Peru 05

Trip Start Aug 02, 2004
Trip End Sep 25, 2005

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

We travelled across the border from Copacabana (Bolivia) to Puno (Peru) where we only spent a night before flying off to Cusco for a visit to the famed Machu Picchu. We then headed to the Amazon for a few days in the jungle.

Puno is a nice little quaint town which provides an entry point to Lake Titicaca from the Peruvian side. It is geared for tourism with lots of hotels and restaurants but it also has some beautiful town squares/plazas and some historic buildings. For some reason the bank lines are massive here - people begin queuing at the bank several hours before they open and the lines can be several hundred metres long (thank god for ATMs!!).

We had a few dramas getting to Cusc (see below) but the town itself is very attractive (particularly at night). It is the launching pad for Macchu Picchu day trips and treks and accordingly it serves the tourists well with all manner of services and products.

Iquitos was our fly in point for access to the Amazon jungle in the North-east of Peru. You can only fly or catch a boat into Iquitos, which felt a tad Asian to us with the heat, humidity, thousands of rickshaws and bustling markets. We spent more time in the jungle than Iquitos but it seems that along with oil, tourism has helped this city (of 800,000+ people) flourish quite nicely.

What we saw and did:
- Caught some Peruvian (folk) dancing at a local restaurant. Enough said.
- Survived Peruvian strikes!! We took the Inka Express which is a special bus to Cusco from Puno and stops at some tourist sites. Unfortunately we got caught (and were not told about) in major protests over tax hikes. Every village, every few miles on the highway had blocked the road with rocks, burning tyres, tree stumps and other debris. Our guide on the bus tried to talk to local strikers - having some early success, but then we got stuck at picket lines. To cut a long day and story short we endured and survived 13 hours of stop start transport (for a trip that takes at most 5 hours normally), had rocks thrown at our bus as we passed towns in the night, cleared roads (some of which has been blown up)full of rocks to get the bus through (some needed 5 blokes to lift), got annoyed at the German tourists who felt they should take photos of the rest of us clearing roads and felt exhilarated that we got through to Cusco after being told at one point we would spend the night on the bus.
- Visited Cusco (the ancient Inca capital) and of course Machu Picchu, Perus most famous tourist attractions. It is such an amazing place because it is so high up (3000m above sea level) and it is a complete Inca city with staircases, terraces, temples, palaces, fountains, etc (Be warned however that it is an expensive place to visit)
- Met some Americans on the train back to Cusco - apparently they were from the mid-west and when asked about occupations they responded (and we kid you not) "I really like guns and my wife here makes atomic weapons". Yep, we were surrounded by nuclear physicists, national security advisors and chemists!!
- Visited the El Molino markets (where the locals do all their shopping and you do not see tourists venturing) in search of some cute Pukara bulls (these little fellas are ceramic and are placed on roof tops with a cross to ward of evil spirits etc). Oh, we did not find any but had fun looking around the markets.
- Visited the Amazon - yippee! We took speedboats along the Amazon River, got down and dirty on rainforest walks (where you learn about the forest, its contents and preservation efforts), saw some amazing trees (some 300 years old), saw very different insects and animals (eg. worlds biggest ants, howler monkeys, pink dolphins), did a canopy walk (on a purpose built 500m walkway at over 115 feet high) where you have peace and quiet and the freshest of air high in the tree tops, visited the local shaman(Amazonian healer - different to witch doctor) and learnt about natural Amazonian plant remedies, learnt about the massive tidal movements in the Amazon (some 40+ feet in rainy season), survived a massive rain shower whilst on the Amazon river (the speedboat had to stop because the driver could not see and there is debris everywhere in the river), saw massive water lilies, saw a small anaconda and a sloth, went fishing for Piranhas with a fishing pole and visited several local villages (including the Yagua Indians where we use blow pipes) where we learnt about old and new ways of life. We also met on our trip several American couples (hi Rick and Maureen, Mike and Pat) who were really nice people and we hope to catch them in the US.
- Shaun also had a private shaman ceremony performed on him (involving oils, black tobacco smoke, and cleansing movements) to help with the constant stomach virus he has been carrying since 2004. The potion he made for Shaun to drink was damn awful (and did not work for this particular white boy... as you will see when you read Mexico entry!!)
- Endured Lima a city polluted and covered in thick haze constantly, way too much traffic (which is scary - the taxi drivers describe the locals as "loco") limited (aesthetic) urban planning, a disproportionate amount of casinos and a beach side that looks like a ghetto area (deserted and polluted and apparently unsafe). (You may have seen a recent international dispute because a Chilean airline video apparently portrayed Lima as a dump!)
- Visited the Gold museum in Lima (on recommendation of the atomic weapons folk in Cusco!) which houses the biggest collection of guns and war time memorabilia we have seen so far. And yes there is gold from the Inca and pre-Inca times (but unfortunately not a lot of English)
- Spent way too much money in the Indian markets in Miraflores in Lima - but have some wicked alpaca rugs, table clothes and finally a funky and colourful Pukara bull!

Insights into Peru:
- Puno would have to be one of the noisiest towns we have stayed in - honking taxi horns, loud talkers and a host of other noises put this town up their with Barcelona.
- Limas only redeeming feature was Pardos Chicken - a chicken joint which delivers the goods in our opinion.
- Life on the Amazon is about the rivers - you realise very quick that everything is done on or in the river.

Favourite things about Peru:
- Machu Picchu (it lives up to the reputation)
- The Amazon (we saw only a small part but it is amazing)
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