After the joy of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu I was very excited to run into Mia and Lee, my Patagonian travel buddies, at the hotel in Cusco. A short chat and then we discovered we’d be at the same jungle lodge in coming nights – I was over the moon to see them again.
Three more travellers joined us (all going through to Rio with me, Isabella and Rosie) – Heather and Rose from Brisbane and Finn from Denmark.
Our rest day after Machu Picchu was spent in Sacred Valley. We thought it was a cruel joke when we arrived at the ruins in Ollantaytambo to be confronted with a temple at the top of numerous terraces – more steps! Nonetheless we made the climb, groans and all.
From the terraces we could see the food storage houses on the opposite mountain facing the terraces. That side had better conditions for preservation – particularly capturing the breezes. In the day, herbs were used in the storage houses to keep the insects away. Some of the food was preserved for up to 15 years; all fresh or dried – nothing was preserved by bottling.
The buildings on the terraces had double door jambs indicating it had been an important place and the stone feature was that of concave and convex. The temple had carved rocks of up to 20 tonne begging you to question how they got them from the quarry below up to the top where the temple was located. It is believed they used a combination of rollers and ramps.
We were shown the variety of techniques used to create the impressive temple walls. Aside from convex and concave (and the pointing method we’d seen elsewhere) they also used a method where bronze clamps were used on the inner side of the blocks (melted into carved divots), a type of tongue and groove and a dovetail method.
The walls containing expansion joints suggested that the constructors had planned to build a rectangular temple but it was unfinished.
Chinchero was the next stop. It was a town with colonial buildings built on inca rustica walls (mud brick used on the top level). The timing of our visit to this town was perfect. It was the day of the Corpus Christi celebrations – an Andean festival of the saints with similarities to the catholic celebrations of Corpus Christi. The Catholic church in the town had been built over an inca temple but like so many others contained both catholic and Andean religious images.
It was a colourful spectacle with the different clans practicing their dances on the archeological site surrounding the church. Each family or group of families choreographs their own dance – leading to a dance competition in the evening, led by a procession of the virgins (who were still in the church while we were there).
We arrived back into a very pumping Cusco, which was also celebrating Corpus Christi. The procession was just ending but the guinea pig and Cusqueña was flowing! It was lovely to be there at such a happy time for the locals.
A spot of shopping and then it was back to the hotel to pack for the following morning’s flight to the Peruvian Amazon Jungle.
It was only a 30 minute flight to Puerto Maldonado – part of the Amazon Basin. The main industry in this town is gold collection from the rivers and agriculture (particularly Brazil nuts). It’s only a number of hours drive to Bolivia and Brazil from Puerto Maldonado. It also boasts Peru’s largest bridge – a mini Golden Gate.
I loved the two taxi options – either a three wheel or two wheel bike. Unfortunately it’s BYO helmet. We had a quick walk around the markets before getting our boat to the lodge. The warnings from our guide to be careful with our handbags during the walk around town was useful – Patrina had a motorbike rider try to grab hers as we were crossing the street. Thankfully he only got away with ripping her shirt.
It was unexpectedly cloudy (given it wasn’t the rainy season) so we knew a trek in gum boots was likely. After a very tasty lunch we got taken across the river to an island owned by the lodge that’s used as a monkey rescue centre. We got to see spider monkeys, white and brown capuchins and the only tamarind monkey on the island (who happens to be 20 years old but is as small as a possum).
I had been looking forward to the evening with Mia and Lee. We had plenty of laughs about the Patagonia leg and what we’d done in between that time. They were doing the reverse of the trip to me (Rio to Quito) so we both filled each other in on what was ahead. It was sad to farewell them again but I know I will see them again, if not when they return to Brisbane from London it will be for a trek in the Swiss Alps!
The next morning we had a trek through the jungle. It was very different to what we had experienced in Ecuador; the Peruvian jungle was very flat whereas the Ecuadorian very mountainous. Along our walk we saw giant snails and bundles of their eggs, squirrel monkeys and a very well camouflaged leaf frog. Trees such as the Ironwood were pointed out as the roots from these trees are often used by natives to take refuge during the night or in storms.
We arrived at Victor Lake for a spot of bird watching from a 20 metre viewing platform – we managed to see tucans in the trees in the distance, horned screamers and parrots. A short boat trip around the lake resulted in seeing more birds – snowy egrets, weasels and social flycatchers.
It is the mahogany and cedar that is sought after in the Amazon – the area we were in and up to six kms on had already been depleted of all these trees.
The guide managed to lure a tarantula out of its ground nest – it was huge but very quick in returning to the nest.
On returning to the lodge I was delighted to find a farewell note in my hiking boots from Mia and Lee, and got a laugh from the bit about how nice it was to see my ‘purple’ hiking boots again! I chose to hang about in the hammocks for the afternoon while a number of our group took off in a boat to try their hand at piranha fishing – unsuccessfully and in a storm to boot – was very pleased with my decision.
I enjoyed a few aquadeiño (local aniseed liquor) before bed and then it was up river again in the morning for the flight back to Cusco. It had been fun at the lodge – the cold showers and electricity only being available between 5pm and 10pm added to the authenticity of the experience. It had also been lovely to be away from the rabble of big cities instead waking to the sounds of woodpeckers and other melodic birds.
The next day we were off to Puno on a bus. Again the burden of the long bus trip was eased by the spectacular scenery. We followed a river through the base of a deep valley most of the way – it was lovely to see the beautiful blue sky and clouds reflected in it. Aside from the usual village houses we passed stacks of harvested crops and commercial operations – timber yards, quarries, etc.
Puno was a lovely little town and was to be our launch pad to the islands on Lake Titicaca. Puno’s main industry is mining – mainly copper and silver. They are also known for their tweaking of electronic equipment for sale on the black market. As usual the cathedral was perched above the main square – this one was 450 years old.
The following day we headed to the port in two passenger transport bicycles; fun as we encouraged our riders to dodge traffic to get us there first! We were then onto our boat heading for Uros Islands. Lake Titicaca is the largest navigable lake in the world – 60% is in Peru and 40% in Bolivia. The lake is 4 000m above sea level.
The Uros Islands were interesting being floating reed islands approximately three metres deep in reeds. There are about 2 500 people living in the Uros area of the lake. The inhabitants are from the pre-inca period, around 3 000 BC. The people originally lived on the mainland but came from the jungle. They fled to Uros, creating the reed islands, to escape the Spanish colonials who were forcing locals to work in the atrocious silver mines (Potosi).
There are around 75 floating islands now but there had been only 15 islands about 10 years ago. The islands are serviced by a medical centre, kindergarten and elementary school (all on floating reed islands).
Lake Titicaca is truly magnificent – the water so blue and the size unimaginable – it makes Sydney Harbour look like a pond. The land based islands have crop terraces rising from the waters edge up to the tops of the hills, particularly used for some of the 2 000 varieties of potatoes grown in Peru. It was interesting to look over toward Bolivia to see the snow capped mountains – it was going to be cold!
We then motored to Amantani Island, for our overnight home stay with a local family. There are ten communities on the Island, four elementary schools and one high school. The matriarch of our family, Rita, greeted Megan, Finn and me at the port in full local costume.
After settling into our room and a feed in the very basic detached kitchen (talking dirt floor and fire for cooking) we headed up to the communal sports court for some soccer with the locals. I was finding it hard to catch my breath so volunteered to be on the cheer squad. Apparently scouts come to the island for talent as the ability of these local kids to breathe so easily at this altitude makes them well suited for professional futball (soccer).
I decided to do the walk up to the ruins of the father-earth temple on the promise that walking around the temple at the top three times would grant us all a wish! We waited for sunset and then headed back torches in hand to navigate the steps and paths through the crops back to our families for dinner. I was loving the food – they are vegetarian and big users of quinoa for soups.
With a full belly we were offered the opportunity to dress in local costume for the ‘disco’ in the communal hall. We all looked hilarious dressed up with our layers of skirts and embroidered shawls. Out came our torches again for the trails across the terraces – the night sky was absolutely amazing with the Milky Way and other constellations so clear.
After a bit of coaching from Rita’s daughter we had the dancing down pat – there didn’t seem to be any technicality in the ones they were teaching us – more a combination of Greek dancing and a conga line! We headed home for what we knew would be a very cold night.
Another meal in the kitchen and then we were back to the port for our next stop of Taquile Island – known for the quality of its textiles. I was hoping this could be the place for something to take home as a memento of Peru. This island was smaller than Amantani with only six communities. It was a very high walk passing through cute rock archways that symbolised a welcome from a new community.
The weaving was a great disappointment – it’s done by the women whereas the knitting is done by the men. I was however impressed with the way they distinguished the status of people in the community. The married men wear red hats whereas the single men wear red and white hats. The married women have red pom poms adorning their layered skirts whereas the single women have multicoloured pom poms on their skirts. What a great dating system! They also have special hats that are worn on the birth of a baby with different colours signalling the arrival of boys and girls.
Our lunch was taken at a spot with breathtaking views of the Lake – if it wasn’t so cold you would think you were in the Mediterranean! To get back down to the boat it was 540 steps – will this ever end!
Once back in Puno a number of us decided to catch a show of the local folk dancing before we exited Peru the next day. It was a fun night with the dances showcasing the range of traditional dancing performed across Peru.
Time to leave Peru. It had been wonderful to visit a country with so much to offer but how apt that it should snow as we were getting into our bus; our final reminder of what life is like at altitude!