Peru Week 34

I had a quick stopover in Lima. The coast as seen from the plane is arid and I stayed in Miraflores, an upmarket area full of tourists, mainly American. The shops in the malls are the same as everywhere else, there’s blandness about the world now with the brands and fast foods, one could be in Gateway or Ho Chi Minh City. Lima is a city of 11 million people, the weather is comfortable but misty in the mornings; they say it never rains in Lima. Perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean I watched the surfers catching waves far below me.
The next morning we flew to Iquitos, firstly over the Andes and then over the forest with rivers looping backwards and forwards below. I was booked on a six day Amazon cruise by G Adventures with a mixed bag of fellow passengers from the English speaking countries, USA, Canada , Australia , UK , South Africa of course and one lone 18 year old girl from Norway. The 3 deck cruiser has two skiffs for excursions and cruising the Amazon is breath taking, although we were on the head waters the river was wide and fast flowing. The ship had eleven staff and two naturalists for twenty two guests , the food was excellent and accommodation was in en suite rooms with air conditioning. We certainly didn’t rough it. We took excursions along tributaries which sometimes got narrower and narrower until we had to hack our way through with a machete. We mainly saw beautiful birds and different monkey species and sloths. A negative was being bitten to death by mosquitos and other insects despite using lots of insect repellent. Also evident were pink fresh water dolphins nosing their way along the shore line. We took a couple of walks in the dense jungle where they found for us an anaconda, boa constrictor, an ant eater, a tarantula spider and different frogs. We also visited the local community who cooked for us and a shaman ceremony. This has caused widespread worldwide interest as they use hallucinogenic causing plants. They lived in basic wooden houses, probably communal but were well dressed and handsome people. One afternoon we went piranha fishing and then on a dugout canoe paddled by the locals but had to be rescued as the weather turned black and threatening. In the evenings the staff had an impromptu guitar band and were really rather good. On the way back to the airport we visited a manatee conservation centre , an animal I have never seen before.
Another flight back to Lima and then on to Cuzco which is 3450 meters high where we spent two days acclimatising to the altitude and exploring the city. It’s a grand city with Spanish style churches and squares made from the local stone. But once more it’s very tourist ridden as this is the gateway to Machu Picchu .We were on the Inca Trail organised by Alpaca Expeditions , a Peruvian owned company . We were picked up early at 4.10 a m on the first day, a group of 12 trekkers, from USA, Canada, New Zealand , South Africa and Holland looked after by 17 porters and cooks and two expedition leaders with the average age between 20 and 30 except for Patrick and myself and Lisa at 49.All we had to do was walk, the staff took care of the rest , meals, water, putting up and taking down tents ,and carrying our clothes.. Each porter carried about 25 kilos up and down the mountains including the toilet, a job I wouldn’t have liked.
On the first day we walked for about 6 hours to our camp. This is where I did my getting lost bit ; we stopped for a rest and I went to buy some water . In the meantime the group got up and turned left. I followed straight on and went down to an Inca site and there was still no sign of the group. Eventually I found one of our porters and he radioed the group and they arrived about 45 minutes later. This was put down to the Roger effect.
Day2 was the crunch day. A very stiff four hour climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass at 4215 meters high, there were a few dead men as well . The last few steep meters were literally breath taking, I felt like I was running out of air. We then descended and went up another pass for two hours and then down to our camp site. Day 3 was easier, firstly we walked through an enchanted forest and down a very steep decline called Gringo Killer nd stopped at Winay Wayne , a beautiful Inca site. The beauty of this site was that we had it all to ourselves.
Day 4 was the climax of the trail . Firstly we had to get up at 3.30 a m and wait two hours for the gate to open. It then turned into a bit of a race to reach the Sun gate first which was all pointless because everything was socked in with cloud. One last hand over hand ascent , another Gringo killer before we arrived at Machu Picchu.
What to say about Machu Picchu itself, well if anything it exceeded my expectations. Soaring mountains, shifting clouds; altars, houses, everything was amazing, What the Incas achieved was astonishing and the handmade trail with its rough big stones was also a feat of engineering..
We had a last lunch in a restaurant and then returned to Cuzco via a bus, train and another bus to end the tour.
All that remained for me was a four flights home, Cuzco – Lima- Sao Paulo – Johannesburg – Durban which all went like clockwork and the end of an eight month round the world trip. I’ll write about my reflections in another blog.