The Jungle, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Isla del Sol, and Salar de Uyuni
06.23.2014 71 °F
Hola familia y amigos!!
This entry has some length to it, for we´ve been on the move quite a bit. Thank you for your patience and we hope you enjoy. After our time in Banos was done, we turned our attention to getting to Iquitos, Peru as quickly as possible. On our way to the bus terminal in Banos, however, we ran into a couple of fellow travellers and these plans quickly changed. We began talking with a French girl and a Brazilian guy about our plans for entering the jungle in Iquitos and they told us about what they had just done in Lagunas (a small pueblo along the on the way to Iquitos). They had just spent 3 days in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve exploring the jungle and had an incredible time. Lagunas is much smaller and less travelled than Iquitos, which meant the jungle experience would be more intimate and significantly cheaper. A better experience at a lesser cost sounded ideal, so we were now focused on getting to Lagunas.
We took a bus from Banos and arrived in Cuenca, Ecuador 10 hours later around 3:30 AM. After finding a hostal and getting some rest, we went to the bus terminal to see what time an overnight bus would leave for Chiclayo, Peru. We bought tickets for a bus leaving at 10 PM and then walked around the town for a while to pass time. After seeing some of the town, the weather was beginning to look bad so we returned to our hostal to wait until it was time for our bus. We caught the bus and went to sleep only to be woken up around 2:30 AM to get our passports stamped at the Peruvian border. The process was quick and we were soon back on the road to Chiclayo. We arrived in Chiclayo at 10:30 AM and went around to various bus companies to look for an overnight bus to Tarapoto. We purchased tickets for a bus departing at 7:30 PM and again had some time to kill. Chiclayo was a very dirty place filled with noisy horns and reckless mototaxis, so we decided to go 20 minutes away from town to Pimentel beach to relax and watch the Champions League final.
We got in a collectivo (taxi van) after the game to head back to Chiclayo which was quite the experience. We were the first 2 people in the van but we quickly realized we were not going to head to Chiclayo until the van was full. The driver drove around Pimentel honking at people on the street as his partner (now hanging out the sliding van door) yelled at them ¨Clayo! Clayo!¨. One by one the van filled up. After acquiring passengers for 20 minutes, we were now on our way to Chiclayo. Shortly after getting to the bus station, we boarded the bus for our 15 hour ride to Tarapoto. Thankfully, the bus was very comfortable and it was easy to sleep most of the way after dinner was served. We arrived in Tarapoto around noon and got a mototaxi to take us to our hostel.
Mototaxis and motorcycles were the mode of transportation in Tarapoto. The ride to the hostel felt like a race, as we weaved in and out of traffic just barely avoiding contact with other drivers. After a 10 minute ride, we were happy to arrive at our hostel and get a room booked. We found out at check in that the power in the city was out, so this combined with the 85 degree weather without a cloud in the sky made for a very warm afternoon. We bought food for our jungle trip and returned to our hostel to relax, for we had an early wake up the next morning to head to Yurimaguas (the port city where we would enter the Amazon).
We went to the taxi terminal around 7:30 AM and had breakfast before getting on the road at 8. The 2.5 hour ride to Yuri was uneventful except for when we had to stop for a large boulder to be moved out of the road. Here we saw a truck literally filled with people.
We talked with our driver about our plans to enter the jungle in Lagunas and he made a phone call for us. We heard him over the phone say the name Winston and when we arrived in Yuri, Winston was waiting for us in a mototaxi. Winston was very nice and was cleary the salesman of the operation. He drove us to a hostel and we went to the 3rd floor where he would deliver his pitch. He began by showing us letters and pictures from previous customers and made us feel comfortable with his company. We told him we wanted to do 5 days in the jungle and asked what the price would be. He told us it would be $50 a day which would include everything - food, lodging, transportation to Lagunas, and a personal guide. This was not a bad price but our people in Banos told us they paid $40 a day, so after a little negotiating we got him down to that price too. We were scheduled to leave that afternoon at 5 PM on a large cargo boat to head to Lagunas. In Lagunas, we would be met by Raul and would go to his office to get ready for the jungle adventure. We needed hammocks to reserve our spots on the boat and to serve as our beds, so Winston´s assistant took us to the nearby market where we picked up a couple of cheap hammocks. We brought our hammocks back to him and he went to the boat and set them up for us. After a late lunch, we boarded the boat and found our hammocks.
We were excited to finally be on the water, but the boat was going nowhere fast. It was still being loaded up with cargo when we got there and this would continue to be the case for the next few hours.
Large rolls of plastic were brought on board.
They would carry 2 large bags of rice on their backs and make many trips from the truck to the boat.
We relaxed on the boat and enjoyed a nice sunset.
We waited patiently for the boat to leave, as it was now dark. There were rumors that we would be leaving soon, but that never happened. Eventually we were told that we would leave in the morning, so all the passengers got in their hammocks and went to sleep. We woke up around 7:30 AM and were told that the boat would not be leaving and that we would have to change boats. The other boat was a couple feet from ours, so we jumped from the top deck of our boat to the top deck of the other boat and set up our hammocks there. After getting on the new boat, it was very obvious the old boat was in bad condition and could potentially fall apart any minute.
We were happy to now be on a boat in much better condition. A few minutes later, we got word that the new boat would not be leaving until the afternoon. We decided we should find Winston and see what he had to say, but we were too late - he found us. He was now on the new boat and told us there was a fast boat leaving in 30 minutes for Lagunas and that we needed to come with him. We took down our hammocks, gathered our belongings, got on Winston´s mototaxi, and went on a short ride to the fast boat.
We got on the fast boat and departed shortly thereafter. It was a nice ride with about 40 other people. The boat would pick up/drop off people along the way at various pueblos. After 7 hours on the water, we arrived in Lagunas and were met by Raul. Our bags were loaded in another mototaxi and Raul said we would be going to his house. It turns out the office Winston told us we were going to was actually Raul´s house! We met a French couple here who were doing the same trip as us but with a different guide. We would be with them at night but were seperated during the day. We got to his house and he went over our trip with us. His wife then served us dinner and we went to bed shortly thereafter. This would be our first night with the mosquito nets.
Our beds consisted of a couple of sheets laid over some 2x4s. We woke up the next morning and loaded up the mototaxi with our gear.
Front of Raul´s house.
The bathroom had a nice view.
We met our guide, Alberto, and then went on a 30 minute ride to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve entrance. The canoe did not have a seat for Alberto when we began, so he used his machete to chop some wood to the appropriate size about 15 seconds into being on the water.
We were quickly impressed by Alberto´s skills and would continue to be impressed by him for the next 5 days. He was a very nice man who was missing every other front tooth. This was especially awesome since he loved to smile! For the next couple of hours, Alberto paddled us down the river as we relaxed in the middle of the canoe and took in the impressive scenery.
He heard something in the brush.
This would be the case for the remainder of our time on the water except for when we helped him paddle upstream back to the park entrance. After a couple of hours, we stopped for lunch at a fishing camp. Post lunch, we got back in the canoe and cruised down the river for a few more hours until we arrived at another fishing camp. Here we found the french couple and their guide relaxing. The locals said the water was safe to swim in so we did!
It was a very refreshing swim but did not last long as we were having to battle the current. After drying off and changing clothes, we were told dinner was ready. We ate a combination of freshly caught fish, pasta, plantains, eggs, potato, and/or rice every night. Once we had enough to eat, we relaxed on the dock and took in the night´s impressive sky. We went to bed shortly thereafter and woke up early the next morning to breakfast. After breakfast, we got in the canoe and continued further down the river. This pattern would be the same each day - wake up to breakfast, paddle down the river until it was time for lunch, eat lunch, paddle down the river until it was time for dinner, eat dinner, then go to bed. Alberto cooked every meal for us, as we hardly had to lift a finger the entire trip. While he was cooking, we would rest or swim in the water until the food was ready. We saw many types of trees, monkeys, parrots, crocodiles, lizards, dolphins (pink and grey), spiders, ants, sloths, and more. Here are a few pictures from the trip:
It is difficult to tell due to bad camera on phone, but this tree had about a dozen parrots in it.
As we passed under a branch that stretched across the river, a group of about 50 monkeys passed by. This one (face in middle of picture) in particular found us amusing and stared at us for some time.
Largest tree we´d each ever seen.
We ate a lot of fish and had to pick through the bones everytime. Sometimes this took more time than actually eating.
Interesting roots on this tree. When the water level is high, these roots would not be exposed.
We caught our own dinner one afternoon.
One of the camps we stayed the night at.
When making our sleeping arrangements, we found this friendly spider in the bedroom.
We followed Alberto through the jungle as he machete´d his way through the brush.
Alberto got a real big smile when he went to climb/play on this.
How we slept.
The river is high now, but when it is lower the locals play soccer. You can see the goals slightly out of the water in the back.
After our 5 days was up, we returned back to the reserve entrance and found some locals doing laundry and enjoying their Sunday on the river.
After unloading the canoe, we got a ride back to Raul´s house.
Alberto had a silent assitant who had his own canoe and lagged behind us for the 5 days. He was quite strange and never said a word, so when we took this picture, it all made sense!
We quickly found out the boat leaving for Nauta (gateway to Iquitos) was leaving very soon, so we hurried down to the Lagunas ¨port¨. We got on another fast boat and headed towards Nauta. After 7 hours on the boat, it was dark so we stopped at a pueblo for the night. We had the option the sleep in a hostel for a fee, but since we were out of money we utilized our hammocks and slept on the boat with the captain at no cost.
We woke up early the next morning and traveled 8 hours to Nauta. Along the way we made stops at small pueblos to get on/off the boat. At one particular pueblo, a bunch of women bombarded the boat and sold food to many of the passengers.
Once in Nauta, we got a 1.5 hour ride to Iquitos. We caught a mototaxi in Iquitos to take us to our hostel and it was not a pleasant experience. The city was extremely dirty, as our eyes were burning the entire ride to our hostel. We were happy we chose to enter the jungle in Lagunas and not spend much time in Iquitos. We got some dinner that night and arranged a flight to Lima for the following afternoon. The next morning we woke up and went to the zoo, for many people recommended it to us. We were able to see animals we had not seen in the jungle, such as pumas, jaguars, larger monkeys, etc. It was nice to see more animals, but was very different seeing animals behind a cage as opposed to their natural habitat.
Post zoo, we went to the airport and after a short delay we were on our way to Lima, the capital of Peru.
We stayed in the MIraflores neighborhood which was very nice. The neighborhood was very modern, clean, full of parks, and right on the beach. It was nice to be back in civilization again. We stayed here for a couple of days before heading towards Cusco.
Rather than take the 25 hour bus to Cusco, we decided to take an 8 hour bus to Huacachina to do a little sandboarding. Huacachina is a small pueblo surrounded by huge sand dunes with a lagoon in the middle of town. It seemed like a place out of a movie.
We got our gear and loaded up in a 12 person dune buggy to head to the dunes.
The dune buggie was very loud and provided an exhilarating ride. We stopped after riding for 15 minutes and took off on our sandboards down the dunes.
After a couple of iterations of this, we went to a very tall dune to take in the sunset.
After our expedition was done, we purchased tickets for an overnight 14 hour bus ride to Cusco. It was a comfortable ride but we were very excited when we arrived in Cusco. We were done traveling for a couple of days, as it was time to get ready for our trek. A few pictures from Cusco:
After a couple of days of preparation, we rented gear from Speedy Gonzales and took an early bus ride to Mollopacta where our trek would begin. Most people get a ride from Mollopacta to another pueblo further down the trail, but since we were doing this without a guide we figured we`d start walking. We walked for about 8 hours that day and took in some impressive views. Towards the end of the day we laid eyes on Salkantay and continued walking towards it. We got to the town we would camp in, Soraypampa, and set up camp in what was basically a cow pasture. Some pictures from day 1:
We found the black sheep.
After a nice spaghetti dinner, we passed out and woke up early the next morning to the mooìng of cows. We had breakfast, packed up camp, and set out on what was to be the hardest of the 5 days.
The first half of the day we were walking towards the snowcapped Salkantay mountain, and gained nearly 3000 feet. We were moving quickly, passing people on tours that were carrying small backpacks. They would tell us to quit showing them up as we passed them. Eventually, we reached the highest point of our trek, Abre del Salkantay. We had lunch here and rested for a few minutes after a very difficult morning. Post rest, we began the next half of our day which was mostly downhill. We walked about 4 hours until we reached our camping spot just before dark. We were both exhausted after a long 10 hour day and fell asleep immediately after dinner. Some pictures from day 2:
Looking back on where we´d come from.
We would sleep 11 hours that night and wake up around 7 the next morning. The man we rented our gear from suggested our 3rd day be somewhat of an unconventional one. Most people walk downhill from the camp along a river to the pueblo of La Playa, which takes about 6 hours. The man at Speedy Gonzales suggested we get a ride from camp to La Playa and then do a hike up the mountain to the Incan site of Llactapata. We did as the man suggested and we were very glad we did so.
After a tough 3 hour hike through the hot, humid jungle, we made it to Llactapata. When we arrived (around 1:30) there was a guide there with an older couple who had just gotten there. The guide questioned where our guide was and we told him we didn´t have one. We could tell by his reaction it was unusual for anyone to do the trek by themselves. The couple and the guide had lunch then went down the mountain to head towards Machu Picchu. They left around 2:30 which meant we had the Incan ruins all to ourselves for the rest of the afternoon/night. After a difficult first 2 days, it was nice to relax for a few hours.
Machu Picchu to the right.
We set our tent up in the ruins and got some good rest after enjoying a nice sunset. The next morning we took our time getting up and moving. Around 9 AM a guide with about 10 people showed up to the ruins. Unfortunately for them, clouds had rolled in about 15 minutes prior to their arrival and they were unable to see Machu Picchu. They asked to see the pictures we had taken so I showed them. They were clearly disappointed with the situation. We ran into them later and they said the clouds eventually dissipated and they were able to get a good view (we were happy it worked out for them).
We left the ruins around 9:15 and began our journey back down the mountain. A couple hours later, we made it to the bottom and found the hydroelectric station. From here we walked 2 hours down the train tracks to the tourist filled town of Aguas Calientes. Most people catch a $50 train ride from the hydroelectric station to Aguas Calientes (the gateway town to Machu Picchu), but since we are budget travellers we chose to walk. We finally arrived in Aguas Calientes and were stoked to have made it to civilization. Upon arrival, we got tickets for Machu Picchu mountain and went to a pizza place to enjoy a cold beer and watch the first game of the World Cup. We had made perfect timing. Some pictures from day 4:
After watching the match and eating a large pizza each, we left Aguas Calientes to walk to our camping site at Puente Ruinas (about 20 min away). We set up camp and went to bed shortly thereafter. The next morning we woke up around 5:30 AM and began the 1 hour hike (large stairs the entire way) to the base of Machu Picchu. From the base, we began an additional 1 hour hike up Machu Picchu mountain that opened at 7. We were person 9 and 10 to enter this hike and were person 3 and 4 to reach the summit. It proved to be an incredible experience, as the 4 of us had the peak to ourselves for about 20 minutes. The views were incredible and the lack of people with us made for a very relaxing time.
On the hike up, the clouds had yet to clear.
We finally made it to the top.
Eventually other people made it to the summit which meant it was time for us to check out the rest of the area. We hiked back down to the base of Machu Picchu and then walked 20 minutes to an old Incan bridge.
After the bridge, we went back to the base and walked about 30 minutes to the sungate. Here we rested for a few minutes and took in nice views of Machu Picchu.
After the sungate, we went down to Machu Picchu to explore the city. We were there for just a few minutes when we realized we had a lot of questions about the city but no answers. To get our questions answered, we hired a guide and got a 1.5 hour tour of the city. After the tour, it was evident the Incans were a very smart, well developed society.
The double door meant you were entering a room of importance.
After the tour, we were exhausted and were ready to head back to Cusco. To do this, we had to walk an hour down the mountain to our campsite, pack up camp, walk 2 hours down the train tracks to the hydroelectric plant and catch a bus. We made it to the hydroelectric station shortly after dark only to find there were no buses going to Cusco. We had to improvise, which meant we had to take a 30 minute taxi ride to Santa Maria followed by a 45 minute taxi ride to Santa Teresa. Once in Santa Teresa, we were told we could get a bus back to Cusco. All of the buses to Cusco were full, but we were told we could stand in the aisle on the bus. The ride to Cusco would take about 5 hours and after 10 minutes of standing in the aisle, we decided there was no way we could continue standing in the aisle. We got off at the next stop and purchased bus tickets to Cusco for the followng morning at 8:30. We got lodging at a nearby hostel and fell asleep quickly. We were ready at the bus stop at 8:30 but the bus did not come until 11. Luckily, there was a store on the corner near the bus stop that served good smoothies and breakfast. We waited there for the bus with some locals and were ecstatic when the bus finally arrived. We were now on our way to Cusco!!
We were happy to make it back to Cusco, return our gear, and checkin to the hostel we had previously stayed at, Dragonfly Hostel. We rested for a couple hours then went to check out the festival that was going on in the town center. The festival was more like a parade filled with various groups/organizations performing traditional Incan dances. It was very interesting seeing all of the tradition and how into the festival the locals were. Exhausted after the parade was over, we went to sleep and couldn´t have been happier.
We checked out the next morning and got overnight bus tickets to Copacabana, Bolivia (the gateway to La Isla del Sol, Island of the Sun). The festival was going on again so we enjoyed a couple hours of that before returning to the hostel to watch some futbol and the NBA finals.
We boarded the bus at 10:30 PM and were Bolivia bound. The bus dropped us off and we were met by a van that would take us to the border (we didn´t know this was the plan). We waited 30 minutes until the van filled up with people from other buses then went to the border. We met a couple of Swiss girls here who had a similar itinerary. We ended up traveling with them until we got to Chile. The border crossing was very relaxed and we were on another van to Copacabana by 10 AM. Once in Copa, we got tickets for a 1:30 ferry ride to La Isla del Sol and went to a restaurant to enjoy some breakfast, After eating and watching Germany beat up on Portugal, it was time for us to board the ferry. 1.5 hours later, we made it to the south part of the island and after a short hike we found a hostel to stay at. Our room ($12) had a terrace with incredible views of Lago Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world).
After relaxing for a couple hours on the terrace, we took in the sunset from the highest point on the island and watched USA beat Ghana! We were stoked to be winners and could now rest well. The next morning, we took a ferry to the north part of the island where some Incan ruins were.
We enjoyed a guided tour of the ruins, then had a very nice 2 hour walk back to the south part of the island where our luggage was. After getting our luggage, we hiked down to the south port and caught a ferry back to Copa. We arrived in Copa around 5:45 PM and purchased tickets for a 6:30 bus ride to La Paz. We arrived in La Paz around 11 and went to bed shortly after finding a hostel. The next day, we went to the bus station to figure out when we could leave for Uyuni (where we would begin a 3 day tour of the world´s largest salt flats). After we got tickets for a bus leaving the following day at 7 PM, we saught after a company to take us on a bike tour of the Death Road (Yungas road). If you look on Google images for ¨death road¨, you can easily see how it got its name. It is estimated that 200-300 people died on the road each year before a new, alternative road was completed in 2005.
We woke up early the next morning to go on our bike ride. We took a 2.5 hour ride by van from La Paz to the beginning of the Yungas Road and enjoyed an exhilarating 3 hour bike ride from the start to the finish in Coroico. It was a fun, challenging ride and it is hard to believe the road used to be used regurarly as a 2 way street. The van took us back to La Paz and we caught our bus shortly thereafter. Sorry no pictures, for there was no time to pick them up from the tour company and catch the bus. Hopefully we can get them by mail or email soon.
We arrived in Uyuni around 7:30 AM and got breakfast before checking in with Red Planet (the tour company we had reservations with). At 10:30 AM, 7 of us piled in a Toyota Land Cruiser and were salt flat bound. The first stop was at a train cemetery where railroad cars had been abandoned after mining in the area had been discontinued.
We next stopped in the middle of the salt flats where we were able to have a little fun with the camera.
We next stopped at a national park, which was an island filled with cacti. It was quite strange that in the desolate landscape such a thing existed.
After the national park, we went to our salt hostel and went to bed. The next morning, we drove around some more and took in other nice sites.
It was below freezing at this point and the wind was blowing over 30 mph. We were ready to get to our lodging and enjoy a warm meal. After dinner, we put on our bathing suits and got in the natural hot spring nearby. Red Planet has exclusive rights to the hot springs at night, so there were just 8 of us in there. We stayed in the water for an hour or so, gazing at an extraordinary star filled sky (even seeing a few shooting stars). After a great sleep, we woke up and 10-12 other SUVs had arrived and unloaded 40-50 people to enjoy the same springs. We were happy we went with Red Planet.
After breakfast, we loaded up and proceeded on to the Chilean border.
After an easy border crossing and dropping a few thousand feet in elevation, we are now in warmer San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. We will be getting on a 23 hour bus ride later this afternoon to head south towards Santiago, Chile. After a day or two there, we will head east to Mendoza, Argentina where we will relax for a couple of days and enjoy some quality wine and steak. We should then have time for a couple of days in Buenos Aires before heading north to check out Iguazu Falls then venturing into the excitement of Brazil.
Hope all is well back home! Go USMNT!!!
Chad and Scott