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Trial by Trail

The way(s) to Machu Picchu

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This is Machu Picchu. We saw this. How we got there is quite the story. Read on.

Wed, July 21

We listened to Jenn coughing all night long, but when the alarm went off in the morning it was "let's go." Really? We thought the antibiotics would kick in, but by the end of the day it would be clear that our trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu would not go on.

In between the decision to go and the decision to go back was quite the day.

We were the first pick up, and we met Freddy (the main guide) and Will, the assistant guide, as well as the others. Anica was by far the youngest hiker, but we were not the oldest. There was a retired couple from England, and a Swiss/French couple who were both older than us. Rounding out our group was the twenty-something contingent (couples from The Netherlands, Canada and the USA, and a single guy from England who would be my tent-mate).

The bus stopped for "second breakfast" at a small town past Ollantaytambo. Were we hobbits, then, trekking to the cracks of doom? Jenn, Anica and I bought a walking stick each. Freddy is very big on having just one, not a pair. Then there was the process of passport control, and handing over our extra baggage for the porters' weigh station, and suddenly we were at the "starting gates" of km 82.

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"They're at the post...and they're off!" KM 82 of the Inca Trail

Immediately, everything went wrong. Anica was just plain tired already from being up at 4:30 in the morning and being feeling somewhat sick on the bus. Tired before even taking a step, and then the first ten minutes were mildly uphill. It was hot, the bugs were..bugging her...she was uncharacteristically full of complaints. Great!

Jenn was also labouring from the beginning. We were in the rear. I was carrying Anica's backpack for half the morning. The good views of Mount Veronica behind us were not something we could enjoy very much. The assistant guide, Will, brought up the rear with us, patiently, advising "positive thoughts."

Positive thoughts worked for Anica. She got better and stronger as the day went on. Better after our first break and much better after lunch. She finished the day with the lead group, chattering away, not even realizing she walked the last 20 minutes uphill without water.

Jenn, also uncharacteristically, wasn't catching her breath. It was the bronchitis, not the elevation. We weren't even that high yet. Any sort of incline set her coughing, though. The guides didn't realize that she'd been touch-and-go about even starting the trek. Lead guide Freddy calls the whole group "The Family," but Jenn didn't realize that when Freddy said "now that the family's here..." She thought he was saying that our little family of three was holding everybody up!

Some other impressions: so much food! The food is really good, hot and plentiful. Too plentiful! If I ate everything they put in front of me at lunch, I wouldn't have been able to move! Freddy is very enthusiastic, and says "guys" a lot. Jenn even counted: he said "guys" fourteen times in one minute when explaining about the Inca ruins. He might not be the best guide for us: "guys, I take you the long way. You say, why Freddy? Guys. It's good, guys. You see more. Look, guys, at this Incan ruin. Pachamama, guys.." etc.

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"Guys!" Freddy addresses the trekkers.

When we were welcomed to the camp (by Anica, who'd arrived 10 minutes ahead of us), there was a decision to make. Could Jenn go on? The second day is much harder, up "dead woman's pass." I didn't want Jenn to become that dead woman. Surprisingly, there was a little medical clinic just down the hillside from our camp. The guides thought Jenn should see the Doctor, and we did, after dinner, when her breathing and coughing had not improved. The Doctor said "no mas." Freddy and Will looked a little surprised, realizing fully for the first time that this wasn't a case of simply finding the trek difficult nor even related to altitude. It was bronchitis and it was asthma, and continuing up the trail would be impossible for Jenn.

Meanwhile, we had experienced life at camp on the Inca Trail. This first night's camp was situated on one level of the agricultural terraces. Above and below us were farm animals, which triggered my asthma. Ironic, considering the hiking at altitude hadn't. The area was crowded with other trekking groups and local farmers. In fact, I accidentally used some farmer's outhouse the first time I looked for our camp bathroom. Whoops!

Freddy said we had a decision to make: Will, the assistant guide, would be going back with Jenn and arranging for her to meet up with the rest of the "family" at Machu Picchu. Anica and I could continue the trek. Or just me. But, really, there was no decision to make. Would I really leave Jenn to be sick alone in a foreign country? Would I ever forgive myself if she got worse and ended up in the hospital? No, the Inca Trail was over for all of us.

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Moonrise over the mountains at the Inca Trail campsite

Thurs, July 22

Breakfast at camp this morning, followed by goodbyes and best wishes, and "see you at Machu Picchu," and then...we headed back. Weird feeling. It could have been a miserable feeling, except that Will, the assistant guide, was now assigned to guide us, and he turned out to be exceptional person. The trail back was mostly downhill or flat, especially with the easier route that Will chose, so Jenn found it a lot easier than yesterday. But, even a few steps up were causing her trouble. She can't take a really deep breath even when resting. Throughout the day, her condition made us all realize that it was the right decision not to continue. In fact, it was pretty weird to be walking 12 km back after deciding to "stop" the trail. In total, we hiked 27 km in two days on the Inca Trail and finished right where we started.

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Jenn and Anica, on the trail, heading back

Will kept guiding us, teaching us, really, about the flora & fauna, history & culture of his own Quechua ancestors. We saw Patallacta (aka Llactapata or "town on a hillside"), an Incan ruin, from a different angle than yesterday. This is a town that the local people destroyed and hid from the Spanish so that the conquistadors wouldn't continue down the valley and find Machu Picchu, which was the royal retreat of its day. It worked. The Spanish never found Machu Picchu. In fact, nobody knows what Patallacta or Machu Picchu (which means "young mountain") were actually called in the pre-European days. These are the local names being used when (people like Hiram Bingham in 1912) began looking for the lost, last capital of the Incan empire.

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Spectacular view of Patallacta from where we ate lunch on the hike back

By afternoon, we were back at Pisacusco, the little town we'd started at. There, our newly-hired "personal porter" had the rest of the things. He would accompany us on the "collectivo" to Ollantaytambo, which Will got us on. We thought there was a cat on board, until we realized it was the chorus of a Peruvian pop song on the radio.

Back in Ollantaytambo! When Will heard we'd stayed here before, he asked us if we'd like to stay in the same place again. Yes! So we hiked across town to Apu Lodge. Francis and Barry were so surprised to see us, and confused - weren't we on the trail?- but luckily, they had a room. It was like coming home.

We met up with Will later at Heart's Cafe, after he'd bought our train tickets to Aguas Calientes (the Machu Picchu town). Although we were paying extra for these things, we were not paying extra for Will's services. This was part of the Peru Treks policy: one way or another we would complete the journey to Mach Picchu and meet "the family" at sunrise. What was above and beyond the call of duty, however, was the care and compassion that Will showed us. We treated him to lunch and talked at length with him about cultures, lifestyles, superstitions and family. It was a wonderful conversation, particularly because Will handled it all in English, despite his own opinion that his English was so limited.

We talked with Francis and Barry again later, back at Apu Lodge, and heard about their own travel horror stories: extreme weather crossing Drake's Passage to Antarctica, followed by getting caught in the 8.8 earthquake in Santiago, Chile. So they know how things can go wrong travelling!

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Cactus & Snow on the Inca Trail

Fri, July 23:

Not too much rest for Jenn. She's not getting better, but she's not getting severely worse either. So, on we go. By train, to Aguas Calientes. The train, although not something we wanted to do, was beautiful. Glass walls and ceilings to enjoy the mountain views. During a long delay, Anica got a game of hangman going, and the fourth passenger in our group of seats, a solo-travelling lorry driver from Birmingham, joined in.

Aguas Calientes is a bizarre town. It's purely for tourism to Machu Picchu, and most people stay just one night. Every day is the same here. In fact, I didn't see a newspaper for sale anywhere. Every restaurant seems the same, too. The town looks nice, surrounding by the kind of mountain peaks you'd recognize from the famous photos of Machu Picchu. There's a brand-new plaza (i.e. town square) with a statue of an Inca emperor. The train track runs down the centre of the main street. Back in February, this is where tourists were stranded when worse-than-ever floods caused landslides that destroyed both track and trail. It was quickly rebuilt, but we spotted the signs of both the devastation and the reconstruction.

Anica and I went to the "aguas calientes" themselves (thermal springs), but it was a disappointment, especially for Anica, since the waters were only just warm, and most of the people there were young couples with drinks in their hands. There was no place for a kid to just play or splash, even though Anica wasn't the only kid there. I felt so sorry for Anica; she's been so patient with everything - worried about her Mom, but also willing to give up the trail, and just go with the flow and all the changes of plans. Anica's shown us the very best traveller's attitude the last couple of days. Like she says, "at least we've got a story to tell." Jenn and I agree: it might not be the adventure we thought we'd be having, but it continues to be an adventure.

Tonight, with a modicum of luxury at a "hostal" called "Gringo Bill's," Jenn actually got a good night's sleep for the first time in four nights.

Sat, July 24:

The big day! Machu Picchu. Will had us up early to get on one of the first buses to the site. It's a 7km bus ride along a twisty dirt road of cutbacks up the mountain to Machu Picchu itself. We were there just before sunrise. I went up to the part overlooking Machu Picchu while Jenn and Anica waited at the front gates. Jenn wasn't even up to walking these ten minutes of steps. Anica volunteered to keep her company, and Will came with me.

I took many versions of the famous photo as the daylight grew, and I welcomed Freddy and the hiking group in from the trail. They'd had it rough: several people had developed "the runs." Perhaps the food had gone downhill as the trek went uphill. Freddy had also been very adventurous with his choices, like getting them up at 3:30 in the morning so they'd be the first group through the "sun gate."

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A slightly different view of Machu Picchu

All of us went down the steps and through the gates again after "second breakfast" (another of Freddy's favourite phrases). Then we got a great tour of Machu Picchu. Here, I have to give Freddy a lot of credit for his enthusiasm. Jenn and Anica got their first look at Machu Picchu from the highest of the terraces, almost as good a viewpoint as the one I'd climbed up to at sunrise. Freddy got our group - just our group - into the actual sun temple for a talk about how it was built and it's significance. Both Will and Freddy have been part of the conservation projects here at Machu Picchu.

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Massive natural rock incorporated into the Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu

When the tour ended, and the group split up, we went up to the sun dial structure, the highest point at Machu Picchu, then went down closer to the green area and tree in the center of town, where the grazing llamas are the only lawnmowers.

Despite it all, Machu Picchu impressed me as one of the world's most spectacular sights, maybe the most spectacular. It's the combination of nature and human achievement in architecture that's so impressive, like the Great Wall of China or the tombs at Petra. The other thing about Machu Picchu that struck me is that it's big - it's a huge area, not some little hilltop patch of ground, but a town that can be filled with hundreds of visitors and still look and feel mostly empty. The typical views of Machu Picchu actually make it seem smaller than it really is, which made it more impressive when we were actually there.

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Looking back from the centre of Machu Picchu to the terracing above it

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Our denouement was hanging around Aguas Calientes for the afternoon, waiting for the backpackers train back to Cusco. We spent a lot of that time in the lobby of Gringo Bill's, and some of it with the other trekkers. Most of them, however, were drinking, including Freddy, who had a generous collection of the big Cusquena beer bottles in front of him by the end of the afternoon. He was still in charge of getting us to the train, so it was a little worrisome.

But, by midnight, we were back in Cusco at Torre Dorada. We thought we'd be welcoming the comfort of this slight splurge after roughing it on the Inca Trail.

Sun, July 25

Number 1 priority: get a doctor for Jenn. The people at the Torre Dorada, fortunately, can and will do anything for you. They have an amazing "concierge" style service here, better than most five-star hotels. They had an English-speaking doctor who specialized in travel medicine making a housecall right to our hotel room before the morning (Sunday morning!) was even over. Then, they had a pharmacy deliver the prescriptions - again right to our room. It was a relief to here the doctor say: yes, you can fly tomorrow, you can go to the jungle (the fact that the jungle is at sea-level might even help Jenn). His diagnosis was acute bronchitits.

We went to Bembo's for lunch, the Peruvian McDonald's. This was a treat for Anica; she'd been really curious about it. It was indeed better than McDonald's. Bigger, better burgers and still a kid's meal with toy (yet another stuffed animal for Anica - she started this trip with one and now she's up to four!).

The rest of the afteroon was supposed to be rest at the hotel for Jenn, but our laptop self-destructed in the middle of uploading photos and that made it not at all restful. The laptop, like us, had made it all the way around the world but found Peru to be too much. Francis, from Apu Lodge, had agreed with this; a friend of hers had offered this welcome: "Come to Peru and watch your body fall apart."

The doctor had recommended that Jenn not go out in the cold Cusco evening. When we told Mariela, at the front desk, this, she said she could arrange chicken to be delivered from a favourite local "Polleria." (Torre Dorada only serves breakfast). This turned out to a very memorable meal. They set us up in the breakfast room - table setting- just for us. The full chicken came with fries, potato salad, other salads and little sauces in plastic bags. It was so good!

After dinner, we packed...again!

Posted by jennrob 10:49 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Three Walls and a Roof

In the Tambopata Reserve

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Around the bend in the Amazon basin: typical scene on the Tambopata River

Mon, July 26

And right on cue, Anica gets sick! It's been Jenn we were worrying about, but Anica woke up this morning saying her tummy was feeling funky, and during the 45 minute flight to Puerto Maldonado she threw up in spectacular fashion! Those airline barf bags don't catch everything, we found out. Poor Anica.

We met Johan, our guide/naturalist for the next five days, and he helped us travel with the other groups and guides by bus, then boat to "Refugio Amazonas." This part of the trip should be very appealing to Anica, but she hasn't been able to enjoy it yet. She revived briefly on the boat ride, although the things she liked best is how we could throw our entirely biodegradable lunch overboard when we were done with it (except the plastic fork!). The only evidence of human destruction were the hardscrabble gold-miners and their machines to pan for gold. Beyond the checkpoint, even that's not allowed.

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This place is a goldmine! Literally.

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Leaf lunch

We were soon spotting caiman and a capybara family along the shore, but then Anica started feeling nauseous again. So, by the time we arrived at the lodge, she was really upset at even the idea of climbing the stairs and walking the short path into the jungle. Johan tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, "Why is she crying?" Perhaps there's more of a language barrier than I thought. Wasn't it clear that Anica had been sick, was still feeling sick, was about to be sick again...?

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It's alive! A caiman on the riverbank

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Capybara

So where are we now? In the Amazon basin. The rainforest. Inside a wildlife sanctuary called "Tambopata Reserve." We even passed a checkpoint and got a special passport stamp. The lodge itself is beautiful, all dark, luxurious wood built on stilts, with similarly-elevated walkways connecting the main building to wings of rooms. Our room, like all of them, has three walls with the fourth open to the jungle. There's no doors to the room or to our bathroom, just cloth curtains. It feels like you're outdoors all the time. Each bed has its own mosquito net. There's no electricity in the rooms; at dusk the staff light kerosene lamps on high shelves open to the walkways outside the rooms, then extinguish them at 9:30 PM. Lights out! There's a candle beside each bed, and we also have our headlamps. This is jungle Peru, at sea level, so it's always warm weather. No worries about staying warm through the night.

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We've broken the fourth wall...

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Net gain

Anica napped before dinner, and Jenn and I sat and talked and looked out the "window." We saw an agouti foraging around, and then a couple of bats came out. Anica will absolutely love this place when she's feeling better! Then we headed to the main building. Everyone sits with their guide at meal times, so we looked for the table with the place-card marked "Johan." He had arranged the "special diet" for Anica, which was chicken noodle soup. She would have that at lunch the next day, then dinner, then lunch on the third day until finally she convinced him she was ready for more than chicken noodle soup. It was punishment soup again! (See previous blog entry "Nature's Rewards and Punishment Soup"). We're going to learn a lot from Johan while we're here, but today we just concentrated on getting Anica feeling better. And Jenn!

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Anica at Refugio Amazonas

Tues, July 27

Anica was feeling a little better this morning. We did the first of the children's activities with Johan, going to the playground to start learning the story of "Ania" (not Anica!) and the "spirit of the forest" and then following a trail to a treehouse with a rope ladder. They have a very gentle, child-centered environmental message here. The main idea is expressed in a puzzle that you assemble along the trail: "only children can save the earth."

Then we visited a farm across the river. There's only limited farming allowed in the reserve. This one is a real diverse mixture of crops, and Johan explained and/or had us guess what each plant, tree and fruit was. We really enjoyed the visit. I especially liked the small, round red peppers growing on bushes. Johan said "go ahead, try one", and I did. They were hot, but I like hot peppers. So I said, "your turn, Johan!" Then we picked a few more and I brought them to lunch and dinner today to add to my food. Talk about fresh. Anica liked painted our faces with achiote paste, and Johan showed her how the crab claw flower can turn her into a toucan!

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Achiote face-painting

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A decorative plant

Coming back, we spotted our first monkeys, some dusky titi monkeys. By lunch/afternoon, Anica was feeling worse again. Eventually, I went out alone to meet Johan in the main lodge to tell him Anica was a "no go" for the afternoon activities. He came back with a rehydration drink and some options for Jenn or me. Jenn opted for the rest (she's better without the mountain climbing, but not much better. The hikes here are more like 3 to 5 km at a time, and it's humid), and I went out exploring with Johan.

This was more of a free-form hike, and Johan took it at a faster pace for my benefit. What he does, though, is if there's no animals in the area, he'll just stop suddenly and point out the properties of a particular plant or tree. Or, if he does spot an animal, he'll stop even more suddenly, motion for quiet and then motion me forward slowly, pointing ahead or up so I can see it. The thrill here, unlike the Galapagos where the animals are "right in front of you" is that the animals are so elusive. We're all "hunters" here, and even if it's just for photographs and memories, there's an atavistic thrill to it.

On this particular walk, I was able to see a juvenile Harpy Eagle in its nest. Johan explained that it's the top predator in the air, and there's only one nest in the entire area. It's so rare to locate the nest that a bird-watcher/photographer has come here and had a special blind built just to photograph it. He's spending six to eight hours a day just doing that. Meanwhile, all we have is a little Canon sureshot. We're basically taking holiday snapshots. But I tried to use the digital zoom and get a shot of it. Even the juvenile is an absolutely huge and ferocious looking creature.

Heading, back to the lodge Johan did one of his "sudden freezes" and then motioned me to step up beside him. Just as I did, another group of people came noisily up the path behind me. I saw a flash of movement on the trail ahead, the sound of leaves and bushes being displaced, a blur. "Tapir!" Johan exclaimed. Then he swore. It was gone. I didn't really see it. It had been right on the open path ahead of us, only the third time Johan had ever seen a tapir, the largest mammal in the Amazon rainforest, in the wild.

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He pointed to a tarantula...


I was happy to see Anica up and feeling better when we returned. Despite the punishment soup, she told Johan she was feeling better and was interested in going on the evening's "caiman search." This is done by boat, and a guide stands at the front with a floodlight, looking for glowing red eyes along the dark riverbanks. We enjoyed the search, especially when we found what I called the caiman kindergarten (six baby caiman scrambling around).

We told Johan that Anica was feeling well enough to move on to the next lodge tomorrow, as per our itinerary, the "TRC" (Tambopata Research Centre). Deeper into the jungle! For Anica, the antibiotics worked. For Jenn, they haven't seemed to, although it hasn't developed into pneumonia.


Wed, July 28:

Today is Peru's national holiday, their independence day, so "Felices Fiestas Patrias" to all Peruvians! The lodge is festooned with red and white bunting, and most of the staff wear little red and white ribbons during this week.

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Our room at the TRC was the last one on the left

Anica is celebrating feeling better! After breakfast we took the short walk to the canopy tower they have here. It's 120 feet tall, bolted together and held by guy wires. Jenn, too, climbed the rickety tower, despite her fear of heights. Johan brought a telescope from the lodge to the top. At last we were above the trees! Only 5% of the actual sunlight gets through the canopy to the jungle floor, so other than on the river and in the clearing outside the lodge, we haven't had the sun beating down on us. We saw macaws, and many extremely colourful tanagers. The guides here all carry these laminated sheets to identify the birds and animals we're seeing. Peru has more bird species than any other country in the world, by the way.

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Canopy tower

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Canopy

After that, it was a boat ride to the Tambopata Research Center (TRC). The boat had comfy seats, leg-room and of course a beautiful breeze. It was one and three quarters hours to a checkpoint, then two and a half hours after that. So, all told, we were about six hours from the nearest town. From here, there's nothing but wilderness all the way along the rivers to the border with Bolivia.

TRC is a smaller version of the same sort of lodge we'd been at the first two nights. No private bathrooms attached to the rooms, however. After just a few minutes, we went right out on a walk. Immediately we saw four "peccaries" (warthogs, or wild boar) cross the path ahead of us. We also saw leaf cutter and army ants doing their amazing work, and a (huge) razor-billed currasow. At night, we saw a couple of things we didn't want to see: a couple of beetles on the floor about the size of my fist, and a moth so big we actually heard it land. Mothra!

Thurs, July 29:

A big, active day in the jungle today! And all of us were feeling well, although Jenn still has a lingering cough and a sore feeling in her chest from it. Anyway, we were woken up just before 4:30 AM to go watch birds lick clay. That's right. Like Anica said early this morning, "this better be worth it." Later, she said "it actually was worth it."

The TRC is located near the "world's largest clay lick," which, because it's located on the side of a cliff, means that all kinds of birds will flock to it. They get valuable minerals from the clay to combat the natural toxins in their diet. Every morning, guides take visitors from the TRC to the clay lick. It's a short boat ride, followed by a walk (rubber boots provided) through shallow water and mud to the hillside opposite the clay lick. We sat in little camp stools and the guides served hot tea or instant coffee (thank goodness!). Then we waited.

First, we heard them. Then the birds started to arrive. Now, we're not bird-watchers, but this is an awesome spectacle. They're mostly all parrots, with some macaws mixed in. They blanket the clay cliffs like leaves and the sound is tremendous. We had our own binoculars, and the TRC had its telescope set up on the tripod for an even better look. We also saw a white caiman on the river bottom eating another, smaller caiman. There's the law of the jungle!

We left, as the parrots also did, around 6:30. It was time for our breakfast back at the lodge. Part of our breakfast was hijacked by a macaw, who swooped in, landed on my shoulder, then stole my food. And then did the same to Anica! The macaws that come to the lodge are the "chicos" (Spanish for "kids"), part of a research project to boost the population by raising "third eggs" that normally wouldn't survive and then releasing them to nest and mate in the wild. There was a lecture on the project that we attended after dinner tonight.

Next there was a three-hour hike through a dry swamp, where Anica bravely climbed a high platform with Johan and me. The highlight of the walk was seeing black spider monkeys, which are endangered in this area.

Finally, after lunch, a siesta. Anica saw a tayra that's often looking for food scraps around the lodge. I had no idea what a tayra was before today. It's like a cat/dog/weasel about the size of a greyhound.

One more walk before dinner, about an hour and a half. We spent a lot of the time just inside the jungle's edge because we saw so many monkeys right there, mostly tamarind and squirrel monkeys, and one or two Black Capuchin.

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Relaxing at Refugio Amazonas

Fri, July 30:

Our last full day at the Tambopata lodges. We started the day at the TRC with Jenn acting as an alarm clock that said "Oh wow." She wanted me to see all the monkeys jumping from branch to branch, that we were able to watch without even getting out of bed. It was better than our morning walk even, although, as we were packed up and heading to the boat, we finally saw the herd of peccaries. They stink! It was a thunderous spectacle. They seem so aggressive, but they're not; they're scared of us, even though there were probably thirty of them.

On the boat ride back, we finally saw the howler monkeys that we'd heard the last two mornings. They're well-named: they howl like an approaching storm. It's spooky.

By afternoon we were back at Refugio Amazonas. We did the children's "Ania's treasures of the forest hunt," which was actually one of the more demanding trails. Maybe it's designed to exhaust the kids! During it we rowed across Oxbow Lake, along odd-looking birds called Hoatzins. We came to the last clue after nearly two and a half hours of walking; we'd already turned our head lamps on. Finally, Anica arrived at the little basket of chocolates and the "Ania" necklace, like the one Johan wears.

We each enjoyed our (cold) showers before dinner. Dinner was very Peruvian and very good. The food's been great at both these lodges. I assured Jenn and Anica the room was secure after sweeping out an enormous katydid that had "flapped" into our room. I think we're ready for that fourth wall now.

Posted by jennrob 08:43 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Diagnosis: Peru

Lima Being

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Colonial balcony detail, Lima

Sat, July 31:

We travelled to Lima today, for our final stop before returning home, with Jenn feeling "funky" again. We said goodbye to Johan at the tiny Puerto Maldanado airport. No more guide!

Arriving in Lima, the pickup from Hotel Esperanza was nowhere to be found. We got a taxi there anyway, only to find that this hotel was disgusting. Dark, dirty, a completely unwelcoming front desk, with sheets and towels in the room that were still wet. No way we'd spend the last four nights of our vacation in these grim surroundings.

Backpacking down the streets of Miraflores, the next hotel we came to was a Casa Andina. Why not splurge? How expensive could it be? Very, it turned out. Decision time. After phoning a couple of other hotels and finding none of them had all four nights, we decided to spend one night in the Casa Andina. It was a "Private Collection," which explained the outrageous price. Funny they didn't mention their two other locations when we were dithering about price. We only found out about them after checking in. So we booked the next two nights at a regular Casa Andina (at a third of the "Private Collection" price) and, eventually, booked a Radisson for the final night. Three hotels in four nights!

Miraflores is an exclusive residential/tourist neighborhood of Lima. We were right near the John F. Kennedy park and the central traffic "Ovalo," and chose the first restaurant that looked appealing on the pedestrian-only "Avenida des las Pizzas." But no pizza for us: we had "parilla." That's a mixed charcoal grill, served tabletop still on the mini-grill. We didn't tell Anica until later that the mix included "mollejitos" (gizzard) and "anticuchos" (skewered lamb hearts).

Determined to get the most our of pricey hotel, Anica and I went swimming in the very well-heated indoor/outdoor pool. It had a waterfall at one end that you could swim under. We all wore the fluffy white robes and lounged in our king-sized beds watching Direct TV. Jenn was feeling worse; dinner didn't help, and she was up in the night.


Sun, Aug 1:

Today we walked down Av. Jose Larco to the cliffs and Larcomar shopping centre, which is built into the cliffs. It was another typical winter's day in Lima: overcast and heavily-polluted. We couldn't make out much of the hills around the bay, although a few people were surfing below Larcomar.

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The pier below Larcomar

We decided to see "El Origen" (aka "Inception" in English). Unwittingly, we bought tickets for a screening at their "Cinebar," where a waiter serves drinks and snacks to spacious seats with night-club style tables in front of them. It's always interesting to see a movie in another country.

Dinner, unlike lunch at TGIF's, was more Peruvian: Pardo's, a polleria chain. I had chicha morada (purple corn soft drink) one last time.


Mon, Aug 2/Tues, Aug 3:

Trying bravely to enjoy her time in Lima, Jenn suggested we take the double-decker sightseeing bus-tour (picture us riding on top of the bus with toques on - 13 degrees celsius and windy - squinting at colonial Lima through smog-strained eyes) on Monday morning. By early the next morning, she was in a hospital. In between, the stomach pains got so bad (gastroenteritis plus who knows what?) that we had the hotel call a doctor. The doctor was very decisive: get in an ambulance. We ended up at a very good hospital. There were a couple of scary hours in emergency, but soon IV treatment got Jenn some relief and blood tests, ultrasound and x-rays ruled out anything further. It cost a lot up front, but the care was spectacularly attentive, and we did have travel medical insurance.

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The Archbisop's Palace, Plaza Mayor, Lima

Jenn was checked out of the hospital just after 6:00 PM on Tuesday, feeling better than she had in days, armed with a couple days more "cipro," and confident that we'd make it home. The doctor had struggled to explain how she could have gotten so bad from what may have just been "traveller's tummy." His English faltered, he paused, smiled, shrugged and said "Peru."

While Jenn was in the hospital, with Anica at her side, I had gone back to the hotel, packed, then taxied back to the hospital after checking in at the new hotel. Being a Radisson, it was more luxury than we were used to, but we had little time or spirit to enjoy it. We spent our last night in Lima praying that nothing else would go wrong.

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Peru was hard on our health for many reasons...maybe it was the crack.


Wed, Aug 4:

We made it home! We've never been so happy to be home. Overall, this trip was full of wonderful experiences, but the health concerns had become completely overwhelming in Lima. If we'd hadn't already done "our big world trip" this could have scared us off long-term international travel. Thankfully, the flight home was uneventful. TACA - great airline (with their logo of mean-looking macaws flying in attack formation), but...oh, Canada...home sweet home.

Posted by jennrob 11:37 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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