Bolivia & Peru: Altiplano & Amazon Trek 20.09. - 19.10.06
Posted at 01:18, 21 September 2006 in South America
Finally I met up with the group for the first 9 days of the trek. A good mix of Australians, Kiwis (New Zealanders), English and one other Swiss. We flew to the city of Sucre, a UNESCO world heritage with beautiful white buildings of colonial architecture and great gardens with flower ornaments all over.
Three of us went on a mountain bike tour around Sucre and to the Dinosaur Footprints. Sucre is on 2800 m, surrounded by hills in every direction, so this really challenged my fitness ;-) But there were some great speedy downhill parts too! It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the scenery. As the dry season is just ending, the landscape looks yellow, with only a few green trees and huge cactus plants. The Dinosaur Footprints park is well done, but you don't get close to the archeologic site, so it was hard to make-out the footprints.
Potosi was the richest city in the 15th century, because of the Cerro Rico, the Silver Mountain. Today the mine is still being worked on, but the city has lost its original splendor. But - Potosi claims to be the highest city of its size in the world, at 4'070 m. And the mines go up to 4?00 m. But working conditions are terrible, and the people very poor!
24.-27.09.06 Uyuni & 4x4 Tour to Uyuni Salt Flats (Desert)
Uyuni is totally isolated and has a challenging cold and rough climate. But thanks to the Salt Flats, people can make their living. Also thanks to tourism today, as the 4x4 tours are attracting travellers.
We started with two Jeeps, 5 people in one - and off we went, hopping and jumping over dirt roads, rocks and riverbeds. But the scenery is just incredible. Originally vulcanic activity created this fascinating landscape. On the altitude between 4'200 and 4'900 m, sand desert, dry lakes, rock formations, snow-capped mountains in the horizon and the wildlife are just stunning. I loved it. We had very long days driving, but the pay-off is great. Laguna Colorada is red because of minerals, and Flamingos live there! The Green Lake is mirroring the surroundings, the Geysirs set you back to how it must have been million of years back - and most surprising is: people live in this desert. Mostly they look after the Lama herds.
Everything was superb, but to me the Uyuni Salt Flats just striked me - wonders of the world! 14'000 square meters of dry salt flat had our imagination going and we took funny pictures. Fish Island is in the midst of the Salt Flat, and its cactus are incredible. They grow 1 cm per year, so most of them are over 1'000 years old.
Our 4x4 broke down, we lost one of the breaks, and we had to push the car each time we stopped... kind of scary when you know you are in the middle of now-where. But FUN!
The nights were freeeeeeezing cold (0 degrees celcius), but hey, thats a small price for what we gained. Only the toilets were disgusting - so we did the business outside :-)
28.-29.09.06 Uyuni to La Paz
After the long days in the desert, we craved for a warm shower - ahhh, simple things in life are worth a fortune... At midnight we then boarded the train from Uyuni to Oruro. I was surprised, was a really comfortable train, and it was on time! Rare in Latin America :-) We then took the bus to La Paz. It is funny to board local buses, great way to encounter the local life. Women board the bus to sell their homebaked bread, kids sell drinks in plastic bags. And the buses are FULL, means sitting on stairs and in the aisles...
But we arrived safely in La Paz - but very tired.
30.09. - 02.10.06 Puno / Lake Titicaca
Only 3 of us continue from the previous group, so now we are 5 Swiss (!), 2 Aussies, 1 Kiwi, 2 English and the Peruvian guide.
The busride from La Paz to Puno was very scenic along the shores of Lake Titicaca, the worlds highest navigable lake (3'810m). After lunch in Copacabana, we crossed the border to Peru on foot and then drove on to Puno. Puno is nothing special, but it is a very touristy place, as most Lake Titicaca excursions start here. We had a great adventure:
A very relaxing 4 hour boat ride took us to Taquile Island, where the locals still follow their very strict rules (UNESCO world heritage). The island has been terraced for agriculture. It is incredible, what the locals are able to grow here - on almost 4'000 m!
We then went on to Amantani Island, where our hostfamilies greated us in their traditional clothing. 2-3 of us stayed per family, and each of us got a typical hand-knit canopy. We had to walk up the hill of the island (nice training for the Inka Trail...) - and we even got real beds (I expected to sleep on mats on the ground...). In their little clay houses we found sheep, chicken, grand-parents and two kids... The mother cooked an easy, but wonderful meal in the little kitchen. The open fireplace was charming, but you should smell my cloth now ;-)
With the children we played soccer - and in the evening, the families dressed us up in the local clothing - and organized a dance. I have never danced on 4'000 m - quite hard to catch your breath!
The locals here speak Quetchuan, not Spanish, so this encounter was a great cultural experience. I really enjoyed it very much!
Next day we left the families again and on the way back to Puno visited the famous Floating Islands. The Uros people still live on those swimming islands made of reeds. Impressive!
The heart of the Inka Culture is Cuzco. This wonderful city full of history really is worthwile a visit. Houses in the Spanish style with small verandas invite to just sit, have a drink and overlook the things going on on the plazas. A lot of the houses are built on remains of Inka buildings (walls with large stones). A large variety of restaurants and great nightlife make this city a great place to visit - and so a lot of tourists from all over the world can be found here... For us this city is the starting point for two adventures, the Amazon and the Inkatrail/Machupicchu.
04. - 06.10.06 Puerto Maldonado / Amazon
A short flight from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado took us down from 3'300 m to 250 m, into the humidity of the rainforest. A 45 minute bumpy drive by car to the "port" and another 2 hours boattrip on the River Tambopata - and we arrived at our jungle-lodge Inotawa. The wooden construction, open on all sides, offered everything one needs, incl. comfortable hammocks to chill-out. We enjoyed the sounds of the nature: frogs, birds, monkeys etc. I loved it! Especially at night when lying in bed (under the moskito net), it was so nice to listen, but also a little creapy... as monkeys, bats and w****ver were in the lodge at night.
We did different walks (also at night), seeing huge tarantulas, spiders, lizzards, monkeys, little caymans etc. Scary but exciting at the same time. We also went Piranha-fishing. Incredible, the sharp teeth those little fish have! And we even got up at 4.30 one day to see the colourful parrots go down to the sandback to pick minerals. Wow, that was noisy!
On the last day it rained... and so the trip back to the airport was very wet, as the boat is open. But until Cuzco we all were dry again :-) - and well rested for the next adventures.
07.10.06 Sacred Valley
From Cuzco to Machupicchu a variety of Inka Ruins can be found in the so called Sacred Valley. This valley's weather condition is special, and so the Inkas settled here for farming all sorts of crop. We had a whole day exploring the old sites, gaining a lot of interesting insights on those Inkatimes. Incredible, how they were able to build walls with perfectly matching stones - of huge size! And like other cultures, they were able to build temples, where the sunlight at start of summer/winter shines on exact rock constructions, e.g. an eye of the sacred Puma. For those interested in Inkadetails, here just a little gusto: The layout of the town of Ollantaytambo was in form of a Corn, Cuzco was a Puma, and Machupicchu a Condor.
In Ollantaytambo we then enjoyed a last night in a bed before starting the Inkatrail.
08. - 11.10.06 Inkatrail / Machupicchu I made it ;-)
At 5.30 in the morning my biggest challenge so far got a start. A bus took us to the famous kilometer 82 of the railway track, where the Inkatrail begins. Here we met all the porters (14 men for the 10 of us) and the guide. A short instruction, passport checks at the official gate - and off we went. The first morning was easy, so called "inkaflat", meaning slight ups and downs (from 2'600 m to 3'000 m). I can manage that! But then after lunch we started climbing the "Dead Women's Pass", which meant going up 700 m (half way of this pass). The air up here is thinner, and so breathing is even harder. Puh... very exhausting, especially as the trail is not flat, no, those Inkas build steps with uneven rocks, almost knee-high but very narrow. But I went slowly (babysteps...), and to my surprise I was actually able to enjoy this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, sounds unreal after all my fears and concerns... But the nature was incredible. We hiked through rainforest, along little river-streams, crossed lamas - just great. On the way the porters crossed us - almost running up this hill. Stunning those men, they each carry 25-30 kg, and they run!!!
Well - after 7 hours walking that day I arrived at the campsite - worn out, but happy (and hey, I was not even the last one ;-).
The porters had already put-up the tents, and we did get a wonderful dinner in the group tent.
Next morning at 6am we got hot tea in bed :-), and after breakfast the rest of the "Dead Women's Pass" had to be achieved - up to 4'200 m. Now this was exhausting, and I really had to force myself to keep going. I guess the hardest was to already see the people on the top a long time before I made it. But the group experience was great, as all people on top cheered and jubilated for each one coming up. Great motivation! The last one of our group then arrived 1 hour later, which gave us time to recover, before we all went down again to the lunch camp. This now was hard on knee's and thighs - those Inka stairs.... autsch!
After lunch then the second mountain had to be climbed - and unfortunately it now started to rain. And it rained hard - we even had hail. Luckily I bought good clothing, was worthwile now! The hike (steps) now changed into a little riverstream, as the water ran down the trail. But I found it actually quite funny... With another friend we walked slowly - and achieved the second peak Runkuraqay on 4'000 m without falling apart. And then, down again for 2 hours, until we reached the campsite - soaked!
The third day everyone craved for sun, as some of the group had no dry things anymore. And we got lucky! Slowly the fog in the cloud forest gave way and we were able to overlook the incredible beautiful surroundings - e.g. the glacier of the Veronica Mountain. Today the hike was not as demanding anymore, and I could enjoy it. And I got my pay-off: hard to put it into words, but in the afternoon, close to the last campsite, the view down into the valley where the traintracks are (the train I did not take as I managed to walk!!!), the view to Machupicchu Mountain (not the ruins yet) and all the other hills - indescribable beautiful!
That night we camped in luxus and were able to take a shower a use real bathrooms :-)
Final day, at 5am we started the last bit in the dark - together with x other groups. Was kind of funny, as at the checkpoint one has to line up, and then the race is on up to the Sungate to get a first view on the ruins of Machupicchu. And our group was first - and lucky. At 6.05 am I arrived there, beautiful view - great pictures. 10 min. later, when the next group came, thick fog totally blocked the view.
We all then walked down to the Machupicchu ruins, had an interesting tour and enjoyed the sun pushing through. However I must admit, that the ruins at the end did not impress me that much anymore - "der Weg ist das Ziel" - getting there and achieving the Inkatrail was much more exciting! So four of us then took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and as a nice reward went to the Hot Springs to treat our sour muscles.
Late afternoon we then again returned to Cuzco - exhausted, but full of wonderful memories of an incredible demanding, but absolut exciting adventure! And we all went for a relaxing massage...
12.10.06 Cuzco - Arequipa
A free day to catch up on Internet, do laundry and enjoy Cuzco for the last time. A flight then took us to Arequipa.
13. - 14.10.06 Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon claims to be the 2nd deepest canyon in the world. From Arequipa we drove 4 hours through vulcanic landscape, which looked a lot like the Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia). The drive took us up to 4900 m, then down again to Chivay at 3600m, a dusty little village in the desert. We enjoyed a bath in the Hot Springs - ah, felt really good!
Next day got up early to drive along the Canyon to a special place, where Condors should appear... well, we saw one from far, not to exciting. Then again a long drive back to Arequipa.
The whole group was very tired on this excursion, I guess we all still are a little exhausted from the Inkatrail.
A full day for us in Arequipa - and some of us took advantage of this to do a River Rafting Tour on the Chilly River. The water was very cold, coming from the glacier of the Chalchani Vulcano. But the Rafting was good and a lot of fun going through the wild rapids.
The afternoon then I spent on the Internet and in a nice Cafe on top of the Plaza del Armas in Arequipa.
At 10pm we all then boarded a very comfortable night bus - and I mean comfortable! Leather seats, fully reclinable, cozy blankets... all you need for a good night sleep.
After the 9 hours on the bus it felt good to directly go to the hotel, take a shower and have breakfast. Nazca is in the desert, so temperatures are high - and the hotel had a swimming pool!!! Ahhhhh, we just loved it to hang around in the water and sun-bathing.
But of course we also did the tourist thing: a flight with a small Cessna plane to see the famous Nazca Lines. No one really knows how those lines got there - and when they were built. There are different figures: a monkey, a whale, a spider, a hummingbird etc. However... I was a little disappointed, even though the figures are big (the condor is 300m spread out), it was difficult to make them out from the plane. Some of us wondered, if the Nazca Lines are not just a tourist trap....???!! Well, the Pisco Sours (typical peruvian drink) at the swimming pool made up for everything :-)
17.10.06 Nazca - Pisco (via Huacachina)
Squeezed in a little bus we started our journey to Pisco, and stopped for lunch in Huacachina. Surrounded by huge sand dunes, this place is a little oasis in the sand desert. And its speciality: crazy Sandbuggy Tours incl. Sandboarding! It was absolutely hilarious, we had so much fun. Racing up and down the sanddunes with the open vehicles felt like being on a rollercoaster. And the sandboarding was great fun too - we slid down the dunes in crazy speed, everyone trying to get the furthest :-) Well, afterwards, we all had to get the sand out of every body part!
In the afternoon then we visited a winery, where the famous Pisco is made aswell. Of course sampling was a must. Uh... to strong for me, tastes like Schnaps! I prefer the Pisco in the mixed drink
The long day brought us into the city of Pisco then late in the evening, and as it is said to be a rather dangerous city (harbour city), we stayed in the hotel for dinner and a drink at the bar.
18.10.06 Pisco - Lima (incl. Ballestas Islands)
In a little speedboat we all had first contact with the ocean. After being in the high altitude for so long, seeing and feeling the ocean was very special! The Ballestas Islands are home to thousands of birds: penguins, pelicans, cormorants, seagulls etc., but also hundreds of sealions. We hit a good time of the year, as the birds were having young ones, and the sealion bulls were fighting for the females. So a lot of animals were on the rocks and at the beach.
In the afternoon then we boarded a public bus for the last part of our trip to Lima. There we checked into a nice hotel in Lima's better area Miraflores.
One of the group celebrated his birthday today, so we all went to TGI Fridays for a last group dinner (mhh... onion rings and baby back ribs...;-)
Officially the day of departure for the group members, but we still were enough staying, that we enjoyed the civilization of a large city together. Going shopping was great - finally real shops (not just buying from a women at a booth on the street...), and junk food at Burger King and a nice McFlurry at McDonalds - we all loved it! In the evening we went down to the seaside at Miraflores and had a drink at the sea - felt like a holiday...
And then it was time to say good-bye to group-members. It is hard after such a long time to see people go, as this group was really great, and we all became good friends. But this is how it goes...
And so this trek comes to an end. I absolutely loved the Inkatrail, my highlight so far. I just have a great time and hope, the upcoming travels will be as exciting as this trek up to now :-)