A Travellerspoint blog

"Inca Jungle"

Alternative adventure to Machu Picchu...

all seasons in one day
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Jess this time!
Having done a bit of asking around a few months ago when having to make the key decision of whether or not to shell out for a place on the legit Inca Trail, I decided that maybe it wasnt the best option for me. The thought of days of uphill walking and sleeping in the freezing cold in tents to be woken up at 4am didnt really appeal, so I decided to look for alternative options to visit Machu Picchu once in Peru. We made friends with two other girls in Cusco who were in our room in Loki - Anita and Heather - and they also hadnt booked anything, so we decided to go in search of another way together.

Word on the street was that there was a 4 day 3 night jungle excursion available including 1 day mountain biking, 2 days trekking *nervous twitch* and then Machu Picchu on the final day. All this for the same price it would be to go for just one day and with no tents in sight. It also included food, accommodation and the train back to Cusco. Perfect we thought, so whacked down the cash and headed back to the hostel very happy with our cost effectiveness.
Only issue (initially) was that we could only take a day pack for all this time as we had to carry it ourselves (no fit porters in this gaf) and therefore had to be able to bike with it too. Hmmm. Having never gone on a 4 day "jungle thing" before (I use the word jungle lightly, it was marketed as jungle but you couldnt get malaria or anything) I wasnt really sure what to take. I eventually crammed in enough stuff to satisfy most of my "what if" scenarios and then I was ready to go.

We booked to depart on the same day as Pranav, so whilst he headed off at about 4.30am on the first day, we had a leisurely 7.30am pick up. Very civilised. This was the start...

We took a 5 hour local bus right up to the top of a mountain - this is when I discovered that not being able to roll my rrrrrssss was going to act as a barrier if ever needing to shout out our guides name. Once at the top, we were each presented with a bike, gloves, a helmet and a packed lunch. Everything one would need for the adventure we were about to embark upon (although upon reflection a stun gun for scary dogs, complimentary insect repellent, shin pads and operational brakes would have also been welcome extras.)

The first part was incredible. Downhill biking on a proper road. Amazing. For a few minutes I even considered making a promise to myself to learn to ride a motorbike. (Dont worry mum, I soon got through that phase!) Then, in a cruel twist of fate, the proper road ended and we were back to nature (almost) on a rocky road. This is when the situation started to do downhill. If you know me, you will know that I have an enormous fear of dogs. Now this rocky road went through many a village... many a village populated with packs (ok maybe a slight exaggeration...) "groups" of stray angry dogs. So in an attempt to get through these villages as quickly as possible, I tried to go as fast as I could. Sadly my limited mountain biking experience was not enough to help me stay on my bike. I flew off flat onto the road, my bike veering into a ditch. Sadly I was alone as I was not fast enough to keep up with the people in front, but my fear had kept me away from the back of the group. So there was me, alone, lying in the road, bleeding (a bit) and crying for the fear of being mauled by dogs. Eventually our guide came and mopped me up and we were on our way again. We biked 45km that day - alot of it was downhill and in fairness we did see alot of amazing scenery and villages off the beaten track. So although by nightfall I still hadnt arrived at the hostel, was bitten to pieces by insects and could barely walk, let alone bike - it was an interesting day and quite an adventure.

The next morning saw the start of our 2 days of trekking. If I´m brutally honest, I found it hard. Uphill walking isn´t really my forte - but to compensate we did see/do some really cool things along the way. Whether it be walking through little abandoned villages, crossing delapidated Indiana Jones stylee bridges, clambering over rocks (Lara Croft eat your heart out) or walking along some of the actual Inca trail. To top it off, we also chilled out in some hot springs at the end of the second day which was so relaxing (although it did give the insects further opportunity to bite other parts of my body that are usually covered on a day to day basis ahem). Got some good pics anyway.

On the fourth morning we got up bright and early (hmm not so bright but very early) and headed up to Machu Picchu. It was very wet and miss bright spark here left her phenominal waterproof (you have never seen so many secret pockets in your entire life) back at the hostel. Still, the rain cleared up pretty fast but any pain incurred was certainly worth it for what there was to be seen. I can honestly say that postcards do not do that place justice. Just the sight of the ruins through the parting cloud was enough for you to forget everything *might seem a bit OTT but you would know what I mean if you were there*!

We had a great day exploring the place and taking tonnes of photos. I can now say I have seen one of the wonders of the world and hope that many more people get to see it before it gets too eroded...!

Posted by scholars08 07:18 Archived in Peru Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The path to Machu Picchu

Walking like an Inca.

sunny 23 °C
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I woke up to the sound of bells. For the past week, Cusco had been preparing itself for Corpus Christi and the day had finally come to celebrate. Unfortunately, I had a prior engagement.

Almost 4 months before, I had made a booking to trek the Inca Trail and now, with the final money paid and my bag packed, it´s fair to say I was feeling a little nervous. I had spent the previous day in bed, feeling dizzy, nauseous and febrile and was clinging to the faint hope that some dubiously acquired antibiotics would pull me through.

Luckily, I knew that I would only be trekking with two other people. Unluckily, one of them was the biggest bitch I have ever met. For the sake of convenience (or bitterness, whichever you prefer), I have decided to replace their real names with ´nicknames´ - henceforth, they shall be known as Señora Holier-than-thou (SHTT) and Señor Gormless (SG). At first, I thought that they were just a pair of affable thirty-somethings from Devon but I couldn´t have been more wrong. The following should give you a taste of the dinner table awkwardness I endured throughout the trek:

Wilbert: Amigo, did I tell you about the time when I guided Shakira around Machu Picchu?
Me: Wow, sounds better than the time that I bumped into Anna Kournikova at Mumbai airport.
SHTT: Who´s Anna Kournikova?
Me: She used to be a tennis player
SHTT: Oh my god, you´re so middle class.
SG: Yeah
Me: Um..
SG: Yeah
SHTT: Are all gap year students like you?
Me: Um..
SG: Yeah

She went on to diss my parents (SHTT is a social worker and finds it ´disgusting´ that surgeons earn more than she does), my upbringing and even the fact that I´m going to read Classics.

Good times.

Fortunately, the trek itself was absolutely magnificent. Each day, we were treated to a stunning variety of scenery, ranging from classic Andean vistas to cloud forests. Moreover, Wilbert, the guide, was both informative and a complete legend. In between showing off his knowledge of the Incas, he would also play ´hilarious´ practical jokes on me.

For example, I wanted to thank the porters for their hard work in Quechua (their native language) and so asked Wilbert to teach me the word for thank-you. Seems simple enough, doesn´t it? Wilbert told me that I ought to say ´Les voy a pankar´.

Somewhat surprisingly, when I put my new phrase into action our entire team of porters cracked up laughing. I put this down to my appalling Quechua accent and, undeterred, carried on saying it, each time adding a little to the phrase (for instance, I added that I wanted to thank each and every one of them, every day). Finally, Wilbert said that the porters were so impressed by my Quechua that they wanted me to go up to the top of Dead Woman´s Pass (the highest point on the trail) and shout my gratitude. By this time, I was a little suspicious, but I decided to go along with it. And so, I climbed up to Dead Woman´s Pass ahead of the porters and started yelling down at them. As one, they sat down and burst into giggles. It turns out that ´Les voy a pankar´ doesn´t mean ´I want to thank you´ at all. It means I want to f*ck you.

All jokes aside, the porters are incredible. They are tiny (even by my standards!), but phenomenally fit - so much so, that one porter was able to run the whole Inca Trail in less than 4 hours! Until legislation was passed a couple of years ago to protect them, they would usually carry loads of 50 to 60kg on their backs and would only earn around 50 soles (less than a tenner) for doing this for 4 full days. Luckily now, they are limited to 25kg each and earn around 400 soles for a trek, which, although still not very much by Western standards, does go a lot further towards supporting their families.

Anyway, I feel that I have digressed enough and that I should reach the main point of this blog. Machu Picchu. The lost city of the Incas. On the morning of the final day of the trek, we started walking at 5, aiming to reach Intipunku (the Sun gate) by sunrise. Unfortunately, when we got there, the whole place was shrouded in fog. Dejected, we sat down and listened to about 20 American trekkers make the same joke, one after another (´Sun gate, huh? They should call this place the Fog gate!´). Eventually though, the mist cleared and we got our first glimpses of the site.

I know that it is incredibly cliched, but words simply cannot do justice to the place. Even as busloads of Americans crowded in (´Gee, isn´t this place swell..!´), Machu Picchu retains its silent majesty. The fact that the Incas never developed a system of writing means that although most of the buildings remain intact, we will almost certainly never be able to know their exact purpose. As Hiram Bingham, the ´discoverer´of Machu Picchu, once said, it is a place shrouded in mystery. I hope it stays that way.


Posted by scholars08 16:13 Archived in Peru Tagged foot Comments (0)

Jess' arrival in Peru...

The time finally came for me to join Pranav on our South American adventure...


After an epic journey starting with my cruel abandonment at Heathrow airport at 1am [despite the fact that the flight wasn't until 7.25... only joking dad..!], I finally arrived in Lima a bit worse for wear but high on life. Fortunately I made friends with a couple of other 'gappies' on the plane, Matt and Dave - so the 12 hour flight didn't seem quite so painful, especially when mixed with ear plugs and complimentary food and drink =]
Pranav met me in the airport with a hand made sign which although didn't actually mention my name, was still a nice thought..! He was a bit shocked at my ability to bring so much stuff... I can literally clothe and probably provide medical treatment for a whole village with all the goodies I have stashed away. But at least I'm not going without! I was pleasantly suprised if not a little shocked at pranavs sudden transformation into a local in just 2 weeks... with his practically flawess 'banter' with the locals at the airport I knew I would probably pick up on the language quite fast..! I was impressed anyway.
We got a notorious taxi to the Miraflores Guest House, which although was really nice, wasn't the stereotypical backpackers hostel that you might expect. It was mainly middle aged couples, and in our room we had a tv with MTV, fun times. The people were so nice though and made us feel really welcome. The showers were freeezing though, I mastered the art of washing my hair in approximately 1 minute. Definetely I skill I should hold onto for the future.
The next day we had planned to meet matt and dave from the plane and decided the day before with them at the airport that the 'macdonalds on the roundabout' would be a good option. We were waiting there for ages before coming to terms with the realistion that we had in effect been stood up. A bit disheartened we made our way back to the hostel and in a moment of sheer genius decided to google the macdonalds restaurant locator. We were shocked to discover that there were in fact 10 macdonalds restaurants in Lima [just one city]... crazy. That's basically more than in the Midlands. Thanks to the wonders of facebook we got back in touch with matt and dave and arranged a successful rendevous the following day. [as it turned out, they were also waiting for ages by a different macdonalds and also thought they had been abandoned.] what a misunderstanding.
We got up to a whole range of different things in Lima including visiting the local markets, exploring the area a bit more [the ugly dirt mound actually turned out to be a sight of historical interest,] went to some smaller restaurants and even went to the cinema. All in all it was a great first port of call as it wasn't too crazy, neither was it too cold... apparently just the calm of the storm so I am told...

Posted by scholars08 14:21 Archived in Peru Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

The Amazon

Rumbles in the Jungle..

sunny 33 °C
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As I stepped off the plane in Lago Agrio, I was greeted by searing heat and the smell of burning rubber.

The town, known as Lago by locals, is a festering pit. Primarily an oil town, it is deep in the jungle and about 30km from the Columbian border. On most weekends, it plays host to bands of roving FARC guerillas, cocaine smugglers and prostitutes. It was to be my gateway to the Amazon.

A couple of days before, I had decided that a trip to Ecuador's slice of the rainforest, otherwise known as the Oriente, would be a good idea. Practically everyone I had spoken to had said that it had been one of the highlights of their trip. What's more, with what can only be described as a stunning lack of foresight, I assumed that the horror stories I'd heard about snakes, spiders and parasites weren't true.

Over the next few days, we were lucky enough to see an amazing amount of wildlife: anacondas, caimans, 8 different species of monkey, tree frogs, 2- and 3- toed sloths, macaws, toucans, river dolphins and lots more. There were also a couple of fun extras:

- Piranha fishing (they are cunning little bastards, but taste pretty good pan-fried)

- A visit to a native Siona shaman, who performed a 'purification' (a bizarre ritual involving lots of singing, several palm leaves and a cigarette) and told us about the history of the shamans. Apparently, in order to become a 'real' shaman, a man is made to drink a special hallucinogenic liquid: this drink then puts him into a coma, which many 'wannabes' never wake up from. If he does wake up, he will continue to drink a diluted version of the substance for the rest of his life, as it apparently reveals all sorts of amazing things, such as the location of fish, the medicinal qualities of plants and the future. I personally think that this would have been much more legit had the shaman not tried to sell us this stuff afterwards ('20 dolares! Magic! 20 dolares!').

The downside to all these shenanigans was that life in the jungle was like being a contestant on an extended episode of Fear Factor. A massive Wolf Spider came out of the drain while I was showering, there were bullet ants under my mattress and even cockroaches in my washbag. There was also a little (when I say little, I actually mean that it was bigger than my hand..) Goliath tarantula living under the dining table.

Thankfully, I managed to get out alive and am now whiling away the hours in Lima and waiting for Jess to arrive and the real fun to begin!


Posted by scholars08 10:14 Archived in Ecuador Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

La Mitad del Mundo

Myths from Middle Earth..

all seasons in one day 24 °C
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Apparently (according to my Lonely Planet at least..), Ecuador's main claim to fame is the fact that it is located on the equator. In order to commemorate this momentous national achievement the Ecuadorians built a monument just outside Quito, which is now one of the key stops on the ´Gringo Trail'. With this in mind, Nicolas and I decided to make the trip (about 22km) out of Quito for the day. Somewhat naively, the pair of us assumed that it would be a short and stress-free trip..

To start with, it was all too easy. We simply jumped on a Metrobus and ended up at Cotocallao Bus Terminal, from where the shuttle buses go down to the monument. We boarded the correct bus pretty quickly and settled in for what we believed to be a 30 minute journey. As the bus struggled manfully to break the 20kph barrier, it became apparent that this would not be the case. Literally seconds after this realisation had dawned on me, a man hopped in, carrying about 5 live chickens. To my dismay, he decided that the best place to stow his cargo was directly under my seat. Then an urchin got on the bus and began to sing. Ah great I thought, a welcome distraction from the clucking. Error.

The boy proceeded to regale the bus with a series of appallingly tuneless ditties, most of which seemed to be about heartache (earache, more like). In response to this aural violation, the chap in front of me decided to start playing Cuban hip-hop on loudspeaker on his phone. This continued for some time.

Eventually, the monument hove into view and the conductor shouted 'Mitad del Mundo'. Excellent, I thought, the ordeal is over. I was sadly mistaken.

Inexplicably, Nicolas insisted that we stay on the bus, explaining that it would make a U-turn and drop us directly outside the entrance of the monument. Given that he had been to the monument before, I decided to defer to his better judgement. Error. The bus simply continued to motor along and the monument began to fade into the distance. About 15 minutes later, when we could no longer see the monument, it dawned on me that something might not be quite right. I raised my concern with Nicolas, who simply shrugged and continued to insist that it would eventually turn around. We began to argue. Mr Cuban hip-hop turned the volume up.

Picture the scene, if you will. Nicolas and I, bickering in Spanglish and German, 5 chickens squawking and flapping under the seat, Cuban hip-hop blaring out of a speakerphone and an urchin, wailing tunelessly. None of the Ecuadorians batted an eyelid.

After another half an hour or so, we reached the small town of Calacali and all the other passengers got off. Finally realising the error of his ways, Nicolas proposed that we cut our losses and get something to eat. I, starving, agreed. We found a restaurant and ordered two almuerzos, set lunches. Despite my doubts about the provenance of the chicken we were eating (the restaurant was situated right next to the town's ´Coliseo de Gallitos´- cock-fighting pit), the meal was excellent. After about 20 minutes, another bus turned up and we made our way back to the monument without further incident.

The monument itself is a 30m tall and incorporates a museum of ethnography. More interesting is the unofficial museum next door, which contains a number of quite interesting little exhibits, whose aim is to debunk the many myths about the mysterious power of the equator. These exhibits include a demonstration of how water drains in one direction in the northern hemisphere and in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere and one showing how you weigh about 2% less when you stand directly on the equator. These phenomenon (and others) are all apparently caused by mysterious gravitational forces, but I couldn't understand all of what the guide was saying, so that's about all I can tell you.

Thankfully, the return journey passed without incident and we got home at about 6 (having left at 10). Good times.


Posted by scholars08 11:01 Archived in Ecuador Tagged bus Comments (0)

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