Amazing Amazon Basin, Action in Ayacucho and Cusco
Trip Start Sep 02, 2006
35Trip End Sep 01, 2007
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Instead out of the 8 days I probably spent 2 days on a bus and 4 days on a boat. That is a lot of time on my finely toned bum. However, the scenery was exceptional and the bus trips especially turned out to be highly eventful.
After turning up in true British fashion 15 minutes BEFORE our scheduled departure time of 6.30am and after the guides turned up in true Peruvian fashion 30 minutes AFTER our scheduled departure time we were offski in a real heap of a bus. Me again feeling a wee bit daft about even thinking that there was any point in turning up on time. I donīt think I will ever learn to conquer that one.
Manu is muckle like offensively big. It is the largest tropical park in South America and is 1,800,000 hectares (which is a lot of zeros and a lot of wildlife too). Unbeknown to me 1/2 of Peru is jungle, I thought it was mostly the Andes mountain range, but actually itīs crazily diverse and apparently contains 24 of the 28 different types of ecosystems contained within this fair planet of ours.
Not surprisingly being so large it is supremely bio-diverse: there are 1,000+ species of birds, and one tree was even found to have 40+ different types of ants in it. Also each square hectare of Manu on averages contains more than 250 different types of trees - that is more than Europe can boast in TOTAL crammed into only ONE HECTARE. Now that is what I call bio-diverse but it is not the most bio-diverse. No sirree, that crown is claimed by Madidi National Park in Bolivia. Now that is something I have got to see with my own eyes.
Yip, you guessed it people like me...well I did cough up quite a lot of cash for this status and it was well worth it.
There was only our group of 11 tourists in the entire protected part of the area (that is about 300,000 hectares - again a lot of zeros)! So we spent 4 days not seeing any other tourists, just lots of pristine scenery, wildlife, fauna and flora. We had hoped to see some indigenous tribes people there but no dice. Probably not a bad thing as one of the last times some were seen by tourists they greeted them by firing blow darts at their boat...
Our first exciting piece of wildlife spotting was on the second morning when we were on our way to search for the Peruvian national bird which is oddly called the Cock of the Rock. Yes Peru is the proud owner of a national bird with a comedy name.
Now this bit of wildlife spotting was high in the cloud forest so we hadn't even got to the true jungle, jungle bit yet.
Followed by jumping onto a long boat for another hour to our first jungle lodge. Being shattered we all crashed for an hour then got dragged out of our slumber to hike for an hour through the mud of the jungle.
Just saw too many types of wildlife to mention here, however the highlights were probably; the giant otters cruising around and feeding their bellies, spying 4 capybaras on the riverbank, monkeys, monkeys everywhere (I flippin love monkeys...) and being only about 10 yards from the colourful Hoatzin aka the Stinky Bird as they honk.
Now youīve heard of Emily before as she traveled with me in Belize and Guatemala and had such a cracking time that in a state of inspiration (or insanity) decided she needed to devour more of the drug that is traveling with Alan. So she quit her job, subleased her apartment and moved all her stuff into a friendīs house then hightailed it down to Peru for some adventure. I think it was a great and ballsy decision by her that a lot of people would not be able to do - regardless of how much they wanted to. So I take my hat off to the lady.
Really surreal going back to Lima, knocking on a hotel door to be opened by one of my best friends with the knowledge that weīd be spending so much time together. Surreal but clearly superb.
We didnīt spend much time in Lima. Just enough time to show Emily the suburb of Miraflores and Barranco, before leaving for our trip overland to take in the Easter celebrations of Ayacucho and descend on Cusco so Emily could also enjoy one of the new 7 Wonders of the World - Machu Picchu.
[By the way, congratulations to Machu Picchu and Peru for making the cut - richly deserved. Beats me why Angkor and Stonehenge didnīt make it and Christ the Redeemer in Brazil and the Roman Colosseum did. However I wonīt bore you with that rant.]
Huancayo is mainly an agricultural town with really little that was apparent to us for enticing tourists. More importantly there seemed to be no bars at all. Not one...nada..but they (like the rest of Peru) have more than their fair share of fried chicken restaurants, all of which were without Colonel Saunders face beaming out. KFC again you are missing a trick.
It does however have a train station to the poorest town in Peru - Huancavelica. I didn't know it was the poorest town before Emily's Dad informed us. However, I suppose when we saw someone throw out sewage onto the street then that should have been a bit of a giveaway. Any which way the train journey there is picturesque and while waiting for the train we got video interviewed about our time in Peru. So maybe you'll see us on a groovy promotional video sometime extolling the great time you will have in Peru.
We passed through Huancavelica as quickly as we could and got up early to get to Ayacucho. We could have got up really early - 3am - for the only bus of the day there. However, we decided that was just nuts so instead embarked on a marathon trip of shared taxis from one village to the next. In hindsight the bus might have been the better option as at each village we needed to change taxis, hang around for other people to share a taxi with and then argue over the amount to be paid. All in all we had to do this 3 times and it was a 24 carat pain in the booty.
We got a feel for how much of an ordeal it was going to be right from the start when we had to wait for 1.5 hours when the taxi drivers couldn`t decide who would take us and we kept waiting for that illusive one more person until we said screw it we will pay more. Of course they still ended up picking someone else up and....he honked of BO. Lovely guy but really wiffy and fortunately for me he was squeezed in next to Emily all the way.
Most of the taxi drivers drove like maniacs to try and get back home quickly. All except the last driver who drove so sssslllllllooooowww. He just trawled along at about 10 mph looking for more passengers. Then would stop at the side of the road for 10 mins. The other passengers didn't seem to care but us uptight westerners were nearly pulling our hair out at the end. We weren't helped much by meeting Max - a lecherous old man - on the bus who took more than a passing shine to Emily.
Panic mode being quickly activated and dreading the idea of having to search lots of hotels to only receive the same disappointing answer we ended up darting to a hotel which was being fully renovated and more resembled a work site than a hotel. However, after 8 hours in various shared taxis we were happy to take just about anything. Even a stall in a stable would have been acceptable at that point.
During the day in the main plaza, huge mural paintings were expertly constructed from dyed sawdust. As per the norm in South America everything was done at the last minute and many of the paintings weren't finished until 5 or 10 minutes before the procession started... That was a shame as the paintings were all a huge amount of work and the paintings didn't last long as all the people shuffling along in the procession soon destroyed them. They were however beautiful while they lasted.
This procession was huge and we think there probably was at least 10 or 20 thousand people crammed into the plaza to watch it. Not all of them were there purely for pleasure. As I was to find out later.
So I am gleefully watching the procession and there are stacks of people around us. I then become aware of something touching my bum so I turn around - naturally - expecting some supermodel who couldn't keep her hands to herself to be there. Nope just a lot of short Peruvian people. So I check my back pocket and find out that some light fingered and cheeky devil had undone the button on the back of my trouser pocket and was just about to empty the contents of it. Being a little stunned and having no idea who it was I said to Emily that I thought I was being pick-pocketed. She found an effective way to find the culprit by shouting to everyone...back the hell off...followed by a young lad dashing off and disappearing into the crowd.
I had about US$100 in my pocket and luckily he didn't get any but still not the best of experiences. It was also amazing how many times after that, that locals would come up to us and say be careful with our valuables as Ayacucho's Easter celebrations apparently attract a lot of petty thieves with their favourite 'customers' being foreign tourists.
I didn't expect that part of the Easter celebrations there would 'Running of the Bulls' - how cool is that?
I don't think it is as crazy as the one in Pamplona in Spain as the bulls all come out one at a time and were initially on a long tether attached to a horse galloping through the narrow streets.
As far as I could see I was the only gringo running with the bulls. Quite often the bulls would get loose, stop and turn around and charge the crowd causing everyone to crap themselves and pile down the first available side street.
Waking in much better spirits we enjoyed the day just toddling around the cobbled streets, popping into galleries and cosy cafes and fending off women with llamas wanting me to pay for a photo. I tried my best to resist them but eventually folded as llamas are just so damn cute. They are no pandas but still...
Grade 4+ rapids sounded a tad scary to me at first but really it wasn't.
Mind you it fairly got your heart rate going but you never got anytime to be scared as the guide was shouting at you to paddle like your life depended on it. Great fun paddling like a madman and was welcome exercise after my last couple of weeks of wandering around seeing sights or having my bum welded to a bus seat. We nearly tipped over once but manfully and expertly held it together.
The market is famous and undoubtedly popular - especially with the French for some reason - however I thought it was only so-so. I am sure it was amazing back in its day but most of it now seemed to be taken over with locals selling various box standard things to tourists and only a small section is left for the interesting stuff where the locals are selling vegetables, fruits and local goods to each other. Actually my day's highlight was playing peeky-boo with a little girl on the bus back to Cusco. She was also fascinated by my camera and it kept her entertained for ages.
Now Emily had many more highlights that day as she got to see Machu Picchu and came back with her face full of smiles and a camera full of photos. We spent another couple of days just chilaxing in Cusco then set off for what we were told was going to be a 11 hour bus journey to La Paz. Now that proved to be more than a little optimistic...
My other memories of Manu, Central Andes and Cusco are:
(1) Our guide demonstrating that for (at least some) high end lipsticks the deep red - you ladies so covet - is achieved by crushing an insect which lives on cacti.
(2) Peru is a little like Scotland with all the mountains, though to be fair there`s are a lot, lot bigger. Also there are less sheep than in Scotland but definitely more llamas...
(3) I just saw a ton of different types of wildlife in Manu. Over 40 different species of birds, reptiles and mammals. Plus plenty of creepy crawlies.
(4) We stayed at one lodge which was now perched perilously next to the river. The river having washed away 60m of the jungle next to it, including 10m the day before we arrived there. It was a great lodge however sadly I suspect now it is swimming with the fishes
Another discovery was that Coca Beans come from a fruit.
(6) Meeting a tour group of rich tourists who had paid for the `luxurious` jungle trip. Glad I wasn't in their group as they were all as miserable as sin, complaining how it wasn't 'luxurious'. Hello people what do you expect? After all it is the jungle. Another example of how money can't buy you happiness.
(8) The jungle lodges we stayed at were all pretty basic but all cool in their own way. One of them had funky rustic wooden showers and toilets where you did your biz by candlelight.
(9) Getting a massage in Cusco and getting more than I had expected. Partly my own fault as I should have probably rolled off my stomach at the start to check the sex of my masseuse when they came in...
(11) Macaws like humans but very few other animals are monogamous. They go everywhere with their life mate - unlike humans.
(12) On one of our jungle treks we encountered a group of woolly monkeys above us in the jungle canopy. They are extremely territorial and decided to mark their territory by peeing on us. I thought having left my job that was the last time I would be pissed on from a great height but I was mistaken...
(13) The Manu river meanders aimlessly through the jungle and each year it moves it's bank by 50-100m. Thereby, destroying jungle on one side and on the other side creating land for new areas of jungle to grow.
(15) When getting a taxi to our bus from Lima, at the entrance to the bus station a local lady of the night flashed her wares at us.
(16) Our guide telling us that butterflies drink the tears of turtles. Ah isn't mother nature a wondrous thing.
Passed a family in the same village who were out in their garden making sausages from a carcass slewn across their garden.
(18) They really get into their Easter celebrations in Ayacucho. Crowds would march along streets shouting 'agua, agua`. They must have been thirsty and a bit hot...so the local residents duly complied and soaked them by throwing buckets of water from the windows above them.
On Easter Sunday we got awoken with them setting off fireworks at 4-5am and as we went to get our bus at 6am we saw torrents of them going to church. They definitely know how to burn the candle at both ends.
(19) Before the running of the bulls there was a big crowd gathered around a shallow stream running through the city. Wondering what they were looking at I went to investigate and wished I hadn't. They were all gawping at some poor fellow who was dead in the stream.
(20) Emily is primarily a cider gulper but we couldn't find one bottle in all of Peru. So as an alternative chilled white wine would hit the spot. However, everywhere we went we either couldn't find white wine or it was all warm. Much to the disappointment of the lass. She couldn't get a decent drink anywhere besides Cusco. Maybe that was the reason she liked the place so much...
(22) A couple on our Manu tour group - Jan and Marty - met at a rather unusual location...the South Pole. Both of them were working there and fell in love in the most chilliest of locales.
(23) Unfortunately one of our Manu party eat something that disagreed with him and after holding it in for (a commendable) 3 hours he dashed to the toilet...but the poor lad couldn`t quite make it in time. Subsequently he wasn't exactly smelling of roses and his 30 year old son weaselly wouldn`t sit next to him, so I had to...and he hummed.
(25) Being a little miffed about not having my digital SLR with me. I would have been able to get much better wildlife photos in Manu. That is why I am not going to the Galapagos Islands this trip, but will be returning fully armed in the near future.
(26) Seeing the biggest toad I have ever seen. It was a Cane Toad which must have been nearly a foot tall. As if being absolutely massive is not enough it has a super power - if you lick it it`s hallucinogenic. This particular quality did not seek favour in Australia so they deemed it illegal to lick any.
(27) Watching a great film in Cusco called īStranger than Fiction` with Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson, which potentially has the best line in cinematic history - `I used to be engaged to an accountant but she ran away with an actuary`` - ha!. Also watched īPerfumeī or rather endured it for an hour then walked out. Must be one of the worst films ever made - be warned.
(29) In Ayacucho they have quite a few shop combos which are rather unusual - most notably internet/dentists...one we passed did not paint a favourable image as one woman was stumbling out in pain with a hankie clasped to the side of her face.
(30) Making the girl in the laundry in Cusco blush as she asked me as I was Scottish did I have a kilt. So I showed her a photo and in my excitement did not realise that it was one that showed my 'cheeky' side.
(31) It was that humid in the jungle we couldn`t light matches.
(32) One night in the jungle I had a call of nature and when stumbling outside it was so dark I thought a tree root was a snake. So I stayed rooted (nice pun) to the spot for a couple of minutes as my heart made its best efforts to escape from my chest cavity.