Lima and a surprise catch up with mum and dad

Lovely Lima.  This city was heaps nicer than I expected. I thought it was going to be rough and dirty like La Paz in Bolivia, but instead, it was clean, fairly modern, retaining some of the old architecture from yesteryear.

A couple of days ago after getting an email from Mum and Dad, I realised that we were both going to be in the same city on the same day!  After some email exchanges, we agreed to meet up in Lima and I was super excited!  I even made a restaurant booking in Peru’s best restaurant, Astrid y Gaston www.astridygaston.com for the next night.

Our hotel was a little odd – no sign out the front, just a travel agency business and a big metal gate.  For A$40 per night each for our  own room, was a good price for this nicely located little three star gem.  www.hotelmiraflores.com Hotel Miraflores was fine for two nights – my room was big, my bed was big, I had a fridge, free bottle of water, TV, desk, wifi, what more could I want.

Hubs and I went for a walk before it got dark, getting some money and something to eat – we found a Tony Romas in the shopping precinct near the beach.  I was SO excited!  In Perth, Tony Romas was where the old media team headed by the other Andrew the Greek in my life, Andrew Kikiros used to take us every so often for a big lunch of delicious ribs and corona.  I had been having a rib craving for ages – and now it was about to be satiated.  Hubs was also being initiated into the world of amazing ribs by Tony Roma.  And they didn’t disappoint.  We both had a full rack and they were yum yum yum!! My God I was full by the end though.

The next day Dad called me nice and early and we made a plan to meet at their posh hotel at 10.45am.  Yay!  They had to be back at the hotel by 1.45pm to do their oldies tour of Lima.    It was so good to see them again!!  We sat in their hotel for 15 mins or so just catching up quickly – then we went for a walk. Dad wanted to show me the shoe street, a street that only has shoe shops on it.  Uh-o danger.  And since when has Dad encouraged me to go shopping anyway?  He must have missed me!!

We found a shoe smith and dad got his shoe repaired, and I took them to the beach shopping precinct and we had Peru’s most expensive coffee and all shared a wedge of chocolate cake.  We did a bit of shopping for mum who wanted some flat leather closed shoes and a long sleeve shirt for the jungle.  It was very nice. On our way walking back to their hotel, we bumped into Hubs!  I said good bye to mum and dad and made plan to meet them at their hotel from 6.30pm onwards. Dinner was booked at 7.45 at Astrid y Gaston, which happened to be less than a block from Mum and Dad’s hotel.

Hubs and I went to the most boring museum in the world, called the ceramic museum – where there was supposed to be a huge collection of ancient erotic pottery.  The erotic stuff was only a small portion of the museum, and all pretty tame really.  On display were works showing intercourse between man and woman, anal intercourse between man and woman, and men masturbating.  Nothing gay. Nothing involving animals or objects – all pretty tame and boring.

Dinner on the other hand was far from boring.  At mum and dad’s posh hotel Casa Andina, I had a cocktail while waiting for them to return from their oldies tour – a speciality of the house – Andina Pisco Sour.  Holy cow it was strong – and happy hour so I got two for one.  When mum and dad arrived, mum had the other cocktail and it nearly put us both on our arses!  So strong!  Mum and Dad’s Nambucca friends they are travelling with Chris and Glenn joined us too.

Astrid y Gaston was a delight.  Great service and great food.   We were welcomed with complimentary hors d’oeuvres that were delicious.  For starters I had amazing duck ravioli served in a broth of some sort that was nothing short of magnificent.  So delicious, tasty, well presented – a Master Chef 10.  Mains I had two type of beef steak – again sensational and beautifully presented – but I was already almost full by then that I could really only taste it.  I would put this meal up with one of best meals in my life. Certainly the best meal in South America so far.  Dad said that same thing.  It was a really fun night with lots of Peruvian red wine flowing, people passing bite size pieces of their food to others for tasting – it was really fun! for dessert, none of us could do it.  The waiter put a tower of drawers on the table – inside each draw were different flavoured chocolates – oh yes, my type of dessert!  This was also complimentary.   Needless to say, I rolled out of that restaurant quite boozed and totally full – after Dad was his generous self and picked up the tab.  Thanks Dad!!

Hubs and I went back to our hotel, picked up our bags and headed to the airport for another joyful night of travel.

Next stop, Salvador in Brasil.

FACT FILE

Astrid y Gaston
Calle canturrias 175
Miraflores, Lima, Perú
Tel: +(511) 242 5387 or +(511) 242 4422

Bookings advisable

Paracas – the Galapagos of Peru

Hubs and I have dubbed Paracas ‘the most under-rated destination’ on our epic journey because it amazed both of us.

I tried to be a brave traveller and caught the overnight bus from Arequipa to Pisco – a crap hole that was only about 20 minutes by taxi to Paracas which was meant to be gorgeous.

The overnight bus was hard work. I mean, the buses are as luxurious as you can get – big almost sofa like seats that recline, and there’s also a slanted leg and foot rest. So they are comfortable.  It was a long journey. I hardly slept, and arrived at Pisco earlier than scheduled at 6am.  Urgh 6am!!! Luckily there was a taxi there and he drove me 20 minutes to our luxury hotel – Hotel Hacienda.  This was five star luxury – right on the beach, a massive pool with little bridge walkways over it, comfy sun lounges and the like.  But because I was there so damn early I could not check in until 12pm – or I could pay A$80 to check in early.  A$80 for five hours – no friggin way!!!  So they offered me another room for 5 hours, so I had somewhere to sleep, that was A$30.  Fine.  I took it.  I was so dog tired, I just had to lie down.

I slept for a couple of hours until the work men began banging away and jack hammering through cement.  Oh my God – you have got to be kidding!!!

Tired and grumpy, I had a great and long shower then enjoyed a very delicious breakfast buffet.  I tried to go back to bed…

The second room was beautiful – it opened up with french doors to the pool area, near the restaurant, it had its own built in outdoor lounge, big fluffy beds with quality bed linen – yes, it was lovely.  Hubs was due to arrive about 6pm.  Paracas is a resort town and once in a resort, there’s not much to do except hang out there.  I was too knackered to go for any big walks, so I sun bathed, read, and relaxed.

Seeing Hubs again was a happy reunion.  She had a great time in Columbia and was happy to have the opportunity to go there. She loved Cartegna on the coast, a beautiful relaxed picturesque beach town, saying that she could live there.   Botoga she didn’t rave about so much.

Over dinner at Hotel Hacienda’s restaurant, we swapped stories and enjoyed a nice meal.  That night, apparently I snored, making Hubs very unhappy with me in the morning.  She declared that from here on she wanted her own room – she could afford it and wanted to get a good night’s sleep every night.  Fine by me! I loved my own space and not having a non-morning person in my room every time I woke up suited me just fine.  I know I must’ve been snoring because I did not sleep the night before on the night bus.

I had booked Hubs and I into a Paracas boat trip – the whole reason why people come to Paracas.  We went out to sea on a boat and saw the most incredible amount of birds I have seen in my life!  There must have been a million birds out there – all kinds from sea gulls to cormorars to pelicans.  All manner of fish eating birds were flying and diving, in a feeding frenzy of anchovies.  There is an amazing amount of fish in this area that it attracts all the fish-eating birds.  This boat trip surpassed our expectations by miles.  We didn’t see this number of birds in the Galapagos – in fact, I haven’t seen this number of birds in any one spot ever in my life.  Spectacular!!

The boat trip continued around some rocky islands that are inhabited by sea lions, seals, penguins and of course birds.  The boat trip was all over in three hours and I seriously could have stayed out there all day, just watching.   Amazing.

The rest of the day was spent chilling out, reading, and making the most of the beautiful resort.

Next stop: Lima and catching up with Mum and Dad!

Puno – South Peru and Lake Titikaka

We were both rested and looking forward to the luxury train that takes 10 hours to get to Puno from Cuzco.  The Andes Explorer was expensive – really really expensive at US$220 per person.  Hubs and I justified it by saying 10 hours on a luxury train would be one hundred times better than nine hours on a bus. 

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The train was nice – we sat in old fashioned arm chairs, our little table had a table cloth and a lamp on it, the bathrooms were lined with polished wood, and there was a nice carriage out the back that had a bar and was open. We thought breakfast was included, so I only ate a very small breakfast at the hotel.  It wasn’t until we were on board that we were told that breakfast was not included and lunch would be served at 1pm.  In fact, lunch wasn’t served until 2pm and by that stage I was ready to eat my arm off!!  And Hubs’ arm was looking pretty good too.  So starving!

The crew tried to entertain us with Peruvian folk band, an alpaca fashion parade, some really average below par folk dancing, and one free pisco sour cocktail served at 9.45am.   Hubs and I were onto them – they gave everyone a taste of alcohol in the hope they would make more money by getting people to drink early.  It worked for some,  not for us.

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We met some nice older Australians on board – a couple from the Blue Mountains, about the same age as mum and dad.  A really lively lady from Melbourne, Maureen, who works for Penguin publishing in the children’s department.  Besides marketing and new business, she plays with toys all day and each year takes her best sales people on a holiday – this year they went to Machu Picchu!  What a job!

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The scenery was quite nice – rolling hills, farmland, and little grotty towns – all with their preference for a political party painted on the outside of their homes like graffiti.   We did pass through this one spin out of a town not too far from Puno called Juliaca.   There were third-world style markets for hundreds and hundreds of metres lining the railway tracks – firstly only selling all manner of car spare parts – so many stalls with huge piles of metal bits and pieces.  Then they changed to other random things – like stationary, clothes, pots and pans, shoes, kitchen ware, household cleaners, chickens dead and alive, and skinned dead animals drying in the sun.    We weren’t sure what they were – some guess they were guinea pigs, other guessed they were a rodent that they eat there… GROSS. It was gross.  This went on for ages – all passengers were glued to the windows of the train staring in astonishment, including myself.  That made one thing clear, Hubs and I were not going to visit Juliaca while we were in Puno.  It was a crap hole!

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The train journey left a bad taste in our mouths – when our tickets were sold to us were told unlimited soft drinks on board – this was not the case.  Hubs double checked her coke was included with lunch when she ordered a coke, and was old yes.  At the end of the journey they tried to charge her for it.  The cheek!  She challenged them and asked to see the manager – a challenge that was never accepted and they let it slide – and rightly bloody so.  We had paid a small fortune to be on that train and the service and lack of inclusions was outrageous. 

Our hotel in Puno was nice enough.  Hubs and I indulged and got our own room each for two nights.  How nice!!  I’m not sure who was more excited, her or I!  Puno was pumping on a Wednesday night – people out everywhere in the streets.   We found a restaurant on the main pedestrian street, a street Hubs named Gringo Street, and I tried alpaca – it was nice, a lot like lamb.

We woke up in Puno and booked our bus to take us into Bolivia – to Copacobana (3 hours) and headed to the port in Puno to take a boat to the floating islands.

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The floating islands are amazing – the indigenous people cut chunks of reeds that are growing in Lake Titikaka and using stakes wedged into each chunk of dirt, they tie them together.  They then cut reeds and lay them in a criss-cross over the floating chunks of dirt for make a kind of flooring.  The reeds breakdown into compost over time, so they must keep topping up the floating island with freshly cut reeds.  They make little huts from reeds, and every so often, they pick the huts up and put them in a fresh place because the ground underneath becomes compost.  These islands are tiny – maybe 25m x 10m and will have three families living on there.   They drink water from Lake Titikaka and cook using fire on a slate slab with a pot over the top.   There is no electricity, running water, sewerage, or anything.  Some have a solar panel for some power, but that is it.

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They make boats from weaved reeds and a normal canoe style boat will take two months to make and the boat will last 18 months before the reeds disintegrate.  We didn’t need much time there – an hour was almost too much – but long enough to enable me to have a ride on a reed canoe boat.  

Hubs and I found an awesome cheap as chips place for lunch that was full of locals and gave only one choice on what to eat. Soup and then a meat dish, or soup and then a chicken dish. The soup was so unbelievably tasty –a thick vegetable soup that was hearty. I would have been happy with just that.  The chicken was cooked in a sauce that had a slight satay flavour about it, served with rice and salad.  The chicken was not as good as the soup.    We went to pay and the bill was 6 soles – I thought it was 6 soles each, but it was 6 soles in total – for both of us. That is about $2.20 for both of us!!  We had a two course lunch for just over a dollar each!!  Everything else I came across that day seemed so expensive after that!!

After a siesta in our own rooms, ah bliss, we headed out for a wander.  We found this rock-music bar that seemed ok – it had games and I beat Hubs in dominoes. We did a bit of shopping and of course I had to buy something – a nice wrap thing made of 100% baby alpaca.  Then we went to the restaurant next to our legendary cheap lunch place and had roast chicken and salad for dinner, and that was expensive at 8 soles each, or about A$3 each!

The local university was having their equivalent of “O” week and all the students were doing Peruvian style line dancing in the street to the music of brass bands.  It was hilarious to watch the guys and girls dance in unison with bells on their boots.  I joined the back of them starting following the dancing – Hubs thought that was hilarious!

Early night in our own rooms before getting up to head into a new country, Bolivia, tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

Magical Machu Picchu

We were up ridiculously early and in a taxi to take us to Poroy train station about 25 minutes from Cuzco, to be at the station by 6.15am.  The scenic journey to Agua Calientes on the Vistadome train took about 3.5 hours. It was sweet the way they served us breakfast in our own wooden trays complete with a small flower arrangement.  It was a lovely journey – we followed the river along and passed through gorgeous mountain ranges and even a high altitude jungle.  There was a table of four senior Australians on the train that did not stop gassing the whole trip – and I had to giggle.  Their Melbourne accents and they way they went on about things just cracked me up. I bet Mum and Dad’s tour is going to be just full of people like them!  Hubs blocked out the world with her iPod, luckily, because all that gassing would have given her the irrits.

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When we got to Agua Calientes, Hubs lead us straight to a cheap hotel just near the bus station for the bus that takes you up to Machu Picchu at 5.30am.  Good thinking – we didn’t have to walk far to get the bus the next day!

We grabbed some lunch at Plaza de Armas (there’s a Pl. de Armas in every Peruvian city), and Hubs went to siesta, and I went exploring.  Hubs has seen and done all this before, so she was not really interested in doing anything, and was still feeling off from the altitude.  Agua Calientes is a bigger tourist trap than Cuzco and I could not bare the thought of getting hassled in the markets to buy things – the same old things I’ve seen everywhere.

I did a pleasant 30-minute walk to the Machu Picchu museum which was really worthwhile. It gave me a better understanding of the place, of the Incas, and the building techniques they used for Machu Picchu.  It was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.   A short siesta, then I had to get my technology fix and check my emails.  When I got back to the room,  I had missed Hubs, so I watched the last set of the US open men’s semi final – to see Docovitch beat Federer, and then got a table for one at a mexican place near our hotel.  When I got home at 8pm, Hubs was already tucked in bed asleep.

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For the second morning in a row, we were up at a ridiculous hour to try to get the 5.30am bus to Machu Picchu.  We were not expecting people to start queuing from 4.30am though!!  We were in the fifth or sixth bus and still arrived at the magical site by 6.30am.  We were early enough to get tickets to do the Waynu Picchu hike – a higher mountain than Machu Picchu. They only let 400 people per day to do that hike – and it’s one that Hubs missed out on doing last time she was here.  Gates to Waynu Picchu open at 7am, so we walked straight there – only to be kept waiting an hour to get in – the registration process for hikers takes AGES. I had time to walk across the whole of Machu Picchu to the entrance and use the bathroom and back again – and was still waiting for another 20 minutes!!

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It was worth the wait.  The hike to Waynu Picchu takes an hour if you are fit and altitude fit.  It took me 1.5 hours and Hubs longer again.   Hubs has seen the site so she had all day to do this hike and took her sweet time in doing so, whereas I powered on, trying to get a work out at the same time.   And did I work out!!  Oooohhh yes!  It was a pretty hard hike with hundreds of rocky steps to climb. I was sweating buckets, and trying to ration my water so 1. I would not run out, and 2. wouldn’t need the toilet.  There is no where to go to the toilet up there – only at the entrance of the site.   I really enjoyed that hike – I even enjoyed the knackered feeling and finding the determination to just keep going.  My lungs were screaming for more air, but besides that, the rest of me felt good – tired by good.  Along the way there were magnificent views of mountains, the Machu Picchu sacred site, forest, the river.   It was spectacular.

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The joy of reaching the top was unexpected. I was so happy!! Happy I’d made it, happy to be there, and well, just happy. I felt elated!  I was sorry that Hubs wasn’t with me – but we agreed to do this at our own speeds – I had other areas of Machu Pichhu to see that Hubs has seen before.    I took about 100 photos from the top of Waynu Picchu, overlooking Machu Picchu.  Then I found a terrace ledge just near the top where there was no one else and sat in the sun and just looked on in awe.  Breathe.  Aaaaahhh.  It was magical.  Nestled high up between mountain peaks, Machu Picchu is a sight to behold. 

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The museum explained one of the Inca myths – the Incas had so much power that they could whip a huge rock and it would roll itself up the hill!  Ha!  That’s a good one!   Machu Picchu was designed to get maximum sunlight. Some buildings have smooth rectangular uniform rock bricks – they were the important buildings.   Buildings with non-uniform sized rock bricks were less important, and those built with rocks not cut to shape at all are said to be the least important.

Historians still don’t know what Machu Picchu was used for. They have found tombs there, evidence of farming,  evidence of administration, and evidence of religion.  It is said that Machu Picchu was built by the Incas in the 1500s – so it isn’t all that old really – not like the impressive temples of Egypt or even the huge monuments of Rome.  The Incas didn’t have the technology that the Egyptians and Romans had.  The site was abandoned by the Incas probably in the 1600s and not discovered again until 1911. 

It is the energy I felt when at Machu Picchu that I will remember the most. There was a calming peacefulness there that was also joyous.  Hard to describe.  It was a great energy and I loved just sitting on a rock outcrop taking it all in.

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After about 45 minutes at the top of Waynu Picchu, I decided to head down.  Just as I began the decent, I ran into Hubs, who was looking quite weary, yet proud she’d almost made it to the top.   With a loud bunch of obnoxious American girls just in front of me,  I was keen to get ahead of them and away from their annoying voices – it was ruining my experience!  I bid Hubs farewell and clambered down the mountain in record time – less than 20 minutes to get down!!  I was going fast – but how crazy is that?  1.5 hours up and 20 minutes down!  I was back down the mountain by 10.40am.

I found several sunny spots to sit at Machu Picchu and just breathed, taking it all in.  I ate a whole packed of Ritz crackers and several coca toffees, trying to top up my energy.   By midday i knew I had to make a move if I was going to make it to the sun gate, another walk taking 45 minutes if you are fit and altitude fit.   It took me just over an hour and again, it was a lovely walk. It was harder only because I was already tired and the sun was out in full blaze.  Luckily there were some shady spots on the pathway, offering some relief.  I was wishing I’d taken less clothes with me – since 8am in the morning I’d been in a t-shirt and left to carry a long sleeve top, a jumper, and a jacket – as well as a scarf and beanie.  I expected it to be much colder than it was. 

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The walk to the sun gate was lovely – and the view from the top stunning.  The Waynu Picchu view was probably better, but it was good to see views of Machu Picchu from both sides. I was again so happy to have made it to the top – elated.  And exhausted.  My leg muscles did well and only started aching about half way up to the sun gate.  My lungs however were struggling with the thin air up there.  I saw some llamas on the way which was cool.    I met some fun people at the top – a nice German lad on a massive trip to South America (until the money runs out), and two English girls who are teaching in Cuzco for 3 weeks as part of their degrees.  We all walked down together chatting the whole way – it was fun.  The llamas walked down the last part of the path with us which was really fun!

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I found a weary Hubs at the gate, a little earlier than we agreed – but I had to go out and buy a sugary drink and some water.  Man, I was so thirsty and my energy was used up.  I drank a huge sized coke, something I rarely ever drink – and loved every bit of it.  We were on board our 3.30pm Vistadome train to Cuzco – both agreeing to order room service and watch a movie in a our room.  We were knackered, well and truly spent.

We had changed hotels in Cuzco to one that was 4-star, yet cheaper, and 100 times nicer.  Just what the doctor had ordered.

Back in Cuzco

Cuzco is an ok city – clean enough with a pretty main square, but for some reason, it just wasn’t doing it for me.  We had to wait two more days in Cuzco to catch the luxury train to Puno on the edge of Lake Titicaca in the south of Peru, and I was over Cuzco.  I spent a lot of time having siestas, and hanging in the hotel.

Hubs and I did take advantage of being in a nice hotel with a day spa and both had hour long massages on our last day there.  They cost a bomb in Peruvian terms, but not that much really – $60 each for an hour of sheer bliss.  It felt so nice and I was so relaxed afterwards.

Rather than trudging up the hill to Plaza de Armas and getting trapped eating in a below par place, we looked up the trusty Lonely Planet and took a taxi to their foodie pick, Los Perros – a bar and restaurant serving awesome food and run by an Australian.   I had one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had, with homemade mango chutney and mustard mayonnaise.  Nothing short of sensational.  Hubs had a seasoned grilled chicken and sweet potato dish that she raved and raved about too.   How SATISFYING.  Massaged and well fed.  That was the best day and experience I’d had in Cuzco in five days.  Still, I was happy to be leaving the next day.

Next stop, Puno and Lake Titicaca.

Cuzco

From Iquotis, we flew via Lima to Cuzco.  We checked into our hotel La Augustine El Dorado on Ave De Sol and our room seemed fine. Adequate.  Nothing grand, but it had a fridge, TV, heater, safe – everything we seemingly needed. Even a small balcony so Hubs could smoke outside any time of day or night without having to leave our room – something she loved to do. 

It was almost dark by the time we arrived.  We went for a wander to the main square, Plaza de Armas, and found a laundry service to wash our stinking jungle clothes.  It was a pretty uneventful night – we were tucked up in bed reasonably early – something that was becoming a habit for us.  We both felt affected by the altitude – Cuzco is 3200m above sea level.  Both of us tired, short on breath, difficult to walk any distance, and I had a monster headache – one that nuerofen did not kill.

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The early night did nothing and was a waste of time – I had the worst night’s sleep in the history of this trip. I hardly slept at all.   Our second day in Cuzco was spent doing practical things – like getting train tickets to Machu Picchu, going to immigration to get another entry card (since I lost mine and needed it for the hotel and to get out of Peru). Immigration was relatively straight forward, despite having to go to the office to get an authorisation slip, walk up a huge hill in high altitude to a bank with the hugest line and pay the amount requires, 8 soles or about A$3, and walk back down the hill to immigration to get the approved and paid stamp.  Phew! 

I also got the worst leg wax I have ever had – including the time when I was a poverty stricken student and let beauty salon students wax my legs.    The leg wax was supposed to cost 15 soles, or about A$6 and was supposed to take 30 minutes.   I also got talked into a 30-minute massage for the same price.  I was on the table getting my legs waxed with the oldest cruddiest wax for over 1.5 hours!! I was furious!  Not only was the wax crap, but the girl who started waxing my legs didn’t seem to really know what she was doing.  I started busting her balls about the wax being bad and another girl who had more of clue came in to finish the job.  I cancelled the massage and refused to pay the full amount because I had such a horrific experience and wasted 1.5 hours of my life.  Grumpy,  To top that off, I was late meeting Hubs and missed her.  And the laundry service was late, despite them having more than 24 hours to wash our clothes… so I had to wait, and had a huge headache and just wanted to go back to the room. 

Instead of waiting impatiently, I decided to go shopping. Cuzco is a tourist tack town with every second person trying to sell you their artwork, a massage, a tour or dinner in their restaurant. It’s almost unbearable.  There are also hundreds of small camping and trekking stores selling equipment and supplies for the Machu Picchu trek.  It was time that I has a pair of performance trousers and I needed another long sleeve light top – we have 3 or 4 weeks in cool climate ahead of us, and again later on in the Argentinean Andes and Chile.  I must have gone into 20 different camping stores, all tiny ones, and didn’t really like the look of the fake North Face pants, or other cheap pants they have.   One shop however had more stock, and better quality stock – he had great performance trousers for about A$50 and genuine Diadora light tops – so we did a deal and  got a good discount and two new handy items!

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The weather in Cuzco was unbelievably good – the days were really warm and sunny – I got sunburnt slightly sitting in the sun!!  The nights were cold – oh so cold – something I was not used to and never enjoy.  I bet Machu Picchu will be freezing there first thing in the morning.

Our second night at Hotel El Dorado was just as bad. I don’t know what it was with that place, but I just could not sleep.  The bedding was really heavy, the beds small singles, and nothing I did seemed to help.  Earplugs didn’t help.  Lavender essential oil on my pillow didn’t help.  Going to the toilet, drinking water, wearing socks, not wearing socks – nothing gave me a restful sleep.

Just as well we had another town Agua Calientes to look forward to and then the magical Machu Picchu. 

The Amazon Jungle

This was the day was when we were leaving for the jungle!!  I was excited – the Amazon Jungle was one reason why I wanted to go to South America.  Hubs and I were the only passengers heading the Muyuna Lodge that day – we had the boat to ourselves.   An hour and half by boat, then we had to walk about 30 minutes along the banks of the river off-shoot of the main river Amazon, and get into a metal dingy.  We had to do this because the off-shoot river was so low.  Our guide Moises (Moses) said it’s the lowest he has seen the river in 30 years.  

Muyuna Lodge was a lovely jungle logde, nice grounds, fully fly-screened rooms and meals area, hammocks around the place and one on our back balcony.  Yes, it was nice, in a rustic jungle way.

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After an average lunch, we had a siesta.  At 3.30pm, Hubs was too tired to meet Moises for our hike, so I went solo.  I wore leggins with my gum boots, thinking I’d be comfortable.  What a huge monumental mistake!  There were clouds of mosquitoes in the jungle and I was brushing them off my legs – and they were biting me through my leggins.  It was a bit hard to enjoy seeing a monkey in a tree 30m away when I was being eaten to death.  

Hubs and I had already made it clear to Moises that seeing snakes and particularly spiders was not on our agenda.  I mean, who the f—k wants to go hunting for tarantulas in the middle of the night?  Only someone crazy – not me!!

Anyway, as he and I were hiking through the jungle, he stopped and started giggling, and then says, “i don’t want to show you this, but look there,” and points to a tree about 10m away.  On the trunk of the tree was a huge hairy ugly tarantula, bigger than my hand – eeeewwww – I promptly told Moises that this is as close as I want to get and I don’t really want to see another one of those.  He thought it was funny.  Yeah, hilarious.  Not.  Thank God it was still on the tree and not moving – that really would have freaked me out!

We saw some pigmy monkeys, a couple of macaws, some cappuccino monkeys, and 45million mosquitoes.  The animals were all far away and it was hard to see them. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that we didn’t see more given we were hiking for almost two hours. 

At dinner we met some of the other guests staying at the lodge.  After dinner it was time for a night cruise.  On our two hour cruise we saw two herons and one cane toad.  A cane toad – oh my God.  We did not travel half way around the world to see a frigging cane toad!!   I couldn’t believe it. Neither could Hubs.  She was so disappointed and was expecting to see as many animals, if not more, than she had seen in the Amazon Basin in Rurrenbacque in Bolivia.   

The next morning nice and early we went on a canoe trip to see monkeys and birds.  Again, we saw some birds, but not hundreds like I was expecting.  Only a few.  And there were a few ruffles in the tree tops where there were monkeys.  Again, it was pretty disappointing and I don’t think it was worth getting up at 6am for.

After breakfast Hubs and I went for a hike in a different spot with Moises the machette man. We named our guide the machette man because he always carried a machette with him and seemed to like to hack into things – like vines, branches that weren’t really in the way, that sort of thing.  Moises was so funny when walking through the jungle…we were told not to speak too loud.  He would almost creep into the jungle and every so often stop, almost crouching, to listen to the jungle.  It was hilarious and Hubs and I had to do all we could to not crack up laughing!  Again, we didn’t see much, and the mosquitoes were not as bas as they were the day before, thank GOD. 

About an hour into the hike, I was getting dizzy, feeling nauseous, and my tummy was feeling decidedly upset.  I ignored it for as long as I could, then about 30minutes later I told Moises i wasn’t well.  We went back to the Lodge and I was sick and had the runs badly.  I felt terrible.  I went straight to bed and missed lunch.  Moised brought me some dehydration liquid to drink and I rested for about 5 hours. 

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I didn’t want to miss out on piranha fishing, so I took a tablet and soldiered on.  Fishing for piranhas was heaps of fun, even if I was feeling ill.  Hubs and I caught about 5 or 6 each.  When we got back to the lodge, the chef cooked them up and we had them for dinner!   After dinner I went straight to bed – was feeling too average and wanted to rest and recover.  Hubs went out on another disappointing night boat trip and didn’t see anything – only the glowing eyes of a caiman (like a crocodile).

We swam in the Amazon river and we also saw pink dolphins!!  Finally!!  I saw a pink dolphin.   They are not as cute as the bottle nose ocean dolphins and look like mutants really.  But we saw several of them, which means I can rest easy. Swimming in the Amazon was nice – and we weren’t in the piranha invested part of the river either. 

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The next three days were more of the same – boat trips, spotting the occasional monkey, hawks, birds, and loads of butterflies.  Every day we were drenching ourselves in strong DEET insect repellent and doing all we could not to get bitten.   We did see 3 or 4 sloths, only one of them was climbing.  What strange looking creatures they are!  We went piranha fishing again and I caught the biggest fish of the group – it was huge!!  Hubs and I liked Piranha fishing. I also like piranha eating, but Hubs didn’t.

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We did another hike to see the giant water lillies – and that was really nice. We also hiked to see the prehistoric birds and again, that was nice but we were so far away.  It was almost impossible to take photos of the wildlife because we were always so far away from it. 

Poor Hubs got eaten alive and her bites flared up quite a bit – so she was always itching and scratching and feeling uncomfortable. I got eaten too, but my bites didn’t cause me the discomfort they caused her.

We met some lovely people at the lodge – team NZ – they were fun.  The big kiwi guy was a lot of fun and so easy to put shit on. Hubs and I had a great time giving him heaps – and he was a good sport and took it all in good fun.  Team England were lovely, Team USA were as camp as a row of tents and a good laugh, and Team Wales were really nice. Yeah, we were pretty lucky to be around a good bunch.

One night when Hubs and had once again opted out of going on a canoe ride after dinner to see nada, we played Texas poker with Team USA. It was great fun!  And I was really good at it, always having a massive pile of chips in front of me and lending the others chips when they ran out.  Including Hubs.  But as she kept threatening to do – she actually did make a come back, a good come back. Luckily it was getting late and the game was abandoned before she could really start claiming to be the richest! 

By our fifth day in the jungle, we were over it. I was so so so sick of that nasty insect repellent being on my skin all the time, sick of getting bitten, sick of cold showers, and just wanted to be back in the sanctuary of Walter’s place in Iquitos.

Back to Iquitos

Ah, yes.  Back to the peace and quiet of Fitzcarraldo’s oasis.  I really liked it there, I like Walter, I liked Pablo, I liked the food, I liked the cold beer and I liked the space.   Walter had steak in stock, so that made our decision easy on what to do that night – we were staying in to eat this legendary steak we had heard so much about!! 

The steak was worth the wait. OMG it was so delicious and juicy and the salsa verde he served with it was just sensational.  We had dinner with Pablo and I was enjoying a few beers.   It was a great night.

I forgot to add in my last entry that when we left Fitzcarraldo, Walter didn’t want us to fix up the bill.  He just said in his laid back way, “ah do it when you get back, we’ll do one final bill at the end.”   That never happens anywhere!  Hubs and I found it amusing and we were also pleased that Walter trusted us enough to say that.  Cool.

The next day, our last day in Iquitos, I took Hubs to the Butterfly Farm and animal sanctuary so she could get an animal fix, since that didn’t really happen in the jungle.  It was still really nice, but there were about 10 other tourists there occupying the time of the guides.  It was fun to see the monkeys again and have them play with my velcro shoes. 

In the afternoon Hubs and I went and played golf – the only golf course in the Amazon Jungle.   We were so excited to be finally going to play golf!!! 

It was a mission to get there.  The ad in the paper that says it is 20 minutes from the centre of Iquitos is a lie!!  It’s more like 40 minutes, and for us it took 1.5 hours since our motokar driver got hideously lost.  It’s not that much fun sitting in the back of a tuc-tuc  for an hour on gravel roads that are like corrugated iron!  I was so grumpy with him – he said he knew where he was going – grrrrr.

We got to the golf course and had to hunt to find any staff.  Once we had paid, hired some clubs and agreed on a caddy to carry mine for me – Hubs got a trolley so she was ok.  They only had one trolley…

The first hole was scratchy, like most of my first holes.  Our shots got better as we warmed up.  But each time i stopped to line up for a shot, ants would attack me and I got so many bites all over my feet and ankles.  Grrrr.  The grass was also long, so it was hard to find our balls.  Generally, the condition of the course was pretty average.  It has so much potential to be lovely – the club house is lovely, but I suspect it costs too much to keep the course up to scratch.

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Because of our crap tuc tuc driver we arrived late and decided to abandon play after the 7th hole – as the sun was setting. I was sick of being bitten, sick of losing balls, and generally not really enjoying myself!  We went back to Fitzcarraldo, our jungle oasis, had showers and again had steak for dinner.  YUM YUM YUM.  Best steak I have had since Florence.   Pablo was sick and not able to join us which was a shame.

I felt really sad leaving Fitzcarraldo the next day – I had enjoyed my stay there so much.  Walter was such a character, Pablo was fun to hang out with, and we always ate so well.  Not to mention the nice setting and ice cold beer!!

Bye bye Iquitos.  Next stop Cuzco and Machu Picchu!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iquitos – gateway to the Amazon Jungle

We landed at Iquitos Airport, if you can call it that (it’s so small) and met by a driver to take us to our hotel, La Casa Fitzcarraldo www.lacasafitzcarraldo.com. .  How nice!  So much better than having to fend for ourselves to find a taxi, then negotiate the fare!

When we arrived, we got a bit of a culture shock.  The climate for starters is the opposite to Quito – it was sticky, sweaty, hot and humid.  Cars on the road were rare, instead tuc-tucs or as they are called in Iquitos, motokars, are the normal mode of transport.  They are essentially motorbikes with two rear wheels and a seat for two or three at the back.  They are noisy things, but dirt cheap to get from A to B.  Iquitos has a real Asian feel about the place with houses on stilts and motokars everywhere.  It also was obvious we were in the third world.

Our room at Fiztcarraldo was actually a suite and was huge – but basic.  Nothing much luxurious about it, yet it was the same price as our posh boutique hotel in Quito that was uber luxurious.  Hubs was not happy, not happy at all.   She wanted to leave – and I had to gently remind her that this place was rated a close number 1 on trip advisor and that many of the hotels in Iquitos were not the same standard as those in the city.  She calmed down, but was still not happy to start with….

La Casa Fitzcarraldo is not a typical impersonal hotel. Secluded behind the high street-facing wall is small almost rustic hotel and almost a mini private jungle. As it turned out, it was the perfect place to unwind after a day out in the steaming tropical heat of noisy bustling Iquitos.

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Trees, palms and ferns are home to many local birds and colourful butterflies. The pool is clean and inviting and surrounded by hammocks amid the trees as well as in the three-story tree house. Easy listening music is piped through the garden stereo system, making for tranquil afternoons by the pool to willow the afternoon away. The relaxed vibe is complimented by friendly smiling staff on hand throughout the day.

The best kept secret about La Casa Fitzcarraldo is the food. Proprietor Walter Saxer prides himself on serving fresh, delicious meals, his speciality being the BBQ. The marinated chargrilled chicken is succulent and zesty and the leaf-wrapped BBQ fish cooked with tomato and onion easily flakes away from the bones. The star of the menu however is the BBQ steak, served with fresh salsa verde. It simply melts in your mouth.

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Walter said that food is the most important thing to him and he does all the shopping himself. “I have had so many guests get very ill from eating bad food in other places,” he said. “All the food I serve has to be fresh!”

His passion for fresh food means that at times not everything is available.  “I get the steak from a guy who imports it from Argentina and it is very good quality – but I can’t get it every day,” Walter said.

It is well worth waiting for the steak, Hubs and I had it done night and it was so good, we had the next night too!  I  made Walter an honorary Australian since his BBQ skills were so good!

The bar – ah the bar – it serves ice-cold local Pilser beer that comes with a chilled glass straight from the freezer.  Oh the joy to have an ice cold beer at the end of a steamy hot day!  I haven’t enjoyed a beer this much in ages!!

Walter’s hospitality makes any stay memorable. The Swiss born proprietor’s previous career was in the film industry – he was the executive producer of the famous 1980s film “Fitzcarraldo”, touted the most difficult movie ever made. If you haven’t seen it, just ask him and he’ll happily screen it for you at his outdoor cinema on the upstairs deck.  We watched the film – all 2.5 hours of it – and it was..umm..interesting.  It wasn’t boring, just a bit long and the story a little far fetched.   In the film, the main character arranges to haul a massive river ship over the top of a mountain, using hundreds of indigenous as labour and vines as ropes and pulleys.  Quite a feat! 

Staying at La Casa Fitzcarraldo was the perfect introduction to the Amazon Jungle. In the large cage near the entry are two jaguars, pets of Walter’s. There is also a resident K9, a new mother to a litter of 11, and friendly domestic cat.

Because Walter recounted several stories of guests who were hideously sick from food poisoning after eating in Iquitos, Hubs and I decided to sit under the bar pagola and eat there.  We met Canadian Paul, or Pablo as we called him, and he recommended the grilled chicken.  I had a beer – mmm nice and cold – then another.  It was good.   After eating, Pablo joined us and it was an enjoyable evening chatting over a few drinks. 

We ventured into town to book a jungle stay at Muyuna Lodge www.muyuna.com – initially we were going to do four days at the lodge, but Hubs thought five days might be better, and I agreed.  We had a couple more days in Iquitos before leaving for the Amazon Jungle.

Pablo, a helicopter pilot waiting for his  gig to start in Peru, had rented a scooter, or his ‘hog’ as he called it.  Hubs was keen to do that too.  The three of us hooned around the streets of Iquitos for three hours one evening – in peak hour traffic, sins helmet.  It was fun, albeit slightly dangerous.  Hubs was loving it!!   We crossed over this strange wooden bridge, like a marina, that had shops either side of it – third world kind of shops that might only have in stock 5 bars of soap, 20 bottles of water, a couple of packets of batteries and some out of date dry biscuits.  Random stuff.  But that bridge led to a dirt road on the other non-touristy side of town.  It was quite bizarre – loads of people on the street – and a big group rallying for a political party.  We rode through and no one really blinked an eye at us.

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The next day Hubs didn’t fancy a visit to the Butterfly Farm and animal sanctuary. I read about it in the local tourist newspaper and it sounded good, so Pablo and I went.  A 20 minute boat ride on the Amazon River too us to a port where a motokar took us for a strange ride through a village, on roads that were more like footpaths than roads, to the entrance of the Butterfly Farm. 

We walked in and it was like walking along an enchanted path into the jungle.  It was lovely with great big trees and palms everywhere, colourful flowers breaking up the greenery. We arrived at a pergola type shelter and were greeted by two red-faced monkeys that seemed friendly, but I wasn’t sure.   A worker greeted us, reassured us that the monkeys were ok, and asked us to wait for a guide.  While we waited, a monkey called Princessa showed a major fascination with my velcro shoes, opening all the tabs on each shoe. I’d close them, and she would open them again.  Then she jumped onto me, hanging off my arms and my backpack straps!!  It was hilarious!  It was also a really special experience.  They are so human like with the same ears as us, similar facial expressions, and dexterity in their fingers and toes.  Amazing!

Our lovely gentle guide Armando took us around the animal sanctuary, showing us the big jaguar that ate 1kg of meat in 2 seconds, the butterfly enclosure, the breeding program and all the lava, caterpillars, and cocoons.  It was really cool and interesting.  We went to see a couple of other monkeys that were in huge cages, and one of them fell in love with Pablo – this monkey likes men and hates women – so I stood a safe distance away and took photos of the monkey batting her eyelids at Pablo and petting his hand.  It was so funny!

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The parrots and macaws were beautiful – I could have looked at them all day!  By this stage I’d acquired a new fan, Fabian the red-faced monkey who was male and showing his male-ness.  His pee-pee was sticking out and it was making me a little nervous, since he was chatting his teeth at me – a clear sign he likes me.  He started licking the back of my calf which was funny!  Poor Fabian – I tried to explain to him that Zorba had beaten him to the post, but he wasn’t really getting the message!

Pablo and I were the only tourists at the Butterfly Farm and animal sanctuary and that in itself made it special.  We had a great couple of hours there – I could have stayed all day.  Alas, we had to get back because there was a golf challenge on! 

Hubs, Pablo, one of the young guys who works at Fitzcarraldo and I jumped into two motokars and after a bit of confusion, the drivers understood to take us to the golf course, about 30 minutes away.  We set off, despite the grey clouds overhead.  It was not five minutes into our ride when the heavens opened up.  It was raining buckets, a big proper tropical downpour.  We were getting wet in the motokar with the rain coming through the open sides.  The ‘bang!’ Our motokar started spluttering and came to a quick stop. In the pouring rain.   Oh no, what are we going to do?  The driver said, “no problem, un momento”.  As he tinkered with the engine, Hubs and I were getting wetter and wetter.  We decided to make a dash for it to the motor mechanic’s garage just across the footpath.    I pulled out my travel umbrella – which proved useless for tropical downpours, let alone for two people! 

We got soaked as we made our mad dash – and bewildered the mechanics working when two foreign women barged into their workshop dripping wet!!  It was so funny.  We decided that even if the rain would pass, the course would be too wet to play, so we abandoned golf and headed back to Fitzcarraldo.  Walter greeted us with a big hearty laugh as he saw us walk in.  Oh well, not much else to do except drink beer! And on an empty stomach it only took one beer to feel ‘how’s your father!’.   We both ordered the delicious marinated grilled chicken from Walter’s and it took ages and ages to arrive – he had to fire up the wood bbq first…  We finally at a 4.30pm and as always, Walter’s food was delicious.  Worth the wait! It’s hard to imagine the golf club having food this good.

In the early evening, the three of us went for a walk – once the rain had stopped – so primarily get some cash out.  We walked to El Fueco del freo – a boat that takes you to a floating restaurant.  Pablo had heard about this place and was keen to check out.   When we got there we were pleasantly surprised – it was lovely!  It had a big pool surrounded by a nice deck and sun lounges.  The upstairs restaurant looked lovely and posh and the downstairs bar was all polished wood and beautiful.   Wow!!  Hubs and I were spewing that we had such a late lunch and were not at all hungry.  Instead, we ordered a cocktail and tasted Pablo’s dinner that he ordered.  Nice!

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The next stop:  The jungle!