A Travellerspoint blog

Manu National Park pt2.

8 days in the jungle

sunny 30 °C

Day 5. This morning we headed back to the lake we had visited the night prior but this time to find the giant otters that make it their home. While the giant otters in Manu are actually 5 times rarer than jaguars, the limited number of suitable habitats for them mean that they're relatively easy to find (if you know where to look). Again we boarded the raft and a couple of the guides paddled us in a direction opposite to that which we had taken the night before. Soon enough we saw a group of about 7 swimming towards us, weaving through the green lake. They didn't stay long, however, and made their way swiftly to the other side of the lake. We followed and this time they allowed us to watch them for longer. A few play-fought while one set about catching a fish, which it did with relative ease, and we sat and watched the otter make light work of its fish breakfast.
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On the way back to the lodge we stopped off the try and find some peccaries. Now at this point I thought a peccary was a bird (no idea why) so when we got off the raft and heard what was a cacophony of 'cracks' and 'bangs' I wondered what the hell was going down. Only to add to the mystery we were told to crouch down and we didn't see a thing. Apparently 'they' had heard us and left. Before lunch we went to see a local tribe (more a tourist attraction now) where they sold handicrafts and strange items such as their version of the ball and cup game; a stick and a turtle skull. We decided to pass on such novelties and instead play football with the locals. Despite my thunderbolt of a goal, we went down 3-1 and felt on the verge of passing out for a while to come.

After a few hours recovering, we went on a search for some monkeys. About twenty minutes in the guides noticed a large group of spider monkeys in the trees above us, watching us. One of the braver monkeys decided to pick a fight with us, which in the ape world is done by violently shaking a branch in our direction. Juan Carlos (the cheekier of our two guides) wasn't having any of this so shook a branch back in the monkey's direction. Then all hell broke loose. Monkeys came bounding through the trees, settling in the canopy above us, encircling us and shaking branches. Things were getting ugly. We held our ground, however, and eventually the monkeys retreated. Humans 1 - 0 Spider Monkeys.
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Day 6. Today we began our return to civilization in earnest. Many hours were again spent on the canoe cruising back up the river and strangely I found Proxy - 8000 to be the perfect song for such an occasion. On the way we stopped off at another lake and although we didn't see anything of any real interest around the lake, the walk through the jungle took us past some enormous trees and into our first real encounter with peccaries. As we were returning from the lake, Ronan (the other guide) suddenly stopped, told us to crouch down and be silent. Sure enough there was the familiar clicking and banging sound we had heard last time. This time we could make out something moving through the bushes about thirty metres to our left. Sure enough, there they were, a heard of about twenty pigs making their way down to the lake. So it turned out that peccaries definitely weren't birds. We were told they had a cracking sense of smell but how they could smell anything over themselves I have no idea. From thirty metres away the thick smell of pigs filled the air as though I was stood right over one of the animals. After they had passed we returned to the boat.
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Day 7. Many more hours spent in a canoe. When we arrived at the lodge for our final night in the jungle the weather had broken. For seven days it had been sunny and stiflingly hot during the day. Now the sky was thick with dark clouds and thunder rumbled around us as if in surround sound. As it got dark bolts of lightening began to strobe the sky with flashes of orange and purple. An exciting finale to our trip was topped off with a jug of sangria provided by our amazing chef, Sabina. Ronan took one of the bits of floating, alcohol soaked apple and fed it to a cricket which then had considerable problems walking, providing even more entertainment than ten games of shit head.

The following day was spent on a bus driving back to Cusco where we indulged in our 5th steak in the 7 days we had spent in town at Cross Keys, a pub run by the British consul.
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Most nights we were in the jungle we went on night walks and while I can no longer distinguish them, I'll add some of the better photos I took while on these walks.

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Posted by Monsk 07.10.2010 03:50 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Manu National Park pt1.

8 Days In The Jungle

sunny 30 °C

After returning from Machu Picchu Sanjay left us to start his long journey back to England. Me and Chris, on the other hand, spent a couple of days chilling out, drinking and getting mugged around Cusco. A day was then spent trying to sort out the consequences of said mugging before we headed off into the jungle to the north. The Manu national park is the largest in Peru and covers over 18,000 km² of jungle ranging from an altitude of 4000m to 150m above sea level. The reserve is split into three sections and the largest of these is out of bounds to anyone save a few scientists. The other two zones are known as the cultural and reserve zones. The first three days would be spent heading down river through the cultural zone via motor canoe before entering the civilization-free reserve zone where we hoped to see otters, monkeys and perhaps even a jaguar.

As you can imagine, after being in the jungle for 8 days and not keeping a diary my memory is pretty sketchy so I'm just going to recall certain events that for one reason or another (or perhaps no reason at all) have stuck in my head. I will start with the first 4 days.

Day 1. After many hours sat on a bus we arrived at the entrance to Manu national park where we duly began to descend into the cloud forest. As the light began to fade we pulled up at the side of the road to take a 5 minute walk to see Peru's national bird: the cock of the rock. The peculiar birds didn't seem to have what you'd call a head, more of an orange lump with two little eyes stuck on either side.
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Day 2. A short bit of rafting down some rapids was followed by a more prolonged canoe journey to the next lodge where after an exhausting, mosquito-ridden trek we arrived at a series of zip lines set up in the canopy. Flying through the trees and over small valleys in the jungle was really pretty cool. Unfortunately there will be no photos of this uploaded as it turns out I like to gurn a lot while on a zip line.

Day 3. Many hours spent cruising the Madre de Dios river drifting in and out of consciousness, briefly waking to see macaws flying overhead and flocks of cormorants at the riverbank watching the world go by before suddenly taking to the skies.
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Day 4. It was on this day that we finally arrived at the reserve zone. After an almighty feast for lunch we set out for a nearby lake. Unfortunately at this point a searing headache decided to make my life a hell and we'd been floating about on the lake for maybe 20 minutes before I could grasp what was going on. However, as the headache lifted I was able to appreciate the serenity and beauty of the lake and surrounding jungle. We floated on out rickety raft over to a dead tree jutting into the lake, branches bleached to ivory by the sun. A family of birds (I forget their name) had made their home here, weaving a warren of nests through the branches. Eternally occupied by home improvement, the birds would dart back and forth, adding to their homes one piece of grass at a time.
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After watching the birds working away for several minutes we floated to the other side of the lake. Soon enough we came across some monkeys playing and eating by the lakeside. The larger spider monkeys seemed rather skittish and swung off into the jungle fairly rapidly. The much smaller capuchins, however, put on a better show. Wrestling in the canopy, often only using their tails to remain fixed to the branches, monkeys fell, jumped and leapt through the trees in front of us. As the sun dropped into the canopy, turning a shade of orange only seen in the jungle, we headed for shore.
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As we walked back to the camp darkness engulfed the jungle and the birdsong of day was replaced by a different, more eery, chorus. Cicadas, as ever hummed away while owls and monkeys reverberated their solos through the forest. Fireflies darted through the vegetation, leading trails of bright, orange light; the jungle's shooting stars. Eventually the trees and shrubs gave way to huts and fireflies gave way to the light of candles as we returned to camp.

Posted by Monsk 01.10.2010 15:30 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu

0 °C

After leaving Lake Titicaca we made our way into Peru, and to Cusco. Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire and although the Spanish did their very best to destroy as much of it as possible a lot of the ridiculously impressive Incan stonework still remains around the city. One of the things the Spanish set to doing was build an insane amount of elaborate churches around the city. Although Cusco is definitely one of the nicest cities I've been to in the last 6 weeks we (as most other tourists do) were just using it as a base. Firstly for a trek to Machu Picchu, and secondly a trip into the jungle.

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The trek we decided upon was a 5-day hike travelling through mountain passes on the first day and down to jungle by the end. The most popular tek to Machu Picchu is the official Inca trail but as the Peruvian government sets a limit on how many people can walk the trail, places for this book up months in advance. In our group there was 10 of us and two guides: Milton who was an absolute lad and Ingri who spoke no English but instead pointed at things that no one else could see and laughed a lot.

The first day was pretty tough; steep hills and an altitude of 4500m made going pretty hard. When we arrived at the campsite we were all glad to be done with walking for the day and we rested while watching the animal fights that sporadically broke out between the dogs and pigs that roamed about. There was also a donkey that stood on a hill for 3 hours without moving. I'm not sure what it was thinking but it seemed rather annoyed when the farmer decided to move it along. It was while we were waiting for dinner that the idea of an epic shithead competition was formed (for those that don't know, shithead is a card game and nothing to do with what the name implies).

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The second day was spent descending. Starting at the foot of a mountain, by the end of the day we were in pretty lush surroundings. The walk was only about 5 hours which gave us time for a swim in the river when we got to the campsite, but as the river was formed from glaciar melt, it was pretty cold. That evening we got a campfire going and got merry on a few bottles of Pilsen.

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The third day again was pretty easy going but on the fourth day we had to get up at half 4 to climb a hill before the sun made doing so unbearable. Half an hour in we had lost our guide but as there was only one trail we figured we might as well keep going. At the top of the hill (a steep 800m climb) we chilled by some Incan ruins for a while and Milton rejoined us. He said he'd been feeling ill and had a couple of paracetemol and a lie down but the word was he'd been out drinking 'til three that morning. Lad. We continued on our way and got to the town of Aguas Calientes at about 4. This town was easily the worst place I've been to this summer; existing solely as a stop-off for climbing to Machu Picchu Aguas Calientes sums up the worst in tourism. But we got by by playing a lot of shithead.

The fifth day of the tour was the culmination, climbing to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is actually the name of the mountain on which the Incan site is built and was coined by Hiram Bingham, the American who (re)discovered the site in 1910. To get a ticket to climb Waynu Picchu (the mountain behind the actual site in all the cliched photos) we had to get up at 4am, walk down to a bridge just outside the town and at ten to 5 we were allowed to climb the hill up to Machu Picchu with the aim of being in the first 400, as that is the limit they put on the number of people allowed to climb Waynu Picchu. After 40 minutes of jostelling up a hill we arrived at the top and all the effort seemed hardly worth it as there was only about 30 people before me.

The site was as spectacular as I'd hoped and Milton gave us a tour for a couple of hours before we went off, ate a sandwich and climbed Waynu Picchu. The view from here was amazing and the experience was only marred by Chris' camera packing up at the top which made him very sad.

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Back in the hell-hole of Aguas Calientes we played 8 more games of shithead with Sanjay coming from a seemingly comfortable position to lose and hence buy us all around of Cusqueñas. Happy days.

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Posted by Monsk 18.09.2010 19:49 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca and the Isla del Sol

Last stop in Bolivia

0 °C

So there was supposed to be a "La Paz pt. 2" post but the day (and moreover the night) we spent there we'd sooner forget so I'll move on. Anyway, after the day in La Paz that we'd rather forget, me, Chris and Sanjay got a bus to the lakeside town of Copacabana. Only just inside the Peru-Bolivia border, the town is an excellent stop-off point to head out to lake Titicaca (the largest lake in South America and at about 3500m, pretty bloody high) and the sacred Isla del Sol (island of the sun). Situated fairly centrally in lake titicaca, the island was occupied by the Incas around the 15th century and believed to be the birthplace of the sun god. There are still a few Incan ruins but because we ended up taking a rather off-piste route across the island the only one we saw was the main labyrinth-like structure at the northern point.

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The views across the lake were stunning and wandering through the small, shady villages which pepper the island was, while hard work due to the terrain and altitude, really peaceful. Cows, pigs, sheep and llamas seemed to roam almost at will round the island and the only noise came from the occasional braying of donkeys. When we finally reached the southern side of the island we had a well-deserved cold beer and watched the sunset. It would have been almost romantic if Chris hadn't have insisted on keeping us updated on the condition of his bowels.

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Posted by Monsk 11.09.2010 07:40 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salar de Uyuni

Lagoons, geysers, and a shit-load of salt

0 °C

A 12 hour night bus took us the 550km south to a small town called Uyuni. The town, originally built around the railway between Chile and Bolivia was also the place I met Helen about 10 days before when I first entered Bolivia. After some mammoth pancakes for breakfast and very nearly buying some Bolivian hip hop for the journey, we set off. The first port of call, just outside the town, was the train graveyard. This is where train went to die when for some reason they weren't wanted anymore. Although they looked like they had been there for a century or more most of them had only entered retirement about 20 years ago. In the end the trains provided the best assault course and we spent about 20 mins climbing and acting like 14 year old kids. Oh, and there was some physics on one. Don't know how that got there.

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After the excitement of the trains we set off for the long drive down to the Laguna Colorada and where we'd be sleeping for the first night. The Laguna Colorada was a huge lagoon in the middle of the desert, coloured red by the algae that live in it. These algae also support quite a large population of flamingoes but despite our best efforts the closest we came to one was a washed-up corpse of a baby. There was yet more death on the banks of the lagoon with a vicuña skeleton twisted out in an unnatural position.

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That night it was blooming freezing, but luckily enough we had had the fore-thought to bring a couple of bottles of rum. We soon realised, however, why together they had cost us about 3 quid. The ingredients went something like: distilled water, ethanol, sugar and essence of rum. Still went down a treat though and fueled Chris' political conversation with the two Americans that were travelling in our jeep.

The next morning we got up at about half 4 to drive to a geyser field for sunrise. If you've been following this blog you might be able to remember me doing a similar thing in Chile. The geysers here weren't as impressive but stunk a hell of a lot more. From here we were driven by our trusty guide to the Laguna Verde (green lagoon), but it wasn't very green and it was still very cold so we didn't hang around long.

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Next on the trip was some hot springs and breakfast. Both were amazing. There was also flamingoes, they were pretty cool too.

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Only an hour or so later we were back where we slept the night before for lunch. This time there were llamas. And these llamas were chillers. Not much more to say here, just look at the pics and you'll know what I mean. The rest of the day consisted of a stone tree, more lagoons and so many flamingoes we got pretty bored of them.

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The final day of our Salar tour finished with the Salar. We had organised the trip in reverse so that we could see the sun rise over the Salar on the final day. Only trusty guide didn't wake us up in time and we almost missed it. The Salar, at 12000 square km, is the biggest salt flat in the world and, after nearly missing the sunrise, we drove to the middle of it; a cactus-laden island called Isla del Pescado. The views from here were insane: white as far as you could see in almost all directions. After walking the island we descended to the salt flat to take the obligatory perspective photos. Most of these were taken on Chris' camera and you can see more of his pictures here.

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The following are Chris'
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Before heading back to Uyuni our guide took us to a strange old place, a kind of hut which housed some mummies. Apparently killed in a volcanic eruption 1500 years ago most were little more than skeletons. However one was a mother cradling her child, preserved in the same position they met their demise. As we left the hut, a look above the door showed a fully preserved puma, a victim of the same eruption.

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Back in Uyuni we gorged on pizza, before me, Sanjay and Chris got on a bus back to La Paz, leaving Helen to continue her travels into Argentina.

Posted by Monsk 10.09.2010 16:52 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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