Peru Beyond Machu Picchu

June 2019 

Lima at last!

We got in late and were met by our very affable local guide, Dan Soby, holding up an “Oryx” sign.  We were in Lima, Peru – here we were finally on the trip that’s on nearly everyone’s bucket list. (I am yet to meet someone who does not have Machu Picchu on their places-to-see-before-you-die list). Our experience of flying through Los Angeles and clearing U.S Customs and Border Control was soon forgotten. It’s a good thing we had a free day which allowed us to rest, catch up with my sister’s friend who lives in Lima, walk about and explore the city a little bit on our own. That evening, Dan met us for dinner, taking us to the celebrated Isolina restaurant, one of Latin America’s top 50 restaurants. The food was beautiful (and so it was throughout our trip, Peruvian cuisine is just amazing). It was an introduction dinner where we got to know a bit about Dan – a Swiss-French who fell in love with Peru (and a Peruvian) and decided to move there and make it home. The others in the group were my sister, my best friend and my GP who is also an old friend. 

The next day our tour proper started with a tour of Lima, beginning at the local central market. The local produce were amazing – everything seemed larger and more exotic. 

We then set off in the direction of the historical centre but roads were blocked due to demonstrations that were taking place that morning – which gave us a great photo opportunity. There was in progress that morning a vote of confidence in Parliament for the President (which he won) which would enable him to proceed with his anti-graft and other measures. So we made our way through police barricades and demonstrators. We were quite surprised at the friendliness of the Peruvian police and riot squad. Some chatted with demonstrators, others smiled at us and would let us through.

We finally made it to the Cathedral of San Francisco in time for the English language tour through the cathedral and through the narrow, confining catacombs where over 30,000 people were buried. The bones were laid out in patterns and by type – femurs together, skulls in another section,  with collar bones making a ring around other bones … it reminded me of the Bone Ossuary in Sedlack in the Czech Republic.  No photography was allowed in the catacombs (unlike in the Bone Ossuary). 

Cathedral San Francisco

We continued our walkabout to the Plaza de Armas (I do believe every city in South America has a city square called “Plaza des Armas”) and on past the Presidential Palace. After lunch we were treated to delicious desert and coffee at a place called the Bibliotheca – an old library converted to a cafe – before continuing on to explore some of the street art of Lima.

Do not ‘lose face’

Ever get the feeling you’re being watched?

We ended up in the evening at an area called Chorillos – a fishing area with loads of pelicans and gulls.

There we met Manuel, who was too old to go out into the open sea anymore and spends his days repairing nets. He looked weathered and asked Dan about us. He was fascinated that we had come from so far and were going to Cusco and Machu Picchu where he has never been. He asked Dan if he would buy him a souvenir from Cusco (which he did – he bought him a warm woollen beanie with the word “Cusco” on it – to keep him warm in the coming winter months). 

When we had driven in from the airport the night before we saw in the distance a brightly lit cross up on a hill. We drove up that hill to have a closer look at this ‘Cruz de la Chorillos’ – an interesting cross constructed out of antennae and pylons and was the site of the bloodiest battle in the War of the Pacific. The area also had an observatory, a war memorial and a very interesting Christ-the-Redeemer like statute which was erected by a corrupt industrialist and so was not well received by the locals and is referred to as the ‘Christ of the Corrupt’ (!) 

Colourful deserts, cathedrals and red beaches 

It was today that the ‘real’ trip began for me. We checked out and headed south to Paracas. What  strikes you about Lima is the gloominess that hangs over the city. There was a permanent haze over the city and it apparently stays like that for much of winter. As we drove out of the city, Dan promised clear skies. We were hugely sceptical and a tad worried as the main highlight of this trip (for me at least) was the flight over the Nazca Lines which was very much weather dependent. But lo and behold the skies did clear the further away we got from Lima. 

That afternoon we visited the Paracas National Reserve  with its rugged coastal areas and a vast tropical desert which provides sanctuary to more than 400 species of flora and fauna. The desert shimmered in subtle hues of pinks and purples.

Subtle hues of the desert

There were fossils just lying about in the sand and the sun that was missing from Lima beat down on us just taking the edge off the cold breeze a little. We were the only ones in the desert until a lone bike rider came out of the horizon and a then a group of dune buggy riders (or whatever they are called) came along in the opposite direction and then all was quiet again. 

Fossil lying about

Lone rider

We drove on to the coastal area of the reserve. The ‘Cathedral’ is a rock arch,  the upper part of which was destroyed in an earthquake.  The constant waves ramming into the cliffs have eroded the rock and sent the tiny pebbles towards the coast creating the Red Beach.

‘The Cathedral’

The red beach

It was a relaxing evening. We even had a ‘civilised’ spot of tea, courtesy Shiv, who never travels anywhere without her double-strength Tetley tea bags, tiny packets of milk, sugar and a trusty teaspoon – “Have teaspoon will travel!”. While we took the mickey, we also were beneficiaries of her lovely cuppas on many evenings during this trip. (Thank you Shiv-;))

A childhood dream come true 

The next morning I could barely contain my excitement. The sole purpose of driving the 5 hours to this part of the country was to see the Nazca Lines.  It was the one item on the itinerary that I was insistent on. As a child fed on National Geographic, I was beyond fascinated by the world it brought to me. The Nazca Lines article was one of those that made such an indelible impression on me. That I may actually be seeing them today was exhilarating.

Before that however, we got a 6am boat out to sea to Isla Ballestas, aka ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’. It is a sanctuary for a variety of mammals, marine species and birdlife, some of them unique to the place like the Black Peruvian Comorins that completely covered a hilltop. There are sea lions, penguins, dolphins, a variety of birds that thrive here as the island is protected. The boat took us on a ride around the craggy rock formations as we bobbed along on choppy waters but thankfully no one was sea sick. 

‘The Candelabra” aka the “Candelabra of the Andes,” is a massive geoglyph whose origin is still unknown. Does it symbolise a trident of the Gods or a hallucinogenic plant?

Black Peruvian Comorins completely blanketing the hilltop

From the fishing village we drove on to Pisco airport for our flight over the Nazca Lines. It was happening and I was impossibly excited. The slightest weather change and the flight would be cancelled and so I had sent fervent mental appeals to the Universe to let this happen pleeease. The Universe was kind.

We boarded the small 10-seater Cessna, each of us with a window seat. We each had a map of the geoglyphs so that we could make out what we were flying over. As we approached the Lines, the co-pilot announced the geoglyph we were flying over, while the pilot expertly flew over it first for one side of the plane to view and then swinging around for the other side of the plane to see it. After a few sightings and as the small plane banked and rolled, pitched and yawed, we felt the surge of air sickness emerging. I refused to let bloody airsickness get in the way and dug deep to not let that spoil this for me. It was every bit as fascinating as I anticipated it to be. It was amazing. Here are just a few photos …

The Whale

The Spider

The Condor

What really got to me however, was that the Pan-American Highway actually cuts through the Lines! I was aghast and had to read up on how that could possibly have been allowed!! Work began on the Panamericana in Peru in the 1930s, but the archaeologists had spotted the Nazca Lines in 1927. So it was unbelievable to me that it could have happened. From what I have read, apparently the true extent of the Nazca Lines was only known after the highway was built. (So they say …)

The Pan American Highway cuts through the geoglyph of the Lizard

Another infuriating incident was when a lorry driver drove over this 2000 year old geoglyphs. He apparently ignored the warning signs and drove over 3 them and thus destroying one of the greatest enigmas of the archaeological world.

In total, there are over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal and plant designs. The lines are virtually impossible to identify from ground level, they were only first brought to public awareness with the advent of flight. Because there’s so little rain, wind and erosion, the exposed designs have stayed largely intact for 500 to 2000 years.

These ancient geometric designs and drawings still remain one of the world’s greatest mysteries.  Theories abound. They were built for irrigation. They were constructed by aliens to assist in spaceship landings. They were created as symbols of worship by an ancient civilisation. An astronomical calendar. Will we ever know? 

We headed back to our hotel, slightly green with the effort of having had to keep our air-sickness at bay, but with huge grins on our faces. That was so Amazing. 

We then set off on our long journey back to Lima for our flight to Cusco. We stopped at the same clean well-stocked rest stop we made on our way down. We had our packed lunches with coffee and continued back to the gloom of Lima.  We made good time for our flight to Cusco and had lovely empanadas for dinner before boarding. From Cusco (elevation 11,000 feet/3400m) it was another 2 hour drive to the lower elevation of the Sacred Valley. It was past midnight by the time we checked into our hotel. It had been a long and tiring day. We still had to pack a day bag for Machu Picchu the next day. By the time we packed and showered, we were so knackered when we hit the sack … we were also already beginning to feel the effects of altitude sickness. 

Ruins in the clouds

In the morning we could actually take in our surroundings. Our hotel was in a valley and we were surrounded by beautiful mountains. It was quite lovely. After a 7am breakfast we were off to hike up the ancient ruins of Pisac.

The terraces of Pisac

The ruins of Pisac

It is five times the size of Machu Picchu. The marvel of Pisac is the agricultural terraces cut into the hillside. It was hard going – we were all hit with varying degrees of altitude sickness – headaches, nausea and being winded by just taking a few steps. We needed to take it easy and we did. This was higher than Bhutan’s Tiger’s Nest – the only other hike of altitude any of us has done. We walked through the Pisac Market, had some empanadas for lunch again and just relaxed for a bit. 

Pisac market

As we drove through Urubamba Valley to the train station, we went passed colourful quinoa fields. We just had to hop out of our MPV and take in the amazing colours and landscape. Prior to this we had only ever seen quinoa in a packet! 

Quinoa

Beautiful quinoa fields

We were about to embark on the next exciting chapter of our trip. In 1911 Hiram Bingham, a Yale University lecturer stumbled upon one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century – Machu Picchu. A place consisting of temples, plazas, dwellings – an incredible feat of engineering high up in the Andes where even the Spanish didn’t find it. 

We got the train from Urubamba to Aguas Calientes on the foothills of Machu Picchu. They served tea/coffee and cake in the train which we rather enjoyed. It was a very scenic train ride through mountains and valleys with rivers running alongside. Aguas Calientes (which means ‘Hot Springs’) started life as a railroad camp for workers who were building the railroad that we had just come on. It then grew to a small town that now only serves to accommodate tourists who make their way to Machu Picchu. It is a very touristy little town with loads of souvenir shops, bars, restaurants and had a look and feel about it that was reminiscent of Kathmandu. 

Aguas Calientes

Still feeling the effects of altitude, we had an early night. Besides, we wanted to be on the first bus to Machu Picchu so that we could get some photography done before the crowd got in. This meant a 4am wake up for a 4.30am breakfast to be in the bus line before 5am. 

Machu Picchu 

We were in the queue by 5am but so were dozens of others ahead of us with the same idea. Sigh. So we weren’t on the first bus but didn’t fair too badly in terms of photography. It was a meandering bus ride up the mountain to the entrance. The other way to get up there is to hike the Inca Trail, a journey that can take 2 or 4 days depending on the route you take. It wasn’t an option we had considered and we were glad for it.

5am queue for the bus

New rules were introduced at Machu Picchu recently in an effort to better manage the large crowds visiting the ruins.  You can now only visit with a guide and there are specific timings – mornings or afternoons. Our Machu Picchu guide was Viktor and he waited for us at the entrance. He implored us to use the restrooms as it would be a long few hours at the top with no facilities.

Then began our hike up steep stairs to Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca citadel. The sun was not up yet but our first view of the ruins was just as awesome as when the sun rose and the rays hit Huayna Picchu and bathed the ruins in its brilliance. 

Part of the Inca Trail

First view of the ruins of Machu Picchu

… and as the sun rose

Exploring and walking among the ruins

An interesting piece of information that we weren’t aware of – the classic and ubiquitous image of Machu Picchu (which means ‘Old Mountain’) doesn’t show Machu Picchu at all! The mountain behind the ruins that you see in the photographs is in fact Huayna Picchu (or ‘Young Mountain’)!  Machu Picchu is behind us as we view the ruins. There are many intrepid travellers who climb the very harrowing Huayna Picchu and its ’staircase of death’. No railings. No support. Not for the faint-hearted. But if you really want to see the ruins against the backdrop of Machu Picchu, you need to climb the 2720m (8923feet) of Huayna Picchu. 

Viktor was a very interesting and engaging guide who regaled us with many stories as we walked through the ruins. We spent the whole morning there and when we made our way down, there was a stamping station that allowed you to get your passport stamped with the Machu Picchu stamp, which we did for the fun of it. 

The obligatory photo at Machu Picchu – Dan and us

We got the bus back down to Aguas Calientes, had lunch and then set off on the train back to Urubamba. After tea and cake were served on the train, there was unexpected entertainment – the train attendants dressed up – one in a demon costume depicting some folklore and the other two paraded in various locally woven attire. 

Local demon rode the train with us

We checked in again at our lovely hotel nestled in the valley for a lovely cup of tea at Shiv’s and Shyam’s room. We had a relaxing evening, chatting over another sumptuous dinner. We were quite happy that we got to see both Nazca Lines and Machu Picchu which were our two main draws for this trip. 

A Day of Surprises 

As our journey continued, we discovered more highlights and amazing places. There is just so much to Peru, we barely scratched the surface.  Today was one of those days that brought so many surprises. It started as we tried to drive through Urubamba to Chinchero and our progress was hampered by policemen diverting traffic. As we peered out to see what was going on we realised a very festive street procession was going on. Naturally we jumped out and joined in the festivities. Apparently every first Sunday of the month there is some feast or other and folks come out in their colourful best and celebrate with a procession. 

Flagellation was part of it – and they really did whip each other!

On our way to Chichero, Dan took us to what he called “a secret place in the mountains” where the view was terrific. The elevation was about 3600m (11,800 ft). Dan has obviously been there a few times as the shepherd on the mountain and his wife knew him and greeted him warmly. The wife was down the mountain and as she walked up she had her spindle going and was weaving bracelets as she walked up. We bought her wool bracelets and she even sang a Quechua song for us. 

Walking down to the ‘secret place’

Our stop at Chinchero market was another colourful affair with the local women dressed in their traditional clothes sold their handwoven scarfs, runners, sweaters, beanies, dolls etc.

Chinchero market

Lunch was at a simple restaurant in the town where the empanadas were divine and the hospitality unsurpassed.

From there we went to a weaving centre where the ladies demonstrated how they obtain  coloured dye from various plants and explained to us that a Quechua woman does not stop weaving. She weaves in the morning, she weaves in the evening and all the times in between and cheekily said they even weave when kissing their husbands. Once she said that, it occured to us how true that was and that everywhere we went we saw Quechua women with spindle and wool in hand!

Our next stop simply astounded us. While we had obviously read about the Salt Mines of Maras that was on our itinerary, nothing prepared us for the sheer uniqueness of the place. It was jaw dropping awesome.  Another amazing pre-Inca site.

The salt evaporation ponds of Maras

These salt evaporation ponds lie deep in the mountains of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. Each pond is owned and mined by a local family. We were able to explore the area by walking along the ridges of the terraces.  We were probably the last few visitors who would have been able to do that. This will soon no longer be allowed as stupid irresponsible tourists have contaminated the ponds with all manner of litter – plastic, hair, even cigarette butts (even though it is a no smoking zone), one man was even caught relieving himself at the pond! So future visitors will have to be content seeing this amazing place from the observation deck. 

We didn’t think there was going to be anything more today that would amaze us but there was – next was the ruins of Moray. It looks like a Roman amphitheatre except no one knows for sure what this concentric and elliptical rings were really used for.

The generally accepted belief is that the Incas used this as an agricultural research centre. One of the most remarkable features of the site is the vast difference in temperature that exists between the top and the bottom reaches of the structure, which can be as much as 15°C. This large temperature difference created micro climates that was possibly used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. It is believed that it is largely due to the Incas and their experiments that Peru has more than 3000 varieties of potatoes. 

We meandered through the mountain roads and made our slow way back to our hotel while Bruce, our driver, played Quechua songs which we were beginning to recognise and hum along to. What a day. 

The Quispe Milo Family

So far our trip has been about  places, today was quite different. Today we met the beautiful Quispe Milo family, a Quechua family who live in the Pampallacta mountain region. Dan told us the story of how he met Bernardiño, the patriarch. He and people of his community were picketing in the streets of Lima highlighting the lack of government support for their community, in particular a dire lack of funds to rebuild and expand their school. Dan happened to pass by while they were picketing and struck up a conversation with Bernadiño to understand their plight. He said he would go and see them in the mountains and was told where they lived but he only had a hazy idea of the location and it wasn’t on a map. But true to his word, and to Bernardiño’s utter disbelief, Dan did find them and fell in love with Bernardiño’s  family.

Bernardiño preparing lunch

When we arrived there, Bernadiño was cooking our lunch. His wife Rocio was helping while their littlest boy Abel, was a little scared of us strangers and kept away. We left Bernadiño to his cooking and Rocio led us to visit the school nearby. Yes, they did get government funding and the school had expanded. Rocio wrapped little Abel into a bundle and threw him over her shoulder and as a true Quechua woman, had her wool and spindle in hand weaving as she led the way down the mountain. She had a baby on her back, spindle on her hands and she negotiated the steep slope down with supreme ease, balance and poise!

Throwing Abel over her shoulder

Safe and comfortable on his mother’s back

Following Rocio down the mountain path to the school

The school was impressive. It was recess when we went there and the children were lining up in an orderly fashion to get their lunch. They were excited but at the same time shy to see us.

Lunch queue

Girls will be girls

We took along gifts for each of the classrooms which we handed to the class teachers. We also gave the kids chocolates which they shyly accepted. The kids are taught not only Spanish and the government syllabus but they learn the Quechua language and traditional knowledge of plants and their uses and properties. The kids know all the flora and fauna around them. 

We went back to the family home where the aroma of lunch wafted through the air. The simplest home food are often the most delicious. What Bernadiño whipped up was cerviche, quinoa soup (the best we have had – and we have had a few), fried trout and cake for desert. It was so good and wholesome and tasty, it was for us one of the best, if not the best, meal we had on the trip. 

When the children came back from school, each of them asked us our names and greeted us by name politely and welcomed us. We spent time with them, conversing with them was a challenge as only Dan and my sister among us spoke any Spanish at all. My Spanish is limited to apologising that I can’t speak Spanish. Dan has done much to support this family in particular and it was lovely to see their mutual affection for each other.  

As he thanked us, Bernadiño said he wanted the world to know about the Quechua people and their culture. He asked us to tell our friends and family. He invites everyone to visit the Quechua people. (By writing about them in this blog I hope I am contributing a small part toward his wish).

I can empathise with Bernadiño. If you google ‘Quechua’ your first page hits will all be the Decathlon brand ‘Quechua’ and their various products. While it may be a good brand, and I own some of their products too, I do feel their appropriation of this tribe’s name has resulted in a bit of a loss to the tribe themselves.

The Incas conquered the Quechua tribes in South America and assimilated them to their own race. However, with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors  the Quechua people were killed either by summary execution or by the diseases brought by the Spanish to South America. Today, as in the past, the discrimination against the Quechua people still exists. They are largely mountain folk who live in remote villages who live by working the land.  There is a general movement to the city these days but it is often only the men who go to the cities seeking work. Dan explained that these men are still discriminated against and face challenges in getting jobs. Often they dispense with their traditional attire in the cities so as not to stand out or be mocked. 

We said our goodbyes and left this beautiful Andean highland village of Pampallacta and drove into the bright city lights of Cusco. Our thoughts as we drove away were with this lovely family and we couldn’t help wondering what their futures hold for them. 

Cusco, the Ancient Inca Capital

We arrived late evening yesterday at our hotel which was in the historical centre of the city.  After checking in, we walked to our restaurant through the impossibly narrow cobblestone streets and up steep stairs on Dan’s promise that the view was worth it … and the view was worth it. It was a lovely way to end a special day. 

View of Cusco from the restaurant

Today we were going to explore this ancient Inca capital on foot. This city is steeped in history. One of the biggest mysteries is how the Incas built the city –  it is still not known how the large stones were gathered and transported or how they managed to build with techniques so far advanced for their time.

Our walk took us first to the Plaza des Armaz – the main city square and there was a great big celebration happening. Various schools were competing in dance and band competitions. The square was inundated. We skirted it, walked through the shopping district and inevitably did some shopping before continuing on to the famous Qorikancha museum in the cathedral of Santo Domingo. 

The Spanish destroyed almost everything Inca after their conquest and built on top of Inca foundations which they were unable to destroy of remove but these Inca foundations remained intact and survived the earthquakes, while Spanish buildings were reduced to rubble. The Inca amazingly used no mortar. 

Example of a Spanish wall – with mortar

The no mortar, precision Inca wall – note the 12 sides to this large stone

After our walk around and lunch, we decided we needed to rest and so headed back.

Cusco deserved more time. There was just so much to see and do and explore and if there’s one thing I might have changed in the itinerary, it would have been to add a couple more days to explore this beautiful city. But it is at a very high altitude so one would be best advised to acclimatise at lower levels first before getting there. 

Dan mentioned a cafe his friend was opening and waxed lyrical about his friend’s coffee. He had to relocate his cafe as the landlord wanted the previous premises back and so he was relocating to a street not far from our hotel. We persuaded Dan to ask his friend to let us in even though he wasn’t officially opened. We met the most interesting people at this cafe. Alex, who is Dan’s business partner was just back from a trip and joined us too. (Alex is a Briton who similarly fell in love with Peru and decided to make it his home), Jose Aguilar, owner of the cafe, who is also a professional photographer – the cafe had framed photographs by him and some of Dan’s too, and then there was Rohith Subramanian from Chennai who was stopping over in Cusco for a while, taking a break from his motorcycle adventure around South America. He had just finished filming for a Netflix documentary about his travels. His next destination is to ride to Alaska from South America.  It was a lovely morning of meeting new friends and having great conversation over excellent coffee. If you’re in Cusco, please do head over to Monkey Coffee in the bohemian San Blas neighbourhood. 

With the crew at Monkey Coffee

The Amazon

The flight to Puerto Maldonado was a short one. We were going back to ground level and the familiar humidity and heat of the tropics and leaving all altitude sickness behind. No sooner had we disembarked and the blast of hot humid air hit us and we were wishing for the cool mountains again. After a long-ish wait for our bags we hopped onto a minivan to the checkpoint in the town of Puerto Maldonado. All visitors to the Amazon must register first before we make our way into the jungle. From the checkpoint it was another short drive to our boat, another half an hour downstream and we arrived at our lodge. 

That evening we took a boat to ‘Monkey Island’ – a small island and the only place where you are allowed to interact with the local resident capuchin monkeys. It was late evening and the sun was fast setting when we found the capuchins. It was a challenge photographing in that light.

Capuchin monkey

In the darkness led by torchlight we made our slow way out of the jungle and back onto our boat. We then did a slow ride along the bank of the Madre des Dios river and spotted a couple of caimans. (Caimans are like small crocodiles).

Meet Caiman

The Machiguenga Tribe

This morning we took the boat to visit the Machiguenga tribe, rather we met a family from the tribe. No one else from the tribe seemed visible in the small village by the bank of the river. We had to climb up a very slippery and muddy bank to get to the village. We  were greeted by Noe, the shaman, a young couple and an old couple. Around his neck Noe had a dead animal – I’m not sure what it was and I forgot to ask later. He spoke and Dan translated.

Noe, with dead animal around his neck

He welcomed us. He brought out paint and said he would need to paint our faces both as a sign of welcome and for protection for when we walk into the jungle. Jeepers. He then brought out a large wooden pipe and passed it around for us to smoke. Before we did so we asked what was in it and were assured it was only tobacco. It was a perfunctory pass around more symbolic than anything else. He then brought out an instrument that we were asked to blow into much like a conch shell – you either knew the knack of blowing it or you just expel air trying. In our case it was the latter and he found it amusing. The pleasantries done, he set off into the jungle and we had a hard time keeping up. 

It was a beautiful walk into the jungle with the sunlight streaming through. Many a time Dan had to call out to Noe to wait for us and he would stop and wait while smoking his pipe, then turn around and set off at a rapid pace. He climbed a tree effortlessly and sat posing for us. Our shaman was a bit of a showman.

Noe on tree

We took lots of photos and heard their stories. We were moved by the closeness of the elderly couple, Adam and his wife (didn’t get her name). They kept their own pace while walking and held hands supporting each other.  They have no concept of marriage and they didn’t know how long they’ve been together but it was evident that it has been a long time.

Adam and wife

Young couple

Pope Francis visited this tribe and met with Adam, who was one of the early converts to Catholicism. Apparently many denominations tried to convert them – and they simply rejected them but found favour with Catholicism as it allowed them to continue believing in the spirit of the jungle and allowed them to continue with their other cultural practices. The only condition imposed on them was the need to attend church on Sunday which they thought was easy enough to comply with. 

Noe, the shaman is their son. He is widely known and his skills are much sought after even as far away as Columbia and Mexico. After our morning with them and more pleasantries exchanged we went back to our lodge and lunch. 

Lunch was something called juane – rice and chicken wrapped in leaf. It was so delicious – it was for me the second best meal we had on this trip of many many good meals. 

In the evening we set off into the jungle again. This time to the Tambopata National Reserve and walked 3 km deep into the jungle where we took a row boat through the beautiful rainforest.

Dwarfed

It was so peaceful and serene … until our guide (we had two Amazon guides with us – Raul and Joslin) pointed out a very still caiman just alongside our boat.

Caiman hiding

There were red howler monkeys (called such for obvious reasons), hoatzin (stinky bird), storks, macaws and much more. We slowly rowed through the forest and came out onto the beautiful Sandoval Lake and there we stayed till sunset, just enjoying the stillness once the photographing was all done.

A ‘hoatzin’ (stinky bird)

Sunset at Sandoval Lake

We rowed  back to the boardwalk before dark but it was a 3 km walk back and it was pitch dark as we walked through the jungle and obviously needed our headlamps and torches, still stopping to spot tarantulas along the way. I am only glad we didn’t encounter a panther in that pitch darkness! 

The next morning was another early start – 5.30 am coffee and then a walk into the jungle to witness the unique phenomenon called ‘parrot clay lick’.  We were well concealed in a hide and waited till hundreds of macaws and parrots gathered at a ‘clay bank’ to eat the clay.

‘Parrot clay lick’

Scientists initially thought the ingestion of clay probably helped with the removal of toxins. But recent studies point out that parrots in other regions around the globe consume foods that contain toxins and yet it is only those in the western Amazon basin who visit these clay banks and now believe that there’s a connection between this clay-eating and the fact that the western Amazon basin is lacking in salt. And so it is sodium that the Amazonian macaws and parrots seek. Amazing. 

With that fascinating experience our incredible trip came to an end … well almost … we got the boat back to Puerto Maldonado – upstream this time so it was much slower – visited a local market then boarded our flight to Lima.

Dinner that night was special – we finally got our Peruvian roasted chicken that we had been hankering after and Dan’s girlfriend Carol joined us too and she got to meet the 4 women her boyfriend was with for 2 weeks:-)  The roasted chicken was fantastic and the  aji (chilli) the waiter specially mixed for me was fabulous and we downed it with rather strong Pisco Sours. We ended on a high note. 

The next morning Dan accompanied us to the airport when he didn’t have to (to make sure we left?:-)) and we said our goodbyes with promises to meet again. We later departed with my sister flying back to DC and the 3 of us flying back to the ‘little red dot’ we call home. 

What an experience. We saw such amazing sights, met many incredible people, had some really delicious cuisine. There is a very good reason why Peru is on almost everyone’s bucket list, and if it isn’t, it should be. 

Once again, Oryx Photography Expeditions has made a dream come true, this time in collaboration with Dan Soby of Andean Photo Expeditions. Thank you for this incredible trip. 

If you would like to see more photos from this trip, click on this link:

https://www.shobhagopinath.com/Travel/Peru-/n-Wvn647/

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Peru Beyond Machu Picchu

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