool camouflage

A lizard thing with cool camouflage

 

After the night walk, to steady our neves we settled down for another Passion Sour (it would be rude not to, after all… it’s helping the local economy!) and reminisced about our first day of adventuring.

Once the cocktails dried up (the electricity got shut off), we headed to our cabins for bed time – preparing for bed by candllight was special, and getting into bed listening to the sounds of the jungle was an experience I will never forget.

The breakfast meeting was set at 6am the next day since we had a packed day of activities planned, so I drifted off to sounds of the jungle in fear of my 5am alarm! (No wake up calls provided in the cabins – there were no phones!)

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Camping

camino-inca11Camping. You either love it or hate it, right?

For me, thinking about camping brings back memories of our childhood holidays in the Lake District and Dumfries & Galloway on our way to visit relatives in Scotland.  My mum, sister and I squeezed into a two man tent, arguing about who gets to turn the light out and whether we’re allowed to have macaroni cheese out of a tin for 3 nights running.  Those were pretty fun holidays – and particularly memorable is a place in Dumfries which had a giant chess set and an outdoor swimming pool!

Since childhood, I think i’ve slept under canvas twice – once at a music festival that I was helping out with some lights on, and the second as a romantic get-away night with my (soon to be) ex girlfriend.  Neither of those were particularly excellent memories.

But the Inca trail camping will be different.  It has a purpose.  I don’t think any of the previous experiences were really about camping with a purpose, it was about budget holidays.  This will mean so much more – a means to an end, a way to get to Machu Picchu and witness the views and experiences of thousands before me.

I plan on renting my sleeping bag in Cusco before we head out on the trail.  I’m told that this is not only the most cost effective way to do it, but also the most sensible – there’s no point in carrying a sleeping bag all over Peru when it’s only needed for 3 nights of the trail!  Apparently it can get down to -6c at night on the trail, so it could be quite an experience – thermal underwear is on the packing list!  I don’t even know what thermal underwear looks like!  Better get shopping!

I can’t wait to experience it all!  Check out the view in the picture – that’s on the first night, apparently!

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