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Archive for the ‘Cusco’ Category

Cusco to Puno

We were awake before the 6am mobile phone alarm – the girls sleep well, but we grown-ups have far more broken nights at altitude, it seems (I slept much better 3km lower in the jungle, despite the noisy wildlife!).

The girls’ special stones
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A snack breakfast, final packing and out with all our luggage to get a taxi by quarter to seven. Several small taxis stopped for us – rather optimistically – but we needed a big one for our six backpacks plus extra bags of snacks, rain jackets, etc., for the trip. After four or five big empty taxis totally ignored us, one stopped for us and the driver knew exactly where to go, depositing us within feet of our waiting coach at the Inka Express terminal.

We checked in, loaded our two big rucksacks and found our front-row seats on bus number 2. A good view through the windscreen (with the driver sat lower) as well as to either side, so we have plenty of photos to choose from today…

As we set off, we were handed a glossy fold-out brochure about the route and the destination (Puno and Lake Titicaca), and we assumed that this was part of the luxury package. It then became apparent that these were for sale ($5 or 15 Soles) but we got one anyway as a souvenir/useful information source. (Indeed, it is helping to jog my memory as I write this entry.)

Five stops before Puno; four site visits and one lunch break. On board throughout the nine-and-a-half-hour journey we were offered coca tea, coffee, ordinary tea or water; we all stuck to water to accompany our biscuit snacks.

For the most part, we followed a well-maintained and fairly straight road (much better than the bumpy, twisty night journey from Arequipa to Cusco four weeks ago). And wonderful views of the Urubamba Valley (initially) with a cloudless sky overhead; a really scenic route to travel.

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Our first stop; Andahuaylillas and its ornate church, known as the ‘Cusquenian Sistine Chapel’. Perhaps that’s going a bit far, and it is in need of a fair amount of restoration as the natural vegetable pigments used by the painters centuries ago have deteriorated. Vast amounts of gold leaf covering the altar; this was a church to mix Inti with INRI – i.e. the usual Catholic fixtures were topped off with representations of the sun (Inti is the Inka Sun God) for the locals to worship. Of course, all photography is forbidden inside the church, so you’ll have to Google it for yourselves…

Andahuaylillas church
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Next up, the Palace of Wiracocha (the most important Inca Deity) at Raqchi. The sheer scale of it surprised us, as we have heard all about the major Inca sites near Cusco, but nothing about this one. Two hundred circular store-houses (some restored), each about 10 metres in diameter, many (remains of) houses and then the temple itself. This has a central supporting wall up to 20 metres high (the base is of perfectly-fitting stonework topped with adobe) and 22 pillars on either side used to support a vast thatched roof.

Raqchi pond
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A little way on we stopped in Sicuani for the obligatory buffet lunch, only this time it was included in our ticket (well, apart from the fact that only hot drinks were included, so we had to splash out on a bottle of water for the girls). Not the best food we’ve had in Peru, but it filled us up for the rest of the journey.

We noticed what looked like every local family having a Sunday picnic at the river to do their washing; wet clothes hung on bushes to dry in the sun.
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Blue loos
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A short haul up to La Raya, which is a high pass (4300 metres) marking the boundary between the districts of Cusco and Puno; we had a brief photo stop, avoiding undue physical exertion.
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Then a long drive to Pucara where we were shepherded around a small museum exhibiting pre-Inca artefacts (pottery and carved stones) found at a neighbouring archaeological site. Once again, no photos allowed – except for some stones standing outside.

The long road to Pucara
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Square at Pucara
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Central courtyard of museum, Pucara
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The other claim to fame of Pucara is that it is where they make those bulls you see on rooftops (for fertility/prosperity/good luck, depending on your guide…)
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Finally the long stretch along to Puno. The land is so flat here on the Altiplano, in marked contrast to the hills around Cusco. We passed through Juliaca – a sort of Peruvian Slough. Not the sort of place you would ever go for touristic reasons, unless to use its airport. Industry, pollution, a thriving black market (cheap goods from Bolivia) and 20,000 tricycle taxis, apparently. And somehow I failed to get a good photo of even one…

Beautiful Juliaca…
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More photogenically, we drove alongside the Pucara river which hosts flamingoes from the north of Peru at this time of year.

As we neared Puno, the road degenerated to a dirt track and Ellen was travel sick after the long journey and the long day. Soon we were in Puno bus station and a taxi took us to our hotel near the centre of town (about 5.30pm by now). Percy (now is that a Peruvian name?) the Hotel Keeper met us outside and we were shown to our room.

A little cramped with four beds squeezed into it, but at least it’s facing away from the street. The long-sought internet access is disappointing (I am sitting at the end of the corridor outside our room to get a decent signal) but we have hot water and we are warm enough – and there is an eclectic selection of cable channels on the TV.

I popped out with Hannah to leave my passport number at reception and to get a few snacks and drinks for supper (Ellen has flopped out on her bed and isn’t fit to go out anywhere today); we found a mini supermarket at  the corner of our street – it only stocks non-perishables, though.

Tomorrow we’ll try to get some tours sorted out – the ‘ethical’ one I am interested in doing comes with a hefty price tag (e.g. 165 Soles for an overnight island stay, while Percy thrust a leaflet at me advertising the same sort of thing for only 60 Soles) but we’ll see if booking locally is cheaper than doing it online.

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At a loose end

Last full day in Cusco, and we’re at a bit of a loose end. Packing doesn’t take all day, and yet we can’t go off and do too much because we’ve an early start tomorrow. So we compromised and went into town for lunch and one last look around the centre.

And perhaps it is time to move on because Cusco was the busiest we’ve seen it so far; crawling with large groups of tourists seeing the sights in the blazing sun. At Jack’s Cafe they were queueing outside the door (and it’s the one place where we felt pressured to hurry up and finish so they could sit the next group down at our table) so we continued up the hill. Heidi’s lunch menu was a bit posher and more expensive than we were looking for, so we found ourselves back at Inka Andino for the third time. It only seats about 20 people, but we got our ‘usual’ table and ordered Salpicon de Pollo (for the third time) and chicken and chips to share. Just the right amount, but a shame the chips and chicken were a little undercooked.

Street down from San Blas to Plaza de Armas, with Heidi’s Restaurant on the right
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Then to San Blas Square where there was a touristy craft market (we spotted it from the minibus last Saturday on the way to the jungle). A shop in a little courtyard off the square gave us a view of rickety old wooden balconies with washing hung out to dry.

Plaza de Armas
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But it was so hot that we sought shade, eventually finding it in Plaza Regocijo. Time for an ice-cream from a shop opposite, and one tub plus two apple-flavoured cones came to a shocking 13 Soles, reduced to 12 Soles on appeal. You can get a couple of three-course lunches for that price round here.

Views from Plaza Regocijo
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Another look in one of the bookshops that has a second-hand section – just one more children’s book there (Sweet Valley Kids) amongst the stacks of Mills & Boon and thrillers, so we got that for Ellen (who has finished two books while Hannah is still on her first one).

Then back by taxi, but our longest return journey yet because he either got lost or got the wrong district initially. We have come back via so many different routes over the past four weeks…

A rest, then out to the local playground – first time we’ve been there in three weeks – while I took photos of Avenida de la Cultura until it started to spit with rain, at which point we adjourned to one of the shelters in the square to check emails and put on yesterday’s blog.

Avenida de la Cultura
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The local playground
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We bought fresh rolls from Don Pedro & Don Esteban (where we had our cakes for tea a few days back) and had them for supper (including a weird one that looked like a pain au raisins but which contained ham and rosemary), with tinned peaches to follow. We’ve just about run our food supplies down ready for moving on, but we’ll have to get used to eating out more and managing without a kitchen for the next month and a bit.

Our home for the last four weeks
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Julie who?

The best model for long-term travel is to get a one-way ticket to somewhere, stay there for as long as you like and then move on somewhere else when you feel that the time is right. (And repeat until your money runs out.) We are now at the stage of feeling that we are ready to leave Cusco; we shall have been here for four weeks (minus a couple of trips away) and we have ‘done’ the main attractions and had plenty of rest days as well. No, we haven’t seen the whole city, but we’d like a change of scene, a change of accommodation, somewhere with internet access!

And this morning we got three positive replies from the three Puno hotels I emailed last night. Mosoq Inn (top rated on TripAdvisor) offered a four-bed room for $65, Camino Real discounted their usual $65 to $55, and Hotel Presidente blew them away with a room for all of us for 70 Soles (private bathroom, hot water, cable TV, wireless internet) – that’s about $24. They are also well reviewed so we’ll stay there for six nights and not worry about taking a night out elsewhere to stay on one of the islands in Lake Titicaca – had we stayed somewhere more expensive, we would have had the hassle of clearing out of our room, storing our surplus luggage and then moving back in again.

The only catch is that breakfast is not included, but apparently there are several good bakeries in Puno. So we’ll turn up Sunday evening, sort out our tours on Monday (and book our next bus and accommodation), take an overnight trip to the islands and a day trip to Sillustani and then have a catching-up day on Friday before moving on to Copacabana (Bolivia at last!) and then La Paz.

This is now the phase of booking ahead one place at a time, giving us flexibility as to how long we stay somewhere, but causing a few broken nights until we get something sorted out each time. (Especially when you have to leave the house to get internet access or check emails – how have we lived with that for nearly a month?) We have no more accommodation booked this side of New Zealand; just a couple of flights for which we have to be in the right place at the right time.

New Zealand will then offer us the luxury of pre-booked (and mostly pre-paid) accommodation for two months, before Australia and South-East Asia (Singapore/Malaysia) which are make-it-up-as-we-go-along.

Talking of taking to the streets to get internet access, I feel safer sitting out at night in the well-lit square just around the corner from us here than I would do sitting on a bench in Market Lavington. The uniformed security guards are always around with their ‘just to let you know I’m here’ short whistle blasts all the time (at first we kept thinking that we – or the girls – must be doing something we shouldn’t) and the atmosphere is non-threatening. No noisy mobs of drunken yobs roaming the night; young people congregate in small numbers to chat peaceably, women walk safely on their own, a few small children are up late with their parents.

The picture is no doubt rather different in other parts of Cusco, but in all our time in Peru so far, we have never felt unsafe (bar the odd unfounded concern about unmarked taxis…) Occasionally pestered by overpersistent street collectors who don’t seem to take ‘no’ for an answer. (‘Is for children with AIDS’, with dramatic emphasis on the final acronym – well, how do we know where the money from your tin is going?) But the majority of street vendors are good-natured, and the sunny voices of the llama ladies with their rising intonation on ‘no photo?’ are entirely charming.

As for today, we lunched on noodles/rolls and had empanadas for supper (all from the local Mega), did some school work in the morning with the girls, stuck tickets and things into scrapbooks in the afternoon, watched Zens. (The other day, Ellen commented that she had seen two films with Julie Andrews in – Mary Poppins and Mamma Mia. Mamma Mia? Some mistake, surely. Turned out to be Julie Walters…)

Also gathering our things for packing tomorrow, last bits of washing, doing some UCAS references for school, doing Sudoku puzzles. Now out to check emails…

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Not an awful lot happened today.

Armed with baby bananas and crisps, Zens for the girls and a Sudoku book for me, we all headed out to the square in order to check on emails and look into accommodation for Puno. On the way there, we spotted some people in the playground which we haven’t been to quite some time. The girls were keen to return, only the gate was closed with us on the outside trying to get in and a father and young son on the inside trying to get out. A lady approached us with the key. I ask her if we could enter the playground and was told it would cost 50 centimos! I was taken aback by that, I really thought playgrounds would be free all over the world, but not here … We decided to leave it and carry on towards the square.

Once there we noticed an email from a B&B place in Puno where we really wanted to stay, but unfortunately, they were booked up for 3 out of the 5 nights we had hoped to stay there. A real shame, but that’s life … Tim contacted another place, but we haven’t heard from them yet. (as I’m typing this, Tim has gone out to sort out photos for the blog and contact more hotels/B&Bs in Puno).

On the way home we stopped at the supermarket to buy four ciabatta rolls for £1 and decided to make a picnic lunch. We took it with us into the centre of town where we witnessed yet another parade. It is a bank holiday today, and for the “Cusquenos” a reason to party and parade.
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Before having our lunch and watching the parade we had more pressing things to sort. We went to the office of Inka Express to book our luxury service coach tickets from Cusco to Puno. Tim haggled the price down a little and for $160 (for all 4 of us) we get four front seats on the second coach, five sight-seeing stops including buffet lunch and service on board. We leave at 7.30am on Sunday and should arrive in Puno around 5-5.30pm.

We had our lunch in one of the smaller squares and afterwards we headed back to Plaza de Armas to witness the end of the parade – again a lot of people dressed up (not sure about the monkeys) and dancing the same dance over and over again.

We wanted to cool off in another square, but on our way there accidentally walked past Museo Inka. This is one of the museums we had intended to visit, but we could never find it. The girls were up for it so we bought our tickets and in we went. At first I thought it would be like most of the other museums we had been to and only consist of one or two rooms with badly labelled exhibit cabinets, but I was very wrong. This was by far the best museum we have visited in Cusco. We saw lots of artefacts, miniature statues (including 40 turquoise figures, each about 2cm high – definitely the inspiration for ‘Go-gos’…), skeletons, paintings, weavings, etc. dating back between 100 and 7000 years. The girls’ favourites were the 3-D scenes representing life in the olden days – I, for one, wished we had brought their sketch books and pencils …

Once back out in the street, we all agreed we could do with a rest and went back to “Heidi’s cafe” which the girls really liked. They both chose vanilla ice cream and Tim & I shared fresh orange juice (well, they brought a mango juice by mistake to start with) and pineapple juice.

Before heading back home Tim thought he might like to try guinea pig. This is probably the one dish you need to order in advance so we headed up the road to another eating place we have been to several times to see if we could order it. Tim had a look on the menu outside, but on seeing an actual picture of the dish changed his mind. None of us were too impressed with the photographic evidence (a whole, skinned cuy) and decided to get a taxi home there and then.

Once home we all had a little rest (‘Bend it like Beckham’ dubbed into Spanish on TV) before going out to Etapoy again where the girls enjoyed another ‘Chicken & Chips’ dish, Tim chose a mixed meat kebab and I went for a chicken kebab (which unfortunately was very salty). Both girls had a good run around in the climbing area before going back home and getting ready for bed.

I’ll be turning in soon myself and hope Tim will be back soon with some news about accommodation in Puno.

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My beautiful laundrette

Another ‘down day’ to recover from our early mornings and to catch up with washing and blogs. I had a broken night readjusting to the altitude (they say your acclimatisation wears off in 48 hours and we were away for 72 hours); some breathing difficulty, a need to lose lots of fluid and also a tightness across the chest.

We got up luxuriously late at around 8am and didn’t go out in the morning apart from our standard excursion to the local square to collect emails and put the last four days’ entries onto the blog; Kirsten also briefly Skyped home until the connection failed. Ellen felt sick and took it easy for much of the day, lying on her bed watching her Zen; she had perked up again by this evening.

Lunch of ciabatta rolls with fresh pastries to follow. I popped out to upload our 72 jungle photographs to Flickr and to research buses to Puno, accommodation in Puno and trips from Puno. We might try to move on a few days early, say this coming Sunday, to give us enough time in Bolivia (we have to be in Calama, Chile, for November 14th for our next RTW flight).

Then we all went to ‘Don Pedro & Don Esteban’ (a posh eatery just around the corner) for tea – well, strawberry juices/coffees and large slices of chocolate mousse cake, apple pie, strawberry cheesecake and lemon meringue pie. Apart from good food, this establishment offers free internet access in a setting where we could take our time and look at things together (the internet place has limited space and nothing for the girls, and the square is usually too sunny to see the screen properly). We found a promising place to stay in Puno and emailed them for prices and details.

On the way back we collected our washing from the lavanderia; this time we are full of praise for the system – all done in 24 hours and returned on time, every garment with a little identification tag stapled to it. How long did it take to write all those labels, staple them and then sort all our 5kg of washing?

I returned home stuffed (after eating and drinking what the others couldn’t manage – too good to let it go to waste) and we opted for chicken soup and rolls for supper rather than going back to Etapoy for chicken and chips again (maybe another day).

Kirsten battled with the creosote stains some of the girls’ clothes acquired from the floor of the dining room at the jungle lodge (they treated the floor the day we arrived and it was slippery for the first two days). But we need something stronger to shift the marks. Any suggestions?

Another dark evening and another early night – it’ll be nice to go further south and get daylight right through to 10pm or so…

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Jungle Day 4

An extremely early start at 4.30am! Hannah coped slightly better with that than Ellen.

Dawn on the Madre de Dios river.
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We had a 1 hour and 20 minute boat ride ahead of us to visit the Parrot clay lick. Everybody enjoyed the cool morning air and the breeze on the boat, for once we weren’t getting hot within minutes of venturing outside. A few of us used this smooth boat journey to catch up on some much needed sleep. It was funny to see most of the tourists in just a t-shirt, or maybe a fleece as well, whereas the guides were wearing thick coats and one of them wearing a furry hat!

Minimalistic car ferry near Puerto Maldonado.
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Sunrise at last…
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Even before we reached the clay lick we could hear the parrots. It was quite an amazing sight to see such a huge quantity of birds together; almost like they were having a party!

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JC, the quieter one of the guides, explained that the parrots feed on iron and minerals from the wall to protect their stomachs from the toxins they would take in when eating berries. They need to stock up on these minerals first thing in the morning before having their other meals/nibbles during the rest of the day. We spent a good 15 minutes admiring these green parakeets and blue/green parrots at the clay lick before returning to the lodge.

Polluted river.
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People were starting to get hungry by now, but we were told it would be another half an hour before breakfast would be served at 8.00am. This left us with half an hour to finish packing the last few of our items, check the room and take our rucksacks to the dining room. The girls took advantage of this time to have one last go in the hammocks.

Goodbye to our room and our mosquito nets.
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Breakfast started with a refreshing bowl of fruit salad, followed by more toast with jam and delicious pancakes (the girls each had 3) and ended with a fried egg. None of us had the fried egg; Tim & Ellen aren’t keen on eggs, Hannah had had enough to eat and I just couldn’t face eating yet another egg (3rd day in a row).

Then it was time to leave our bungalow and the jungle for good and hop into the boat for our last boat ride on the Amazon tributary to Puerto Maldonado (which we had already passed twice this morning).

Once at Puerto Maldonado, it was on to the coach without air conditioning to Tambo Jungle Lodge Head Office to fill in questionnaires [TJP: I thought they said we would have a sorbet at the office, but sadly it turned out to be a survey] and pick up larger pieces of luggage (for the New Zealand family) and boarding passes. It looked like Hannah & Ellen would sit together on the plane in row 6, while Tim & I had seats together in row 11!

We finally arrived at the airport shortly after 10am. By now, I wasn’t feeling cool and comfortable anymore, but hot and humid. We paid our airport tax and said farewell to the rest of our group and Julio Cesar (JC) and Joel, the guides. The New Zealand family gave us their address in Christchurch and if possible we’ll try and meet up with them in January…

Then smoothly through passport control (“yes, of course you can take your bottle of water on the plane!” said one of the airport staff) and luggage control. The security man explained that the conveyor belt wasn’t working and could he check our bags. I warned him they had loads of smelly and dirty washing in, so he simply asked if we had any knifes or scissors and didn’t bother opening any of the bags. We then waited for about half an hour sitting underneath a fan keeping ourselves cool with ice cream (H&E) and a cold drink (T&K).

When we boarded the plane (we didn’t get on first this time) Tim & Hannah sat in row 6, while Ellen and I occupied the other chairs. When everybody was on the plane and the stewardess was about to hand out the sweets, I noticed quite a few empty seats around us. The stewardess explained that the plane was only half full and, yes, Tim & Hannah could come and join us in row 11.

The flight was slightly bumpy, but seemed a lot shorter than the outward flight and before I knew it we were getting ready to land. Once off the plane we just kept on walking, past the luggage belt and within minutes we were outside in the car park. Now where was the SAS minibus? We weren’t sure whether we would be collected, but I was sort of expecting that as part of the package. When after 5 minutes or so it became clear that there won’t be any transport for us, Tim went to check taxi prices and literally took a big step backwards when the first taxi driver told him it would cost us 20 Soles for what we knew was only a good 5 minute drive. When Tim walked away the driver shouted “15 Soles”! The third taxi driver told us it would be 10 Soles so in the end we went with him. And literally after 5 minutes we were back at Calle Jose Carlos Mariategui and inside our apartment.

I went straight for the shower and then walked down to the supermarket to get our lunch. After three days of two hot meals a day it was a delight to have a fresh ciabatta roll with tuna/mayonnaise.

Everyone was feeling the effect of two very early mornings, so we all retreated to our bedrooms for a rest, until Ellen got a little restless and wanted “to do” something. We sorted out our dirty laundry (all 5 kilos of it) and took it to the launderette around the corner. No problem this time, apparently we can pick it up at 4.30pm tomorrow and even got a ticket with name and time mentioned on it. Having been in Peru for nearly 5 weeks means we are feeling a bit more confident speaking Spanish and we were able to joke about the amount of dirty washing… and explain why we had two big bags full.

The sky was pretty grey and the wind had picked up, it was time for fleeces and scarves. We did visit our little square around the corner, so the girls could have room to run around and we could check our emails and hotels in Puno (our next stop), but we didn’t stay very long.

Back at the apartment the girls crashed out on their beds with their Zens while Tim had to re-type his blog entry of yesterday – that entry was lost as the batteries of the Palm were running low and it didn’t save his entry. I got on with today’s entry.

For supper we dashed across the road for a tuna pizza and garlic bread. While we waited for our order, the girls had a good go on the little trampoline – I don’t know where they got the energy from, Ellen was looking pale with pink bags under her eyes which was the result of three late nights and two early mornings. No surprise she was too tired to eat anything, just some milk with a little cereal and had just about enough energy left to get pyjamas on, brush teeth and climb into bed.

Tim and I finished our blogs and hope for an early night as well.
First thing on tomorrow’s agenda is a long lie-in …

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Jungle Day 3

Up at 5am – just as daylight was breaking through the trees – for a 5.30 breakfast of toast, banana pancakes (scrummy), olives and cold meat followed by an omelette. A sort of banana juice to wash it down, but we weren’t quite sure what to make of it.

River sunrise
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Big millipede
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Then into the boat for a short journey to the opposite bank a little way downstream to the start of the path to Lake Sandoval. We were there by 6.25am with the aim of avoiding the worst heat of the day, and began by filing through the checkpoint where we gathered yet another nice stamp for our passports, as well as filling in the usual forms that the Peruvians are so keen on – name, date of birth, nationality, occupation, star sign, inside leg…

Also the final loo stop before the lake; I’m gradually getting used to the lo-tech but functional facilities here – it’s flush-it-yourself with a jug of water out of a bucket filled from the river, loo paper in the separate bin (don’t know where that goes out in the jungle – do they burn it?). Still early in the day so not much pong yet. Yesterday we had a gravity-closing door – a string running over a pulley with an old plastic bottle filled with water on the end.

Then off down a wide but rutted earth/mud track through the forest. This track is also used by human-drawn two-wheeled carts to take provisions and luggage to Sandoval Lodge (which was the second place we enquired about – expensive and an unenthusiastic sales lady). It was a long haul, perhaps three or four kilometres one way, and we saw just the occasional bird or insect.

Through the jungle…
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Bird of paradise flower
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Vultures
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Just as the girls were wondering ‘are we there yet?’ we arrived at a clearing next to a sort of jungle canal where our long rowing boat was moored. We just about squeezed on – thirteen tourists and two guides/rowers – and the water level came up disconcertingly near to the edge of the boat (no life jackets available).

We gently cruised between the palms towards the lake, pausing to spot a mainly-submerged caiman and a heron up a tree (I’m not sure I saw much of either, despite the best efforts of the guides to point them out).
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Then out into the lake (which is of the oxbow variety and will disappear eventually) and into the blazing sunshine; the occasional waft of wind was most welcome.

It’s not a Kew hothouse. Now is the dry season so the humidity is lower, there is often some breeze as opposed to an oppressive mass of still air, and the sunshine somehow legitimises the high temperature (rather than it being grey and muggy).

We hugged the shore of the lake to begin with, paddling gently.
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There were diving cormorants, a lone turtle on the end of a log, ripples from the 4-metre pike that live there, a caiman with its head just above the water.
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A bombardment of brilliant butterflies about the boat, a group of colourful crested hoatzins sitting in a tree on the shore,
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and we got close to a colony of small bats hanging below an inclined tree trunk.
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We paused on the bank for a snack of fruit and biscuits, and there was time for Pete and the boys to cool off in the water and have a swim/splash. It’s a spot used by locals and they were warned to stay close to the beach to avoid disturbing the wildlife. (We had tales of the ‘penis fish’ which swims up the urethra and embeds itself painfully – I’m sure it features in a Julian Barnes book, too; A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.)

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Again, a botheration of butterflies, some of which settled briefly on the girls, or on anyone’s hat. But still tricky to get photos – they are so active in the heat. A small shiny blue one, a medium white swallowtail-looking one and a large yellow one which never seemed to land. No Blue Morphos, sadly.
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We were not allowed to the far end of the lake so we cut across to the opposite shore. On the way, Pete thought he saw an otter, and indeed there was a family of rare giant otters poking their heads above the water and then going below for minutes at a time. Apparently these are only sighted once or twice per month.

Giant otters (look closely…)
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But without high-powered binoculars, a lot of the time it’s ‘look at that dark blob in the distance half hidden behind a log/palm tree – it’s a giant otter/caiman/vulture’ and we all quietly ooh and aah while wishing we could get close enough for a decent look and a decent photo. The majority of the time on the lake or on the river it’s a standard view of water – trees – sky with not a living thing to be seen.

We paddled back to out starting point, but all the wildlife was sensibly hidden away from the heat of the sun by now. Time for the group photo:
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We then began the return walk to the river, and unusually this seemed far longer than the morning’s journey – perhaps the sweltering heat had something to do with this. Kirsten and Ellen suffered particularly, and we were all glad to be back on the boat with the river breeze; it was mid-day by now.

Back to the lodge; a gap of an hour or so for showers and a rest, and then lunch – pork chops, carrot and beetroot and a mound of rice. We wouldn’t mind some cold meals, but perhaps there’s a greater danger of food poisoning if it isn’t cooked.

Another chunk of free time, and we sat in the dining area to let the girls play in the hammocks while we wrote our diaries. Only I got chatting to an Australian who researched stocks and shares who was disparaging about the Tambo lodge experience – he was expecting a tent surrounded by 100 miles of dense jungle, I think, and was disappointed at our cushy set-up. True, it is Jungle Lite, and that’s probably best with a young family. But I do agree that it’s a bit package holiday – meet at X o’clock to see the caimans, get up at Y o’clock for the parrots, then back for the buffet meal – extra drinks may be purchased at the bar.

For our final excursion of the day to Monkey Island, we assembled at 4pm and took the boat for half an hour, a bag of bananas on board. Some difficulty in landing on the sandy and gently-shelving shore (don’t they do this every couple of days?) but we made it after we all piled down to the far end of the boat. Then a walk inland to the first of several clearings where we should see the monkeys. We called ‘Chico! Chico!’, but to no avail. We continued furth.er inland, but our search for the elusive capuchin and squirrel monkeys was fruitless – and thus they also remained fruitless… Must have used up all our luck with those giant otters.

Monkey Island beach
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Weaver bird nests
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Texture study 1 – treetops
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Texture study 2 – cracked sand
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Back to the lodge in the boat, just missing the best of the sunset. Our final supper, then the news that we have to pack tonight because it’s up at 4.30 tomorrow morning, go to see the parrot clay lick one and a half hours away, back for 8am breakfast, then return to the airport half an hour later.

I blogged into the night, then lost the entire day’s entry because when the battery is low on the Palm, it disables the saving of files to the memory card. Great feature, guys. So this is my second attempt at rcording the day, now we are back in Cusco. I’m sure some details have now escaped me, but it’s better than nothing.

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