Peru Vacation – Hike to Machu Picchu

Catch up on days 1 & 2
Catch up on day 3
Catch up on day 4
Catch up on day 5
Catch up on day 6
Catch up on day 7

Day 8: Tuesday, May 31

Our early morning began with scarfing down some yogurt and fruit right when continental breakfast opened at 5:30, then catching the train literally right outside the hotel at 6:10. Boarding the train was pretty informal – nothing like an airplane – they just scanned our tickets right outside our train car. The train was nice, with skylights, big windows, and tables. We enjoyed a beautiful hour and a half ride, seeing mountains that changed from rocky and snow-peaked to tropical. The tracks stretched along the roaring Urubamba river. At “kilometer 104” we departed for our day hike to Machu Picchu. Some people start a four-day trek to Machu Picchu in Ollantaytambo, most people take the train or bus all the way, and we chose a route in-between, just because we didn’t want to spend four valuable days of our trip just getting to one spot.

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We crossed a long footbridge over the Urubamba river to the checkpoint, where you must meet a guide and show a pass for the Inca Trail. At 148 sol (~$50), it was probably our most expensive excursion of the trip. We started to get nervous, as we couldn’t find our guide anywhere. Finally another couple also looking for their guide found ours still waiting for us by the train stop.

Our guide Rossi was sweet and tried very hard, but her English was pretty rough, and she was very quiet, so it was hard to understand her. I felt bad, because she was fighting a cold/cough and still had to guide us along mountainous trails. We took a quick bathroom break and the three of us headed out onto the Inca Trail at a fast clip. I briefly stopped to take photos regularly, but other than that, we only had a few rest breaks.

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The first half of the Inca Trail – all the way to our lunch stop – was uphill. For some reason I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be, because Machu Picchu’s elevation is lower than Cusco where we began. I guess I didn’t realize we’d be going up from the train at the base of the mountain, then have to climb over and around a mountain to get to Machu Picchu. There were a lot of precipitous cliffs and steep steps to climb (sometimes even having to use our hands). Although it was chilly in the morning, we got hot quickly, ready to shed all our layers at the first stop 45 minutes in.

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Inca Trail with Winay Wayna ruins in the distance

I’m so happy we hiked at least part of the Inca Trail – the views were breathtaking! I guess I never realized how tropical Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains were – nothing like other mountain ranges I’ve seen. We saw beautiful foliage and wide-open views of the Andes Mountains and the Urubamba river below.

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A couple of hours into our trek, to our surprise, we came upon a beautiful glacier waterfall. I would guess it to be a couple hundred feet tall! We took a few photos near the bridge in front of it and moved on.

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There were a few ruins along the way, including the breathtaking Winay Wayna.

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Winay Wayna

It’s built into a steep hillside overlooking the river and the mountains – so climbing the steps there proved to be almost the most difficult part of the hike. We had to stop and catch our breath multiple times. Once I realized how fast we were moving, I wish we’d spent more time exploring there. The ruins consists of many terraces, probably for growing potatoes and carrots, upper and lower houses that supported about 100 people, and fountains for the elite. There were also a few random llamas grazing there.

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Exploring Winay Wayna

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A short time later, we came to the day 3 campsite for people who hike the entire Inca Trail, so we stopped there for our box lunch at 10:40 a.m. After a bathroom break at the squat toilets, we continued on. From there, it leveled out for a bit, but we continued to enjoy beautiful views.

After a while, Rossi told us we were getting close, then we climbed some extremely steep steps (the kind we had to use our hands on), and when we reached the top – we were at the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu!

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Steep steps to the Sun Gate

Jerod was so tired he immediately sat down and didn’t even realize we were there. The Sun Gate, which was the entrance to Machu Picchu for travelers, was farther away from Machu Picchu than I realized, but it was still really crowded with both Inca Trail hikers and tourists who hiked up from Machu Picchu.

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The Sun Gate with Machu Picchu in the distance
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First view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate

After sitting to rest and enjoy the view for a while, we began the 45-minute hike downhill on large stones, which proved to be pretty rough on our knees and feet. We approached a couple more ruins, including a cemetery, on our way down. After taking all of the standard obligatory photos of Machu Picchu, Rossi guided us down to the entrance.

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I thought we’d get to explore since it was only 1 p.m., but we headed straight for the line for the bus. Each one-way ticket to and from Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu was $12! We finally found the tourist trap of the trip.

Rossi walked us to our hotel and gave us a confusing and contradictory briefing about the next day (telling us we needed to buy bus tickets and meals when we were told they were included), then went on her way. We tried getting ahold of our travel agent, but the wi-fi was horrible, so we finally made a phone call from the front desk. A while later, she showed up at our hotel admitting she was incorrect and asked to take our passports to get our bus passes. It was another one of those moments when I really struggled to put all my trust in our travel company. But sure enough, she got our bus passes for us and everything got straightened out.

The hotel was very nice, and it even included complimentary drinks in our fridge, so we finally tried out the famous Cusquena beer and Inka Cola – neither of which we liked. After lounging around at our hotel for a while, we walked all around the little town of Aguas Calientes. It was quaint with a touristy, yet cute square. Even though Machu Picchu seemed crowded, the town wasn’t too bad.

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Aquas Calientes city square

We had an included dinner that night, and when we showed up, Rossi was there, so we invited her to join us. We tried to make conversation, but she didn’t understand the majority of what we asked her, so she’d answer with a completely irrelevant (yet somehow interesting) story. We did finally get out of her that she was staying the night in Aguas Calientes and going home via train in the morning – we thought maybe she’d had to turn around a couple of times to deliver information to us and missed her train home. Jerod and I ordered stuffed avocado and trout from the price fixe menu, which was pretty good. We went to bed early with another uber-early wake-up call ahead of us.

Peru Vacation – Sacred Valley

Catch up on days 1 & 2
Catch up on day 3
Catch up on day 4
Catch up on day 5
Catch up on day 6

Day 7: Monday, May 30

After a hotel breakfast, a walk to the square to go to the ATM and exchange money, and a stop for water at the drugstore, we met Daniel and Juan outside the hotel around 9 to start a tour of the Sacred Valley. We had some confusion about which bags to take with us for the next couple of days (since we were staying in the Sacred Valley and hiking to Machu Picchu) and which bags we needed to leave at the hotel. We ended up bringing along two backpacks and a duffle bag, only to find out the next day we couldn’t leave the duffle bag on the train to be dropped off at our hotel.

Our first stop down the road was a llama farm. I thought it would be a tourist trap, but Daniel gave us a nice tour – showing us several different types of llamas and alpacas.

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The best part, of course, was feeding them!

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He (along with some ladies working on the farm) gave us a demonstration about how the yarn is naturally dyed, woven, and made into clothing and blankets.

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It was interesting to learn the difference between the llama wool, the soft alpaca wool, and ultra-soft and expensive “first cut” of wool. Although there was a fancy shop with expensive items, there was no pressure to buy.

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After that, we traveled on to the Pisaq market, where we were looking forward to exploring and having some time to buy souvenirs. I was disappointed that we were kind of herded around by Daniel. First we were taken to a “personal” demonstration at a jewelry store. After a whole spiel I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but I was really surprised by the inexpensive prices, so I did end up with a pair of pretty silver and mother-of-pearl leaf-shaped earrings for only about $30 USD. Then Daniel took us by an outdoor wood-fired grill and encouraged us to try empanadas. Being an animal lover, I was mortified that they had live guinea pigs in a cage that you could pick out and have roasted on the spot. I was a little leery of eating any meat cooked on the street (we saw and smelled the hot, rotting meat in the market), so we settled on sharing a cheese empanada. After that, he showed us around a bit more and gave us 10-15 minutes to shop on our own. I told Jerod that wasn’t nearly enough time, and I think we ended up taking closer to 20-30 minutes, practically running back to shops we’d seen along the way.

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Next was the Pisaq ruins. We walked along the garden terraces (carved out by slaves) and learned all about Inca farming. I’m amazed by the diversity of fruits and vegetables grown in Peru – about four thousand varieties of potatoes, 55 varieties of corn, and most any other produce you can think of. A lot of the success is due to the elevation changes and different climates.

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Daniel only gave us a few minutes to hike up to the top of the ruins and check out the dwellings. Researchers think that there were about 500 people living in the city, and that stones used to create the homes were covered in stucco, since they weren’t very smooth.

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One other interesting thing to note – all along the mountainsides there were tons of terraces – even up to the very top – which the Incas built to prevent earthquake damage.

As you can imagine, the mountainous road was hilly and curvy – and the driving was pretty wild – which didn’t bode well with Jerod’s motion sickness. By the time we made it to our lunch stop (at 2:30 p.m.), Jerod didn’t feel well at all. We stopped at a touristy buffet, which was so-so, but pretty much empty since we got there so late.

Our final stop for the day was the crowded ruins of Ollantaytambo. The hillside was very windy and a little cooler.

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We climbed the very steep steps, stopping periodically for Daniel to tell us about it. At the bottom was a village, along the middle were the farming terraces, and at the top was the sacred Temple of the Sun, which was never finished due to Spanish takeover. At the bottom of the mountain were beautiful fountains, divided for the middle class and the elite.

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Interestingly, all of the stones (which were huge) came from another mountain with stronger rock, so the Incas had to build paths along the mountains to pull the stones. Once in location, they were carved to lock in place, and there were both inner and outer walls to withstand earthquakes – which they did!

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On the opposite mountain, a face had been carved in the cliff, and there was significance about where the sun rose above the mountain during summer and winter solstice.

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After a quick drive to our hotel situated right on the train tracks to Machu Picchu, we bid farewell to Daniel, and were guided through the beautiful hotel grounds to our room. The hotel’s gardens, the room itself, and the mountain view were all spectacular! We couldn’t help but sit and enjoy it for a bit.

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We walked down to the city center and decided on a restaurant called Helping Hands Café, which was a restaurant raising money for local children with disabilities. For 72 sol ($22.50) we had Pisco sours and water, and Jerod had an alpaca burger, while I ordered the chicken chili burger. Having tried French fries several times in Peru, these were the first good ones we’d found. My burger also came with a delicious salad. It was one of my favorite meals of the trip!

Back at the hotel, we re-arranged our bags for the Machu Picchu hike so we could take everything we needed for the next two days in our backpacks. The next morning someone from our travel company met us at the hotel to take our duffle bag back to our Cusco hotel. He also gave us a briefing – completely in Spanish – so we caught very little of it! We trustingly handed over our bag, which luckily made it back to exactly the right place.

Peru Vacation – City of Cusco

Catch up on days 1 & 2
Catch up on day 3
Catch up on day 4
Catch up on day 5

Day 6: Sunday, May 29

We got to SLEEP IN this morning! Because Cusco is so much cooler than the Amazon, we were on an opposite schedule – we did everything in the middle of the day when it’s not cold out. Naturally I still woke up pretty early, around 6:15, but it was nice not to rush around. Today we had a private Cusco city tour with our very friendly and knowledgeable guide – Daniel.

We started out at Cristo Blanco which overlooks the heart of Cusco. It’s a smaller version of the Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro. It was built by Palestinians in 1945 as a gift of gratitude for seeking refuge there.

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Christo Blanco

Second, we visited Sacsayhuaman ruins (sometimes called “sexy woman” for fun) built by the Incas. It was in a zigzag shape similar to a lightening bolt. Cusco is said to be shaped like a puma, and Sacsayhuaman represents the head.

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Sacsayhuman ruins

When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century they thought it was a fortress, but now researchers think it was a residential area for the wealthy, complete with baths. Everything there is symbolic, including stones in the walls formed to look like puma paws and llamas.

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Paw print formation in the ruins

When the structure was built, thousands of Inca slaves moved the huge stones across mountains by building gravel roads and pulling them along rolling planks (tree trunks?). Then they spent an unbelievable amount of time carving the stones to be smooth and fit perfectly into place. They’ve withstood hundreds of years of earthquakes.

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Next we visited Qenqo (meaning labyrinth) and Pukapukara. We saw an area where Incas mummified their loved ones after death. All Incans were mummified, but royalty was done so in a very meticulous, long process – bringing the bodies into the sun and coating them with oil every day for a year. When the Spanish discovered the area, it is said that they burned most of the mummies, but people fled with a few of the most sacred bodies and hid them in the mountains. Hearing that broke my heart. On the top of the site, there was also a sundial shaped like a puma. Below the site was a series of man-made tunnels that we didn’t get to explore. The sundials were a very accurate way for them to keep track of days. Pukapukara, according to Daniel, was a hostel for travelers to stay. There used to be a tall tower to communicate using conch shells for sound and bronze discs as mirrors for light signals.

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Pukapukara ruins

Just down the road we went to Tambomachay, a series of fountains carrying natural mineral spring water to the travelers. The water never stops flowing, and downstream it is bottled for water and beer. It is said that people who drink the spring water will be fertile and have a long life.

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Tambomachay ruins
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12,352 feet elevation

After visiting all the ruins, we went back into the heart of Cusco to see the Basilica Cathedral. It was built across a span of centuries from the 1500s-1700s. There were all kinds of European styles of art and architecture with Inca influence. For example, the triangles in the art symbolize mountains, and they had a black Jesus (apparently the wrong one was delivered there), who represented the Lord of Earth. Daniel claimed that when earthquakes occur in the area, they remove the black Jesus from the cathedral, and the earthquakes stop. A large piece of art representing the Last Supper had cuy (guinea pig) and Inca vegetables. The cathedral was very elaborate with gold, silver, a variety of art, and to top it off, they had giant Saint dolls on display for a festival. Although impressive, it was a bit gaudy for my taste. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos.

From there, we had lunch with Daniel at a place right off the square with a prix fixe menu – 35 sol ($10-11) for stuffed peppers, soup, fish, and small Pisco sours.

Finally, we ended the tour at the Temple of the Sun – the most sacred place for Inca worship. Thousands of slaves helped build it. In fact, it took one person a year to carve one stone. When the Spanish came, they built on top of it, and it became a church and convent. Daniel showed us the grounds and some of the art, then left us to explore on our own.

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Temple of the Sun
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Temple of the Sun grounds

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After the tour (around 2:30), we just walked around some more, because a lot of places were closed on Sunday. We walked uphill to San Blas, but there wasn’t much to look at while we were there. I did take the typical tourist photo with three Peruvian girls with sheep and kids (baby goats). We also bought Jerod and Lil’ Miss K alpaca sweaters.

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Photo opp
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Beautiful view of Cusco from San Blas

That night, after choosing between a lot of recommended restaurants, we decided to eat at the Inka Grill. I had a chicha sour (bitter and disappointing, considering how much I loved chicha morados – purple corn juice), and Jerod had a local cerveza. I had a chicken and rice dish (eh, ok) and Jerod had a braised lamb dish that he raved about. After dinner we stopped at an ice cream shop and enjoyed 5 sol ($1.40) ice cream for dessert. It was a long day…we definitely heard more than our minds could absorb.

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Peru Vacation – Amazon & Cusco

Catch up on days 1 & 2
Catch up on day 3
Catch up on day 4

Day 5: Saturday, May 28

During the night, we had a steady rainstorm – the first and only rain during our entire time in the rainiest place on Earth. Robin had agreed to take us back to the canopy tower on our final morning, so we woke up around 5 to get there a little after sunrise. A cold front from Patagonia had blown through, so it was slightly breezy and chilly(ish) – possibly down to the mid-60s in the morning. (I think it typically ranged from mid-70s to mid-90s while we were there.) The four of us had the canopy tour all to ourselves, and we got to observe a lot more birds than last time. We saw toucans, gold and turkey vultures, three kinds of macaws, parrots, black-capped parakeets, golden pendulum birds, and more. The best part was seeing the colorful backs of the macaws as they flew around the canopy.

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Looking down from the top of the canopy
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Vultures

Back at the lodge, we packed our luggage, ate breakfast, caught our Rainforest Expeditions transfer to the airport, and said good-bye to Robin and friends. I should note how awesome Robin was – we thought he was the best guide at the lodge. He joked with us, told stories, told us about his family and his ambitions (wants to learn Chinese), spoke great English, and was extremely knowledgeable. At the airport we ran into Tripper and Mary – two of our friends from Robin’s group. They’d left the Amazon early for a day in Puerto Maldonado, and they had the same flight back to Cusco as us.

Naturally, STAR Peru was late, but we made it to Cusco with no issues. Upon arrival there was a large bowl full of coca leaves (the same leaf cocaine is made out of) to chew on to help with altitude sickness. The leaves are also known to provide energy and help with digestion. Porters along the Inca Trail rely on them heavily. Although chewing the leaves was less than tasty, coca tea and coca candies were delicious! We got our bags, met our driver – Juan – who navigated the busy, narrow streets to Andenes Al Cielo hotel in Cusco. The hotel was beyond our expectations – very fancy with a big room and a nice view of the city. There were about three floors with rooms in a square around open foyer in the center and a beautiful rooftop deck. We checked in, enjoyed some coca tea, and spent a little time taking in the location.

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In the afternoon, Vanise, our travel agent’s wife who lives in the Sacred Valley in Peru and leads yoga travel tours, met up with us to pick up a couple of items we’d delivered from the States. She gave us a little impromptu walking tour of Cusco, and helped us exchange money at the money exchange shop with the best rates.

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We ate a delicious meal at Greens – Vanise’s recommendation – an organic restaurant – beet/cheese gnocchi and alpaca. (Guess who ate what?) It was about 150 sol ($50) for the three of us, which was one of our most expensive meals. Everything is so inexpensive in Peru. Vanise took us to the local market, and we walked through a beautiful Spanish cathedral covered in gold. We had to walk through a hotel lobby and outdoor square to get to it.

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After Vanise headed home with a giant VitaMix blender stuffed into her backpack that we’d brought to her, we walked around some more, taking forever to pick an inexpensive dinner spot. We settled on El Meson, which had a delicious salad bar and pizza. Our entire meal with two salad bars, a large eggplant pizza, and two bottles of water, was 40 sol ($12.50). Unfortunately tap water is not safe to drink, so you must buy bottled water everywhere. Juice was about the same price as water, and beer and Pisco sours weren’t much more.

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Back at the hotel we enjoyed coca tea and the rooftop terrace. Since we were at 11,000+ feet in the Andes Mountains in their winter, it quickly cooled down to the 40s.

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Peru Vacation – Amazon Day 3

Catch up on days 1 & 2
Catch up on day 3

Day 4: Friday, May 27

Robin’s group “slept in” until 5 a.m., and when Jerod and I first woke up, we heard howler monkeys very close by. Their sounds are both mystical and kind of horror-movie-scary at the same time. We took an early morning hike back to the clay lick to look for green parrots (which are smaller than macaws). We waited very quietly for about 30-45 minutes in the blind, then saw some parrots flying around and above us. They started to land in the trees and along the backside of the clay lick, so we didn’t get a very good view of them. But it was fun just to hear their squawks and begin to recognize the sounds of birds.

We headed back for breakfast and said good-bye to most of our group, who were on the three-day adventure. We really enjoyed all the others in our group – they were similar ages and fitness levels as us. Just us and our German friend Marina remained with Robin the last day. The four of us took about an hour hike to a giant ceiba tree – one Robin claimed was the largest in the world. After researching it upon returning home, I’m pretty sure some sequoias are bigger, but it was still huge, taking 24 people to wrap around it. We ventured around it a few times, took some photos, tried climbing the vines, and found a tarantula living below it.

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The hike was just as cool as the tree. Along the round-trip adventure we saw army ants, cicada mounds (where they live until they come out every 17 years), pocket monkeys, pale-winged trumpeters, a telephone tree (with a giant, deep echo when struck), a rubber tree, and lots of termite tracks and mounds.

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We got back to the lodge around 11:30 and rested in our hammock for a while, where we saw a giant lizard chilling right outside our room. We ate beef, rice, banana patties and salad for lunch, then watched another local soccer game. Just on our trek to the soccer field we saw several monkeys and a fairly large rodent. At 3:30 we headed out on the boat with another group to a local farm. We stopped at a beach along the river for a quick walk. I thoroughly enjoyed getting my toes in the sand. (The college girls swam much to our guides’ delight, but I was leery of the high lead content from all the river gold mining upstream.)

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Along the riverbank we also got to see capybara – and giant guinea pig-looking rodent – one of my hopes for the trip!

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Aside from a couple of emaciated dogs that Jerod wouldn’t let me feed, there was no one at the Infierno farm, so our guides gave us a tour. We started out trying papaya and banana, and we also got to see star fruit, avocado, hybrid citrus plants, Peruvian tomatoes, fish-eye chilies, coca plants, a beautiful Heliconia tree, chickens, and more. Unfortunately the farm had flooded about three years prior and washed away herbs and other low-growing plants. It was interesting to see how the plants were just growing amongst each other – no rows of plants like back home. We got to witness a beautiful sunset on the return boat ride.

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Back at the lodge we enjoyed beef stir-fry and noodle soup. We had no wi-fi, so Jerod and I actually indulged in a couple of drinks (the only thing not included at Posada Amazones) to pass the time. We went to bed around 9 p.m. and finally slept great – on our last night of course!

Peru Vacation – Amazon Day 2

Today I’ll continue with our second day in the Amazon Rainforest. Check out the first journal entry here.

Day 3: Thursday, May 26

We thought the last couple of wake-up calls were early – today, we got up at 4 a.m. for a 4:30 breakfast and 5 a.m. departure. We hiked down to the river, took a quick boat ride to another spot in the rainforest, hiked about 45 minutes to the Tres Chimbadas Oxbow Lake for the sunrise on a man-made catamaran.

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A couple of very strong locals from Infierno took turns paddling the boat for us. The first thing we saw was a black caiman (alligator) in the water. Our boat was able to glide up just a few feet away from it!

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We also saw a ton of birds – horned screamers, macaws, hoatzins, kingfisher, yellow and white herons, wren, red-caped cardinals, and much more.

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Hoatzins

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Although the lake is known for giant river otters, we were among the 40% that didn’t get to see them. At the turnaround point we fished for piranhas. Though they have very sharp teeth, they aren’t nearly as vicious as Hollywood makes them out to be. They are similar to sharks – they may bite you if you smell like blood – but otherwise humans are not prey to them. Several people caught yellow and white piranhas, which they threw back after taking a look.

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On our way back, it started to warm up as the sun climbed higher in the sky, so we didn’t see nearly as much wildlife.

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Garlic tree

Close to our lodge, we took the boat to the clay licks along the bank, where macaws come to lick and eat clay for the salt. We saw a few from a distance before heading back to the lodge for a quick snack of light sandwiches. It felt like lunchtime, but it was only 9:30! We took a 15-20 minute hike to the clay licks, where we hid out in a bird blind. We saw one macaw eating clay, and we got a better look and close-up cellphone shots with Robin’s telescope. He was great at holding phones up to the telescope to create a “zoom” photo.

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We also got lucky with a group of spider(?) monkeys that ran by us along the path!

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Our group got back to the lodge around 11, where we rested until lunchtime. Right before lunch we saw a group of pocket monkeys jumping in the trees and along the trellises at the lodge. Although I didn’t have my DSLR with me, we were able to get really close to video.

We had stuffed peppers, veggies, and potato cakes for lunch – delicious! We rested again (during the hottest part of the day) back at the room. It was nice to just lie in the hammock and listen to the amazing sounds. I decided I’d rather be blind than deaf in the Amazon. The birds, insects, howler monkeys, and other animals never stop talking and singing. Around 2 p.m., with an invitation from Robin, we ventured down to the back side of the lodge to witness a local game of soccer. They play hard, sweat a lot, and have FUN! A couple of guys in our group tried to play with them too. I imagine they were sore the next day!

At 3 we headed out for an ethnobotanical tour at Centro Ñape, which turned out to be a shaman showing us the plants he grows and uses for medicine. We were greeted by his friendly pet (wild) pig, who stunk to high heaven but was as friendly as a dog. We learned about quite a few different plants that helped treat symptoms of various diseases. We even chewed one leaf that made our tongues go numb and tried shots of 3 different concoctions known for healing. At first I was skeptical, but I do think there’s some truth to the medicinal purposes of plants. They even had several cabins for people to stay in and get treatment. Some locals visit the shaman, but people from all over the world also stay there.

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Back at the lodge, we had rice, coca (from coca leaves) chicken, veggies, and carrot soup for dinner. Although spotty at times, we actually had wi-fi there, so we could post photos and catch up with people back home.

After that was our night walk. We took the path down to the dock, and along the way we saw a lot of insects including a scorpion spider, wolf spider, and bullet ants, which we were told give a painful sting.

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At the dock we had a beautiful view of the night sky and had the opportunity to see constellations we don’t get to see in the northern hemisphere. Although the night walk was neat, we were a little disappointed with how little we saw. By the end of the long, tiring day, we were ready for hot showers and covered beds.

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Strange bug outside our room

We had to shoo away more bugs in our room than the previous night, but once I made it to sleep, I slept a little more soundly.

Peru Vacation

My husband and I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to Peru for vacation at the end of May and beginning of June. I’ve finally had a chance to write out my trip journal and edit at 700+ photos. (And those are just the ones I kept!) Don’t worry, I won’t share all of those with you. But I did have such positive feedback sharing journals from previous mission trips that I decided to share this trip with you, too. It’s long, so I’ll be sharing one day at a time. Here are days 1 and 2…

Day 1: Tuesday, May 24

Last night we said our sad good-bye’s to Lil’ Miss K. Even though she knew we were leaving, I don’t think she had a concept of the length of time. We slept horribly and got up early for a 7:10 flight out of KCI, but unfortunately we had an hour flight delay. Our layover in Charlotte was only about an hour and a half, but we made up enough time on the flight to run to our next gate. We were the lucky few that barely made it – a lot of others on our flight had connections taking off about the time we landed. We flew from Charlotte to Miami, where we got Cuban sandwiches for lunch, then we departed for Lima, Peru. The flight was about 5.5 hours long. Our flight included about three rounds of snacks and drinks (including alcohol) and a big dinner. I saved back several items that I snacked on throughout the trip. We landed around 8:30 p.m., went through customs, said a “hallelujah” that our luggage arrived with us, and attempted to check in for our morning flight. After butchering some Spanish and not understanding a Peruvian airport security officer’s English, we finally figured out that the STAR Peru gate did not open until 3 a.m. We’d booked an extremely convenient, expensive hotel room at the Wyndham, which was attached to that airport. We got to enjoy very Western amenities and our first of several delicious Pisco sours at the hotel bar before heading to bed.

Day 2: Wednesday, May 25

We woke up at 5 a.m. to head across the street to the airport and check in for our flight. There was a long line, so we ran back to the hotel and ate from a big continental breakfast very quickly before heading to our gate. The rush was pointless – our flight was delayed about an hour. Then our flight was combined with another flight, so we no longer had a direct flight to Puerto Maldonado. We were a bit confused about what was going on with the language barrier – the English translations over the intercom were choppy and hard to understand. We quickly learned that delayed flights with STAR Peru were the norm. After all that, we got to sit on the plane for a couple of hours in Cusco waiting for our connection. Our total time, for what was supposed to be about an hour flight, was five hours. We finally arrived in Puerto Maldonado around 1.

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The airport had one runway, one baggage claim, and two waiting areas/gates. Luckily, despite the delay, there was someone from Rainforest Expeditions waiting with our names on a sign. What a relief! Not being able to communicate stressed me out, so having reliable guides was a lifesaver. We had to wait on the shuttle for one other flight to land, then Rainforest Expeditions took us and probably 10-12 other people to their office (right around the corner) so we could drop off luggage, check wi-fi, put on bug spray, and buy some water. From there, we had about a 45-minute bus ride (where we were given a snack of a mini banana and a few sugar-coated brazil nuts), then a 45-minute boat ride along the Tambopata River to the Posada Amazonas eco lodge, primarily run by locals from Infierno. The boat was relaxing and cool, and we got our first meal – a delicious rice/egg/vegetable mixture wrapped in a large leaf.

Our boat docked along the bank, we took a steep flight of wooden steps into the rainforest, and after just a few minutes of hiking, we saw a pack of monkeys! Although there are a lot of monkeys in the rainforest, you don’t just happen upon them like you may imagine, so it was pretty exciting to see them right off.

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After a 10-minute hike to the lodge, we had a quick briefing and were given just 10 minutes to drop off our stuff in our rooms and start a hike to the canopy tower before dark. The room was so nice! Two queen beds with mosquito nets, open air to the forest, and a simple, yet nice bathroom.

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There were 9 of us in a group with our super-knowledgeable and easy-to-understand guide – Robin. We saw such diverse vegetation on the 20-minute walk to the canopy tower!

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We climbed the 120 steps to the top of the tower, feeling it sway from all the people, then made the final ascent up a ladder for a fantastic view of the top of the dense rainforest. We didn’t see much wildlife, but we did catch a beautiful sunset.

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After climbing down, it quickly got dark, so Robin took us to see a tarantula living beneath a tree near the path. Despite my arachnophobia and its massive size, I wasn’t nearly as afraid as I thought I’d be, perhaps because we were in its habitat vs. the other way around, or perhaps because it obviously wanted to crawl back into its den to hide. Approaching the lodge we saw another giant spider – a Brazilian wandering spider – which Robin said was very poisonous. Only when we looked it up later did we realize it was the deadliest spider on Earth. Robin had actually grabbed our phones and taken a close-up photo only a couple inches away from it!

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We had a late dinner after the hike. All the food at the lodge was delicious! Tonight we had chicken pesto spaghetti and quinoa soup. I slept pretty poorly that night, not being used to all the animal sounds that never seemed to die down.