Update from Northern Peru

Trip Start Oct 24, 2006
Trip End Oct 30, 2007

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Saturday, December 2, 2006

We have finally moved on to our second country, Peru, having spent exactly one month in Ecuador, a beautiful country which far surpassed our expectations, and where we enjoyed such different environments as the Cordillera de los Andes with its stunning peaks, the hot, clammy jungle, and the sea.

After our latest entry, we headed South for the Devil's Nose train, a one hour trip on the roof of a train on very steep tracks.
More fun than that, though, was the night we spent before the ride, in a tiny sleepy village. We stumbled across the smallest grocery store around 10 pm and poked our heads in to see what the music was.
The next thing we knew we were the fascinated spectators, and guests, of a spontaneous get-together of 10 middle-aged to elderly male villagers sitting around listening to two younger ones playing guitars and singing, all of them drinking a lot of strong alcohol. We were invited to sit on two stools, our backs against the counter, and so close to the musicians our knees were almost touching theirs.
The Ecuadorian music was enebriating, as were their drinks, apparently, and the men sang more and more off-key as their eyes glazed over and they grinned at us - in the end we wondered who the spectators where, us or them?!

We then moved on to Cuenca, where we discovered that the Panama hat is not originally from the country of the same name (the misnomer comes from workers on the Panama Canal having used those hats). They are really from Ecuador, and mainly the Cuenca region. With all the sunny places (we hope!) we will be in over the coming months, we got one each, Patrick's from the oldest hatmaker's in the city (78 years old and voiceless, due to the sulfur powder used in making the hats), and mine from a store where, once I'd chosen the colour of the wide, shapeless, basic hat, it was then trimmed, sewn and banded before our eyes!

We stayed longer than planned in Ecuador, as our trip for the Galapagos could only take place towards the end of November, but the wait was well worth the wonderful four days we spent sailing around the islands! There was wildlife all around us, every day, and when we weren't tripping over mammals, we had birds circling above our boat, or we were snorkelling (my first!) with white-tipped sharks.
We approached giant tortoises, saw masked booby birds courting by giving each other twigs to build their nest, male frigate birds trying to attract the females by bloating up their red balloon-like area on their throat, we saw colourful land iguanas and their dark marine counterparts crawling into the sea, a seal lion having given birth five mintues before, and, totally disregarding the fascinated but respectful tourists at her side, nudging her new-born along to get its first feed, and so many other sea lion pups feeding...

Returning to civilisation was a shock - our heads were still full of the sights and sounds of wonderful mother nature, when we hit the noisy, dirty, polluted, grey city of Guayaquil. The contrast drove the message home even further: how much man has destroyed his own planet... Galapagos www.galapagos.org is a snapshot of nature that is loved and protected as best they can by the guides and conservationists, but our guide explained to us as we strolled along a white beach with only hundreds of sea lions on it, it is is a tough battle: fishermen don't respect the ban on shark fishing, the Japanese market still demands huge quantities of sea-cucumber which are rapidly disappearing, and ten years ago there were only 3'000 inhabitants on the islands, today there are 25'000, with waste management becoming increasingly difficult. They have their two associations that work hard to protect the wildlife, but it is worrying to try to imagine what the islands will be like in another ten years' time...

Oh, and talking about courting in the animal world, that reminds me of one of Patrick's questions shortly after we had met, which really got me thinking: "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" A question I now ask myself once in a while and which always makes my life seem fuller.
Well, since we set off, he has been taking care that I come up with an answer to that fairly quickly! Apart from all these new experiences for the two of us, I have tried out some new activities for the first time: climbing to mountain tops, swimming with sharks, and horseriding! We rented a guide and two horses for a day in Vilcabamba, a village renouned for its great number of inhabitants who have reached well over 100 years of age!
The 7-hour ride took us up in the mountains with breathtaking views over the hills below us, but we paid the price the next day: the insides of our thighs swollen and sore, and our poor, painful, bruised backsides - not the best condition to set off in for a 3-day journey through the South of Ecuador and over the border to Peru!

Our first destination in Peru was Chachapoyas, where we are right now: the base for visiting Peru's wildest and most remote archaeological sites - there are few tourists here - and little wonder!
In the three days' travelling, we took 12 different vehicles, and rarely do we seem to have an eventless trip!

On the first day, our travels were cut short as our bus came to a halt in a village of about 10 houses at the foot of the last mountain we had to go over: rain had made the "road" too muddy for us to continue (only 10% of Peru's roads are paved). We hung around for two hours with the only other passenger of the bus, knowing that the night was falling, the bus was going to drive the 5 hours back to the town we had left, and there were no vehicles coming through... Then finally, a pick-up truck (that had left ages before with planks of wood, a wheelbarrow and a dozen children piled on top of all that) came to pick us up and take us over the mountain to the next village in the pitch dark.

Day two, we rode a bumpy hour to the border that we had to cross on foot. Once we reached the other side we could go no further: the girl from immigration was unable to stamp our passports as she was no longer on duty and only had the stamp dated the day before. Her colleague who was due to replace her at 8 am had not yet arrived at 10 - he was stuck in a bus due to a landslide. We got away a couple of hours later (once he'd finally arrived and taken the time to have a shower and shave!), piled into a car with our luggage and 5 other passengers plus driver - not the most comfortable two hour ride - before getting another 4 vehicles!

Third and last day (yesterday), we got delayed because of roadworks: in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, they had decided to move a mountain, litterally! We watched as the digger chopped away at the moutnain side and chucked all the soil, rocks and trees onto the "road" we were on. After two hours we realised things were not going to start moving before nightfall so ran across the new mountain in the middle of our road to the other side, where we approached cars until we found one going to Chachapoyas and did an exchange with the passengers in that car - they crossed over the roadworks and took our car back, whilst we finally continued on to our destination. All the passengers in the many other cars that had piled up just stood watching as we did the switch, and as far as we know, were still just standing there at nightfall. Any wonder things seem to take forever to get done in these countries?
In the end, what was due to take us 2.30 hours travelling that day, according to the guidebooks, took us 6 hours. No surprise we are practically the only tourists in town!

Tomorrow we are going to get our muscles back into use and set off for 3 days walking and horse riding in the hills around Chachapoyas, visiting the pre-Inca ruins, one of which is said to be an equivalent if not more to Machu Picchu - we will let you know on our return!

Jayne and Patrick
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feeclochette on

les grands esprits, etc...
je pensais justement à vous... et en ouvrant mon mail : fresh news !!!
c'est un grd plaisir de vous lire et aussi un agréable dépaysement...ici sous la pluie battante, beurk !
Bon, je vais moi aussi réfléchir à la big question de la première fois... Merci Patrick :-)

Biz à vous 2 et à bientôt


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