A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: pdsaustin

Banos, Tena and Coca, Ecuador

...and into the jungle from Coca...

semi-overcast 19 °C

Sunday 17th June - Cuenca to Banos

Whoopee, it's Sunday, and a travelling day, so a double whammy of less traffic outside anyway, and being up earlier than anyone else in town, so woken by the alarm rather than sodding cars and buses.

Our final breakfast at Hotel Milan is good and it has been nice enjoying the views from this 4th floor breakfast room.

After settling up (excellent value here for 20 bucks a night) we grab a taxi straight outside and the friendly driver (we didn't speak, but he had a nice face) gets us to the main bus terminal in time to catch the 8.30 bus to take us to Banos.

Not quite a straightforward journey, and we'll have to change about 7 hours into the trip in Ambato. Whilst we're one of the last on the bus, we seem to have been given seats at the front (a little more dangerous in the event of a collision) which are legroom-heaven. The trip to Ambato is $16 for two.

Easy journey, well, we're just sitting here, and we have some tasty vanilla wafers to munch along the route.

Countryside a delight as we thunder through, and we get a varied selection of traditional dress as we make our way up and down the hills. Lots of greenery around and the patchwork effect of the remote, but very productive, fields as we pass by reminds us of home.

Not sure where the bus will drop us in Ambato, as it will be heading on to Quito, so perhaps skipping the main bus terminal here over the other side of town. Turns out to be a side-of-the-road job, but the conductor suggests the terminal isn't far away.

Decide against bothering with the terminal, we¡re on the main road to Banos anyway, so we do as the locals do and wait by the side.

Just a couple of minutes later we're on the Expresso Banos, where we experience the best ever example of something doing what is says on the tin. How we didn't die, at least 23 times, on this bus is a miracle, though the suggested travel time between Ambato and Banos is thoroughly smashed. Hopefully the driver wasn't. Probably the scariest bus ride of the trip so far, and we've been on some real crackers.

At the main terminal we walk towards the recommended accomodation, though it's a fair walk across to the other side of the smallish town. We checkout the Posada del Arte, a small but charming place seeingly run by an American couple. The room is lovely and we're told the breakfast is very good, though it's $35 a night and a little too much, especially without Cable telly.

Just a little way along is Hotel Volcan, though just walking towards reception we feel that we'll be outpriced again. Looks very nice, but even more expensive at $56 a night.

Try two other small places, without success, before seeing what Hostal Carolina has to offer. The room is small but clean, usualy private facilites, cable TV - all for $10 a night, which is the cheapest for a long time. Snag a room at the back to increase our chances of a quieter night/morning. Really didn't think we'd be paying so little in this tourist town! - means we can splash out on some better food.

After settling into the bargain room, we head back to Cafe Ali Cumba, a nice little place on the central square (there's a couple of squares, this one has some trees and a wooden 'Puente de Amor'). It's run by a Danish woman and her Ecuadorian husband - we met her in the street when we were looking for the hostal.

Great sandwiches, coffee, smoothies, chocolate cake were promised, and we were glad to go back and enjoy some of her stuff. Being gringo-owned, it's a touch more expensive, but worth it, and we'll surely be going back.

Pick up some goodies on the way back to the room, including white chocolate.

TV entertains us in the evening, watching a rerun of the Brit Awards 2007, which seems to be suffering from terrible subtitle translation. Oasis performance only spoiled by Liam's poor vocals.

Monday 18th June

Seem to have picked a winner with this accommodation - hardly a noise from outside, though it does make us rise a little later than planned.

Breakfast not included with our room, so head back to Ali Cumba to get some energy ahead of our planned walk for today, our first exercise in far too long. Best fried egg bap since.......

The walk we're doing is the 'loop' up behind the town, which should give us nice views of Banos.

The start of the route takes up us quite steeply, and we're soon feeling very unfit. We heard that there had been many days of straight rain before we arrived, and we can see the follow on effect of some landslip, which we can just about navigate, though it's pretty slippy.

After less than an hour we get to the Bellavista mirador and get a nice view of the town below. It's staying dry for now, though there's clouds all around us, threatening to open up on us.

We don't hang around too long and head further up the trail, making our way to the cobblestone-type road that leads to the Runtun Spa. Got barked at by a couple of dogs, but then welcomed by an aging milk farmer a little further up the track.

We joined him for some fresh tea, and had the longest chat in Spanish than the rest of our time in South America, out together. Surprised that we did so well, and grateful that he spoke slowly for us. Stayed for about an hour, then made our way on up the road. Slipped him a couple of bucks.

Walked further than planned and got to the volcano lookout, though not a chance of seeing the summit with all this cloud around. Heading on, we make our way down the steep and slippy (would be a nightmare in the rain) trail towards the "Virgen statue". Shame to see a religious 'spot' decorated with graffiti, but hardly a surprise nowadays.

A couple of hundred steps lead back down to town and we fancy a smoothie, heading back once again to Ali Cumba. Energy levels back to normal after a piece of warm chocolate cake. Also nice to read some mags here - Newsweek, National Geographic etc, despite them mostly being well out of date.

Hang around for a while before facing up to the internet, and another go at getting us up to date.

Nothing interesting to report for the rest of the day, though had a nice Mexican for din-dins at Pancho Villa on the main street. Looking forward to biking tomorrow.

Tuesday 19th June

A delight to wake up to very little noise, though don't rush to get ot of bed.

Head back to Ali Cumba for breakfast, and leave pleasantly full.

Instead of bikes today, we'll have a walk around town and visit one of the thermal baths. We choose to check out Piscina El Salado and follow the map to the narrow stream, where there's supposed to be a bridge.

We pass some unfriendly dogs down the little path, only to find no bridge, and it looks a little tricky to cross anywhere else, other than the traffic bridge at the bottom of the stream.

We walk it anyway, needing the exercise (though thighs are aching after yesterday's jaunt), but arrive to find the pools full of screaming, and grubby(!), kids. We decide to walk back into town and try and find the other recommended pools, Piscina de La Virgen.

Get thoroughly lost and frustrated trying to find it from the map - we wish someone had said 'just head towards the pretty waterfall that you can see from anywhere in town' - it's right beneath it.

It's mid-afternoon and unfortunately pretty busy with kids, swimmers etc, but it's nice in the water anyway and we stay for a couple of hours, chatting to the couple we met at breakfast yesterday. Paul feels quite good that they are also looking forward to going home, a couple of days after us.

We have a shower back at the room, before heading back to Pancho Villa for more good mexican food. Paul's feeling cheeky and asks if he can have an extra tortilla with his fajitas - no problem. Share a starter too tonight, nice beans and cheese nachos.

Watch some telly in the room before falling to sleep...

Wednesday 20th June

Not a lot today - Paul spends 5 hours straight in the internet (not cheap either in Banos, 2 bucks an hour), but it's great to finally get the blog up to date.

Had a short walk around town, and visited the mirador overlooking the rought river below.

Banos also 'quite' famous for its sticky taffy, which you can see being prepared in shop doorways, with the vendors pulling/stretching it and slapping it back over the hook repeatedly. Tried a small fresh piece of the sweet but subtly flavoured stuff we hope the guy preparing it (without gloves on) has nice clean hands....

Returned to the Pancho Villa on the main street for another excellent Mexican.

That's it for today!

Thursday 21st June

It started raining yesterday afternoon, and continued through the night until we prepared our packs and dressed them in rain covers and walked out for breakfast.

Hoping to get to Quito today, about 3 hours away on the bus.

We hear rumours that there have beenlabdslides on all routes out of here, though the bus company sell us $7 worth of tickets for the journey, and we're due to leave in 40 minutes, at noon.

Noon comes and goes, and we slowly hear more info - sounds like there's 10 crucial metres of road missing. Whilst we wait on the bus we hear the Mayor on the radio, essentially, telling people not to travel today, it's too dangerous.

The bus people suggest tat there'll be more news at 5pm, so we jump off and head back to the accomodation and make the most of the afternoon.

The river is very rough today, and very brown from all the mud it must have been dragging from the riversides way upstream.

Walk around, before stopping for an icecream and then, to cheer the frustration, buy some KIT Kats from the supermarket and escape the ongoing rain to watch TV. Manage to get 5 hours of back to back cop shows, though realise we've missed dinner.

It's still raining at 2am...

Friday 22nd June

Up earlyish to check out the status of the buses. Tourist Office, with a smirk, suggest we'll not be heading to Quito from here for a couple of days, though we can take the roundabout route via Puyo...

We're due on a trip into the jungle on Monday, but need to be in Quito by Saturday to pay for it. Thankfully, we've received an email this morning that offers the chance to pay when we're back in Quito - that's very handy, and very trusting of them.

After a final breakfast at our favourite Cafe Ali Cumba (thought we'd get a discount after daily patronage), we head off to the bus station and get our tickets for the 12.30 bus.

12.30 comes and goes, and we finally leave at 1.20, for the 5 hours to Tena. The ride was fine and it was nice to experience the road that we would have done the bike ride on - shame the rain never, seemed, to stop whilst in Banos.

Obvious evidence of fresh landslides, but we felt safe most of the way along. More waterfalls than usual, thanks to all that rain, though of course this place is also referred to as Highway of the Waterfalls. It follows the Rio Pastaza canyon, dropping from Banos at 1800metres, to Puyo at 950metres.

We're the only tourists getting off in Tena, with the others heading on to Quito. The bus station is a little out of town, though just a few minutes walk towards the centre. We had a couple of places in mind to stay, but walking past Hostel Yasuni ($12 a night, though no breakfast, or hot water - probably won't need it desperately) we're beckoned in and the rooms turn out okay, though we forego a double bed for twins as it looks like it's quieter at the back of the building. Oh, we also forego a toilet seat, but hovering is good for the thighs.

Certainly 'jungle' temperatures here, though the drizzle is probably helping things keep a little cooler.

It's evening now, so we first make a couple of enquiries at rafting shops, though the first one we go to (River People) say that the rivers are too high and they're unlikely to go tomorrow - a little dangerous, and we're grateful for their honesty.

Went into Rios Ecuador next, and they seem to still be taking bookings, though we're put off with the fact that we'll lose 100% of our money if they cancel in the morning. Double pleased we went to the nice/honest people at River People, who perhaps should be called Honest River People.

Dinner followed, at Cositas Ricas - nice enough, though there's not much choice in town.

Nothing after that, and we went back to the room and watched the box, though no AXN channel. Saw a mediocre Denzil Washington flick instead.

Saturday 23rd June

Quietest night's sleep for a while, and we get up later than usual, returning to Cositas Ricas for breakfast.

Nice to see some blue sky too, and that 'tshirt and shorts' feeling - big smiles as we walk to the bus station to buy our ticket out of here for tomorrow, to Coca.

Not much to do in Tena (this is moreso our route into the jungle), though it was nice to visit the small island/jungle reserve in town. It's $2 to visit the spot, where there's some monkeys (sadly some in a cage, though we're told they are rescued), and some other monkeys loose around the place, including a funny looking rat/bat/monkey, called a Tika (maybe wrong spelling). Also some snakes in glass houses, though disturbingly, one of the 'houses' was open at the back.

Several huge Boa Constrictors were kept in a larger cage, and were hanging off a tree.

Various birds flying around the place, and also some Toucan's in a too-small cage, looking bored and frustrated, and some ducks and an Emu too.

The foliage is also nice, and gives us something to look forward to in our trip starting Monday. Not sure if the snakes will be in cages out there though....

Met a nice English couple, Vicky and Mark (Hello guys, if you're reading this - see you in Quito next week!), just as we were leaving and found out that they are in the first week of a year away, and it sounds like they're doing a similar route to us, but the other way around - South America, NZ, Australia, Asia.

Keen to share some hints and tips, we all head off to Cafe Tortuga for some drinks. End up staying there for the rest of the afternoon, enjoying various drinks and some tasty chocolate cake.

The chat continues through dinner at a pizza place just a couple of doors up - Paul says, best pizza in a long time, though it's not the cheapest restaurant in town.

Halfway through dinner, all the rain in the world seems to fall in this town, but times it well enough to stop when we leave to find the ATM, which in turn doesn't work.

Back in the room and we pack to leave tomorrow, up at 6.30. Several puddles in our room following the rain, one dripping near to the ceiling light.

Pleased to be moving on, though not looking forward, too much, to the bus journey tomorrow - supposedly 6 hours.

Sunday 24th June

Groggy start to the day, but jump to it and into the cold shower. Soon woken up.

Thankfully the ATM is working today and we've got enough to cover the next few days in the jungle. No charge for using this ATM, just by the footbridge over the river.

The town is quiet this morning, and only a couple of the shack-shops are open. Our bus leaves just a few minutes after 8am, and slowly makes its way out of town. We assume it was dragging along in the hope of picking up more passengers - there's only about 6 of us on here.

The nice green scenery takes our minds of the snailspace progress, just.

Pleased we snagged seats at the front, for the extra legroom, though we're right in the path of everyone who gets on, and they seem to have other things on their minds than where they are putting their muddy boots. Right on my shiny new trainers. Grrr.

Journey starts to drag as we get towards 2pm and we've just passed a sign that suggests 'Coca - still a little way to go...'.

Football day obviously on a Sunday here too - each town/village we passed seemed to be hosting a kickabout today.

Finally arrive, after countless stops to pick up and drop off other passengers, in Coca and walk the few minutes towards the centre of town.

Checkout the Hotel San Fermin, though find it's closed, and walk on to Hotel El Auca, which looks a little more pricey, though nice for just the one night.

Manage to work our way down from an airconditioned room at $40 a night, to a pretty wooden cabin with ceiling fan for $24. Got the usual private bathroom, Cable TV, as well as a minibar - good for keeping the shop-bought choccies nice and cold.

It has a pretty backyard - lots of trees, and hammocks, together with a handful of various animals and birds - monkeys, parrots and Paca's (cat-size rodent things).

Off to find some internet, though a little concerned that we've read it's $7 an hour....

Phew! - there's a fancy internet place just across from the hotel (it's got an orange colour front), and relieved that an hour online is 'only' $1.40, though you get free popcorn, and waitress service for drinks.

Started to pour with rain next, though we managed a quick look around the smallish riverside town, before having a bite to eat at the hotel, and stocking up on some edible goodies.

Not much else for the rest of the day, it continues to pour with rain, drowning out most of the sound on the TV.

Monday 25th June

Not being picked up for our trip into the jungle until 11.30am, so have a nice breakfast at the internet place we used yesterday - first pancakes in a while.

Other than the last minute packing, we spent a few minutes looking at the animals/birds in the hotel garden. Sorry to see that the parrots and a Toucan had had their wings clipped, though not sure if this is preferable to them being stuck in cages like we saw at the zoo-thing in Tena. The Toucan seems happy jumping around the place and, maybe out of total boredom, chasing Paul's shoelaces, and digging around in his pocket.

Picked up on time from the guys at Sani Lodge and we walk a couple of minutes down to the dock for our 3 hour journey down the Rio Napo (a tributary to the Amazon River)to the lodge.

Sani Lodge is an ecotourism facility, owned and operated by the Sani Isla Quichua community, there's about 500 people in the community, and they own a vast land holding of over 37,000 hectares (90,000 acres), being the largest privately held area of rainforest in all of Ecuador.

The journey is fine as we skim across the surface, weaving from side to side of the wide river to avoid sand banks. Funny that the river develops such shallow areas considering all the rain that falls in these, and surrounding, parts. Whilst we were already aware of the huge oil operations out this way, I guess it was quite sad to see a remote part of the jungle spoiled by huge ferries carrying large lorries connected with the oil industry.

The lodge is located 20 minutes up a small inlet off the Rio Napo, and we transfer to a smaller, slower, dugout canoe for the final stretch through the greenery. Thankfully the canoe has a small outboard motor to speed it through the stream, called Challuayacu, arriving at the lagoon where the lodge sits on the edge. The lagoon is called Challuacocha.

We're greeted by some of the team, including our guides for the next 3 days, Xavier and Freddy. The latter is our 'native' guide, who was born and raised in the community.

After a welcome drink, we are shown to our nice cabin, and unpack our bags, before returning to the bar cabana, which overlooks the lagoon. Not as pretty as it could be, with complete cloud above, though it's dry....for now.

It's midafternoon, and we're pleased that there's an activity squeezed into this first day - a trip across the lagoon and a few minutes walk through the (primary) jungle to a 30 metre tower that has been built around a huge tree. At the top of the tower we get a good view of the canopy, though there are still many trees around that are above us.

We're told that there's not a lot of activity at this time of day, though as the afternoon wears on, to around 5.30, we start to see some more life, though only birds, no monkeys etc. Oh, actually, there are some insects that live in the vines around the top of the tree, including inch-long Conger Ants, which are said to have a nasty bite that will stay painful for many hours. We keep a distance.

Glad we have the binoculars, though not quite powerful enough to afford super-closeup views of the many birds we see, including Toucans, and some others we can't remember the names of.

We stay at the tower until dark comes upon us, and return to the lodge for dinner at 7pm. Nothing to write about re. the dinner - it's 'okay', though portions are small.

After dinner we hang around the bar for a while, playing Jenga and chatting with Colin and his son Joe, before we meet up with our guides for a night safari, which is just a short walk behind our cabins.

Saw a stick insect, various (big) grasshoppers, two small Salamanders and a Tarantula sitting at the edge of his/her nest. Whilst not too many mozzies around the bar and our room, they seem to all be congregating in the jungle, and must be pretty hungry tonight! Survive the night walk, with not even getting pee'd on by a bat.

To bed quite early, as we're due up for breakfast tomorrow morning at 6!

Tuesday 26th June

Up for breakfast for 7am, and the food again is okay, though again we leave still feeling peckish, and we'll be waiting til 1 for lunch.

Today we're off for a visit to the 'centre' of the community - it's the last day of school today, so there's a few things going on for us to see - dancing, singing, school presentations.

Before we get to the centre, which is a 30 minute ride on the canoe, we make a stop on the riverbank and clamber up for a visit to Freddy's house, where we are shown a few medicinal plants and food, and meet a friendly little monkey that lives with the family, as well as 2 dogs and a bunch of chickens.

At the centre we see some preparations for today's dancing, which turns out to be maybe their first run-through - it's a little embarassing, as none of the girls seems to want to be there.

End of term report cards are handed out to the students and while this is happening we step out of the community hall and sit by the football field and enjoy a snack.

We were going to hang around and watch the guys play some football, but we'd rather be making the most of the mostly bright weather to catch site of some wildlife. Gladly we soon make our way back to the boat, and stop on one of the sand islands on the river to have a swim, which turns out to be a swim from one island to another, crossing a fast flowing stretch of water. Pleased that we found a balsa wood log for us to grab onto as we crossed........and missed our island by quite a distance, floating on to the next one.

Glad to survive that jaunt, and be back on dry land (in wet clothes) for a hike through the jungle.

Animals quite quiet as we make our way through, though we come across a group of Woolly Monkeys, the largest and most endangered monkey species in the region.

The rain comes down as we walk along, though we're quite protected by the canopy above, and the ponchos that Xavier magic's out of his backpack. As well as the rain, the wind gets up and Freddy is keen that we make our way out quickly. Even without wind and rain, you can always hear large pieces of shrubbery falling from above, and the trees bury themselves in quite a short depth, making them prone to toppling, though this is good for regeneration of the ground.

The canoe picks us up at the end of the trail and we're soon back at the lodge, relaxing in the bar and again enjoying the views over the lagoon, and the peace and quiet.

After dinner (no change in quantity yet), we head out onto the lagoon in the darkness to trackdown Black Caiman (the largest relative of the alligator - up to 5 metres!). The torches soon pick out the telltale eye reflections and we side up (touching distance, by both parties!) to a 2.5 metre beast. It lets us stare it out for a while before suddenly dropping underwater, making most of the boat occupants jump out of their skin.

No others found, and we're back to dry land and head off early to bed, to be ready for breakfast at 6am!

Wednesday 27th June

to be continued...

Posted by pdsaustin 16:59 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cuenca, Ecuador

rain 13 °C

Wednesday 13th June - Loja to Cuenca

Moving on today, heading to Cuenca, about 5 hours north.

Meet up with Catja for breakfast at 9.30 and make our way to the 'juice' place, followed by some internet time.

Actually, that should read 'waste of internet time' - appallingly slow connection, worse than dialup - tearing our hair out, and having to pay for the privilege.

Our bus leaves at 1.30pm, so grab a taxi at 12.45 so we're there in plenty of time, and can secure a ticket. We usually book in advance, but lately the buses seem to be quite empty, and fewer and fewer tourists.

We're fine for the tickets, and it's $7.50 each for the 5 hour ride. Catja joined us in the taxi to the terminal to buy her ticket for the overnight bus to Quito tonight - don't envy the 14 hours.

Said our goodbyes and took a seat in the outside waiting area - bus left pretty much on time.

Journey uneventful, though a poor little girl across the aisle from us was (physically) poorly, and we were pleased to help out by offering the grandparents our roll of toilet paper and a plastic bag to put the, er, stuff into. Not sure if there was something going on out of town, but a lot of the local folk on board were dressed up in their traditional clothes. Got a nice 'safe journey' from the lady we helped out.

Arrived in Cuenca early evening - wet, dark and chilly. Didn't notice until the next day, but the taxi that brought us to the hotel had an oily boot, well, it did until our packs helped soak it up.

We chose to check out Hotel Milan, just 2 blocks from the main square/park and immediately pleased. USD20 a night, with breakfast, our own bathroom, TV (no CNN!) and even a safe, so pleased that we don't have to carry around all our valuables for a few days.

Had dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant (El Pedregal Azteca) - nice bit of grub, though they add tax and service to the bill, an extra 22%, though the food and service both good, also enjoyed our first beer in a while.

Tired after another mostly travelling day, so an early night.

Thursday 14th June

Grrr, it's noisy outside!, but we both slept okay until the traffic outside wakes us just after 6am, and Paul wakes up with a rare headache - could be lack of liquids, or bus-fever. Oh, and the weather is pretty miserable outside too.

Enjoying the juice that comes with breakfast, though still not quite sure what it is - maybe Papaya, though there's something else too...could just be a bunch of sugar.

Checked some emails in the morning, and couldn't believe that my mate Jase has sorted out the MOT for our car (it passed!!!) as well as changing the battery that had died. What a good man! And he's very handsome too. Though, not available at the moment.

Tracked down the Austria Cafe for lunch - pleased to see Frappucinos on the menu, though they're not the best. Nice cakes though, and they even have a english language newspaper to read.

With the weather being pretty foul, it doesn't inspire us to do too much, though had a nice walk along the overflowing river near the centre of town, and then around the streets leading away from the square. We have been trying to track down a cinema, though from the 3 listed in the guide book, none seem to be open and one seems to now be a multistorey carpark.

For dinner we just grabbed some goodies from the bakery a couple of doors up from the hotel. Nice cheese rolls, and yummy custard-filled doughnuts.

Had a walk around the square in the evening, the fiesta continuing on from last night - this time there's some chinese-looking lanterns with some kind of flames inside that are floating up into the cloudy sky - the rising stack looks quite impressive. One of the lanterns catches fire just above the church - must be the devils work.

There's also a band playing and a few fireworks going off every so often, which we can still hear when we're back in the noisy room.

Friday 15th June

Once again, woken up to the sound of traffic. Even though we're on the second floor, it sounds like the buses/trucks/cars are right outside our room.

After breakfast, it's straight down to the internet cafe to press on with getting the blog done - we must get up to date before we leave Cuenca.

Chris heads off to visit the museum and we'll meet up in a couple of hours. The musuem is a little disappointing due to lack of information in English but Chris is amazed by the sight of shrunken heads. The musuem bought them from the Shuar community who live in the southern part of the Oriente (jungle). The practice of shrinking the heads of enemies is now illegal and so they shrink the heads of sloths. Not sure why.

Internet connections still seem to be slow here, and actually grind to a halt about an hour in to the session. Waited around for 15 minutes, looking at a blank screen, then left to find another place. Success, seems to be quicker here, and the keyboard has all the letters on it.

Hey, the PC's here even have headphones, so manage to listen to Faithless playing live from Hyde Park. I bet it's warmer in London than here...

Time flies and Paul meets Chris back at the hotel, though because she had to hand in the phone (with the clock on it) at the museum, she's 40 minutes late and Paul is just a little concerned - we still don't take safety for granted in South America, though he's sure all is well.

We meet up briefly before we bite the bullet to get some more blog done - 3 hours later we meet up and head out for a tasty Burrito at Monday Blue.

The religious celebrations in the square were due to finish yesterday, though there seems to be some action tonight - some schoolkids in a lively procession, some even on stilts and playing with fire. They seem to end up in the church on the main plaza.

Coincidentally, there's a fancy icecream shop on the square too, and we enjoy a couple of yummy milkshakes, before a slow walk back to the hotel.

Chris frowns at what we're watching on TV - more 'zombies' in Doom - she actually had a dream/nightmare about zombies last night after we saw 28 Weeks Later at the cinema last week. No CSI New York/Miami tonight, and we're missing watching Miami Ink too. Umm, I think we need to get out a little more...

Saturday 16th June

Outside noise wakes us up early again, though slept okay thru the night.

No rush out of the room today, and the rain answers the 'what shall we do today?' question.

Pleased to see that the hotel does laundry, and unlike most other hotels, there's no buggering around paying for thing by the item. Nice and simple $2 for washing/$2 for drying, up to 5 kilos, and we'll get it back this afternoon. Big relief for the one of us who has been recycling underwear for a couple of days. At least it keeps the flies of the other member of the party.

Late morning Chris attempts to cheer up travel-weary Mr Grumpy and we head for a milkshake, which goes down very well, though we're nearly killed by sub-tropical death-wasps who also hate the cold and wet outside.

Back to 'El Pedregal Azteca' for a Mexican, and to take up their cheap lunch deal.

A little shopping straight after and Chris is relieved to have found a couple of nice summer dresses to take to Cancun in a couple of weeks, as well as a 'going-out shirt and some perfect fitting jeans. Manage to convey to the friendly girl in the shop that Chris doesn't need anything else, thanks.

Paul goes back to the internet to attack the outstanding blog (it's 'behind', rather than 'marvellous'). Four hours later, he meets Chris back in room 204.

As well as a shoulder pain from too much sitting at the screen, Paul is also forced to endure Bridget Jones - Edge of Reason. Could have been worse, and over-the-top action flick 'Transporter 2' follows, to even things up a bit.

Sunday 17th June - Cuenca to Banos

Whoopee, it's Sunday, and a travelling day, so a double whammy of less traffic outside anyway, and being up earlier than anyone else in town, so woken by the alarm rather than sodding cars and buses.

Our final breakfast at Hotel Milan is good and it has been nice enjoying the views from this 4th floor breakfast room.

After settling up (excellent value here for 20 bucks a night) we grab a taxi straight outside and the friendly driver (we didn't speak, but he had a nice face) gets us to the main bus terminal in time to catch the 8.30 bus to take us to Banos.

Not quite a straightforward journey, and we'll have to change about 7 hours into the trip in Ambato. Whilst we're one of the last on the bus, we seem to have been given seats at the front (a little more dangerous in the event of a collision) which are legroom-heaven. The trip to Ambato is $16 for two.

Easy journey, well, we're just sitting here, and we have some tasty vanilla wafers to munch along the route.

Countryside a delight as we thunder through, and we get a varied selection of traditional dress as we make our way up and down the hills. Lots of greenery around and the patchwork effect of the remote, but very productive, fields as we pass by reminds us of home.

Not sure where the bus will drop us in Ambato, as it will be heading on to Quito, so perhaps skipping the main bus terminal here over the other side of town. Turns out to be a side-of-the-road job, but the conductor suggests the terminal isn't far away.

Decide against bothering with the terminal, we´re on the main road to Banos anyway, so we do as the locals do and wait by the side.

Just a couple of minutes later we're on the Expresso Banos, where we experience the best ever example of something doing what is says on the tin. How we didn't die, at least 23 times, on this bus is a miracle, though the suggested travel time between Ambato and Banos is thoroughly smashed. Hopefully the driver wasn't. Probably the scariest bus ride of the trip so far, and we've been on some real crackers.

At the main terminal we walk towards the recommended accomodation, though it's a fair walk across to the other side of the smallish town. We checkout the Posada del Arte, a small but charming place seeingly run by an American couple. The room is lovely and we're told the breakfast is very good, though it's $34 a night and a little too much, especially without Cable telly.

Just a little way along is Hotel Volcano, though just walking towards reception we feel that we'll be outpriced again. Looks very nice, but even more expensive at $56 a night.

Try two other small places, without success, before seeing what Hostal Carolina has to offer. The room is small but clean, usual private facilites, cable TV - all for $10 a night, which is the cheapest for a long time. Snag a room at the back to increase our chances of a quieter night/morning. Really didn't think we'd be paying so little in this tourist town! - means we can splash out on some better food.

After settling into the bargain room, we head back to Cafe Ali Cumba, a nice little place on the central square (there's a couple of squares, this one has some trees and a wooden 'Puente de Amor'). It's run by a Danish woman and her Ecuadorian husband - we met her in the street when we were looking for the hostal.

Great sandwiches, coffee, smoothies, chocolate cake were promised, and we were glad to go back and enjoy some of her stuff. Being gringo-owned, it's a touch more expensive, but worth it, and we'll surely be going back.

Pick up some goodies on the way back to the room, including white chocolate.

TV entertains us in the evening, watchin a rerun of the Brit Awards 2007, which seems to be suffering from terrible subtitle translation. Oasis performance only spoiled by Liam's poor vocals.

continues on next thread...

Posted by pdsaustin 16:55 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Loja, Ecuador

rain 14 °C

Tuesday 12th June - Piura to Loja

Up earlyish as we're leaving Peru today, and crossing the border into Ecuador (our last land border crossing on this trip - must say that all the crossings we've had in South America have been generally really easy. Sometimes they've taken a little longer if we've been on a crowded bus. Pleased that we haven't had any of the awkward situations that you read about - no-one has asked us for money, or nothing of our things/currency been 'impounded').

Anyway, bus gets away just after 9.30am, and we have 8 hours ahead of us. Meet Brighton-living German Catja at the bus terminal and chat throughout the trip. We're off to Cancun for the last two weeks of our year trip, and she doesn't give it the best review, and apparently the shopping is crap....uh-oh.

The border crossing here was fine, and we were glad to avoid the Peru/Ecuador border crossing over in Tumbes, nearer the coast. Have heard several independent stories about shenanigans there - border guards confiscating supposedly dud currency, dodgy taxi drivers (seemingly on the Ecuador side).

The bus ride takes us out of the dry and flat desert up into the lush highlands. Nice views as the bus makes it's way along the edge of the road, and at times we pass distant valleys with low lying clouds beneath us - wish we could stop and admire the view, just for 5 minutes.

On arriving at Loja, simple job of getting the three of us into town, just a few minutes and $1 taxi ride to Hotel Metropolitano. Room there fine, though no breakfast included, and $12 each.

Little more than dropped off the bags and met with Catja and the three of us tracked down some dinner, a nearby pizza restaurant. First salad in a while, very nice, and Paul thought he'd gone for a small 4 slice pizza, which was huge. Cue doggy bag, well, box.

Again, tired after the journey and all of us happy to retire to bed (separately), and we'll meet up with Catja in the morning.

Wednesday 13th June - Loja to Cuenca

Moving on today, heading to Cuenca, about 5 hours north.

Meet up with Catja for breakfast at 9.30 and make our way to the 'juice' place, followed by some internet time.

Actually, that should read 'waste of internet time' - appallingly slow connection, worse than dialup - tearing our hair out, and having to pay for the privilege.

Our bus leaves at 1.30pm, so grab a taxi at 12.45 so we're there in plenty of time, and can secure a ticket. We usually book in advance, but lately the buses seem to be quite empty, and fewer and fewer tourists.

We're fine for the tickets, and it's $7.50 each for the 5 hour ride. Catja joined us in the taxi to the terminal to buy her ticket for the overnight bus to Quito tonight - don't envy the 14 hours.

Said our goodbyes and took a seat in the outside waiting area - bus left pretty much on time.

Journey uneventful, though a poor little girl across the aisle from us was (physically) poorly, and we were pleased to help out by offering the grandparents our roll of toilet paper and a plastic bag to put the, er, stuff into. Not sure if there was something going on out of town, but a lot of the local folk on board were dressed up in their traditional clothes. Got a nice 'safe journey' from the grandparents we helped out.

Arrived in Cuenca early evening - wet, dark and chilly. Didn't notice until the next day, but the taxi that brought us to the hotel had an oily boot, well, it did until our packs helped soak it up.

We chose to check out Hotel Milan, just 2 blocks from the main square/park and immediately pleased. USD20 a night, with breakfast, our own bathroom, TV (no CNN!) and even a safe, so pleased that we don't have to carry around all our valuables for a few days.

Had dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant (El Pedregal Azteca) - nice bit of grub, though they add tax and service to the bill, an extra 22%, though the food and service both good, also enjoyed our first beer in a while.

Tired after another mostly travelling day, so an early night.

continues on next thread...

Posted by pdsaustin 16:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Piura, Peru

semi-overcast 17 °C

Monday 11th June - Chiclayo to Piura

Didn't bother with breakfast this morning, and Paul does some internet while Chris goes to the nearby market, with it's own 'Witch Doctor' section and Shamans walking around with some snakes.

Picked up some snacks from the supermarket, including a puff pastry roll with absolutely no filling, though the yoghurts were good.

Found out that the bus to Piura is just around the corner, so buy our tickets conveniently ahead of time - we can get away at 1.30pm and it's only 2 and a half hours, the shortest journey we've had for, seemingly, ever.

Realised that we used all our money up before we'd paid our hotel bill, so gutted to have to use a Globalnet ATM and pay 4 soles for using it.

Quickly pack our things and walk the few minutes back to the bus station.

Desert views all the way to Piura, so nothing to add here.

Arrive in Piura late afternoon, and feel the warmth of the desert, though Piura is a pretty big city. The map suggests that the hotel we check out is not that far, and is just a few minutes walk away. For 69Soles we get the usual type of room with our own facilities, though no breakfast.

We're only here for one night and there's nothing we're desperate to do here, so first of all make our way to the bus station where we can get a ticket to take us across the border into Ecuador. The Lonely Planet suggests that the best place to head is Transportes Loja, but sends us the wrong way - they give the wrong address - right street, wrong number. Get there eventually and grab our tickets, cost 24Soles each. There's a BCP ATM nearby if you need to take out some last Soles before you leave the country, though the smallest note issued by the machine is 50. There's a Scotiabank ATM on the main square that issues 20's.

Pleased we're sorted for our ticket out of Peru, and head back into town for a look around. A cafe recommended in LP has since closed (looks like a building site now), though there's a tasty veggie place on the square. For desert, we find an icecream place at the small shopping mall in the modern cinema building.

Back in the room, with some chocolate (no more chocolate until we get home....yeah, right) and we pack ready for tomorrow. Makes a change, we actually feel quite hot in the room, after complaining over the last few weeks of the cold, and need to use the fan.

Tuesday 12th June - Piura, Peru to Loja, Ecuador

Up earlyish as we're leaving Peru today, and crossing the border into Ecuador (our last land border crossing on this trip - must say that all the crossings we've had in South America have been generally really easy. Sometimes they've taken a little longer if we've been on a crowded bus. Pleased that we haven't had any of the awkward situations that you read about - no-one has asked us for money, or nothing of our things/currency been 'impounded').

Anyway, bus gets away just after 9.30am, and we have 8 hours ahead of us. Meet Brighton-living German Catja at the bus terminal and chat throughout the trip. We're off to Cancun for the last two weeks of our year trip, and she doesn't give it the best review, and apparently the shopping is crap....uh-oh.

The border crossing here was fine, and we were glad to avoid the Peru/Ecuador border crossing over in Tumbes, nearer the coast. Have heard several independent stories about shenanigans there - border guards confiscating supposedly dud currency, dodgy taxi drivers (seemingly on the Ecuador side).

The bus ride takes us out of the dry and flat desert up into the lush highlands. Nice views as the bus makes it's way along the edge of the road, and at times we pass distant valleys with low lying clouds beneath us - wish we could stop and admire the view, just for 5 minutes.

On arriving at Loja, simple job of getting the three of us into town, just a few minutes and $1 taxi ride to Hotel Metropolitano. Room there fine, though no breakfast included, and $12 each.

Little more than dropped off the bags and met with Catja and the three of us tracked down some dinner, a nearby pizza restaurant. First salad in a while, very nice, and Paul thought he'd gone for a small 4 slice pizza, which was huge. Cue doggy bag, well, box.

Again, tired after the journey and all of us happy to retire to bed (separately), and we'll meet up with Catja in the morning.

continues on next thread...

Posted by pdsaustin 16:50 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Chiclayo, Peru

overcast 17 °C

Saturday 9th June - Trujillo to Chiclayo

Busy day ahead and first thing, after breakfast, is to grab a taxi to take us to the Moche site, to visit the Temple of the Sun (Huaca del Sol) and the Temple of the Moon (Huaca de la Luna), which are 15 minutes drive away in the Moche River valley, and are huge pyramid-like structures.

This major archaeological site was built at the time of the Moche culture (100 BC-650 AD), just east of a prominent, freestanding hill, the Cerro Blanco (White Mountain). It occupies a central location within the extensive Moche Valley. The complex sits about three miles inland, southeast of Trujillo and is considered by many scholars to be the former capital of the Moche State.

The complex is dominated by two huge adobe brick buildings: the Pyramid of the Sun, or Huaca del Sol, and the artificial platform called Huaca de la Luna, or Temple of the Moon. On the quarter-mile-wide, open plain between them, researchers have found many graves, most of them looted, as well as evidence of large scale manufacturing covered by a layer of sediment up to 10 feet thick. A considerable number of administrators, religious, and manufacturing specialists must have been living at this great prehispanic settlement. Like most prehispanic sites on the coast, it is located so as not to usurp agricultural land and in a good position to acquire food, building material and other resources.

The following info was nabbed from a website about the site,

The Huaca del Sol

Despite its history of destruction during the colonial period, the stepped pyramid called Huaca del Sol still measures 1,250 feet in length and towers 135 feet above the surrounding plain - this makes it the tallest adobe structure of the Americas. lt is calculated that around 50 million sun-dried, mud bricks (or "adobes"), were used in its construction. Like its counterpart on the opposite side of the plain, the Huaca de la Luna, it is oriented roughly 20 degrees east of north. Although the earlier history of the building remains a riddle, it was probably begun early during the Moche period...

The enormous cut on the west face was made back in 1602 by ambitious Spaniards looking for treasure. They intentionally diverted the small Santa Catalina River, which then washed away more than half the huaca. In colonial times, it was common practice to loot prehispanic sites in search of gold, and often such looting was organized by formal companies.

This stepped pyramid is made up of four major platforms that rise from the northeast, where an access ramp may have stood, towards the southwest where there is a fourth, lower and narrower platform. Unlike later monumental architecture, it is entirely made up of sun-dried adobe bricks. The sections, or panels, in which the bricks were laid are clearly visible in the badly-eroded eastern side. Many of the adobes have their original marks, such as imprints of hands, feet, dots, crosses, etc. These marks have been interpreted by researchers as accounting tools to distinguish different groups of brick manufacturers, which thus facilitated tracking the payment of "taxes".

The name "Huaca del Sol" is really a misnomer, as there is no evidence to connect the building with any solar cult. There are, however, no indications as to the original name of the site, which must have been in the now-extinct Muchik language, which was spoken in the region in the Fifteenth Century.

The Huaca de la Luna

Overlooking the Pyramid of the Sun lies the Pyramid or Temple of the Moon, another major component of the urban and ceremonial center of the prehispanic settlement of Moche. Ongoing excavations by Peruvian and foreign scholars are revealing the complexity of this fascinating structure.

Three platforms and four open courts or plazas take up most of the assemblage, which is built up against the lower slopes of the Cerro Blanco, the White Mountain. Overall, the site measures 950 feet from north to south and 690 feet from east to west. The access to the structure was probably located on the north side, which has been badly damaged by looting. Treasure hunters also dug impressive tunnels into its eastern flank and inadvertently exposed beautiful polychrome reliefs, sadly now destroyed. Many Moche burials, some probably dedicatory but others as late as Chimú (about 1100-1470 AD), have been excavated inside the otherwise massive adobe platform and have yielded many artifacts, such as elaborate ceramics and metal headgear.

Very tall and wide walls delimit each of the four courts, some of the which have narrow cane and pole roofs running along the sides. Access from one sector of the site to another was clearly channeled down corridors and through narrow entrances. Painted reliefs pertaining to different construction phases, at least four of which have been identified so far, have been located in several of the platforms and plazas.

For example, the head of the "degollador" or sacrificer, a motif also found at the site of EL BRUJO, decorates the walls of platform I in the southwest corner of the site. Another very fine example of Moche mural decorations found at La Luna was the mural referred to above, which depicts "The Rebellion of the Artifacts"

Large-scale human sacrifice at Huaca de la Luna became evident when archaeologists uncovered the remains of at least 34 sacrificed adult male individuals in the soft clay of the southeastern court at the foot of the mountain. They had been bound and, judging by the type of wounds that had been inflicted, were probably captured in battle. Thesacrifice represents a single ritual event linked by archaeologist Steve Bourget to a season of torrential rains caused by an extreme case of the maritime El Niño phenomenon, which strikes the coast of South America at irregular intervals and which may have caused the final abandonment of this site.

The open space between the two pyramids has recently been found to have been an area of intense manufacturing activity as well as an area of high population density. Ceramic workshops and large-scale maize-beer production are in evidence, and intensive textile production and metalworking may also have taken place there as well. The highly specialized groups of workers in charge of these activities were most probably subservient to the high-ranking individuals in charge of the administration of both the ceremonies that took place at that site and the prosecution of wars.

After the tour we stop in town for a quick bite to eat ahead of the bus ride a couple of hours along to Chiclayo.

More desert separates to two cities, and we try to follow the spanish-dubbed film playing on the TV, with little success.

In Chiclayo we first check out the Hotel El Sol, located fine for centro and the room the usual stuff, though we're initially shown a room at the front of the building, which is pretty noisy, so score a similar room at the back, looking over the grotty pool.

After a walk around the busy streets (maybe it's a Saturday night thing) we look for, and track down a tasty and cheap Chinese restaurant (Chifa) a few minutes from the hotel. Also out tonight are some Nestle street vendors with trays of cheap chocolate, which of course we investigate.

Get booked for our tour heading out to the Sican Museum, Tucume site, Sipan museum tomorrow - 60Soles each, entry fees extra, no lunch included.

Back in the room, TV, then bed.

Sunday 10th June

Of on a day trip today, collected by the bus just after 8.30am. Only one other overseas tourist joins us, a Japanese guy, together with a local family who are out for the day.

First stop is an hour out of town, the Sican Museum. Quite a disappointing visit, our guide has to keep switching between an English and Spanish tour, and it's therefore taking forever to get around, eating into time for seeing the other places on the tour. An hour into the museum, and we're less than half way through.

The guide does his best, though is unable to get another guide from the museum and Paul walks off in a huff, enjoying the sun outside instead.

Whilst it's our fault that we don't have a sufficient grasp of Spanish, but it is poor that the museum has no information in English at all. This is quite a big museum, and we've been to far more basic set ups over the last few months where we have been well catered for.

So, over an hour late, we leave for the Tucume museum and site. This time, our group is split and we have the guide's full attention. The museum is quite small, and gives a brief overview of the history of the site, and a few models of yesteryear.

Get to stroke our first Peruvian 'hairless' dogs - hairless except for a tuft on top of the head. They don't look very happy, perhaps they caught a look at themselves in the mirror - not the prettiest of creatures.

Behind the museum is the site itself, where you can see the remnants of the pyramids, there are 26 in all, spread over quite a wide area. The area can been seen well from the lookout point, a few minutes breathless walk up the hill. Unfortunately there is no access on to the pyramids, though the up-high view is pretty cool.

Time is getting on and we're told that the next stop is lunch, though we're conscious that the last stop (Sipan Museum) closes at 5pm.

We finally get to the lunch stop at 3.45pm, so we ask if we can get dropped off at the museum and we'll have a look around ourselves. The guide suggests he'll meet us at 4.15pm.

On arriving at the museum we need to hand in our cameras/bags/mobiles etc, and then when we get inside we find, again, that there's no information in English at all. Pretty bad for the supposedly best rated museum in Ecuador, if not South America.

Lacking a sense of humour, and having had his patience drained through the day, Paul walks straight out of the museum to wait for the guide (it seems such a waste of time looking at something, but not knowing anything about it).

The guide turns up 35 minutes later than planned, and there's 10 minutes to get around the museum. Thankfully, the closing time is for last admissions, and we get to have our tour of the museum.

The locals in our group are either not interested in the tour, or are happy to read the Spanish information accompanying the exhibits - either way, we have the guide to ourselves and the tour is excellent, and goes someway to make us for the frustration of the day.

Sipán is a Moche archaeological site that is famous for the tomb of El Senor de Sipan (Lord of Sipán). It is considered to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the last thirty years, because the main tomb was found intact and undisturbed by thieves, unlike many of the other sites we have visited in Peru.

There are some of the best examples of intact pottery we have seen, and also much jewellery.

The Lord of Sipán was a very important Mochican warrior priest, whose remains were founded in Huaca Rajada by Dr. Walter Alva in 1987.
In his tomb were discovered a great quantity of gold and silver objects, jewels, ceramics and carved wood of incredible value. This investigation had given archaeologists the chance to discover many more aspects of the Mochican Culture.

In the main tomb was found a guard, skeleton of a young man with a golden shield and sectioned feet.

'El Señor de Sipán', was found in a sarcophagus made of wood (this is the first event founded in South America), next to his head were the skeleton of two young women, and at his sides a skeleton of a dog and two llamas.

He was all covered with gold, silver and copper, chest protector with jewels and gold necklaces. His skull rested on a big golden plate.

Very close to this tomb, in 1989, some investigators of the Brüning Museum discovered the tombs of "El Sacerdote" (The Priest), and the tomb of "El Viejo Señor de Sipán" (The Old Lord of Sipán).

The tomb of the "Viejo Señor de Sipán" (Old Lord of Sipán) is chronologically older, and with difference among the others, was found a sarcophagus without company and wrapped in vegetal fiber. It had signs of royal importance, dressed with gold scepter, fine gold and silver jewels, chest protectors made with pearl shells, peculiar and unique pictures.

All the original pieces were restored in Germany at the Mainz Museum (1988-1993).

Glad we got to have a good look at the museum, though sorry that we couldn't take any pictures.

Got back to Chiclayo just before 7pm and headed straight out for dinner, back to the Chifa we found last night. Unfortunately no Nestle vendors out tonight, though we find some in the modern supermarket by the square.

Monday 11th June

Didn't bother with breakfast this morning, and Paul does some internet while Chris goes to the nearby market, with it's own 'Witch Doctor' section and Shamans walking around with some snakes.

Picked up some snacks from the supermarket, including a puff pastry roll with absolutely no filling, though the yoghurts were good.

Found out that the bus to Piura is just around the corner, so buy our tickets conveniently ahead of time - we can get away at 1.30pm and it's only 2 and a half hours, the shortest journey we've had for, seemingly, ever.

Realised that we used all our money up before we'd paid our hotel bill, so gutted to have to use a Globalnet ATM and pay 4 soles for using it.

Quickly pack our things and walk the few minutes back to the bus station.

Desert views all the way to Piura, so nothing to add here.

Arrive in Piura late afternoon, and feel the warmth of the desert, though Piura is a pretty big city. The map suggests that the hotel we check out is not that far, and is just a few minutes walk away. For 69Soles we get the usual type of room with our own facilities, though no breakfast.

We're only here for one night and there's nothing we're desperate to do here, so first of all make our way to the bus station where we can get a ticket to take us across the border into Ecuador. The Lonely Planet suggests that the best place to head is Transportes Loja, but sends us the wrong way - they give the wrong address - right street, wrong number. Get there eventually and grab our tickets, cost 24Soles each. There's a BCP ATM nearby if you need to take out some last Soles before you leave the country, though the smallest note issued by the machine is 50. There's a Scotiabank ATM on the main square that issues 20's.

Pleased we're sorted for our ticket out of Peru, and head back into town for a look around. A cafe recommended in LP has since closed (looks like a building site now), though there's a tasty veggie place on the square. For desert, we find an icecream place at the small shopping mall in the modern cinema building.

Back in the room, with some chocolate (no more chocolate until we get home....yeah, right) and we pack ready for tomorrow. Makes a change, we actually feel quite hot in the room, after complaining over the last few weeks of the cold, and need to use the fan.

continues on next thread....

Posted by pdsaustin 16:46 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Trujillo, Peru

overcast 15 °C

Thursday 7th June

Trujillo

Didn't sleep too bad on the overnight bus, and arrive safe and sound in Trujillo at the crack of dawn. Pleased to see plenty of taxi drivers waiting at the bus station to take folks on to their next nearby destination.

We want to look at a couple of places and ask to be dropped at the main plaza, and we'll walk around from there. Arriving at the square it's closed off, and they seem to be making some celebration arrangements - there's several groups putting together large 'mosaic' things, using sand and other natural ingredients, like petals. The designs, whilst none look finished yet, are looking very creative and full of colour, though we see that some of the colour is being enhanced by aerosol can.

Find a hostel just off the main square, and it seems 'fine', though we generally seem to be happy with the first place we find. We checkin, but soon find out that the english channels we're promised aren't there, and ultimately decide to move on. It's not the cheapest place and if we're paying for extras, we expect them.

There's a recommended hotel just up the road, Hotel Peregrino, and we stop in to check the prices. We start at $35, which is as much as we paid to stay in the capital Lima, though the guy asks us to take a look.

Pretty pleased, it's a SUITE, and the biggest room we've stayed in. Also, not only do we have a bath, something we've craved for months, but it's a jacuzzi. The decor is a little Austin Powers, but it'll be a nice place to stay for a couple of days. Breakfast is included, and there's also a little business centre with 2 PC's and free internet access.

After the overnight bus we're happy to chill out a while, and we soon get the jacuzzi filling up (takes ages, and we're sorry for using so much water) and both of us fall asleep, despite the roar of the noisy bubble maker.

Paul happy to stay in and get wrinkly, though Chris jumps out to try and see the procession (seems like a memorial event) happening in the road behind the hotel. There's a bunch of military types and some music and commentary, though that's in Espanol of course.

Paul finally dragged himself out of the tub so we coud have some lunch - went along to Cafe Romano, and enjoyed the tastiest sandwich since we've been away, followed by a gorgeous slice of Lemon Pie.

After, we return to the main square where the ground artists are busy at work. The tourist office is by the square so we pop in for some info, and find out that the goingson in the square are preparations are for Corpus Christi celebrations later today, starting at 4pm.

Spend some more time relaxing in our room, before Chris returns to watch the fiesta/service in the square. It's packed with locals, and lots of music and singing going on. Some doves (and pigeons) released in to the air and everyone is given a balloon on a stick to wave.

Not much else today, just enjoying the rest.

Friday 8th June

Enjoyed the first night in our suite, and up bright and early-ish for breakfast.

Considered taking a local bus out to Chan Chan, to visit the archaelogical site there, but took the lazy, and still cheap, option of a taxi.

The largest Pre-Columbian city in South America, Chan Chan is an archaelogical site located in the region of La Libertad, about 5 km west of Trujillo. Covering an area of approximately 20 km², Chan Chan was constructed by the Chimor (the kingdom of the Chimu), a late intermediate period civilization which grew out of the remnants of the Moche civilization. The vast mud city of Chan Chan was built between c.850AD and c.1470AD and was the imperial capital until Chimor was conquered by the Inca in the 15th century. It is estimated that 30,000 people lived in the city of Chan Chan.

The city is composed of ten walled citadels which housed ceremonial rooms, burial chambers, temples, reservoirs and some residences. Each of these citadels has a rectangular configuration with a north-facing entrance, high walls, and a labyrinth of passages.

The walls themselves were constructed of adobe brick, and were then covered with a smooth surface into which intricate designs were carved. There are two styles of design present in these carvings: one is a 'realistic' representation of subjects such as birds, fish, and small mammals; and the other is a more graphic, stylized representation of the same subjects. While earlier civilizations concentrated on feline and anthromorphic forms, the Chimú style shows a preference for maritime motifs. The carvings at Chan Chan depict fish, pelicans, and nets for catching various sea creatures. Chan Chan, unlike most other coastal ruins in Peru, is located extremely close to the Pacific Ocean.

Chan Chan was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. The city is severely threatened by erosion from El Nino, which causes heavy rains and flooding on the Peruvian coast.

Glad we paid for a guide to show us around.

We walked back across the desert fields to the small museum dedicated to the site, and spent a short time there before getting the bus back to town.

After a cheap and cheerful lunch, we spent most of the rest of the day enjoying our suite and, despite Chris protesting against the waste of water (well we are in the desert), Paul filled up the jacuzzi again and had a good soak in the bubbles.

Saturday 9th June

Busy day ahead and first thing, after breakfast, is to grab a taxi to take us to the Moche site, to visit the Temple of the Sun (Huaca del Sol) and the Temple of the Moon (Huaca de la Luna), which are 15 minutes drive away in the Moche River valley, and are huge pyramid-like structures.

This major archaeological site was built at the time of the Moche culture (100 BC-650 AD), just east of a prominent, freestanding hill, the Cerro Blanco (White Mountain). It occupies a central location within the extensive Moche Valley. The complex sits about three miles inland, southeast of Trujillo and is considered by many scholars to be the former capital of the Moche State.

The complex is dominated by two huge adobe brick buildings: the Pyramid of the Sun, or Huaca del Sol, and the artificial platform called Huaca de la Luna, or Temple of the Moon. On the quarter-mile-wide, open plain between them, researchers have found many graves, most of them looted, as well as evidence of large scale manufacturing covered by a layer of sediment up to 10 feet thick. A considerable number of administrators, religious, and manufacturing specialists must have been living at this great prehispanic settlement. Like most prehispanic sites on the coast, it is located so as not to usurp agricultural land and in a good position to acquire food, building material and other resources.

The following info was nabbed from a website about the site,

The Huaca del Sol

Despite its history of destruction during the colonial period, the stepped pyramid called Huaca del Sol still measures 1,250 feet in length and towers 135 feet above the surrounding plain - this makes it the tallest adobe structure of the Americas. lt is calculated that around 50 million sun-dried, mud bricks (or "adobes"), were used in its construction. Like its counterpart on the opposite side of the plain, the Huaca de la Luna, it is oriented roughly 20 degrees east of north. Although the earlier history of the building remains a riddle, it was probably begun early during the Moche period...

The enormous cut on the west face was made back in 1602 by ambitious Spaniards looking for treasure. They intentionally diverted the small Santa Catalina River, which then washed away more than half the huaca. In colonial times, it was common practice to loot prehispanic sites in search of gold, and often such looting was organized by formal companies.

This stepped pyramid is made up of four major platforms that rise from the northeast, where an access ramp may have stood, towards the southwest where there is a fourth, lower and narrower platform. Unlike later monumental architecture, it is entirely made up of sun-dried adobe bricks. The sections, or panels, in which the bricks were laid are clearly visible in the badly-eroded eastern side. Many of the adobes have their original marks, such as imprints of hands, feet, dots, crosses, etc. These marks have been interpreted by researchers as accounting tools to distinguish different groups of brick manufacturers, which thus facilitated tracking the payment of "taxes".

The name "Huaca del Sol" is really a misnomer, as there is no evidence to connect the building with any solar cult. There are, however, no indications as to the original name of the site, which must have been in the now-extinct Muchik language, which was spoken in the region in the Fifteenth Century.

The Huaca de la Luna

Overlooking the Pyramid of the Sun lies the Pyramid or Temple of the Moon, another major component of the urban and ceremonial center of the prehispanic settlement of Moche. Ongoing excavations by Peruvian and foreign scholars are revealing the complexity of this fascinating structure.

Three platforms and four open courts or plazas take up most of the assemblage, which is built up against the lower slopes of the Cerro Blanco, the White Mountain. Overall, the site measures 950 feet from north to south and 690 feet from east to west. The access to the structure was probably located on the north side, which has been badly damaged by looting. Treasure hunters also dug impressive tunnels into its eastern flank and inadvertently exposed beautiful polychrome reliefs, sadly now destroyed. Many Moche burials, some probably dedicatory but others as late as Chimú (about 1100-1470 AD), have been excavated inside the otherwise massive adobe platform and have yielded many artifacts, such as elaborate ceramics and metal headgear.

Very tall and wide walls delimit each of the four courts, some of the which have narrow cane and pole roofs running along the sides. Access from one sector of the site to another was clearly channeled down corridors and through narrow entrances. Painted reliefs pertaining to different construction phases, at least four of which have been identified so far, have been located in several of the platforms and plazas.

For example, the head of the "degollador" or sacrificer, a motif also found at the site of EL BRUJO, decorates the walls of platform I in the southwest corner of the site. Another very fine example of Moche mural decorations found at La Luna was the mural referred to above, which depicts "The Rebellion of the Artifacts"

Large-scale human sacrifice at Huaca de la Luna became evident when archaeologists uncovered the remains of at least 34 sacrificed adult male individuals in the soft clay of the southeastern court at the foot of the mountain. They had been bound and, judging by the type of wounds that had been inflicted, were probably captured in battle. The sacrifice represents a single ritual event linked by archaeologist Steve Bourget to a season of torrential rains caused by an extreme case of the maritime El Niño phenomenon, which strikes the coast of South America at irregular intervals and which may have caused the final abandonment of this site.

The open space between the two pyramids has recently been found to have been an area of intense manufacturing activity as well as an area of high population density. Ceramic workshops and large-scale maize-beer production are in evidence, and intensive textile production and metalworking may also have taken place there as well. The highly specialized groups of workers in charge of these activities were most probably subservient to the high-ranking individuals in charge of the administration of both the ceremonies that took place at that site and the prosecution of wars.

After the tour we stop in town for a quick bite to eat ahead of the bus ride a couple of hours along to Chiclayo.

More desert separates to two cities, and we try to follow the spanish-dubbed film playing on the TV, with little success.

In Chiclayo we first check out the Hotel El Sol, located fine for centro and the room the usual stuff, though we're initially shown a room at the front of the building, which is pretty noisy, so score a similar room at the back, looking over the grotty pool.

After a walk around the busy streets (maybe it's a Saturday night thing) we look for, and track down a tasty and cheap Chinese restaurant (Chifa) a few minutes from the hotel. Also out tonight are some Nestle street vendors with trays of cheap chocolate, which of course we investigate.

Get booked for our tour heading out to the Sican Museum, Tucume site, Sipan museum tomorrow - 60Soles each, entry fees extra, no lunch included.

Back in the room, TV, then bed.

continues on next thread...

Posted by pdsaustin 16:43 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Lima, Peru

14 °C

Sunday 3rd June - Nazca to Lima

Nice breakfast by the pool, though it's too chilly to brave a morning swim.

Chris heads of just before 9am to go out on her flight over the Nazca lines (organised via the hotel). The coach gets us to the airport (need to pay 10 Soles departure tax), and before we're in the air there is a short (BBC) film about the Nazca lines.

6 of us go up in the small plane and straightaway you start to see the lines and triangles. Soon after you come across the various shapes - spaceman, monkey, hummingbird etc., though it's quite bright this morning and not the best view. The morning is still the best time to go as conditions deteriorate in the afternoon, strong winds causing turbulance.

Whilst it's only a short flight (30 minutes) it's very much worth it. Some of the designs on the ground look quite small from the plane and before you know it you are going onto the next.

You can visit a small tower at the side of the main road through to/out of Nazca and get a 'part' view of a couple of the markings.

Whilst there was a fair bit of banking/circling, certainly wasn't a rough flight and no one was ill.

Chris is back in time that we can just make it in time for the bus leaving at 11am for Lima, though we have to change in Ica, a couple of hours up the road.

As promised, the connection bus to Lima does leave 5 minutes after we arrive, which on this occasion is a bugger because we both need a wee, and there's no facilities on the bus. However, we do seem to have an empty water bottle - at least one of us could have a comfortable journey. Not telling you if it was used or not...

As we get nearer to the city the clouds come in, and you can sense the smog in the air.

The bus station we arrive at, like many town/cities, is outside of the centre, so we get a taxi to Hotel Kamana, and manage to talk down the price from USD45 to USD35, which is thanks to mentioning that we're with Exodus.

The room is plain but fine and pleased to have a safe to keep our things whilst we're in Lima - we're a little wary of the city, as far as safety goes, though not because we've heard any firsthand stories of woe.

For dinner we find a quiet pizza restaurant, near the buzzing pedestrian street, so quiet that when we pay they don't have change of 100Soles (about GBP16). More importantly, empty stomachs have been well filled, though perhaps not quite enough for Paul who stops at McDonalds on the way back.

Watch some TV before bed.

Monday 4th June

Our first full day in the capital and Paul gets his treat, a visit to the whopping shopping mall (Jockey Plaza), a little way out of town, and 12Soles in a taxi.

Arrive just before it opens (glad we didn't leave any earlier) and spend the morning looking around. Paul tempted, but subsequently not allowed, to buy an english language magazine to read.

Found a cinema and watched an early afternoon showing of Zodiac (Zodiaco here) - got close to thumping a couple of old dears who were quite happy to chat through the film.

Other than Paul managing to find some jeans, shirts and some running shoes, it was not much more than a day at the mall.

Back in town and we head for a Chinese, great food, though a little embarrassing when Chris swipes the glass bottle of Soy Sauce on to the floor.

Tuesday 5th June

Just to keep consistent, we wake up quite late but early enough to catch breakfast in the hotel. A quick look out from behind the curtain reveals another grey, but dry, day.

Need a Post Office today, so head into centro and find ourselves just in time to see the changing of the guard, which has attracted quite a crowd including some school groups. Some girls ask us our names and how old we are - manage to understand most of what they say, but there's a few things that completely throw us, but result in a round of 'high-5's' from the girls.

We track down the Post Office - we've got to send some stuff home to free up space in our packs. Not sure how it's supposed to work but the lady gives us a box for free, and I assume we pay for it tomorrow when we bring it back full of stuff. It's a pretty big box - you could fit a small child inside - and the box alone probably weighs over a kilo.

We drop the box off back in the room and then hail a cab to take us to the posh/coastal area of Miraflores, it's about 15 minutes drive away.

Despite being at the coast, the miserable weather follows us. Not a great deal seems to be happening in town, though we walk down to the cliff edge and watch some paragliders (not sure if that's the right word) sail up and down the face of the cliff.

Manage to track down the Larcomar shopping mall, which is built into the cliffs - quite a nice spot, though better on a sunny day. Find a Starbucks here and down a Frappucino, and just as we leave, are pleased to bump into the Israeli girls we've been travelling in parallel with since northern Chile.

Also, avoid the drizzle for a couple of hours watching zombie-fest 28 Weeks Later.

Negotiate a cab fare down from 20Soles to 10 Soles and head back into central Lima, and to the comfort of our room.

Wednesday 6th June

Up early and grabbed the hotel breakfast, before packing our things for moving on again.

Also, our large package to send home is ready to go and we walk it down to the post office, keeping our fingers crossed that it weighs just a handful of kilos. Horrified to find out that it's 8 kilos!, and therefore it'll be going home by sea rather than air, but we are glad to have got rid of a bunch of stuff, freeing up some much needed space. About 40 Pounds for the convenience!

Off on an overnight bus to Trujillo tonight, heading a little further north. Seems that there's nowhere in centro to buy a ticket so walk the 20 minutes out, past the Sheraton Hotel, to where the bus companies are grouped up. Sorted our cama seat ticket nice and easy and found our way back to town.

We must have been staying at the nicer end of the pedestrian street, cos at this end we have been offered drugs several times in as many minutes, as well as tattoos.

Take a few snaps in the small, but pretty, square, before trekking across town to Chinatown.

Not to sure what to expect, but it's a buzzing little place and we, of course, find a chinese restaurant to eat. Not the best choice, though pretty cheap and I got an Inca Kola (Irn Bru tasting drink, though a shocking nuclear-yellow) for free.

Sat in the main square, admiring the buildings surrounding it (most of which had been damaged/flattened in previous earthquakes). Whilst Chris was standing around taking photos, Paul is approached by a girl who manages to squeeze on the side of the bench that has just about enough room for one cheek, with about 5 feet of bench available on the other side. We soon make our way out of the square...

Carried on walking around town, before heading back to the hotel, where we use their lounge area for an hour.

Simple taxi ride back out to the bus station and, like most other bus trips, we leave pretty much on time, just after 10pm.

There's a little food included, and the chicken mayo sandwich tastes as good as home. Fingers tightly crossed that the seat infront of Paul remains unoccupied, and he's not wedged into his seat - the seats recline quite far, though not quite horizontal, but leaving you pinned in somewhat.

Fingers also crossed that we get some sleep tonight, we're both getting a little weary of the endless and regular long distance bus journeys.

continues on next thread...

Posted by pdsaustin 16:38 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Nazca, Peru

sunny 17 °C

Saturday 2nd June

Nazca

Annoyingly the overnight bus, for Paul at least, wasn't a good nights sleep at all, though he must have been relaxed enough that we didn't get off the bus at our stop in Nazca, and stayed on for a further two hours, arriving in Ica, which is not on the list of places to visit.

Not a good start to the day - Paul half thinking that we might as well now just stay on until Lima (saving a few bucks on the fare), though of course Chris wanting to get up into the air and see the lines. More annoyingly, by the time we'll get back to Nazco, it'll be too late for a flight today.

A taxi takes us from the bus stop, and we're told the bus we need to take us back is far away, which turns out to be less than a kilometre. Had wished for better spanish to have a pop at the driver, but, instead, spoke the international language of 'hard cash' and gave him half of what he had asked for. Thankfully no knife of gun was pulled on us to cough up the rest.

Luck also follows into the terminal, and there's a direct bus heading back to Nazca, and we arrive just after 9.30am, tired and stressed.

The bus stops right opposite decent-looking Hotel Alegria - score a nice room for $27. There's a nice pool here, though unlikely to be warm enough that we'll use it.

They do the Nazca lines tour from here, as well as other trips, so Chris books up for a cemetery tour this afternoon, and a flight over the lines for tomorrow morning - $50 for both trips.

Relax in the room for a bit, after the nightmare journey here, before tracking down some lunch, and find a chinese place.

Paul catches up on some internet after, whilst Chris goes back to the hotel to sit by the pool and catch up with the diary.

Chris's (Chauchilla) cemetery trip heads off at 3pm, just 3 of them in the guide's car. The cemetery is an impressive collection of mummies, most of which still have their original hair (some 2 metres+ long), and their funerary ornaments. They belong to the pre- Inca Nazca culture that was responsible for the famous 'lines'. On the way back we stopped off at a ceramics/pottery shop/workshop and a gold processing workshop.

Not many other restaurants that took our fancy in town, so back to the Chinese restaurant from earlier - great portions.

Sunday 3rd June

Nice breakfast by the pool, though it's too chilly to brave a morning swim.

Chris heads of just before 9am to go out on her flight over the Nazca lines (organised via the hotel). The coach gets us to the airport (need to pay 10 Soles departure tax), and before we're in the air there is a short (BBC) film about the Nazca lines.

6 of us go up in the small plane and straightaway you start to see the lines and triangles. Soon after you come across the various shapes - spaceman, monkey, hummingbird etc., though it's quite bright this morning and not the best view. The morning is still the best time to go as conditions deteriorate in the afternoon, strong winds causing turbulance.

Whilst it's only a short flight (30 minutes) it's very much worth it. Some of the designs on the ground look quite small from the plane and before you know it you are going onto the next.

You can visit a small tower at the side of the main road through to/out of Nazca and get a 'part' view of a couple of the markings.

Whilst there was a fair bit of banking/circling, certainly wasn't a rough flight and no one was ill.

Chris is back in time that we can just make it in time for the bus leaving at 11am for Lima, though we have to change in Ica, a couple of hours up the road.

As promised, the connection bus to Lima does leave 5 minutes after we arrive, which on this occasion is a bugger because we both need a wee, and there's no facilities on the bus. However, we do seem to have an empty water bottle - at least one of us could have a comfortable journey. Not telling you if it was used or not...

As we get nearer to the city the clouds come in, and you can sense the smog in the air.

The bus station we arrive at, like many town/cities, is outside of the centre, so we get a taxi to Hotel Kamana, and manage to talk down the price from USD45 to USD35, which is thanks to mentioning that we're with Exodus.

The room is plain but fine and pleased to have a safe to keep our things whilst we're in Lima - we're a little wary of the city, as far as safety goes, though not because we've heard any firsthand stories of woe.

For dinner we find a quiet pizza restaurant, near the buzzing pedestrian street, so quiet that when we pay they don't have change of 100Soles (about GBP16). More importantly, empty stomachs have been well filled, though perhaps not quite enough for Paul who stops at McDonalds on the way back.

Watch some TV before bed.

Posted by pdsaustin 16:35 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Arequipa, Peru

including Colca Canyon trip

sunny 19 °C

Tuesday 29th May

Arequipa

Whilst always pleased to arrive safely after a bus journey, this wasn't the most comfortable for Paul and he didn't sleep too great. Also, his ongoing and regular colds have affected his ears this time and is in a little pain as we descend from the altitude.

Arrive at the crack of dawn, but pleased to be met and taken to the accommodation a few minutes away by taxi.

Checkin to the Home From Home hostel (50Soles a night, with apparently 'huge' breakfasts, though we'll not get that until tomorrow) and crash out for a couple of hours after the bus journey.

Late morning we venture into town, first noticing how much warmer it is here. Very pleased about that, though would be happy for a few more degrees.

Track down Cusco Coffe and enjoy a pretty good Frappucino, then find a small chinese restaurant and have an excellent feed.

Again, the day following an overnight bus usually leaves us pretty tired, so quite an easy day and an early night.

Wednesday 30th May

Yes, the breakfast was good - pancakes, bread, scrambled egg, juice, tea/coffee.

A quick go on the free internet before heading into town to get info on Colca Canyon tours, though manage to get a good deal through the hostel for tomorrow.

Visited the interesting convent of Santa Catalina in town. It was opened to the public in 1970 after 400 years as a cloister. The convent has been beautifully refurbished with period furniture and paintings. Behind the closed doors the nuns, daughters of aristocrats, paid little heed to the vows of poverty and silence. Each had her own servant and dined with porcelain plates, fine tablecloths and silver cutlery.

The convent is a complete miniature walled colonial town in the middle of the city. There are flower filled gardens, spacious patios, granite fountains as well as arches and narrow streets. The tile-roofed buildings are painted in traditional white, brown and blue. About 20 nuns still live in a section of the convent, which once housed up to 500.

Didn't expect such an interesting visit, very pleased we went along.

Grabbed some late lunch after, and enjoyed some happy hour cocktails in the early evening.

Pack ready for tomorrow, we 'll just need to take a day bag for our one night/two day trip out to Colca Canyon.

Thursday 31st May

Picked up just after breakfast, and our journey towards Colca takes us across the desert and back up into higher altitude, Paul's ear giving a little pain until it unblocks itself.

Nice views as we shoot on in the minibus - lots of snowcapped mountains/volcanoes. Stop for a short while at the Mirador de Los Andes, where we see many 'cairns', which are small piles of rocks given as offerings to the mountains.

At Chivay, the small town where we'll be staying, we start with an 'okay' buffet lunch (not included in the trip, though tonights accommodation is) before being dropped at our room. Whilst there's a dozen of us on the trip, we all stay at a handful of different accommodations - clearly a couple of folks have upgraded and it seems that the accommodations decline as we drop people off - we're last!

Actually, it's fine, though the room is pretty chilly now, so not looking forward to tonight!

We have a couple of hours to ourselves before being picked up and taken to the nearby hot springs for a soak. Not much happening in town - a small market, a small but pretty square. Public toilets here seem to offer a little more choice than usual. If you're just looking to urinate, that'll set you back 30 cents - anything more than that and you're clobbered for 50 cents. It's pay on entry, so what do you do if you're not sure???

At 4pm we're whisked the few kms down to the pools and it's nice to get into the hot water, though there's quite a few folk here. We're warned that you should only spend an hour in the water, so stick to the rules and we're back in town for 6pm, and hang around for dinner, which is a group thing at a nearby restaurant that has some traditional dancing.

Panic a little that we don't have much money, but just scrape through and pay for dinner, though nothing left for treats back at the room.

We're heading on to see the condors early tomorrow morning, so everyone heads home for an early night. Interesting dances, though similar to what we saw in Cuzco.

Chat with Emmanuel and Elani from Sweden through dinner.

Friday 1st June

Crikey, only 1 full month left of this year trip - time's been flying lately.

Though, actually, it's too early on the day to realise the date, it's 5am, and breakfast is in 30 minutes.

A little chilly out of bed, but the shower is roasting. Breakfast basic but fine to get us going.

Minibus picks us up and we start the journey out towards the condors, though we first stop in a small village, where there's a surprising amount of activity for so early in the morning, even someone trying to get a loudspeaker working.

At the condor site, we stop short of the car park area to enjoy a walk along the canyon edge - see some pretty 'green' birds along the way, though we're all in a little rush as we can see a couple of condors at the main viewing point, and they're said to only hang around for 15 minutes.

At the viewing point, with crowds of others, we get to see plenty of condors, swooping above and below as, out over the canyon. There's a few gaps of nothing but enjoying the views and relative silence, but the condors perform for us over a couple of hours. A really majestic sight.

On the way back towards Chivay we stop at a couple of viewpoints, Chris gets to try some Cacti fruit.

Spent a little more time in the small square before the few hours drive back to Arequipa, and a pitstop at Cuzco Coffee.

More travelling tonight, more overnight bus action to Nazca. A little annoyed at the hostel - we had booked the bus ticket though them, but surprised that they had charged us 10Soles 'commission' for booking it. Pretty steep at nearly 10%, where any other hostel where we'd booked a tour or bus ticket was charged at face value. A bit of a rip off, and we could easily have booked the ticket in town for no extra charge.

Hang around at the hostel for a while, repacking our bags and charging cameras.

The taxi comes to pick us up for the short ride to the bus station, though a small panic when we find that there's some road blocks and, in turn, more traffic being funneled through the remaining routes.

Thankfully the taxi driver gets us there in a hurry, though drops us off at the wrong terminal for buses to Nazca. Unable to find the company we're travelling with we soon find out that they are 'over there' and we run with our bags to the adjoining terminal. No panic necessary, they're running a few minutes late, and we have plenty of time to board and get comfy. We seem to have gone VIP and have a small section at the front of the upper deck with only 6 seats. Nice, should be a comfortable night!

continues on next thread....

Posted by pdsaustin 15:15 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cuzco, Peru

and Macchu Picchu...

sunny

Monday 21st May

Cuzco

Yaaaawn - another painful early start, but looking forward to breakfast and getting on the coach for the day trip to Cuzco.

The taxi is waiting for us again and we get to the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare.

Not as luxurious as we had expected, crap legroom and we sit in a spot where the panoramic view windows have join. Not the best start, and a bunch of folks get on the bus 5 minutes after we should have left. Calm......

First stop on the altiplano (high plains) was Pukara, a little village with a museum and pre-Inca site behind it, though we didn't get to visit this, and only 15 minutes or so at the museum. We're really not becoming big fans of tourist trips like this.

Saw some 'decapitator' statues (we think from the Paracas culture) which predated the Incas by at least 1000 years.

Next stop at 'La Raya', an Andean mountain pass at 4335 metres. Here is the departmental line between Puno and Cuzco. Nice view of the snow capped mountains and a glacier, but again not much time here.

We stop next for lunch in Sicuani - nice buffet lunch, included in trip, before moving on to the village of San Pedro and the ruins of Raqchi.

Lovely little church and square, which is full of little old ladies selling the same souvenirs.

The site was built in the 15th century and it is considered by historians to be one of the most important Inca constructions. The Wiracocha Temple, 100 metres long and 20 metres wide, does now look like an aqueduct, but it was once the holiest shrines in the Inca empire.

The temple was made of adobe walls built on top of volcanic stone foundations, and 22 columns supported the roof.

We walked around the residential area made for the Inca nobles and the dozens of circular storage 'facilities'.

Next stop on the trip was at the beautiful village of Andahuaylillas (at 3039 metres above sea level). Pretty little square wit a stunning (inside decor) Jesuit church, known as the Sistene Chapel of the Americas. Built in 1580 with a Baroque interior, guilded altars, paintings and beautifully painted walls. Very pretty, even Paul was impressed, though he wasn't impressed with the a couple of folk on our trip who thought it would be okay to talk and laugh during the talk by the guide about the church. A 'look' soon shut them up.

We have 20 minutes fee time to have a look around the square before getting back on the bus for the last 60kms to Cuzco.

At the tour company shop the bus drops us off and we're joined in the taxi to the hostel by, what turns out to be, a lady who works/runs a Macchu Picchu tour company - we didn't realise this until after we had checked in, dropped off our stuff and were about to head out for dinner - she was waiting downstairs to speak to us about a MP trip. Weren't hounded as such, though we ended up going to her office by the main plaza to discuss the trip options.

Back to the accommodation, El Arcano is a nice little place a few minutes walk 'up' (we were breathless every time we walked back there!)from the square and run by friendly folks. Thought we'd be paying a fair bit to sleep in Cuzco, but pleased to pay 50Soles a night, with private facilities, cable TV, breakfast.

The main square, Plaza de Armas, looked very impressive at night, perhaps the biggest square we've encountered. Quite a busy place, and of course, oodles of tourists. Isn't long before a seemingly continuous stream of postcard sellers, souvenir sellers, drug sellers, shoeshiners are on our backs . Harmless, but irritating.

We sit with the tour lady for a bit, before leaving to find some dinner. Lots of restaurants doing bargain set meals here - we find a quiet place that's doing a reasonable selection of courses, with drink and dessert included. No complaints about the food, and is less than 3 quid.

Walked around town for a while before heading back to our room - it's a little chilly, and there's no hot water (should be) for a shower.

Despite the lack of hot water this evening, we like our cute little room at the top of the building.

Tuesday 22nd May

Slept very well, though grumbling in the morning about the 'warm' water shower - never pleasant when you're living at altitude.

Breakfast is served to us in the small lobby downstairs, though luckily we're the only ones at this time, not sure what they'd do if half a dozen folks turned up in the morning - there's only 3 seats around a small coffee table. A little chilly in the lobby, and the small wood burner would be a treat if it was blazing away.

A little info about Cuzco - it was the capital if the Inca empire (the name of the emperor was Tahuantinsuyo). It was a sacred city to the Incas, thought to be the center of the world, which is now Birmingham, Midlands.

According to legends and stories, there were 13 Incas ruling over the Huatancay River Valley, around 1200AD, controlling it from Cuzco. From here, they fortified the empire in less than a century.

After the conquest, the Spanish founded their own city (in 1534) - Inca temples and palaces were transformed into colonial mansions and churches.

Spent most of the day getting to grips with the place, and mulling over our options for visiting Macchu Picchu. Of course, we hadn't prebooked to do the Inca Trail, and there's be nothing available for months ahead. Not sure if we would have done it anyway - it's expensive, and maybe we'd prefer to do another great walk elsewhere, where there's not hundreds of other tourists around.

Had a cheap pizza set lunch for just over a pound and relaxed for a couple of hours in one of the 'video bars' watching Casino Royale and sipping happy hour cocktails.

More food and drink followed at Jack's Cafe - great shakes and tasty chips.

Then, an early night for these party poopers.

Wednesday 23rd May

We've decided against doing one of the other treks to Macchu Picchu, and opt for a simple visit to the site, which will be a couple of nights away from Cuzco. We've organised this through the administrator at the hostel, Marianella, a friendly, English speaking local.

The deal is $140 each, and this includes entrance into the MP site, 2 nights accommodation, bus transfers up to the MP site, MP guide, and the return train journey from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.

It's necessary that we go to the train station to buy the tickets in our name, but that doesn't take too long, and we save some time by taking a taxi straight on to Tambomachay Archaelogical complex - aka, the 'Bath of the Inca' - it might have fulfilled an important religious function linked to water and the regeneration of the land.

What we're doing today is visiting several Inca sites, and combining it wit some walking exercise - the taxi takes us about 8kms out of town, and we walk bath, taking in the sites/sights along the way back to Cuzco. Weather is nice and bright today, should be a good'un.

So, Tambomachay, possibly built around 1500AD, it's a ceremonial stone bath channeling spring water through 3 fountains - it's an interesting site, though other than the main structure, there's no other buildings/ruins here.

Over the road and up a few hundred yards is the more structured site of Pukapukara - this complex though to be used as a rest and lodging area, consisting of several rooms, inner plazas and roads. Very nice views of the surrounding hills, and Cuzco valley.

Paul got into a little bit of trouble by taking a picture of a Llama in a field, to be then chased by an old woman seeking payment. Not sure what the Spanish words are for 'don't panic lady, I've deleted the picture of your scabby beast'...

Then walked on to Q'enqor (meaning labyrinth) - sacred Inca shrine. Ceremonies to the Sun, Moon and Stars took place here, perhaps in the semicircular amphitheatre.

We first visited a large limestone rock (big as a bus, but a slightly different 'boulder' shape), which is riddled with channels, neatly carved square holes and steps. The channels were likely to have been used for the ritual sacrifice of chicha or, possibly, blood.

Here, there's a funny looking, smooth, wave rock - not sure what it was used for, or even whether it's a natural formation, but it does make a good slide.

One area of the site contains some 'secret' cave-like places - it's a strange complex, different to anything else we have seen relating to the Incas.

The final site along the walk back is a short trot down to the impressive and huge Sacsaywaman site. Huge stones (varying between 90 and 120 tons - one said to be 300 tons) forming the main battlements. This is possibly a religious and military construction.

Impressive, 3-tiered, zig-zag fortifications - apparently one Inca King envisioned Cuzco in the shape of a puma, with Sacsaywaman as the head, and the zig-zag walls as the teeth of the puma. Would be interesting to have a view from above.

A quicker visit that Chris had hoped, but Paul was getting 'ruined-out', and we were both getting peckish.

Admired the views over Cuzco as we made our way back - saw some kids of homemade skateboards try to kill themselves on a steep bend nearer the town.

It's matchday today, Champions League, and we're in time to catch the second half of the Liverpool/AC Milan final, conveniently there's a big screen at the Indian restaurant we wanted to go to.

Nice to watch a game, though not the best football, and Liverpool fail to score enough goals to win. Regardless, a nice spicy curry is the winner on the day.

Wandered around town into the early evening and thoroughly chuffed to bump into a couple of Aussie guys who'd been on our Death Road bike trip and had helped Paul with his crash. Had been thinking about them recently, and had been sorry not to have thanked them for the first aid.

Made arrangements to meet up in an hour while they sort out some travel plans, end up having some pizza/nachos, and a good chat. Turns out that Kim and Tony are brothers from NSW, and a Blue Mountains Park Ranger and Lawyer respectively. Oh, that's another street hassle, the numerous restaurants desperate to drag you in off the street. Yep, easy to just walk on by, but still a pain.

Unfortunately they are heading off on a trek at 4am the next day, so it's quite an early night, but we are really pleased to see them and catch up.

We learn that the bike company we went with in La Paz had another accident a few days after our trip - sounds like a pile up and some broken bones.

Back to the chilly room, though it's fine once you're under the covers.

Thursday 24th May

Lazy morning, minimal warm water for a shower, and some internet.

Lunch at Paddy's Irish bar, good food, Chris had a yummy vegetarian Cottage Pie, then onto Jack's for milkshakes and cake.

Chris then visited the Inca museum - not particularly impressed with the lack of info, especially info in English. Interesting though to see the layout of the various civilisations and the differences in the ceramics. Overheard a guide point out some false teeth and fillings - cool! Also saw a few mummies here, and other ceramics and weavings.

Met back up with Paul, and went along to the cultural (performance) evening at a local theatre - this is included in the 'tourist ticket' that gets you into a bunch of attractions in and around Cuzco.

Of course, the show is somewhat touristy, but interesting to watch and hear the history of the various dances - there's a band accompanying the performers on stage.

Paul did a little blog updating later in the evening, and enjoyed listening to some XFM online - even managed to get a 'shout', live on radio!

Back in the room and we packed our small packs for the couple of days at Macchu Picchu.

Friday 25th May

Up at 7am and get away nice and early for our taxi ride over to Ollantaytambo, which is where we'll take the train on to Aguas Calientes/Macchu Picchu.

We've arranged, through the hostel, to have a taxi for most of the day - as well as simply transporting us to where we're going, we get to stop at some sites along the way. Cost 100Soles to have a taxi for about 6 hours.

First stop, the village of Chinchero, known to the Incas as the birth place of the rainbow. We explored the Inca ruins, simple but beautiful views, and the first sight of what was to come at MP - terracing and rocks carved into seats and staircases. Then in to the pretty colonial church, impressive painted walls, though there's some remodelling going on at the moment, so quite a few covers scattered around the place. The church is built on Inca foundations.

Nice to have the place pretty much to ourselves, and to be away fro other tourists for a change.

We then drove on through Maras village (very basic, small dirt streets) and arrived at Moray, with it's amphitheatre-like terracing. Many think that it was an important agricultural experimentation center for the Incas.The largest structure is 45 metres deep and each terrace is said to have its own microclimate, though we can't feel this.

Unexpectedly we stopped at the Maras Saltmines, aka, Salinas de Maras - these salt mines used by the Incas, and still in use today. Was an amazing sight to come across as we drove around the cliffside road above - a huge areas of white pools sitting in the valley below, contrasting against the orange soil. There's approximately 3000 salt 'wells' here.

Finally arrived in Ollantaytambo early afternoon, and stopped for lunch at a pricey but friendly pizza place.

Well fed, we're ready to visit the mountain side ruins. The site was built as a fort that included a temple, agricultural terraces, and an urban area, though we don't think that means it was occupied by gangsta rappers.

Huge stone blocks at the top, possibly the ceremonial center. The stone was quarried from the mountainside 6kms away - of course, painful, if not deadly, work for the indigenous workers.

Great views of the valley from the top and a cool fortress on the mountainside opposite.

Enjoyed visiting this site, a very cool spot, and glad we're here, though it's of course a tourist magnet.

Had some coffee and cake in a cool cafe on the main square (eek, forgot the name - it's in the top left corner as you're walking from the ruins to the square), and hung around reading some out of date mags until it was time to head to the train station.

Our train to Aguas Calientes heads off on time at 8.45pm - shame we don't get to see the views on the way, but this train ticket is quite a bit cheaper than the 'daytime' trains. Train seems to be full tonight.

Met, as arranged, by both our guide for tomorrow and the folks from our accommodation. Bit of a walk to the far end of the main street to our hostel (we thought it was supposed to be a hotel), though it's as nice as promised, and the roar of the river behind us is actually quite soothing.

Beds are comfy, though it'll still be tough getting up at sooo early for breakfast, though can't believe we'll be seeing Macchu Picchu tomorrow!!!!

Saturday 26th May

Weren't expecting it, but breakfast in included, and is a good start to the day, despite it being something called '4.45am'

In the dark, we walk down by the main square where we catch of bus transfer up to the ruins. You can walk it in a couple of hours, but the 30 minute bus sounds better, especially at this time of the morning. Tons of people around this morning!

As it gets a little lighter, we can see quite a lot of cloud in the sky - we're obviously desperate for the classic sunrise experience at the top. Arrived at the entrance and made our way through the gate - no sign of our guide, so we head in. Hang around for a while before Chris tries to track him down - he's the other side of the entrance with the 20+ other people on our tour. Two folks head off and do their own thing - this really is too big a group.

Thankfully, the Spanish never came across Macchu Picchu, so it's in good shape, and better than most other ruins we've seen.

Hiram Bingham, an American historian, stumbled across this place in 1911 (though was actually brought to it by locals) in his search for the famed Inca treasure. Nobody knows what it's function really was, or it's proper name - it was possibly a royal hacienda, as mentioned in the Inca museum.

Our guide stated that, based on the number of buildings and water availability, there were approximately 500 inhabitants living there at the time of the Spanish invasion. Likely that the inhabitants sought refuge in the jungle and took their treasures with them.

Over 50 burial sites and 100 skeletal remains have been discovered here.

Whatever its purpose, from the high quality of the stonework, it must have been an important ceremonial center.

Unfortunately, sunrise was spoiled by the clouds, but as they gradually lifted they revealed stunning views all around. Whilst the photos say it all, it really is a special setting, atop these hills - shame it's such a busy place.

We learn that the buildings would have been painted yellow and red, except the Temple of the Sun, which would have been gold. The temple is MP's only round building.

We were taken to the Sacred Plaza, saw the Temple of the Three Windows, Principal Temple and the Sacristy. Up the stairs we came t the Intihuatana, the major shrine in MP. Here is a carved rock, which was used for astronomical purposes. Incredibly it points north, south, east and west perfectly, but also magnetic north.

We then went to the residential and industrial sectors, and the Prison Group where we come across the Temple of the Condor, which contains a carving of a head of a condor - a sacred bird for the Inca.

After the tour, we walked up Wayna Picchu, though had to wait in line about 30 minutes to get on the trail. Only 400 people are allowed up daily, and the last entry is at 1pm- you need to be back by 4pm.

The walk is very steep and you need to watch where you put your feet - it's supposed to take about an hour, though we get up a a little quicker, and in one piece.

Very busy at the top, and not a huge amount of room to find a spot to enjoy the views, which were amazing, especially looking down on MP itself.

Coming down again was easier, though still quite tricky to navigate, very glad we did it though.

Take a break at the small/expensive snack bar by the main entrance. Got served a nasty 'fountain' Coke, which the girl was proud to say it always tastes like that. Managed, in the end, to change it for a slightly better Sprite. Tip - take your own food and drink for the day, you can take a small pack in with you with no problems.

Met a friendly American couple, who have moved to Uruguay and have been working by commentating on football matches via mobile phones to betting companies in the Far East!, and chatted for a while. Chris went for a walk up to Intipunku (Sun Gate) while Paul stayed and chatted.

Nice views of MP from another side, and Chris is pleased to say that she's actually done a bit of the Inca Trail! On the way back down she came across a couple looking at a huge wasp dragging a dead Tarantula - strange sight!

Meantime, Paul made his way back into the main site and found a small, quiet, terrace to plonk down and admire the views across the valley, bathed in warm sun.

Conveniently bumped into Chris as he made his way down for a wander. Pleased that we could walk around with much less tourists around - well worth waiting until later in the day to revisit the site.

Sad to leave at the end of the day, getting on of the last buses back down to Aguas Calientes.

Had a nice hot shower back at the hostel, before stepping out for some nice food in the main street - another set meal bargain, including a Pisco Sour. Not as good as a Caiprinha, but tasty anyway...

Shattered, we get to bed early, we'll be up again tomorrow morning at this curious thing called '4.45am' for the train back to Ollantaytambo.

Sunday 27th May

This time of the day could feel so much worse, must have been good to get to bed early last night.

Nice breakfast again before hurrying back down to get the train. A little panic as the train isn't where we thought it would be, though luckily a local chap points us in the right direction. Seems like the train dropped us by the main street, but returns from the actual station. Whatever, we get on board with a few minutes to spare.

The train journey is easy and most people are asleep, though Chris is eager to see the sights as we make our way back. Nice blue sky as the sun continues to rise.

Arrive nice and early in Ollantaytambo, and choose a taxi to take us to Pisac rather than the bus. Of course, costs us quite a bit more (we agree 50Soles with the driver), but we get going straightaway and direct to our next stop and in plenty of time to visit the popular Sunday market.

After some, more, breakfast, we walk around the market for a bit - it's interesting, though, like some many other places, folk seem to be selling pretty much the same stuff.

Chris went into a church for 11am mass. 10 men to the right side of the church with colourful ponchos, 6 had wooden staffs with silver, 4 only had bamboo staffs. On the other side of the church sat 10 boys in their colourful ponchos and all had shells that they used as horns. After the breaking of the bread, the boys blew into their shells, a haunting sound. At the end a man went around to each man and they kissed a silver cross with Jesus on it.

Two little old ladies sat next to Chris with their traditional bowler hats, and it was very sweet at the 'peace be with you' moment, when the locals around her gave her a big hug. A very moving service, conducted in Quechua.

Met back up with Paul, and took another taxi to the Pisac ruins. Again, these ruins placed amid fantastic views - lots of impressive terracing, though without a guide we found out little about the place. Decide that the Lonely Planet guides for South America have been pretty poor on historical information, as well as out of date information on accommodation and food. Footprint seems a lot better.....

Took the same taxi back to Cusco, driver trying to maintain the same speed on the corners as well as the straights, agreed on a price of 40Soles.

Didn't do much else back in town, after a couple of busy days and early starts.

Monday 28th May

Had hoped our reminder that our 'hot shower wasn't that hot' would have been sorted, but no and we grin and bear it through a barely warm one. Well, Chris grin's and bears it, Paul moans about it, and swears a bit.

Walk around Cusco, taking a few snaps. Chris went into a few unimpressive museums, which were included in the tourist ticket we bought. Stopped for a drink in the Norton Rats Tavern, enjoying the views out over the main plaza. Stayed longer than planned to avoid the afternoon shower.

For dinner we went back to Jack's, though Chris not over the moon with her Thai Curry. By the way, the 'Gordo' breakfast is excellent here, and served all day.

Kill a little time before heading back to the hostel to pick up our bags - off on another overnight bus to Arequipa tonight at 9pm, though pleased that Marianella has also arranged some accommodation for us there, and we'll be met at the bus station.

Set off on time, and we make our way towards the coast (though we don't go all the way there), and down a little from the altitude.

to be continued on next thread....

Posted by pdsaustin 15:20 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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