Peru, final chapter

Peru, final chapter

 

       Paul and I retrieve our backpacks from the hotel storage room then go to the pool to relax until it is time to make our way to the train station.  We are traveling to Poroy station on the edge of Cusco which will take nearly four hours. We aren’t on the scenic side of the train this time so a good part of the time outside our window all we see is just the side of the mountain. It doesn’t really matter as after we have eaten our beautifully presented snack of cheese, nuts, raisins and Kinua cake the staff on our car has an evening of entertainment in store for us.

Farm fields

Farm fields

  

       One of the stewards dressed in a dazzling costume similar to those we saw in the Ollantaytambo festival dances up and down the aisle. There is a group of Japanese on the train and two of the women jump up and stop his dance long enough to have their photos taken with the gyrating performer. Next the dancing dynamo chooses a young woman near us and gets her to dance with him. When the one man show is over us passengers reward the fellow with well-deserved applause and cheers.

      A beautiful woman kicks off the next part of the show by using the aisle as a fashion runway as she models a beautiful shawl she is wearing over her work attire. The Japanese women reach out to touch the shawl and one of them decides she must try it on. Once she has the shawl on the middle-aged woman parades up and down the aisle completely hamming it up. The Peruvian woman regains ownership of the shawl and returns to the front of the train, disappearing behind the cloth barrier only to reappear in a couple of minutes modeling a gorgeous coat. After the woman has showcased a few more articles of top of the line clothing the curtain is drawn back and a tall man with GQ looks steps out. He has a woolen scarf wrapped around his neck and dramatically strikes a pose. The women on the train react with whistles, clapping and laughter.

     After a while the two Japanese women can’t bear it any longer and invade the curtained area of the staff. Soon one of the self-proclaimed models reappears from behind the curtain doing her best to prance down the aisle. Due to the rocking train motion she finds the normality of walking challenging and is bumping into seats quite often. I have no clue what she was modeling as I am too busy watching her antics. She has everyone howling with laughter which is the reaction she was looking for of course. During a lull while the fashion participants are changing clothes one of the Japanese men decides to model his Peruvian hat. His hat is a wool stocking cap with ear flaps and the small man with a huge grin plastered on his face, struts down the corridor lifting and lowering the ear flaps like a bird trying to take flight. Everyone finds this hilarious and the laughter booms throughout the car.

I have no photos of the fashion show so you get to look at Paul and I at Machu Picchu

I have no photos of the fashion show so you get to look at Paul and I at Machu Picchu

      Naturally this fashion show is put on in hopes of selling the clothing to us tourists. When the show is over the staff pushes a luggage cart laden with items of the modeled clothing down the aisle. Their intent is to start the sales at the back of the train car and then work their way to the front. When they reach the Japanese folks midway down the aisle the cart comes to a screeching halt as the women eagerly begin to look over the clothing. I lost count of the times one of the train crew would hurry by our seats to their compartment and return with several plastic bags in order to wrap up clothing items that the voracious shoppers are purchasing. Paul and I are facing away from the buyers but the woman sitting across from us keeps us up to date on the feeding frenzy. I glance back now and then, half expecting to see clothing flying into the air as the enthusiastic customers dive into the cart offerings. When the Japanese are finally sated the cart rolls by us devoid of much of its original load. Our companion reaches out to read the price tag on a shawl and tells us the sticker price is 250 bucks. We know via our friends’ account that the mid-calf length coat along with shawls and sweaters are packed away in the carry-on luggage of the Japanese.  We all agree that the train staff probably earn a commission on the clothing they sell and this is the reason for the happy laughter that is drifting out of their curtained cubicle.

      We arrive at Poroy after 7 p.m. and once we gather our backpacks among the pile of luggage we walk the gauntlet through the drivers waiting for their customers. When it is apparent that no placard is embossed with the name Miller, Paul utters “not again” and I too echo the sentiment. I look outside the train station and see a thin man hurrying towards us carrying a placard in his hand. He sees us staring at him and raises the white cardboard which has our name scrawled in black across the sign. Thank goodness because I was not looking forward to another episode like we experienced in the airport. It seems our driver was unable to find a parking place close by and we walk several hundred yards to where his car and several others are parked. There are no street lights and our driver has hired a young man to guard his car while he came to get us.

     When we get to Maytaq we go through the same procedure that has become rote for us. We receive a warm welcome from the staff, retrieve our luggage and return to the room we have been in three out of the four times we have stayed here. We eat some of the carry over food from our Machu Picchu lunch for supper. We are both very tired but must pack all we can before we shower and retire for the night.

     Paul and I are up by six this morning and finish our packing before going to eat breakfast for the last time in the Maytaq hotel. We truly enjoyed this clean and friendly hotel, well except for the momentary money misplacement, and express our appreciation to the staff. Our driver arrives and we leave for the airport. The flight arrives in Lima before noon and a driver is waiting to transport us to the Allpa hotel, the same hotel we stayed on our first night in Peru. We arrange to leave our luggage for the day and then go to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant. Since we are next to the ocean I decide to have scallops which are beautifully presented and extremely rich. Paul had macaroni but it doesn’t remotely resemble the American dish although this version is delicious.

      We are booked on a city tour of Lima at 2:30 this afternoon to kill time until our 10:30 flight. When a man enters the lobby asking for a party of two under the name of Yoone we shake our heads. The man appears to be perplexed and makes a phone call. He approaches us again and asks if we are the party of Yoone Crenshaw-Miller. We say yes still puzzled by the Yoone part until the light bulb goes off for Paul who figures out he is saying June (my middle name). J in Spanish is silent after all.

Paul in the Center Square in Lima Peru

Paul in the Center Square in Lima Peru

    

     We are taken to another part of Mira Flores where a tourist bus is waiting and we join a large group of visitors climbing into the bus. The people are a mixed group of Spanish and English speakers so our guide must explain all of our stops twice, poor guy. We go to one of the many art museums in Lima to look at the best Incan artifacts we have seen on our trip.

Incan pottery

Incan pottery

      Our next stop is the main square of Lima where we follow our guide who plays a wooden flute so we can keep track of him in the crowd. I’m not kidding you; most guides have a flag they hold above their heads so I guess our guy wants to be unique. The city square does not impress me anymore than the city itself. The most interesting part of the square are the police lounging along one side of the street holding protective shields. Our guide informs us that they are always here as people often come to protest near the presidential mansion.

Riot Police in Lima

Riot Police in Lima

     We climb aboard the bus and proceed to a Franciscan monastery and tour the catacombs. It is musty, claustrophobic and creepy to see all the human bones and skulls in the enormous pits where people were buried. I am glad to see daylight and enjoy the pigeons that cover the ground around the monastery. Occasionally the birds all take flight which is a fun thing to see. One of the couples at Manu told us they had spent two days in Lima and it was at least one day to many. I concur as there is no historic charm in this dirty crowded city of eight million! We are trying to make our way back to the Mira Flores district where all of us on this bus are staying and the trip takes two and a half hours. We move a couple of blocks and then sit for five or ten minutes while the traffic cops direct the traffic with flashlights. Good Grief.

Pigeons taking flight

Pigeons taking flight

     We finally arrive at our hotel at 7 p.m. and walk around the area close by our hotel to see if we can find a fast food place to buy a quick supper. We see a McDonalds and figure why not but after Paul checks his supply of soles, a whole 20 soles, our plans change. We can’t buy much with that so we return to the Allpa and we each order soup handing over our travel card to pay for the yummy meal. Why are soups so much better in foreign countries than what we have here in the U.S.?

      Our driver arrives at 8:30 to drive us to the airport and as we are checking in the young man helping us informs us our flight has been delayed an hour. As the fellow is issuing us our tickets he says “this won’t work” and explains that we would only have 30 minutes to catch our flight out of Houston. He is right, on an international flight just to get your luggage and go through customs will take longer than that. The man changes our flight out of Houston to one that is an hour later than the original flight giving us an hour and a half in-between flights. There are other people on our flight who didn’t have a check-in person as alert as ours and do have only 30 minutes to make a connecting flight. It ain’t going to happen.

   When we reach Houston there is a lot of grumbling among the long line of people trying to get through security and I’m one of them. They only have one processing line open and the workers are clowning around with no effort to expedite the process. Finally after at least half of the line has crawled through this slow line someone decides maybe they really should open another security point. When I get to the table I remove my shoes, belt, money belt etc. and deposit the items in plastic tubs shoving it onto the conveyor belt along with my back pack. I exit the x-ray booth and am shuffled over to the side for a pat down. Aw crap, I forgot to take my passport out of my pocket. When the woman begins patting down my pant legs I can feel my trousers begin to slide down my hips. Since I am in the spread eagle position all I can do is give a yelp. The woman immediately ceases her action and asks what is wrong. I tell her I’m losing my trousers due to the fact I have no belt on so she allows me to pull them back up and is a bit gentler as she finishes her task. My loose slacks are the result of the weight I lost on our Peru journey, all that walking for hours in a day paid off. I wish I could say that those lost pounds had stayed lost, sigh.

     

Paul and I make our flight with time to spare. When we arrive in KC all our luggage shows up and the car starts right up, all is good. We stop at Legends on the outskirts of Kansas City and have a meal of hamburger and fries at Five Brothers. This eating a great burger on our return to the states has become a tradition for us. We feel a satisfaction in seeing our pastures full of grazing black cattle as we near home. Taz races through the yard to me as soon as I call and for a brief moment allows me to pick her up and pet her as she purrs loudly.  As much as we loved this adventure in Peru it is good to be home.

That’s all! Nancy

    

    

    

    

    

   

     

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Peru, part 15

Peru, part 15

It was Paul's idea to include this photo!

It was Paul’s idea to include this photo!

 

    

Paul and I walk to the main square of Ollantaytambo but just before reaching the square we encounter our first group of festival participants. They are decked out in glittering outfits but aren’t wearing their masks. Several of the men are walking down a side street so Paul and I follow them as we are hoping for a photo-op. It suddenly dawns on me the reason for this side trip and I turn around and walk back to the main street. Paul however continues trailing them and it isn’t until he has taken a photo of the group that he realizes that the group was on a bathroom break. How embarrassing!

Dancing girls

Dancing girls

     We reach the main square and the sight of the dazzling garbed dancers is something to behold. Each group dresses in unique costumes and masks as they cluster along the edge of the street waiting for the parade to begin. Musicians playing flutes, drums and some instruments unfamiliar to me accompany each group. There are two beautifully clothed little girls performing an impromptu dance to the delight of tourists and natives alike. Vendors somehow find spots along the crowded street to grill meat which adds a delicious aroma to the energy charged air. Some troupes are a mix of men, women and children while other groups are strictly men. The masks the people wear include decorated ski masks or factory made masks with oversized features such as long noses or enormous lips. As Paul and I watch the little girls dancing one of the men wearing a mask with large lips prances over to me and with a flourishing bow takes my hand and “kisses” it. Paul is laughing so hard he didn’t get a photo of the debonair fellow pressing those fake lips to my hand.

Our favorite group

Our favorite group

     When the parade of dancers begin performing it is obvious that each group has put in a lot of time rehearsing their routines. The dancing is excellent but Paul and I agree that our favorite performers are the men dressed in long-tailed coats wearing masks with Pinocchio-like noses. Their enthusiasm is catching and the extra pizzazz they put into their dance makes them stand out among their peers. The true crowd pleaser are the children particularly the little ones who try to mimic the grownups. Many of the tots do a good job of dancing, while others are overcome with awe of the pageantry surrounding them.

      Darkness is falling when the reason for the celebration, the town’s patron saint, is presented to the crowd. Sixteen costumed men carry the elaborately decorated litter on their shoulder where a banner honoring El Senor de Choquekilla sits atop a miniature altar. The parade of the patron saint subdues the mood of the crowd but once the litter bearers finish the circuit around the square the performers once again begin whirling and parading through the town square.

     

My young friend

My young friend

Paul and I are hungry so choose to eat at a wood fire pizza place. We ate a pizza prepared this way in Puno and loved the taste. While waiting for our pizza pie I am reviewing the photos on my camera when I realize a husky boy is trying to see them too. I smile at him and move my camera over so he can get a better view. His dramatic verbal response, which I can’t understand, is always the same for every photo. I can’t stop my laughter when his eyes grow big and he enthusiastically repeats the same phrase for each photo. When I come to the end of the pictures my young friend begins to mime out characters of the parade for me which brings more laughter from Paul and me. This kid is a character.

     Although it would have been fun to stay for the fireworks we only know that they are shot off some time after midnight. The time frame is too vague for us so we decide to call it a night and walk the dark street back to our hotel. We were told the dance troupes will take turns dancing until dawn. Wow, I can’t imagine the energy a person must have for this all night celebration.

This young man certainly stands out from the stone around him

This young man certainly stands out from the stone around him

     

We are up at six a.m. and it is another gorgeous day. After eating breakfast we have time to explore the town before our train leaves. We see one tired-looking, troupe of dancers leading a procession of villagers towards the town square but other than that the costumed revelers are few and far between. We admire the Inca stonework throughout the village and enjoy watching the people who are going about their daily lives. An old man carrying a heavy load on his back, a handsome young fellow in his festival costume perhaps on his way home, tethered pigs and cattle in the backyards of some houses, a simple but beautiful church gracing the edge of the town. It is quiet and peaceful on this Sunday morning and not another tourist is in sight, it pays to get up and out early.

Plowing with oxen and a wooden plow

Plowing with oxen and a wooden plow

     Paul and I return to the hotel, gather up our backpacks and check out of the El Albergue. We literally step outside the hotel door to board the train at ten a.m. I have a great window seat that looks over the river and though Paul’s seat is across the aisle he joins me once we are underway as no one is sitting next to me. There are wonderful rural scenes along the way and best of all we see three men working a field with oxen pulling a wooden shaft plow. We have seen the plows but not the actual use of the old plows.

     When we arrive at Machu Picchu a young man from Inkaterra, the hotel where we are staying is waiting for us. He leads us to the hotel which proves to be top-notch from the beautiful rooms to the stunning grounds. When we check in we find that they have upgraded us from the cheapest room to a Jr. suite replete with a fireplace! We have no idea why this was done but we sure aren’t going to argue about it. After settling in we wander the trails that meander through the hotel grounds. We run into the professional photographers who were at The Amazonian and later the couple from New York that were at Manu. They have already been to Machu Picchu and both groups give the ruins rave reviews. We make our way to the pool and settle into lounge chairs to watch hummingbirds sipping nectar at feeders as we nibble on the refreshments provided for us hotel guests. Life is so tough here:). There are 120 species of hummingbirds in Peru, we saw 22 of them.

     Our inclusive dinner is at 6 p.m. and there are a variety of starters (appetizers), main course and desserts to choose from. I opt for the beef tenderloin on mashed potatoes, Paul chooses the pork tenderloin and both meals are delicious. Even though I couldn’t finish my main course I still order a hot fudge sundae for dessert, described in the menu as a delightful, messy treat. The description is perfect as the dessert arrives in a tall glass full of ice cream and brownies with thick chocolate fudge encasing the outside of the glass. It is fun to eat and I devour every last spoonful. Our guide came to introduce himself just before our meal. Victor Hugo is his name and he tells us he will fetch us at the hotel tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m. so we can arrive at the ruins by sunrise.

     I knew eating all that chocolate last night was a mistake as I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning. Oh well, my gluttony was worth the short night’s sleep. We eat breakfast at 5 a.m. and pick up the sack lunches we ordered from the restaurant last night. It is a ridiculous amount of food and we wish we had just had them fix one lunch especially since the box lunches cost 15 dollars apiece. That is a pretty stiff price for a cold lunch. We stuff a couple of sandwiches, chips and sweets in Paul’s day pack and put the rest of the food in our big packs for supper tonight. We check out of our rooms at the receptionist desk but leave our backpacks with them. Victor Hugo arrives on time and we walk to the bus terminal to join the line of tourists waiting to board the buses for Machu Picchu.

     We are not on the first bus to leave by any means but we still get to Machu Picchu before the sun rises above the mountain peaks. As we drive the road, which is a series of switchbacks, we catch the first glimpse of Machu Picchu about half way up the mountain. The sight of this ancient city growing out of the mountain top is jaw dropping. The other ruins we have been to were impressive but Machu Picchu is in a class of its own. I wasn’t the only one on the bus that let an involuntary gasp escape.

Inca trail to the Sun gate and the road we traveled by bus. Paul's photo

Inca trail to the Sun gate and the road we traveled by bus. Paul’s photo

      

Once off the bus, we join the long line of tourists waiting to hand their tickets over to the gate keepers. When we enter the archeological park, Victor suggests we walk through the ruins first as most tourists climb up to the watch tower and wait for the sun to appear above the mountain peaks. We agree with Victor and know we have made the right decision as we watch hundreds of people snaking their way up the trail to await the sun. There are very few other groups touring the astounding ruins so there is no peering around or over other people in order to see all the incredible buildings, sacred areas and tremendous vistas. I can’t even begin to describe this wonderful Inca city and will join the chorus of folks who say Machu Picchu is a must see place.

      Victor might be a small man, (I feel like an Amazon next to him) but he is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to Machu Picchu and the Inca. He points out the stone replica the Inca made of the Southern Cross. He shows us a stone in one of the walls which archaeologists removed so they could count the angles the Incas cut to make it fit perfectly, thirty-two angles! He describes the various stone buildings and the purpose of the many unique things that we are seeing. Victor talks about the incredible things the Inca did during their short reign over this part of the world including building 30,000 miles of rock-paved roads. Not only did they build the roads but they shored up the mountainsides with rocks to prevent landslides from destroying the roads. Again I ask myself how in the world did the Inca do all this, a people with no written language and had not discovered the wheel.

Early Morning in Machu Picchu

Early Morning in Machu Picchu

    

We have our own tremendous sunrise experience as we are standing in front of a line of buildings sitting atop several terraces. A perfect shadow of the structure is projected on the grass as the sunrays light up the mountain peaks. The throngs of people high above us erupt into cheers the instant the sun peeks above the mountain crest, its rays lighting up the ancient city.  It is an awe-inspiring event. We are nearly finished with our tour as the horde of sun worshipers begin to descend into the city of Machu Picchu. Holy Smokes I am glad we were contrarian in our decision on how to tour this wonderful place.

     

Victor leaves us now as he has another group to bring up for an afternoon tour. Paul and I thank and tip him for giving us such a great tour. We walk to the path that leads to the guard-house and find ourselves following a large group of tourists. Some of the people trying to hike the steep trail are struggling due to age, weight and one woman even has a knee that doesn’t flex, perhaps she has a brace on. There is one point where the challenged group stops to rest so Paul and I are able to pass by them. I admire their tenacity but the people who must help drag them up the rough trail sure have a tough job. Once we reach the summit Paul and I sit down near the watch tower and soak in the view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding landscape. We are sharing this high point with a few people instead of the hundreds that were here an hour ago.

View of Machu Picchu from the Sun gate

View of Machu Picchu from the Sun gate

     

    

The sun is high overhead and the heat is cranking up. Despite the temperature Paul and I proceed to hike to the sun gate and the road we are walking is part of the original Inca trail. The stone path has a steady but gradual incline though in a few places we have to clamber up steep steps. All in all the worst part of the hike is the heat but there are shady spots where we can stop for a few minutes to cool down. Machu Picchu itself sits at just over 8,000 feet so I have had no problems with altitude at all. As Paul and I approach the enormous vertical stones of the sun gate a half-dozen youngsters lounging on the walls begin clapping and offering encouragement to us. Hey, I know we look ancient to these young whippersnappers but we certainly aren’t gasping for breath plus we are striding out as we approach the finish line. We aren’t really offended by the kids and acknowledge their applause with smiles and waves. The view of Machu Picchu from here gives a whole other perspective of the ancient city and the hour hike to reach the sacred gate was totally worth doing. The temperature continues to rise and on our way back down we meet several people who are really struggling with the climb and heat. Most ask us how much farther the sun gate is and many are dejected when we have to tell some of them that they are only halfway to their destination. We encourage them to continue as the view is worth the effort. When we reach the watch tower we sit down on a terrace, our legs dangling over the edge, to eat our lunch and enjoy the atmosphere of this unique place.

Ruins in Machu Picchu

Ruins in Machu Picchu

      After we finish eating, we take a bus back to Aguas Caliente. Upon leaving the bus we have walked several blocks when a young man runs up to us and asks if we have lost a camera. I confidently pat my camera case and I feel my face drain of blood as I touch an empty bag!  The young guide and his client explain that they noticed the camera lying on a bus seat and remembered that I was carrying a big camera case. Talk about being observant and extremely honest. He tells me that they left it with the bus station people as they went to search for us. I am in panic mode and immediately turn back for the station at a fast walk. The fit young man tells me to slow down that the camera is safe and not to worry. My adrenalin is flowing much too strongly to follow his advice. When we get to the bus depot the Peruvian man talks to the people he left the camera with and to my deep relief they hand my camera over. I profusely thank the guide and young woman with him for their honesty and for tracking us down. Paul hands the guide 20 soles which he accepts and as we part company my hero advises me to be more careful with my camera. I smile and agree that indeed I will. I still am not sure how the camera was left behind. I often leave the latch of the camera case unhooked so I can remove the camera quickly if a photo opportunity arises. I would guess that when we stood up to get off the bus, the case tipped on its side when I hoisted it to my shoulder and silently dumped the camera on the seat. On our walk back to the hotel I occasionally touch my camera bag to remind myself how lucky I am to still have my camera!

Train in Aguas Calinte Yep, my camera is still there

Train in Aguas Calinte
Yep, my camera is still there

     

    

    

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.

 

 

      

 

      

   

    

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.