Peru, part 14

Peru, part 14

 

     We woke up early even though our Cusco city tour isn’t until nine this morning. It was nice to just laze around the room and chill out for once. We had the usual breakfast at Maytaq of fruits, great croissants, juice and scrambled eggs. I even eat a couple of slices of avocado which I love although I find it an odd thing to serve for breakfast.

     We expect to join a busload of tourists on the city tour but are delighted to find there are only four other people with us. The two couples are from California and will be trekking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in two days. Our guide, Carlos, is even more exuberant and dramatic than Lalo our guide for Moray and Moras! He is full of facts, has a quirky sense of humor and is a bit of a drill sergeant. When he wants us to get a move on he snaps out “chop-chop, let’s go” and then scurries ahead of us. His hurry up phrase amuses me every time.    

Wall at Saqsayhuaman-look how small that man looks

    Our first stop is at Saqsayhuaman (sahxywoman) the mind-blowing ancient fortress that sits on the outskirts of Cusco. I simply can’t come to grips how the Incans were able to sculpt these enormous stones, some that weigh one hundred ton, move them into place and have them fit together perfectly. Paul and I notice how the women and one of the men in our group are puffing pretty hard when we climb up steps. The big guy, who looks like he could have been an NFL linebacker in his day, even has to sit down a time or two. This is their second day in Peru and we wonder if they are going to be acclimated enough to trek the Inca trail in two days where some passes are over 14,000 feet!

     We must leave Saqsayhuaman too soon in our opinion but chop-chop, on we go. After a short drive we stop at Qenko. The main attraction here is a sacrificial stone altar in a cave, similar to the one we saw at the moon temple with Norma. This cave has a shaft of light playing over the stone altar too. Outside of the cave instead of a serpent carving there are carvings of puma heads. There is another interesting aspect at this sight. Several Cusco residents are working at rebuilding a stone retaining wall around Qenko. They trade there work for the right to have a vendor stall near tourist attractions.    

Three aligned trapezoidal windows in Qoricancha, Paul’s photo

     The next site is Qoricancha, the Inca temple of the sun that was razed to its base by Spanish conquistadors along with most of the Incan buildings in Cusco. The Spanish did incorporate some parts of the original Inca building into what is now Iglesia Santo Domingo.  Restoration work is being done to remove the plaster from the original walls to show the Inca work. As we walk through some fully restored areas for some reason the slant of the Incan built walls make me feel queasy. The Incans built slanting walls because they were stronger and stood up to earthquakes, this is the same reason they made their doors and windows trapezoidal. There is one section which has loose stones lying around to show how rocks were cut and they resemble pieces of a 3D jigsaw puzzle. Unreal to say the least. Remember that the Incan used mostly stone tools although they did have some bronze tools.

Stones looking like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle

     Our last stop is at the massive cathedral that dominates one side of Plaza de Armas. Although most of the churches we have been in were overwhelming this cathedral takes the cake. The opulence that surrounds us is on the edge of disbelief and I again wonder what the worth is of all the gold and silver present throughout the cathedral. One of the claims to fame of the cathedral is the Last Supper painting which features a guinea pig as the main dish along with fruits and vegetables that are known to Peruvians. This is the end of our tour and we thank Carlos for his vast knowledge of the sites we visited and for his cheerful and humorous demeanor throughout the tour.    

Peruvian woman and her blanket of flowers

It is just past noon so Paul and I search for the restaurant Carlos has recommended to us that the locals frequent. We climb the stairs to the small second floor cafe and claim one of the four tables. The cozy eatery has a balcony that makes for a great place to photograph interesting people. My camera is capturing mostly older women in traditional dress selling or transporting goods. Our lunch arrives and Paul’s alpaca shish kabob is excellent, my spaghetti with pesto sauce is a bit bland. My meal only cost 11 soles (5 bucks) and the huge helping is more than I can eat so a lack of spice is tolerable.

     After our late lunch we wander the streets of Cusco leaving the bustling historic area behind. We find a young man up a quiet side street with his crafts spread out on the sidewalk and on a table. For once we see things that aren’t the exact same products offered for sale at every other place we have been. He has some interesting jewelry but what catches our eye is the hand painted tiles neatly arranged on the cobblestone. We choose four tiles, three depicting traditional women and one of a toucan. Now we must dicker over the price, well Paul does. The young man doesn’t speak English so Paul must write the price he is willing to give on paper with the vendor writing down his counter offer. After a short time the men come to an agreeable price and we continue exploring the city.

    

Bargaining for the best price

     The streets in Cusco are not on a straight grid and often just end abruptly and despite having a city map we become completely lost. I am sure that we must head south and since I have been more oriented than Paul in Cusco he decides to follow my instinct. Big mistake:). We finally arrive at an area where we can see the big cathedral that is near our hotel. We head towards the unmistakable steeples and when we get within a block I insist our hotel is south. Paul disagrees and insists we must go the opposite direction. After discussing who is right Paul points out that we are on the backside of the cathedral when we are normally looking at the front. I absorb this information and finally my head accepts that indeed we need to go north to reach our hotel. I hate the feeling of being completely turned around! To soothe my injured ego I buy a milkshake from a vendor just a couple blocks from the Maytaq and a big piece of chocolate cake from the pastry vendor next door! Yum.

    

Photo taken across the street from the market

     Today we are touring the Sacred valley and our pickup time is eight o’clock. We must run around the narrow streets of the city and gather up the other tourists going on this tour. There are twelve members in the group which is the most people we have been with up to date. We drive north out of Cusco and although this is the third time Paul and I have been on this road as usual there are fascinating sights to gaze at. Our first stop is at a market selling the exact weavings, scarves, hats etc. that we have seen everywhere. I suppose that the tour company has a deal with the sellers to bring their captive clients to this place in hopes of making some sales but it seems a waste of time. Paul did buy me a cup of munos tea.

      

Looking down on the Sacred Valley

     The road we are on hugs the side of the mountain and the geometric fields of the Sacred Valley stretches out below us. The bus stops at a pull over and we snap photos of the productive valley from our lofty view. The fields range in color from greens to brown and we also can see large tracts of corn, hand placed on end to dry. This fascinates me and I wish we had seen the actual process instead of just the end result. We arrive at the Inca site, Pisac, where the ruins grace a mountain peak. Our guide first shows us the side of a mountain where hundreds of holes have been dug that is Inca burial chambers. Most of the grave sites have been looted but looking through my binoculars I see a skull and here and there some human bones. We are only here for twenty minutes and I decide not to join Paul in a sprint up the mountain to the actual ruins. I was puffing for breath on the climb to get to the burial chambers! I notice several people in our group, like me, opt to gaze at the ruins from below.

Looking up at the ruins of Pisac

     We descend into the Sacred Valley to the modern-day village of Pisac famous for its huge crafts market for tourists. We visit a store that makes jewelry, specializing in silver and they give us a demonstration of their craft. Once the demo is over we again are given a short time to check out the market. There are hardly any other tourists here which I find surprising but nice. Paul and I do make a few purchases for gifts and are pleased to find that Pisac vendors seem willing to come down on prices much quicker than in Cusco. One woman in our group sees Paul bartering on an item and asks if he would bargain for her as her husband is already in the bus. Paul says sure but then she decides she should ask hubby which item he prefers and he ends up doing the dickering. The young woman and I discuss how much we hate bartering but how men seem to love the game. I believe nearly everyone in the group was carrying packages as we climb aboard the bus.

     We eat lunch at an open air restaurant in a beautiful sitting near the Urubamba River. There are lots of new Peruvian dishes we haven’t seen before including ceviche, a raw fish dish. Paul and I try many of the new dishes but turn our noses up at the ceviche. Ick. There is a table of wonderful desserts and I sample five of them. Yes you read that right and I’m not afraid to admit it:). The restaurant has a scruffy macaw out front and a couple of small parrots that makes me sad to see but other than this the place was great.

    

Some of the structures at Ollantaytambo

      On we go to Ollantaytambo where we tour the Inca ruins. These are the most spectacular ruins we have been to so far and for reasons unknown to me I didn’t get a photo of the main temple. What baffles me about this place is that the Inca people moved the rocks, some weighing 60 ton, to build this stunning temple from a mountain range across the fast-moving Urubamba River. Supposedly, the Inca built another river channel and they would block off the water in one channel, move the rocks across the now dry river bed then divert the water back and move the rocks across the second channel to the bank. Once the rocks were on the right side of the river they would drag the stones up a steep ramp to the Ollantaytambo building site. Are you kidding me?      

Incans believed the man’s face was the spirit of the Mt and built stone towers on top of it. Can you see the face?

Every time I look at these places with the flawless joints, multi-ton rocks, temples that tower over our heads, buildings constructed on precipices that look impossible to get to, I can’t believe that this was humanly possible particularly since the Inca only ruled for 200 plus years. Perhaps the young couple that fall in step with me on this tour sense my skepticism over the explanation on how they moved these enormous rocks. They begin to talk about their interest in the possibility of other worldly help or in plain English, aliens. They have been to the Nazca lines, 2000 year old “drawings” that the Nazca people created in the desert. The weird thing about the Nazca lines is you really can’t tell what they depict unless you are looking at them from the air. Anyway, I don’t scoff at their theory of alien help as I too have read and watched the theorists who put forth this explanation of the incredible feats of Inca culture and others around the world. Paul just shakes his head at us but the pondering of this theory just adds some spice to the mystifying ruins. I also laugh as the young man comments on the thin ropes that occasionally are strung along the steep drop offs of the ruins. His assessment is that in Peru if you aren’t smart enough to know that clambering around these ancient sites is dangerous then you can help prove the theory of natural selection!!

     Our Sacred Valley tour is over and those of us who are staying in Ollantaytambo are taken to our hotels. Paul and I must walk part way to El Albergue as the hotel sits inside the railway station. This is where you catch the train to Machu Picchu where we will be going tomorrow. When we walk to the front desk to check in our name isn’t in the system. We give our itinerary to the Peruvian manning the check-in desk and show him that we are to be staying here tonight. The young man checks the computer again this time running my name through the machine too. The fellow comes up with zilch for a reservation for us and is beside himself telling us that the hotel is full. An American woman walks into the room who is the owner of El Albergue. The two discuss the situation and the man makes a phone call to a friend from another hotel. It seems the owner has made a reservation with the Albergue for someone else but using his name. After the phone conversation they explain that he overbooked his hotel and this reservation is for us. A big sigh of relief is dispensed by all of us as this town is full of tourists and the odds of us finding another room would have been slim. The El Albergue is a very nice hotel and our room is rustic and roomy with a small balcony that overlooks the train tracks and the Urubamba River.

    

A few of the many flowers around El Albergue

The woman who owns the hotel told us that tonight the locals are having a festival celebrating El Senor de Choquekilla,  the town’s patron saint. The natives will dress in elaborate costumes and will dance all night with fireworks to be shot off as part of the celebration. We thank her for the information as we had no idea this was going on for the one night we will be here. How lucky can you get! We intend to check the festivities out once we settle into our room. Chalk up two more great days in Peru.

   

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Peru, part 13

Gorgeous sunrise over Madre de Dios river, Pauls’ photo

Peru, part 13

     

      I wake up in the middle of the night to Paul saying “do you hear that”, something is outside our cabin. I listen carefully and sure enough I hear munching and snuffling below our window. We grab our headlights that are on our bed stands and shine the lights through the window. There is a big tapir snuffling and browsing in the small square of grass and shrubs in front of our bungalow. The lights disrupt the nocturnal beasts grazing and he ambles off for a darker more peaceful place. Will and Beckka’s cabin next to us is lit up with candles so they must have just returned from the tapir lick. We ask the couple in the morning if they saw our night visitor to which they answer no. They didn’t see any tapirs at the lick and can’t believe they had one outside their door.  However, they did see a jaguar track on the trail coming home. Are you kidding me!

        Ugh, another 4:30 wakeup call as we must leave Manu early to travel by river, land and plane today in order to reach Cusco. One thing we are happy about in leaving Manu is that we don’t have to wear these blasted rubber boots anymore. Paul, me and the other guests will share one of the wooden boats on our first leg of the journey our destination being Colorado Village. We eat breakfast by candlelight and reach the dock in time to enjoy a splendid sunrise painting the sky and river in vivid colors.

    

As we travel down the river we run in and out of a misty haze making for a surreal landscape. There are several birding surprises such as the very rare Orinoco goose which I found myself! Jose Luis finds a southern caracara and retorts that this bird shouldn’t be here. I look in my bird book later and indeed the big relative of falcons is listed as a rare visitor of the savannahs in South America. What the heck is it doing here? Paul and I laugh as Jose Luis and William (Will and Bekka’s guide) talk birds for the entire two and a half hour river trip! Many of our shipmates fall asleep after we have been on the river awhile. Paul and I aren’t among them as there is plenty to see whether it be birds, the beauty of the jungle or the human activity we pass by.

    

Colorful wooden boats at Colorado Village

We dock at Colorado Village and laugh at the way we must disembark our river boat. We walk upon planks lying over the top of numerous wooden boats that are between us and the shore. At times the ends of the planks stick over the edge of a boat so we must step off of the board before you reach the end of it. If you don’t step off in time you could set off a three stooge’s type reaction, similar to stepping on a rake and having the handle jump up and slap you in the face. Good Grief. We all make it to shore without falling off or performing an impromptu comedy skit.

    

Chicha anyone? Pauls’ photo

Upon reaching land the first thing we see is an open-air chicha bar replete with colorful plastic chairs and tables. A couple of dogs are lounging in front of the bar and chickens cluck while scratching in the dirt. A  delivery man has brought a batch of chicha, bottled in the usual plastic jugs, via a three-wheeled bicycle and cart. Looking down the muddy, pothole filled road we see a weathered blue building with copacabana painted on the side. Colorado village is a gold mining town replete with rundown houses and shacks that look like a stiff wind would blow them over. It doesn’t appear that very many people have struck it rich.

Paul returning from the Copacabana club. Not really

      Jose Luis leaves us by the river while he and the other two guides go in search of taxis. Before long Jose Luis returns with a car and driver. Paul and I pile our backpacks in the trunk of the small sedan and then we are bumping our way down the road through the seedy town. Once we are free of the village the road becomes rougher and we often drive over plank bridges most of which are in bad repair. Some of the bridges have loose or even missing boards. Our driver is very careful when crossing the sorry excuses for bridges but it is still nerve-wracking. In places there are no bridges and so we drive through shallow water.

There were worse bridges than this one!

     There is plenty to look at including cattle wandering down the road and other pastoral scenes along the way. There are blue morpho butterflies floating over and alongside the country road. I begin to count the metallic blue beauties and at one point ask if we can stop at the next butterfly sighting in hopes I can capture one in a photo. The driver willingly complies and I step out to see if a winged subject is willing to pose for me. A big beauty is sitting on the road but as I prepare to push the shutter button the silly thing flutters away.  As I try to follow the blue morpho with my camera I am turning in circles trying to get the large butterfly in focus. I can hear Paul laughing and I can’t help but laugh too when I think how silly I must look. I counted 56 blue morphos and who knows how many I didn’t see!

This is the best I could do on the blue morpho butterfly

      After 45 minutes of jarring road and dubious bridges we arrive at Puerto Carlos where Jose Luis and William procure a boat to ferry us across to Santa Rosa. Will, Bekka, Paul and I climb aboard the old wooden boat that has planks laid across the top edges of the boat for seats. Lovely. After the fifteen minute ride across the Inambari River we again find ourselves “walking the plank” to reach the shore. There is a white van waiting to transport the seven of us to the airport so it is time to say goodbye to Jose Luis. We have become friends with the young man who proved to be a great birder and a fun, interesting person. We have William take a photo of the three of us and then climb aboard the van.

     It is a two-hour drive to the airport in Puerto Maldonado City. The roads are paved and there is plenty of interesting scenery along the way including picturesque villages along with small farms and ranches. We are all booked on the same flight and so we sit together in the small, hot airport. Thank goodness the flight is on time and we are more than happy to exit the sticky room to board the plane.

Baby calf along road

     The flight to Cusco takes an hour and as we walk into the airport we say goodbye to everyone we have been with the past several days. When we walk outside we look through all the name placards being held up by people and are discouraged when the name Miller isn’t one of them. There is a passenger area outside that has a barrier around it separating us from the sign holders and private taxi drivers but an airport guard raises a bar and gestures for us to leave. We no sooner step out of the passenger zone when we are approached by a man asking us if we need a taxi. The man speaks fluent English but he sets my red flag alarm off. I don’t like the way he is assessing our back packs and us in general. Another well-dressed man, also speaking fluent English and carrying a briefcase, approaches us and says he will take us where we need to go. We insist that our people will be here soon but they are relentless in their pitch to take us to our hotel. Paul has walked around to where he can read the signs again and the fellow that makes me so nervous comes over and stands behind me.  I immediately leave and go stand by a policeman who is near the barrier where Paul is too. This took care of the smarmy guy in a hurry.

     The man with the briefcase follows us however and asks where we are staying and foolishly we tell him the Maytaq. He walks away then comes back saying that he has the hotel on the phone and hands it to me. I take the phone with alarm bells going off and listen to a voice saying he us from the hotel and he needs to ask me a couple of questions. I suddenly realize what a setup this is and hand the phone back, angrily telling the burly man this could be anyone on the phone. Finally an airport worker takes pity on us and tells us to come back inside the barricade where it is safe. Jeez, now I know how it feels to have vultures circling around you!

I thought this was a good spot for a laundry photo-ugh

     We need to call the agency but we did not bring our agency packet with us. I know, stupid, but we were traveling so light we left behind all we felt we wouldn’t need. Fortunately, Paul remembers that in his passport cover he has a number given to him by the young woman, Zanita (sp) that met us on our initial arrival in Cusco. Paul finds a pay phone inside the airport and makes the phone call. Luckily, Zanita answers her phone and immediately tells Paul she will deal with the situation. The woman is true to her word and within 20 minutes a man arrives asking for Mike Miller. At first we are suspicious because he has the first name wrong but he makes a phone call and tells us Paul’s name, my name and that we have been at Manu. O.K this satisfies both of us and with relief we follow the man to the van. We are further put to ease as the van has a company name on its side. We never found out why we were not met at the airport and no tips were given to anyone after we arrived at Maytaq. Our travel agency was not responsible for this gaffe since they subcontracted our jungle trip to another company who was responsible. They sure fixed our problem in a hurry though.

       So why didn’t we just take a taxi to the hotel instead of going to all this trouble? In researching Peru there are warnings about using taxis that aren’t designated official taxis and it’s very hard to determine those that are “official”. People may find themselves being taken for a ride literally as the driver will pick up cohorts after tourists are in his car and then they rob them of their money and valuables. I talked to a friend after we came home and she actually knew someone who was a victim of this very scam. That is the reason for our reluctance to just hop in a so-called taxi.

     The staff at Maytaq welcomes us warmly and shows us to our room. We go out in search of a good restaurant to wind down after our unpleasant experience today. We settle on Rosie’s Irish pub and despite the name we enjoy some excellent Peruvian food. Well, we can’t say today wasn’t interesting!

    

     

     

     

Peru, part 12

Peru, part 12

 

      

Scarlet macaws on clay lick

We are up early and eating breakfast by six this morning. José Luis hands us knee-high rubber boots to wear as the trails to the macaw clay lick will be muddy. We hike well-kept trails through dense jungle at times crossing log bridges that span small ravines. When we arrive at the clay lick the macaws dressed in dazzling feathers are just beginning to arrive. Supposedly they are here to lick mineral from the earth but these two ranchers know that a treat is enticing the gorgeous birds. Someone has dug small trenches into the bank above our head and “salted” it with a type of nut. We don’t care as the sight of a dozen scarlet macaws and a lone blue and yellow macaw eating and squabbling among themselves is worth the minor deceit. I am snapping photos of the colorful band of birds but my camera lens keeps fogging up due to the humidity. I must stick the useless camera back in the case with my packets of moisture absorbent to remedy the situation. Of course some of the best photos opportunities present themselves when this happens.

     The macaws soon finish eating the nuts and begin to fly away their long scarlet tails (and one blue tail) streaming out behind them. I assume we will be leaving but Jose Luis tells us there will be more of the colorful birds arriving. As we await the arrival of the macaws, a lovely blue morpho butterfly as big around as a small saucer floats languidly below the raised platform where we are sitting. The blue morpho is my favorite butterfly of the many butterflies that reside in the jungle. A few scarlet macaws begin to straggle in but this time they land on top of the cliff. One of the birds climbs up the trunk of a small tree using his feet along with his beak, something to see in itself.

    

Macaws in flight, my lens is fogging up

A flock of eight or so macaws begin to dine on the flat of the cliff and suddenly they explode into the air flying directly towards our viewing platform. The flock circles back to the eating station, land and after a few minutes the startled birds burst into flight. I am pretty sure someone is up there encouraging the birds to take flight. It makes for a dramatic scene and some great shots if you are ready for the action. I can’t say I took any super shots of the birds in flight but at least I did get a couple.

    Leaving the macaw show behind, we wind around on various trails through the jungle until I am completely lost. We slog through pools of water and at times the water is close to running over the top of our boots. In one part of the jungle, a troop of spider monkeys are hurling curses in monkey language at some perceived danger. When we reach the monkeys we see a large hawk perching in a tree that is the object of the monkeys fear. The hawk flies away on our approach and the monkeys also take flight across the tree tops. Occasionally, Jose Luis works at trying to call birds into the open in hopes of getting a look at the elusive buggers. I forgot how tough it is to catch even a glimpse of a bird in the dense foliage of a rain forest although we do see a few!

Spider monkey

      We return to the Manu lodge before lunch and Paul makes a beeline for the hammocks that hang in the spacious confines of the dining hall. I put the macro lens on my camera and wander the grounds, taking an occasional photo of the lovely flowers that are growing on the grounds. The butterflies that grace many of the blooms are too skittish to let me take a close up of them. At lunch Jose Luis introduces us to his brother, also a guide, who has arrived along with two clients. The two brothers work for different tour companies but run into each other on occasion. We tease them a bit asking who the better birder is and both lay claim to the best birder title.

      This afternoon we are walking to the tapir lick although Jose Luis does not seem very enthusiastic about the outing. We walk for two hours through some pretty dicey places, more slippery bridges to cross and steep muddy inclines to climb but we arrive at the lick at 4:30.  They actually have mattresses with mosquito netting tented over them for us to lie on or even sleep while waiting for tapirs to show up. Six of the seven lodge guests are at the tapir lick waiting patiently on the platform above the muddy pools. The New York couple decides to return to the lodge before it gets dark not wanting to walk the trail after sunset. Paul and I eat our box dinners at 5:30 as dusk begins to fall in the denseness of the jungle. Jose Luis again asks if we are ready to go back to the lodge when we finish eating but Paul and I say we would like to wait awhile.

Paul crossing one of the many log bridges in jungle

     When the last semblance of light disappears I remember how really dark it is in the jungle. I start feeling claustrophobic due to the combination of heavy air and complete blackness. The denseness of the jungle feels like it is closing in on me. I’m surprised at my discomfort as I generally enjoy being outside at night. I’m also worrying about the slippery spots we must traverse with just the light from our headlamps. I tell Paul I’m ready to go back to the lodge but he would prefer to stay. I say maybe he could stay and come back with Jose’s brother as it appears they are settling in for a while. Jose Luis overhears our conversation and quickly comes to us and asks if we want to leave, I say yes and Paul reluctantly agrees unwilling to impose on the other group.

     When we leave the tapir lick, my headlamp seems to have the only strong beam of light among us. Jose Luis has a small flashlight which barely illuminates the ground in front of his feet; Paul’s headlamp is better but still not able to penetrate very far in the gloom. Jose Luis is setting a fast pace but I still try to sweep the sides of the trail with my light in hopes of finding an owl or something of interest. Large bats swoop out of the jungle in front of our lights coming so close sometimes I think they are going to run into us. I spot light a poorwill (nightjar) sitting by the side of the trail his avian eyes shining in the light.  A small crested frog draws my attention as we are speed walking and we take time to examine the tiny amphibian. As I search the trees with my headlamp I see a pair of glowing orbs high in a large tree. Paul and I stop and try to figure out what we are looking at. The unidentified creature begins to slither higher into the tree winding its way up and around a small limb. A snake! We call for our disappearing guide to return to identify the reptile if possible. It takes a while for us to show our guide where the snake is but once he finds the serpent he plunges into the jungle to get closer to the subject. I’m not leaving the trail, who knows what is lurking in there! Paul follows our intrepid guide and they spot light the snake with their weak lights.  Jose Luis declares that the young reptile is a small tree boa around four feet long. Even after these cool finds our young guide shows no interest in looking for creatures himself as he hurries along the path. His behavior tonight is so unlike the enthusiasm he as shown up to now. It is relatively cool tonight but the humidity is so high our clothes are soaking wet when we reach our bungalow. We light a few candles in the room and then I call first dibs for a much-needed shower.

    

Sunrise over the Madre de Dios river

I can’t believe we are up at 4:30 this morning but Jose Luis wants us to eat breakfast at five so we can be on the river at sunrise. We had a heck of a thunderstorm in the night with plenty of lightning and lots of rain. At breakfast we ask our guide if his brother and clients saw a tapir. It seems they stayed at the lick until nearly midnight but no tapirs came to partake of the minerals. I’m glad we came back when we did!

     We are floating down the fast-moving river by six and again my hopes dim that we will see any wildlife along the riverbank. The water is just too swift and high to leave much room for any clear sighting of a jaguar or any mammal. Oh well, seeing wildlife is always a long shot when you are dealing with such a vast landscape. We do find various birds including a few new ones that I can put an x mark next to in my bird book.

Jose Luis in tree top platform, Pauls’ photo

     Our first stop this morning is at a canopy outlook which is built in the crown of a huge ceiva (sp) tree. Paul counts 230 steps up the metal tower we climb to reach the wooden tree platform. This enormous tree house looks out over the top of the jungle giving us a spectacular 360 view. It is very quiet this morning but we do see a toucan on the horizon and I spot a monkey through my binoculars. A plum-throated cotinga lands in a tree not far from our lofty perch. The cotinga’s plumage is a vivid blue that glows in the early morning light. The cotinga alone is worth the effort it took to get up here.   

Wooded catamaran we rode around the oxbow lake

When our feet are back on the ground, Jose Luis leads us through the rain forest to an oxbow lake. Our boatmen paddle us around the small body of water in a type of wooden catamaran.This place is great as there are tons of birds everywhere and many new species to record in my book tonight! We catch a glimpse of a sloth as it climbs down a tree to avoid being seen by us humans. He belies the notion that a sloth can’t move very fast. We are content to spend much of our time on this peaceful lake in silence as we listen to birds singing accompanied by the quiet swish of the boat paddles.

      Everyone is on the lookout for the river otters that live here but we don’t find them in the main body of the lake. Our boatmen decide to take us down a side channel where the otter’s dens are but first they must force the boat by a large tree that has fallen into the channel. It is quite an ordeal as some limbs must be hacked off the tree along with a lot of hard rowing, shoving and grunting.

Thomas watching out for snags in side channel

The men get by the snag and we quietly make our way down the narrow waterway. There are game trails along the bank telling us that indeed the river otter are present but unfortunately we don’t see the sleek creatures. Jose Luis with excitement in his voice points out a razor-billed curassow that looks to have stepped from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. We have startled this normally ground dwelling bird so the large dark blue bird has flown into a tree where it is teetering precariously on the small limb it lands on. The comical bird has red legs and a bright red bill with a red hump sitting atop its beak.  The red lump is perfectly normal but it won’t win this fowl any beauty contests. Jose Luis tells us that it is rare to see this curassow so all the work the boatmen did in getting us down here was well worth it.

      We were late for dinner plus I was overdue for a bathroom! When we walk into the dining hall we are pleasantly surprised to see Will and Bekka sitting at a table. We greet each other warmly and as I continue to the restroom I say over my shoulder that we haven’t seen any jaguars, how about you guys? I am totally unprepared for the answer of “we saw two” that floats after me. I come to a screeching halt and do an about-face.  I loudly ask “WHAT DID YOU SAY” as I’m sure they must be pulling my leg. Will has an almost apologetic look on his face when he tells me that they saw a male and female jaguar and to top that off the pair were mating. I reply that I am so happy for them but admit I am jealous too. I go on to the bathroom and when I return Will and Beck have their point and shoot camera out showing the other guests photos of the jaguars. When it is my turn to look at the photos I can’t believe my eyes. The face of one of the gorgeous cats fills the entire camera screen. They have an action shot where the female is snarling and cuffing the male who is recoiling from her aggression. It seems the two cats were so intent on each other that the boats were able to maneuver in close proximity of the jaguars resulting in National Geographic quality photos. Oh I am really envious now but am so glad that our road mates were able to experience the rare sighting of jaguars in the wild.

      Tonight as Paul and I are getting ready for bed I tell Paul that I am jungled out. He laughs and says I was just thinking the same thing. Weird. Don’t get me wrong, we have enjoyed all the jungle experiences we have had in the past and this one too. It’s just that the climate is so overwhelming and it is a battle to see most wildlife and most jungles are pretty similar. The one regret I will have is never seeing a jaguar in the wild but we could come back a hundred times and the odds are we still wouldn’t see one of the beautiful creatures.

 

 

      

 

      

   

    

Reality Ranching July 2012

Reality Ranching July 2012

 

 Hello from Rock Hill Ranch,

     

      Kansas, like most of the Midwest and Great Plains, is suffering from severe drought. We have had day after day of hundred plus degrees and with the lack of rain that accompanies the heat everything is suffering. We were fortunate to have early rains that resulted in a good brome crop and rains at just the right time made for three decent alfalfa cuttings of hay. Thank goodness we didn’t burn our pastures this spring as the old grass helps stretch the forage for our cattle. We had to wean a small group of calves in June from a pasture we rent because the grass was just shriveling up. Normally we don’t wean until mid-July into August. The area where this pasture is located has received less than half the rain we have had this spring and summer even though it is only ten miles away.

Taz-the darn box used to fit

     Since we have been back from Peru I have continued walking but to beat the heat I must rise early. Usually I am out the back door shortly after six a.m. for my hour-long forays. I must lock Taz up in the house before I go, otherwise she insists on following me. I wish she could accompany me but Taz just doesn’t have the stamina to last a half an hour let alone an hour! Paul says when I leave the house that Taz runs from window to window trying to locate me. Lately she refuses to come into the house when I’m leaving on my walk so I must ride the 4-wheeler to the end of our long drive to keep her from tagging along. The flow of water in the creek has dwindled to a trickle through the crossings so I can easily walk through them. I generally walk the perimeter of the hay fields south of our house or north on the Rock place now that the hay is cut which makes for easy walking.

     

Doe in defensive mode

On most of my walks I usually see deer even if it is only a white tail flashing in the timber. On three occasions though the does have stood their ground, granted the creek lay between us, and went through the ritual of slow motion walking along with raising their front foot high and bringing it to the ground in a resounding stomp. This defensive routine is always accompanied by whistling snorts and waving tails. When a doe is reluctant to leave I’m fairly certain there is a fawn in the vicinity but I never have seen one to prove this theory. In the end the beautiful beasts always run away but once they reach the cover of the trees I know they have stopped as I can hear their curious snorting sounds.

      On one early morning trek I am walking right next to a steep creek bank when a coyotes head appears just a step away from me. I’m not sure who is more startled but I utter a reactionary “oh” at the sight of the disembodied coyote head which quickly disappears. Stepping to the edge of the bank I watch as the coyote speeds away startling a great blue heron that was standing in the creek, to flight. Speaking of great blue herons it must have been a terrific year for raising young birds as lately I might scare up to a half-dozen of the gangly birds in the short distance I walk along the creek. On the other hand, maybe because of many smaller creeks drying up the herons are just desperate to find a place with water holes to hunt in.

     I’m plodding along daydreaming by some timber on the Rock place when I jump up a half-dozen young turkey. I’m always amazed that little turkey are able to fly before they have all their feathers. These little things clumsily grasp tree limbs as they seek to escape a perceived enemy. I take one step towards the tree many have taken refuge in when the hen explodes into the air right under my nose, literally. I feel the swoosh of air her wings make as she flies into the thicket. My hand is clutching my chest as I tell the turkey out loud that she scared me to death, I’m sure the feeling is mutual. The hen turkey doesn’t fly far and although she is hidden from sight I can hear her clucking for her poults.  The baby turkey flutter down from their perches towards mom’s concerned voice.    

Dalton proudly holding his watermelon

        Last month Dalton along with little brother Jake and grandma took me down to see their garden in particular the watermelon. Dalton’s excitement shows by the fact that his words are tumbling out of him so fast it is as if someone has set his mouth on the fast forward button. As I inspect the dark green melons, Dalton counts how many melons are set on the vine then puts them in two categories of big ones and little ones. I admire the watermelons and tell Rose I am jealous of her beautiful, healthy tomatoes as my tomato plants look terrible. Of course the best part of the garden visit is the enthusiasm Dalton has for it!

      Last week we were invited to attend the grand ceremony of harvesting the first watermelon. Grabbing my camera, Paul and I drive to the Deblers delighted that we get to witness Dalton’s shining moment! When we arrive it seems that Dalton couldn’t stand to wait for us and cut the stem of the watermelon that had been selected for harvest. Someone was able to convince him to leave it lay in the garden until we got there. With five adults watching, Dalton picks the melon up but needs help to transport it out of the small plot. Erin hands Randall a butcher knife and as he plunges the blade into the round globe it gives a resounding pop telling everyone that indeed it is ripe. When Randall finishes cutting it open the flesh of the melon is a beautiful red. Perfect.

    Rose and Jake check the tomatoes and find a few that are ripe enough to harvest. Rose hands them to her little helper who places them in the white bucket. Jake on his own plucks a green pepper about the size of  a half dollar and throws it into the bucket. The immature pepper is a perfect copy of a ripe pepper so you can’t blame the little gardener for picking it. Since the first watermelon is ripe the go ahead is given to Dalton to cut the stem of another melon. It takes all his five-year old strength to pick up the big melon and he hands it off to the nearest adult to carry it out of the garden. Jake feels the need to hold the melon too, so with Paul’s help he grasps the fruit long enough for a photo-op. Satisfied that he is a part of the hoopla he lets Paul carry the melon to the house.

Paul, Jake and the watermelon

     I couldn’t help but be reminded of the family of potato gatherers in Peru. There were three generations harvesting in the garden and the youngest were right in the thick of it. I found this watermelon experience as uplifting as our Peruvian encounter. When we are ready to leave, Dalton proudly presents us with the second melon which we gratefully accept. It sure beats a glass of chicha:). We stuck the melon in the fridge and ate part of the juicy, tasty fruit the next day.

     We have begun to wean heifers this past week and Dr. Amy is out to pelvic check the future breeding heifers. The heifers with pelvis that measure too small, which could lead to problems with calving, will be sorted off to be sold at auction. Rose along with Dalton and Jake have sat down to watch us work the 26 weanling heifers. Well, Rose sits down to watch us and keep an eye on her grandsons. The boys with all that youthful energy follow Dad up and down on the outside of the alleyway as he brings the calves to the squeeze chute.

     Dalton, who has been full of questions since he could ask them, must know the reason for everything that we are doing. “Dad what is Dr. Amy doing with that metal thing, why does Dr. Amy wear those gloves, dad what are those shots for”? Randall answers each question patiently and in detail and Dalton absorbs it all.

    We don’t have enough pinkeye vaccine so I must go to the shop at Deblers and get a bottle. When I return I forget to chain the steel walk through gate by the chute. I hear Jake saying something but truthfully pay no attention to the boy. Paul tells me that Jake has something to say to me. When I turn to Jake he informs me that I didn’t shut the gate which I humbly have to admit to a not quite 3-year-old that I indeed made a mistake. I thank him for reminding me as everyone else praises him for noticing the unchained gate while laughing at me for being called out by the diminutive gate policeman:). He also watches as we work each heifer and when he thinks we are finished with her, orders Paul to “let her out”! If he forgets to prompt Paul, Paul will ask Jake if he should turn the heifer out of the squeeze chute just so we can all laugh when he emphatically replies “let her out”.  I know I’ve said it before but processing cattle is a lot more fun with the curiosity and enthusiasm of kids to accompany the work. Later, Nancy

    

A curious young racoon I met on one of my walks

    

 

    

Peru, part 11

Peru, part 11

 

     We were up at five this morning and with the aid of our headlamps made our way to the lodge gate where Jose Luis was waiting for us. All six guests and our guides trek to the cock of the rock viewing platform and wait for the stars of the show to arrive. We wait and wait some more. The three guides begin whispering to each other and out of desperation play bird calls on an iPod. The enticing calls wafting out of the electronic device doesn’t impress the local cock of the rock birds as they refuse to make an appearance. Jose Luis had practically guaranteed that the odd-looking birds would be here this morning.  Oh well, thank goodness we saw the famous birds yesterday or there would have been some very disappointed folks including me.

Highland motmot

    We spot some great birds on the walk back to the lodge including the paradise tanager. This small bird sports every color of the rainbow and elicits oohs and ahs from everyone. Nope I wasn’t able to get a picture as the five-inch fowl was always flitting about in the trees. Since we are to be on the road by eight we reluctantly give up our search for birds and return to the lodge.

   

Mama capuchin keeping an eye on us

As we arrive at the dining hall there are two species of monkey in the courtyard, a brown capuchin and her half-grown baby and a white-fronted capuchin. The youngster hangs over the roof edge in order to get a closer look at us while mom keeps a close eye on her baby and his human admirers. After breakfast we find a group of brown capuchin monkeys feeding in the trees near our van. We watch the feeding frenzy for a time before climbing into the vehicle and heading down the road.

     It’s hard to imagine that the road could be worse than yesterday but it sure is. It rained here recently and the dirt road is sloppy mud. We thought we saw lots of waterfalls yesterday but it pales in comparison to today. It seems a cascade of water is pouring onto the road every few hundred yards and the edge of the road is crumbling in many places. Paul is sitting on the outside today and finds the sight of mere inches of dirt keeping us from oblivion as nerve-wracking as I did. The road improves as we begin to reach lower altitudes but the heat and humidity is climbing.

     

Jose Luis with Madre de Dios river below

We stop several times and walk along the road to do some bird watching and to stretch our legs. The butterflies are abundant and beautiful as they flit among the fauna along the road or rest on the road surface. We see a pair of chestnut-eared aracari (toucans) with their ponderous bills on one of our short road walks. It always amazes me that toucans are able to fly with the burden of such unwieldy beaks. We stop at an overlook to gaze at the wide but shallow looking Madre de Dios River which we will soon be traveling down. Before we reach the river we stop to visit a small farm where among other things they grow coca.

Rooster at small coca farm

They have various types of fruit trees and bushes and chickens wander the yard. Coca leaves are drying on a large tarp and the family dog is scolded by our host for walking through the cash crop. An orange and white cat lounges in the sunlight watching us as we follow the woman around their self-sufficient operation. The atmosphere here is one of pride and quiet satisfaction.

     When we reach the village by the Madre de Dios River we sadly say goodbye to Will and Bekka as they are staying at a different lodge than us. We have enjoyed the company of this young English couple and will miss them. It seems silly that each of us have a large wooden motor boat that seats a dozen people but at least they fill the boat with supplies for the lodges.

   We have two men manning the canvas-covered dugout and they will be our crew whenever we are traveling on the river. Our lodge is only twenty minutes down river so Jose Luis has the guys take us up a side channel as we eat our box lunch. The scenery is lovely with rugged cliffs and big rocks jutting along the water’s edge. White winged swallows swoop and dance over the water’s surface and a waterfall plunges several hundred feet down a cliff into the river. We will be on the river six hours tomorrow and if this is a sample of what is in store for us I can’t wait!

     When we leave the side channel and start down the Madre de Dios we travel through some rough water but the boat handles things well. The big river is running fast and the water is high but there are shallow spots that our captain knows well. When he shuts the motor off and lets the current take us you can hear the scrape of gravel along the bottom. There are huge piles of drift, big trees mostly, that lay in jumbles throughout the river. Yikes, this isn’t quite as idyllic as our trip down the side channel.

     We arrive at the Amazonia Lodge and walk the half mile to the headquarters. A young man with a wheelbarrow passes us in route to the boat to fetch our backpacks. Our room is just that, a large room with twin beds, night stands a table and a couple of chairs.  Paul and I had plans of taking a nap but the room is much too hot so we lounge on the veranda and enjoy the hummingbirds eating from the hanging feeders.

Silver beaked tanagers feeding on bananas at Amazonia Lodge

There is camera equipment scattered on the tables along with two cameras on tripods sporting some of the biggest lenses I have ever seen. We meet the camera owners who are professional photographers and tour operators. The husband and wife duo are guiding a young couple that happen to be newlyweds. They have chosen a unique way to spend their honeymoon for sure. This foursome is the only other guests at the lodge.

     Jose Luis takes us on a long trek in the jungle this afternoon around well-kept trails radiating out from the lodge grounds. We are transfixed by a male coquette hummingbird dancing in swooping arcs over a female perching on a small limb. His mating display is lovely to see. We catch a glimpse of a pair of tyrah, members of the mink family, running on the trail ahead of us. That’s the way it usually is in the jungle, you just catch glimpses of wildlife in the thick vegetation. We meander for two hours in the heat and humidity but the cool birds we find make it worthwhile. The birds we see include barbets, trogons, tiger heron, hoatzin and a lineated woodpecker to name a few. One of the most amazing sights we come across is a column of leaf cutter ants. Every ant is carrying a bit of leaf above their heads as they march in the direction of their colony. There are ant columns coming from different areas of the jungle and merging with the endless line of ants marching beside the trail. There surely are hundreds of thousands of the industrious insects that stretch into the distance.

    Paul and I are worn out when we return to the lodge. The heat and humidity weigh on us like a ton of bricks after being in the thin, humid free mountain air. There is a row house with four communal bathrooms on the left side of the building where our room is. As soon as I can gather my towel and essentials I hit the shower. Paul showers the minute I return to the room. It is a gesture of futility as I begin to sweat as soon as I walk outside, oh well; it felt good for a little while.

    Jose Luis helps me mark off the birds we saw today before we go to eat supper.  After I finish putting an x by today’s birds, Jose Luis thumbs through my bird book for a rough count of the birds we saw the last two days.  His tally comes to over one hundred species, not bad at all!  Supper is served and we dine on konua soup, marinated minute steak and a side dish of baked, thinly sliced potatoes/carrots.  It was delicious. We fall into bed not long after we finish eating.

      I wake up this morning with the cold I was afraid I was catching. Paul has had a mild cold the last few days. Phooey. We leave the Amazonia lodge by 7:30 and my hopes for a gorgeous river trip are dampened by light showers and mist.  For most of the trip I try to control my billowing, blue poncho that seems determined to become a sail. The captain runs the boat at a steady speed (20 mph?) so during the heavier showers the raindrops sting our faces. We do see a few birds when the rain lets up and the most impressive is the King Vulture. We have now seen the six species of vultures that are in Peru.

    Sunshine breaks out a few hours into our trip allowing us to get a clear look at life along the river. I am surprised to see how much human activity there is here. It seems even though Manu is a protected area the natives have the right to log, farm and fish. Also the river is so high that there is no bank showing so the vegetation is thick right by the water’s edge. My hopes of seeing a jaguar or tapir along or in the river plummets because of these two issues. It is obvious that this isn’t going to interfere with seeing birds as they are everywhere.

   

Photo taken from the door of our bungalow at Manu

We arrive an hour earlier to the Manu Wildlife Center, considered one of the world’s top wildlife lodges. The bungalows are built close together and the jungle crowds around the edge of the grounds. It is not as open as the Amazonia lodge was but the rooms are more appealing and we have our own bathroom. No electricity again but that makes for a more authentic experience.

    

Paul and I opt for a quick nap before we are to meet Jose Luis at three o’clock for a jungle walk. We drift off to sleep and wake to the steady drumbeat of rain on our thatched roof. Neither of us has any intentions of walking in the downpour and we assume our guide will understand our no-show. The rain falls steadily until five and then abruptly comes to an end. Jose Luis appears at our door, urging us to come out to see the resident tapir which has brought along her baby.  The staff saved this tapir from drowning in the river when she was a baby a few years ago. The strange creature comes to visit from time to time but seldom brings along her offspring. The reluctant youngster doesn’t follow mom into the midst of the bungalows but stays along the jungles edge, head held high and lifting one foot occasionally, an obvious sign of stress. The little one finally loses its nerve and disappears. Mom however browses through the grounds with her paparazzi in tow until dusk falls.  Due to the lateness of the day and overcast skies my photos leave much to be desired and of the few photos I took of the small tapir, none were any good. Rats.

The tapir that came to visit, surely one of the oddest creatures there is

     There are only three guests besides us at the lodge and you wonder how they can afford to keep a staff for so few guests. We are here before the high or busy season so hopefully it will be much busier in a couple of weeks. What a gourmet meal they serve us tonight, spinach soup, marinated beef with mashed potatoes and cheesecake for desert. Not only is it delicious but it is beautifully presented.  After my lack of appetite and our active days prior to now I have had to tighten my belt up a notch. The way I clean up every morsel of this meal I will probably have to loosen my belt by the time we leave Manu.    

   

  

    

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

Peru, part 10

Peru, part 10

 

     Paul and I eat a 5:30 breakfast then return to our room with a porter so he can take our two suitcases to the storage room. We make a final check of the room then shoulder our backpacks and return to the lobby. Jose Luis arrives shortly after six and asks us if we have our binoculars within easy reach. Our binoculars are securely in place via shoulder harnesses under our coats and when we show them to Jose Luis, he flashes us a beaming smile. He says this shows him we are serious about the birds and wildlife we will see on our way to the river. There is another couple in the van, Will and Beckka, accompanied by their guide, William. The manager of The Cock of the Rock Lodge, where we will stay tonight, is here and our driver. We also go and pick up the new manager to be of the Lodge so the seats are full.  It takes a little while to load the young woman and all her luggage into the van. Once the luggage is piled in the back we drive south through Cusco.

     Our first stop is at the lagoon where Norma took us a few days ago. However, Jose Luis and William know where to find the birds and they spot several birds many of them new species for us such as the punateal and giant hummingbird. We drive through the small village where we ate guinea pig but the streets are quiet. The next small town is famous for the enormous round loaves of bread they produce. This town is buzzing with activity and the smell of baking bread permeates the air. William has our driver stop so he can purchase a loaf and allow us to get a close up look at the baking process. Clay ovens like those for roasting the guinea pigs are in use but the ovens are much larger. William shares by allowing us to tear a handful of bread off the warm loaf. The bread has a slightly sweet taste and is delicious.

Beautiful farm land below us

     We leave the valley behind and begin to drive up the mountainside. Our paved road soon gives way to gravel. The road becomes little more than a single lane with serpentine curves as we travel higher. I’m setting by the window where I become well acquainted with the sheer drop off which is the roads edge. I can’t help but peer into the deep chasm far below. There are no guard rails along this road, not that it would probably matter anyway. When we meet the rare oncoming vehicle, our driver seems to be the one that must backup to a “wide” place in the road that will let the car by. It is exciting enough to drive this road going forward; going in reverse is an experience we could skip.

    

Woman tending her sheep

      As we drive through the mountain plateaus, we pass by small villages where children stare and wave to us. An old woman tends her flock of sheep, her bright clothing in stark contrast to the dingy sheep and the muted colors of the land. We must slow for the mixed species of livestock the natives herd down the road, always accompanied by a dog or two. We can see the road we are traveling in crooked tiers below us. No wonder it seems we are getting nowhere fast! Oh yes, the new manager of the lodge has proven to be prone to motion sickness. The driver has to stop for the poor woman once so she can exit the van and get some fresh air.  I suggest she move to the front seat and everyone agrees although William seems reluctant to give his comfortable seat up. He does swap seats with her and the young woman finds this helps her immensely.

Two styles of hats for the ladies

      We arrive at the last town we will pass through today and stop to use the restrooms, one soles please, and buy some snacks. Our guides allow us some time to explore the mountain town of Paucartambo. Paul and I walk through the market but the smell of raw meat and fish accompanied by buzzing flies makes for a short visit. We walk to the middle of the stone bridge that spans the river and just absorb the sights around us. Many houses have laundry hanging on the patio along with blooming pots or even terraces full of flowers. The women wear Stetson here rather than the stovepipe hats and we see a few women in flat hats with ruffles sewn to the edge. Paul is leaning against the side of the bridge looking rather aristocratic, in my prejudiced opinion, in his Stetson. An old man approaches him talking excitedly. The grizzled man removes his hat, bows his head and takes Paul’s hand pressing it to his temple. After a few moments still with his head bowed, he backs away from Paul and continues on his way. I watched the whole thing with my mouth wide open and not a photo to document the completely odd affair. Jose Luis had no explanation except that the fellow was probably drunk.

Paul after his encounter with the old man

When we leave the village, we start to climb into the mountains again. Soon we have left the dry plateau behind and are entering a completely different landscape. The cloud forest is chilly, mist is falling and lush vegetation smothers the land. We stop to eat our box lunches at the entrance of the Manu Reserve. Paul and I forego the grilled chicken breast as the meat is quite pink and appears to be under cooked. There is no sense taking a chance of becoming ill besides they have sent enough food for two meals.

My favorite photo from the village Paucartambo

     When we tourists commented earlier on the rough, dusty, narrow and windy road we have been driving our guides guffawed and told us to prepare as the worst was yet to come. They weren’t kidding, as the roads in the cloud forest is even narrower in addition to being muddy with frequent tight curves. Our driver hugs the mountainside of the road so tight at times the van nearly rubs against the mountain. I’m glad he does because there are frequent places where the roadside is crumbling. There is more than one occasion where I hold my breath wondering if the outside tires will stay on the road. To make it even more adventuresome there are waterfalls everywhere cascading down the mountainside the water flowing across the road. No wonder the road is giving way. One waterfall is dropping sheets of water directly on the road. Nature’s car wash doused the van as our driver guns the vehicle to drive through it.

One of the many waterfalls along the way, Pauls’ photo

     There is no shortage of birds and flowers in the cloud forest. Jose Luis proves to be the expert birder we were hoping for. He identified birds by song, in flight and while they perched without hesitation.  We exited the van one mile from the lodge and walked in hopes of seeing one of the lodge’s namesakes, the cock of the rock bird. There was another couple and their guide who were walking along with us. The woman and I took an instant liking to one another and enjoyed exclaiming over the birds that Jose Luis was identifying for us. Paul and the woman’s husband lag behind us visiting. It seems his attitude towards birding is like Paul’s; he likes birds but not as much as his wife.  Among the more exciting birds we saw was a female umbrella bird and just before we reached the lodge Jose Luis found two of the bizarre male cock of the rock birds. I wish I had a photo to share but the one I took only shows an orange blob which is the bird’s head. You really should look this odd bird up on the internet.  My new birding friend asks me if we would mind if they joined us tomorrow.  It seems their guide is just a beginner and is unable to identify many birds. I tell her that if we were staying for the day I would be delighted for her company but we are leaving first thing in the morning. Her disappointment is nearly palpable when she hears the news.

Paul and my one day friends husband found this photo quite humorous

     The Cock of the Rock lodge is really cozy and we are staying in rustic bungalows. There is no electricity but plenty of candles, we do have hot water.  It is nearly dark when we arrive so the candles are put to use immediately.  When we go to the dining hall it appears that the only other folks here besides our group is the couple we were just with. While we are waiting for our meal, Jose Luis goes through my bird book with me so I can check off all the birds we saw today. I think we marked off 50 species for the day. Not a bad start. We are getting up early tomorrow in hopes of seeing more of the national bird of Peru the cock of the rock so are in bed early.

             

    

    

Peru, part 9

Peru, part 9

    

       We have a rude awakening early this morning, 3:30 to be precise, by some young men talking loudly as they return to their rooms. After fuming at the complete lack of respect for the other guests in the hotel, I finally drift off to sleep. An hour later, another inebriated person stumbles down our hallway, talking incoherently and bumping into the walls. This time I am unable to go back to sleep so fantasize for the next hour and a half about pounding on their doors at six a.m. and wishing them a good morning. I don’t do this of course, only because I have no idea which rooms they occupy. Grrrr. Knuckleheads.

     We are up by six to finish packing our luggage since we return to the Maytaq hotel tonight. Norma and Marcos arrive at 8 a.m. and we drop our luggage off at the hotel on our way out of Cusco. I’m feeling sluggish this morning due to the short nights sleep but hopefully our walk in the fresh mountain air will revive me.

     We are driving north of the city on the same road that we traveled with Lalo. Passing through the dismal shantytowns do nothing to improve my mood. I see a young man throwing bags of garbage out of a dumpster onto the ground. I don’t know if he is picking through it for himself or feeding the large pack of dogs that are ripping through the plastic bags in search of food. There are dogs running loose everywhere in Cusco, all over Peru as far as that goes. In Cusco, we become used to stepping around the canines as they sprawl out wherever they want. Of course, with free running dogs they also deposit their business wherever, usually on the sidewalks. In the main part of Cusco there are people cleaning the streets constantly so at least the poop doesn’t lay around for long. I will admit the dogs are very polite and never bother us with inquisitive sniffs.

    

Inca terraces at start of our trek

We arrive in Chinchero where we begin our trek. Marcos waves so long to us as he drives off towards the village where we will end our hike. Norma does not need to inform me that we are just over 12,000 feet as my body lets me know. However, we are walking down the mountain so this is as high as we will be today. We only walk a short while when we come upon Incan terraces with the familiar aqueduct system we saw at Tipon. The ruins are off-limits as archeologists are in the process of restoring the site.

   

A feeble attempt at trying to show the beauty of this place

There is no way my words can describe this incredible walk. The majestic Andes pierce the impossibly blue sky. Streams gurgle near the trail as they make their way to the river, which flows far below us in the verdant valley. The water provides background music to our hike punctuating its soothing song with the occasional drama of a cascading waterfall. There are hummingbirds feeding at the wildflowers scattered about the mountainsides. It’s like fairy tale country! At one point in the trek, we halt to soak in the wild majesty surrounding us. Paul speaks up and says he believes this may be the most beautiful place we have ever seen in all our travels. The odd thing is at that moment I’m thinking the exact same thing. No photo we took begins to convey the splendor of this extraordinary place we have the good fortune of experiencing today.

    

Mitred parrots

As we approach the valley, a large flock of mitred parrots rises from a farmers maize field noisily protesting our intrusion. They alight in a tree and allow us to come close to them before they wing their way, squawking loudly, to the far side of the valley. We chuckle at one field of maize where two scarecrows stand guard, one wearing a hard hat no less. Feasting happily beneath one of the scarecrows is a group of blackbirds. Oh well, you win some and you lose some.

   

I find the arrangement of the corn amazing

Norma decides to forego the trail and follow the cement channel that conveys water to the village. The valley opens up to reveal that it really is as productive as it appeared earlier from our lofty view. It is harvest time in Peru and there are people gathering everything from flowers to cilantro and maize. We visit with a woman stacking curly cabbage in an enclosed 3-wheeled motorcycle. The name curly cabbage comes from its crinkly leaves. It smells like regular cabbage but Norma claims it is more nutritious than the common variety. The thing that amazes us most is how the farmers have arranged their maize (corn) for drying. They have laid sheets of plastic on the ground placing corn around the edges of it for the boundary. Then workers have put the ears of corn on end within this area so the air can get to the kernels more evenly to dry them out. Wouldn’t you love to have that job?  In spite of all the man-hours this would have taken, the spectacle of the hand placed corn stretching out over a field is awesome.

    

livestock penned next to a house in the village

Arriving at the village, we begin walking down the village dirt road where the water channel runs along its edge. Norma shows us how people divert the water into their small fields. It is as simple as removing big rocks they use to block the water from running into the side ditches that connect their fields to the main channel. Norma is also giving us a taste tour as she often reaches up to pluck a fruit from the laden trees that grow within reach of the road. The residents keep livestock in pens next to their houses and the animals watch curiously, as we pass by them. The people here are so courteous that each one of us receives an individual greeting, not just one buenas tardes for the group. We become good at pronouncing buenas tardes before leaving the farming village! We walk across the bridge over the impressive Urubamba River where Marco is waiting for us.

   

Potatoes being harvested in Peru

After a late lunch, we begin the drive back to Cusco. We come to an area where natives are picking up potatoes out of the fields. It appears that someone has been here with a plow and plowed up every potato field in sight! We approach one group working next to the road and Norma suggests we stop. Paul and I reluctantly agree-ha, we are nearly out the doors before Marcos comes to a stop.

   

Part of the potato crew, Marcos standing by roadside. Pauls’ photo

There are at least three generations maybe four working in the field. The three men are using big hoes to finish unearthing the spuds while the two oldest children follow behind picking up the potatoes and placing them on blankets. There is a chubby-cheeked toddler playing in the dirt. When reasonable amounts of potatoes are on the blankets, the kids gather up the corners and drape the potatoes sack over their shoulders. They carry the vegetables to the edge of the field; add the potatoes to the growing pile where the women sort the potatoes by size. They will sell the largest spuds in Cusco and the families will keep the smaller ones for their own use. Some trivia for you, potatoes originated in Peru not Ireland and Peru has over 3,000 varieties of potatoes. I think we sampled half a dozen varieties in our time here.

    

Good grief those twins are cute! Great photo Paul

The youngest woman in this group has twins looking over each shoulder secured by a blanket in the typical Peruvian way. The cute babies have me so mesmerized that I forget to take a photo. Luckily, Paul took a great photo of the threesome. Paul and I put our cameras away and begin to help the kids throw potatoes on their blankets. The little girl is more than happy to let Paul carry her sack of spuds for her and rewards his gesture with a timid smile. The eldest man walks up to me and puts his arm around my shoulder while beckoning Paul over where he throws his other arm around Paul. He is talking with exuberance and though we have no idea what he is saying, his tone is full of warmth. Of course, the barrel of chicha by the potato pile may have something to do with his fondness for usJ

     We know what is coming and sure enough, they offer us chicha. I refuse by putting my hands to my stomach and try to put a look of pain on my face. I figure this deception isn’t as rude as a flat refusal of their hospitality. One of the older women comes up to me chattering but realizing I cannot comprehend her words, raises her hat off her head and lets loose a happy hurrah. The meaning is obvious, chicha will make you feel good even if it makes your stomach hurt. I don’t doubt this at all but she has made me laugh as heartily as a glass of chicha would. I’m not sure how Paul got out of drinking chicha but Norma complies, as does Marcos. I see Marcos take a sip of chicha and when he thinks no one is watching pours the rest on the ground.

   

Norma can’t resist purchasing freshly dug potatoes. Got to love those hats

Before leaving, I hand the two older children and the toddler a soles. The older children take the money and say gracias. Paul has already given the mother of twins one soles for each of the babies. The youngest boy, perhaps three years old, takes the coin and a grin splits his dirt-streaked face. Mom prompts the tyke, asking him “what do you say” and I swear I heard her ask the boy this in English. Hmm, maybe I just translated what I thought she was saying. The little guy says gracias I think and we wave goodbye to all of them. I turn for one last look at the farm family. The toddler must think he needs to earn his soles as he has put a few potatoes on his blanket. He puts the sack over his shoulder and as he makes his way to the mound of potatoes, his pants begin to fall down. The little boy reaches his destination before his drawers fall off his hips where mom corrects the problem. I am still laughing as I get into the car!

Check out the sandal sole hinges on this gate

 

     When we reach our hotel, we say goodbye to Marcos and Norma. We thank them both profusely and give them the tips they definitely deserve. The staff at Maytaq warmly greets us and they retrieve our luggage from the storage room. When we ask for the pouch containing the extra cash we left with them to store in their safe, they can’t locate the money! The young staffer that took the money this morning is not on duty tonight. I believe the staff is panicking as much as we are but they try not to show it. They assure us they will find the missing money so not to worry. Fat chance of that happening. It isn’t long before someone turns up at our door with the black pouch. Whew, talk about a feeling of relief. Paul and I conclude that either Maytaq doesn’t have a safe or the worker forgot to place the money into the safe. Whatever the reason for the misplaced money we will not leave our excess cash in their care again.

       Tonight we meet Jose Luis who will be our guide in the Amazon rain forest. Jose Luis is very personable and we take an instant liking to the man. The journey to the river is a two-day drive and we are leaving at 6:00 in the morning. After these past mornings of eight a.m. pickups, the six o’clock departure sounds mighty early. I’m excited though as I am ready to do some serious birding and Jose Luis is an expert birder! Poor Paul.