Monday, 24 May 2010

Inka Jungle trail to Machu Picchu

I took some time off school to do the Inka Jungle trail to Machu Picchu, a four day trip, which is a mix of mountain biking and hiking. The first day we took a bus to Abra Malaga at 4350m above sea level, took our mountain bikes off the roof and sailed down the winding mountain path to Santa Maria, about a 3 hour bike ride, all down hill, mainly on tarmac except the last half an hour, which was a very bumpy dirt track. The rainforest scenery was absolutley breath taking, and mountain biking was a great way of seeing it. The bus picked us up and drove us into Santa Maria for lunch... meat, rice and chips just for a change...

On day two we had a 6am breakfast and then started the hike to Santa Teresa. It was a 6 hour hike to the restaurant for lunch. The first 3 hours were uphill, a very steep jungle path. I struggled with the climb as catching my breath was difficult. After resting for an hour and eating lunch we hiked another 3 hours to Santa Teresa, luckily this was much flatter and I found it much easier. We arrived in Santa Teresa at 5.15pm, having been on the road for 10 hours...phew what a relief...the longest and most difficult hike I have ever done. I am really pleased I made it!

On day three, our hike started at 7am, we walked along a dried up river bed for about an hour and then had to cross the river on a zip line with a small basket that could carry three people. Further on, after another 2 hours we had to cross the river again by zip line. This time there was a queue of other tour groups and somne locals and we had to wait one hour to cross. We followed the river and stopped for lunch just after the hydro electric plant, about 11.30am. We then followed the train tracks into Aguas Calientes. It wasn´t a difficult hike like the day before, and once we follwed the train tracks it was fairly level. It was just very tiring, especially after the day befores steep climb. We arrived in Aguas Calientes at 3pm, only an 8 hour hiking day! After dinner it was early to bed for a 4.30am start the next day.

The first bus to Machu Picchu leaves at 5.30am and when we got there at 4.45am there was already a big queue. It´s a 3,000 step climb up to Machu Picchu so I elected to get the bus knowing I would struggle with all those steps and I wanted to be able to enjoy it once I was there. We were some of the last people to get tickets to be able to climb Waynapicchu too. Machu Picchu was pretty impressive, and the setting was absolutely spectacular. The guided tour lasted 2 and an half hours and was very interesting. Machu Picchu means Old Mountain in Quechua. The Inca´s called it Picchu and Hiram Bingham, an American, who discovered the ruins in 1911 added the Machu bit. We then climbed Waynapicchu, oh my god! how many steps!? It´s the tall mountain you can see in the background of all the pictures of Machu Picchu. It´s really steep, at some points you had to hold a rope to climb up, and right near the top you had to crawk between a gap in the rocks and up`a wooden ladder to reach the top. The view was worth it though. I then made the mistake of decidong to visit the Grande Caverna. A 40 minute walk, all downhill, down a few wooded ladders, which was fine, but the cave wasn´t really worth it, nothing special and then I saw a sign that it was an hour and half back to Machu Picchu and it was all uphill! Millions of steps to climb again. I seriously considered making my home there....
I made it back eventually after much huffing and puffing. Some of our group also climbed Machu Picchu and to the Sungate but it would have been too much for me. We spent 8 hours there in total before hiking back down the 3,000 steps to Aguas Calientes. The last uphill bit into Aguas Calientes was a killer and I was glad when we got back to the hostel to collect our bags and discovered we could take a shower for 5 soles... a bargain! We caught the train back to Cusco at 9.45pm, arriving back in Cusco at 2am. A really tiring but fantastic trip!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Peruvian Food

It's all about the potato, closely followed by rice and meat.. it's a carb fest! At home, we have dinner at 2pm, which is always soup, followed by a main, and then fruit. The soup always has meat and rice, pototoes or pasta in it and then we have more meat, rice and potatoes in our main course. The food is always really nice but there is such a lot of it! After 5 weeks, my Peruvian mum asked me if I was a vegetarian because I don´t eat much meat, I try to explain it´s because there´s such a lot on my plate that I don´t eat it all, but she always decides I don´t like the dish.

My favourite Peruvian dish and a very popular one is ceviche, which is raw seafood marinated in lime juice, onions and chili peppers, served with Choclo (a type of corn) and sweet potato. There are hundreds of types of potato here and they have a thousand ways of cooking it. Roast guinea pig is popular here too, but I have yet to try it. There is a strong Asian culinary influence here, with a lot of Chinese style cooking and lots of Chiefa restaurants everywhere. (Chinese style Peruvian food. I´m going to try an Alcapaca burger this week before I leave.
Pisco sour is the national beverage, a grape brandy , which is similar to a margarita, I tried it in Lima but didn't like it very much.
Inka Kola is a bright yellow fizzy drink, which all the locals love, I have had it several times but wouldn't want to drink it too often in case my teeth turn the same colour!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Manu Jungle

The lodge in Pilcopata was very nice, waking at 6am for a cold open air shower was an experience... What a great way to wake up! We had a fantastic cooked breakfast, my first one in South America, and a nice change from bread. It was only an hours drive to the boat in Atalaya, but the road was very very boggy and the minibus got stuck in the mud just after driving through a waterfall. Everyone got off and the drive jacked the bus up to place rocks underneath the tyres, but that didn´t work. A couple of passing motorcylists stopped to help too and eventually we were on our way again. We took a long boat from Atalaya to our lodge for the night, Soga De Ora. We had to walk through a very muddy and slippy jungle path with our luggage to the lodge but as we walked into the clearing and caught our first glimpse of the lodge we all said wow! It was so beautiful and looked so tranquil. There were a couple of large wooden lodges on stilts with decks and hammocks to chill out in, perfect!
After lunch, we put our wellies on and took the boat across the river to a hiking trail. It was amazing, really boggy underfoot and lots of log walkways to negotiate over the really muddy parts. Our guide Fredy was brought up in the jungle in Atalaya so had really good local knowledge of the area and all the animals, flora and fauna. We took a raft, literally some logs bound together, and with an inch of water round our ankles, we punted across the lagoon. It was so relaxing and we saw plenty of different birds. On the other side we took another trail through the rainforest. We returned to the raft as it got dark, and punted back across the lagoon in the pitch black looking for caymen eyes glowing in the water. The night sky was amazing, the stars were so bright, and the jungle noises were so clear. We hiked back through the jungle to our boat, which was fun in the dark. An absolutely fantastic day, the jungle was everything I expected and more!

On day two we got up at 5am to visit a clay lick in the river bank, where parrots and parakeets meet to feed on the mineral soil and salt to supplement their diet. It had rained all night and only stopped just as we left so we didn´t get to see many parrots. We had a great breakfast on the boat of pancakes and papaya, before heading down river for another hike. We took a very steep and tricky path and as it had been raining all night, it was very slippy and boggy, with lots of streams to cross on narrow log bridges with no hand rail. I have discovered that I don´t enjoy crossing log bridges as I worry too much about falling in. It rained nearly the whole time we were hiking and our ponchos came down past our knees which made it difficult to clamber over logs and I kept tripping up mine on the steep paths. The highlight for me was seeing some small monkeys high up in the trees towards the end of our hike, they were so cute, it made it all worthwhile. I was relieved to make it back to the boat without having fallen in the mud or in a stream, despite some near misses! We had lunch back at the lodge and a rest in the hammock, before catching the boat back to Atalaya, and then our bus back to Pilcopata for our last night in the jungle.

We had another early start the next day for our long, bumpy journey home. It was a fantastic 4 day adventure, and I loved every minute of it.

The Road to Manu

It was an early start, a 5am pick up, for our trip to the Amazon jungle. The Manu National Park is about an 8 hour bus ride from Cusco. It was a climb of 700m, from 3,300m in Cusco to 4,000m above sea level at Acjanaco, the entrance to the Manu National Park. Haya and I had hoped to get some sleep on the journey, however the roads were nothing more than dirt tracks with massive holes, that twisted and turned, so sleep was impossible, with frequently being bumped up and down in our seats. However the breath taking views more than made up for it. On the way, we visited Ninamarca Cullpas, which are tombs built by a pre-Inca culture-Lucapas. These small towers in the mountainside were used to bury chiefs and important statesman between 800 and 1100AD. From Acjanaco we started to descend into the cloud forest.

The cloud forest was impressive and really felt like I had entered the jungle. The clouds hang over the top of the Andean Mountains, creating a mysterious air over the forest. Until the 1970´s the Manu Park was inaccessible to vehicles until the government blasted a road into the mountainside, taking them 20 years to build. The road has a sheer drop on one side and at every turn there is a waterfall streaming across the road to negotiate in the minibus, often creating sheer mud baths, luckily our minibus slipped its way through without getting stuck. We took a walk in the cloud forest and saw lots of butterflies, monkeys and birds. The brown capachun monkeys got very close to us, they were not afraid of humans, it was so exciting. To see monkeys so close up in their natural habitat and not in a cage was fantastic.
The Cock of the Rock is the national bird of Peru, it is bright red with a grey and white tail, absolutely gorgeous. The male does a ritual dance and sings loudly to attract females, females choose a mate and they go off together for the evening. The female is left to look after the eggs, while the male is free to dance again the next day and attract a new mate. (Sounds like a night at Inkateam nightclub in Cusco!)

We arrived in Pilcopata, a small jungle village, just as it got dark, and stopped in a wooden lodge on stilts. It´s very humid in the jungle which was a nice change after the cold nights of Cusco.